BBC History Magazine: When Britons were slaves in Africa (January 2017)

When Britons were slaves in Africa Adam Nichols follows the travails of Britons captured by Barbary corsairs.

Between the 16th and 18th centuries, pirates operating out of north Africa enslaved thousands of men, women and children from the British Isles. Adam Nichols describes the ofen faltering attempts to release the captives from a life of hard labour and torture.

Hunters become prey A Spanish naval force engages Barbary corsairs, in a contemporary Flemish painting. More than a million Europeans were seized during the north African pirates’ reign of terror.

The high cost of freedom Ransoms were way beyond the means of most captives £8–10. The annual sum earned by a farm labourer in 17th-century Britain. A skilled craftsman could expect to take home between £12 and £20 £30–40
The cost of a captive sold at a slave auction by Barbary pirates £80–300. The ransom typically demanded by Barbary corsairs for individual captives. Even the lowest ransoms represented two and a half years’ wages for a skilled London craftsman.  A sculpture depicts two Mercedarian friars paying the ransom for prisoners of Barbary pirates in
1599. This holy order was established with the specific goal of freeing Christian captive.

In 1631, corsairs sacked the Irish town of Baltimore and abducted more than 100 people – men, women and children.


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