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February 02, 2008

Disgraceful history?

One of Labour's favourite "Think Tanks" has just published a report I would find risible, if it were not for the fact that it is intellectually and morally insulting - quite apart from the fact that it is so blatantly twisted against anything English, or for that matter, "British". The thrust of the report is that our history is so shameful we should not teach it to our children, that they should, instead, be taught about everyone else's history and how noble and good they were as they struggled to overcome our evil doings.

As I said, insulting and frankly anti-British.

These morons obviously have a serious problem. They cannot see the facts for the ideology they wish to push. They refuse to recognise that, until well into the 19th Century British subjects were being regularly seized and enslaved by the pirates who operated freely under the flag of Islam from North Africa. Anybody ever wonder why the French attacked Algeria and annexed it? No, thought not, mainly it was to stop the raiding of the coast of the South of France and the disruption of trade in the Mediteranean originating from the various Bey's of this that and the next controlling the coasts of Algiers, Tunisia, Libya and the rest. In 1836 a British Fleet assisted in an assault on Algiers for just that reason, Algiers based raiders had seized one too many merchant ships under British Flag. OK, so we turned the trans-Atlantic slave trade into a factory style process - that is one of the features of the British, usually slow to get off the starting block on anything, we simply don't know when to stop. Ask the residents of Hamburg, Dresden or one or two other German cities. Take a look at the same morons now making this proposterous proposal and you will see the same thing at work. They have spent so long campaigning for their "cause" that they can't see it has gone far enough and that it should now come to a gentle halt and consolidate what they have - not strive for more.

However, one of the more stupid assertions made by the "beat Britain for its slave trade" is that the Army or the Navy was engaged in capturing slaves in West Africa. If these morons knew their history instead of their prejudice they would know that the slaves were rounded up by locals who sold them to the Arab traders to their North as well. It was the Royal Navy and the Army that put a stop to the tribal wars that fueled this from 1820 onwards, noit an exercise in getting more slaves but in bringing peace to a region that had never had it! On the East Coast of Africa the slave trade continued in Arab Dhows well into the 20th Century, although, again, it was the Royal Navy that was hard at work to suppress it. Trouble was, being the other side of Africa and not affecting British shipping or people (except occassionally!) it was of little interest to the same bunch of w*nkers who now want our history suppressed. As late as 1942 my father's ship intercepted a dhow loaded with Africans being taken to an Arab slave market. But you won't find that in any "multi-cultural" history.

Yes our history is a bloody one, but it has also brought huge benefits to most of the worlds population. In fact, the very history these idiots want suppressed gave rise to democracy in the modern world - the Ancient Greek model was very, very different to what we now know. Modern democracy is founded on Magna Carta and the principles of freedom and human rights have their beginnings there. My father fought againts the oppression threatened by National Socialism and against the Communists afterward. My Grandfathers fought against the Kaiser and my Great-grandfathers against the enemies of their day. They all fought for the freedom they believed they had inherited from their fathers and it is a legacy and a history to be exceptionally proud of.

They most certainly did not fight to maintain our hard won freedom so that this bunch of closet communists could steal it by deploying their version of twisted history, denigrating everything that is good in our past and by proscribing our right to freedom of speech, expression and thought! I expect the thought police will be after me now for this heresy, but I am damned if I care. I too will fight to preserve the right to be free - and that means being free of those who overtax, over regulate and over govern this proud and ancient nation.

Why then, should we be forced to listen to morons whose understanding of our history is tenuous, biased and completely devoid of fact? I'd call for their being silenced - except that I, unlike them, believe that everyone has the right to an opinion and to express that opinion freely - even if it causes some idiot offence!

And just a sample of what is available as real history, not the doctored kind the authors of the report wish to see taught in English schools, the extended post contains some of what is available on the BBC History site.

British Slaves on the Barbary Coast
By Professor Rees Davies

Barbary pirates © The fishermen and coastal dwellers of 17th-century Britain lived in terror of being kidnapped by pirates and sold into slavery in North Africa. Hundreds of thousands across Europe met wretched deaths on the Barbary Coast in this way. Professor Robert Davis investigates.

Page 1 of 6

1. Europe under attack
2. Estimating slave numbers
3. The slave's lot
4. The European response
5. The legacy of enslavement
6. Find out more

Europe under attack

'When we had arrived [in Cork], I made a request to Lord Inchaquoin to give me a passport for England. I took boat to Youghal and then embarked on the vessel John Filmer, which set sail with 120 passengers. `But before we had lost sight of land, we were captured by Algerine pirates, who put all the men in irons.'

'...the corsairs plundered British shipping pretty much at will...'
So wrote the Reverend Devereux Spratt - carried off in April 1641 for several years' bondage in Algiers, while attempting a simple voyage across the Irish Sea from County Cork to England. Spratt's experience has been largely forgotten now, though it was far from unique in his day.

In the first half of the 1600s, Barbary corsairs - pirates from the Barbary Coast of North Africa, authorised by their governments to attack the shipping of Christian countries - ranged all around Britain's shores. In their lanteen-rigged xebecs (a type of ship) and oared galleys, they grabbed ships and sailors, and sold the sailors into slavery. Admiralty records show that during this time the corsairs plundered British shipping pretty much at will, taking no fewer than 466 vessels between 1609 and 1616, and 27 more vessels from near Plymouth in 1625. As 18th-century historian Joseph Morgan put it, 'this I take to be the Time when those Corsairs were in their Zenith'.

Unfortunately, it was hardly the end of them, even then. Morgan also noted that he had a '...List, printed in London in 1682' of 160 British ships captured by Algerians between 1677 and 1680. Considering what the number of sailors who were taken with each ship was likely to have been, these examples translate into a probable 7,000 to 9,000 able-bodied British men and women taken into slavery in those years.

Not content with attacking ships and sailors, the corsairs also sometimes raided coastal settlements, generally running their craft onto unguarded beaches, and creeping up on villages in the dark to snatch their victims and retreat before the alarm could be sounded. Almost all the inhabitants of the village of Baltimore, in Ireland, were taken in this way in 1631, and other attacks were launched against coastal villages in Devon and Cornwall. Samuel Pepys gives a vivid account of an encounter with two men who'd been taken into slavery, in his diary of 8 February 1661.

'...during these years, Britons were enslaved all too often.'
'...to the Fleece tavern to drink and there we spent till 4 a-clock telling stories of Algier and the manner of the life of Slaves there; and truly, Captain Mootham and Mr Dawes (who have been both slaves there) did make me full acquainted with their condition there. As, how they eat nothing but bread and water.... How they are beat upon the soles of the feet and bellies at the Liberty of their Padron. How they are all night called into their master's Bagnard, and there they lie.'

The very casualness of the account makes it clear just how commonplace unfortunates like Moontham and Dawes were in 17th-century Britain. Britons in later years have boasted that they 'never will be slaves,' but during these years they were enslaved all too often.

Estimating slave numbers

North African pirate ship © According to observers of the late 1500s and early 1600s, there were around 35,000 European Christian slaves held throughout this time on the Barbary Coast - many in Tripoli, Tunis, and various Moroccan towns, but most of all in Algiers. The greatest number were sailors, taken with their ships, but a good many were fishermen and coastal villagers. Out of all these, the British captives were mostly sailors, and although they were numerous there were relatively fewer of them than of people from lands close to Africa, especially Spain and Italy. The unfortunate southerners were sometimes taken by the thousands, by slavers who raided the coasts of Valencia, Andalusia, Calabria and Sicily so often that eventually it was said that 'there was no one left to capture any longer'.

'White slaves in Barbary were generally from impoverished families...'
There are no records of how many men, women and children were enslaved, but it is possible to calculate roughly the number of fresh captives that would have been needed to keep populations steady and replace those slaves who died, escaped, were ransomed, or converted to Islam. On this basis it is thought that around 8,500 new slaves were needed annually to replenish numbers - about 850,000 captives over the century from 1580 to 1680.

By extension, for the 250 years between 1530 and 1780, the figure could easily have been as high as 1,250,000 - this is only just over a tenth of the Africans taken as slaves to the Americas from 1500 to 1800, but a considerable figure nevertheless. White slaves in Barbary were generally from impoverished families, and had almost as little hope of buying back their freedom as the Africans taken to the Americas: most would end their days as slaves in North Africa, dying of starvation, disease, or maltreatment.

The slave's lot

Slaves in chains © Slaves in Barbary fell into two broad categories. The 'public slaves' belonged to the ruling pasha, who by right of rulership could claim an eighth of all Christians captured by the corsairs, and buy all the others he wanted at reduced prices. These slaves were housed in large prisons known as baños (baths), often in wretchedly overcrowded conditions. They were mostly used to row the corsair galleys in the pursuit of loot (and more slaves) - work so strenuous that thousands died or went mad while chained to the oar.

'...they received one change of clothing every year.'
During the winter these galeotti worked on state projects - quarrying stone, building walls or harbour facilities, felling timber and constructing new galleys. Each day they would be given perhaps two or three loaves of black bread - 'that the dogs themselves wouldn't eat' - and limited water; they received one change of clothing every year. Those who collapsed on the job from exhaustion or malnutrition were typically beaten until they got up and went back to work. The pasha also bought most female captives, some of whom were taken into his harem, where they lived out their days in captivity. The majority, however, were purchased for their ransom value; while awaiting their release, they worked in the palace as harem attendants.

'Some were well cared for, becoming virtual companions of their owners...'
Many other slaves belonged to 'private parties.' Their treatment and work varied as much as their masters did. Some were well cared for, becoming virtual companions of their owners. Others were worked as hard as any 'public' slave, in agricultural labour, or construction work, or selling water or other goods around town on his (or her) owner's behalf. They were expected to pay a proportion of their earnings to their owner - those who failed to raise the required amount typically being beaten to encourage them to work harder.

As they aged or their owner's fortunes changed, slaves were resold, often repeatedly. The most unlucky ended up stuck and forgotten out in the desert, in some sleepy town such as Suez, or in the Turkish sultan's galleys, where some slaves rowed for decades without ever setting foot on shore.

The European response

A priest negotiates ransom for the release of slaves © Europeans sometimes attempted to buy their people out of slavery, but no real system emerged before around 1640. Then the attempts became more systematic and were sometimes state subsidised, as in Spain and France. Almost all the actual work, however - from collecting the funds, to voyaging to Barbary, to negotiating with the slave owners there - was carried out by clergy, mostly members of the Trinitarian or Mercedarian orders.

'By the 1700s, the ransoming orders had significantly reduced slave populations in Barbary...'
Parish churches too, all over Spain and Italy, kept locked collection boxes marked 'for the poor slaves', with clerics constantly reminded their wealthier parishioners to include ransoming societies in their wills; slave-redeeming confraternities also sprouted in hundreds of cities and villages. Ransoming slaves was promoted as being one of the best of the charitable works a Catholic could perform, since slaves were ideal victims: 'Their [only] fault, their crime, is recognising Jesus Christ as the most divine Saviour... and of professing Him as the True Faith.' By the 1700s, the ransoming orders had significantly reduced slave populations in Barbary, eventually even inflating slave prices, as more cash chased fewer captives.

'Thousands of Dutch, Germans and British "languished for years in the chains of Barbary"...'
Compared to Catholic Europe, Protestant states could be lax and disorganised in freeing their subjects. Thousands of Dutch, Germans and British 'languished for years in the chains of Barbary,' without the aid of organised clergy or state funds for their release. England set aside its 'Algerian Duty' from customs income to finance redemptions, but much of this was diverted to other uses. Large-scale ransomings - like the one headed by Edmund Casson that freed 244 men, women, and children in 1646 - were rare, with the result that Protestant Britons were often more demoralised and likely to die in captivity than European Catholics. As one ex-slave noted:

'All of the nations made some shift to live, save only the English, who it seems are not so shiftful as others, and... have no great kindness one for another. The winter I was in [captivity], I observ'd there died above twenty of them out of pure want.'

How typical - even then it seems those in Whitehall could always find a way to spend the money intended to relieve the suffering of opthers on themselves and their own aggrandisement ....

Posted by The Gray Monk at February 2, 2008 11:56 AM

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Funny, I don't remember learning about that in school, but we did read several books about slavery in the US...

Posted by: Postulant at February 2, 2008 09:18 PM

If you don't mind my asking, which think-tank was that? I don't seem to be able to find the report.

Posted by: Peter Horne at February 3, 2008 10:29 AM