This book describes the customs of North African corsairs, who captured and enslaved Europeans in the 16th and 17th centuries. Pierre Dan’s History of Barbary and its Pirates was first written in French in 1637, and translated into Dutch by Gotfried van Broekhuizen and Simon de Fries in 1684. It records Father Dan’s mission, as a Catholic priest, to buy back enslaved Europeans from captivity.
Barbary corsairs were privateers, licensed by the Islamic governments of Morocco, Algiers, Tripoli and Tunisia. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, they attacked Christian merchant ships and coastal towns in the Mediterranean and beyond.
What do the engravings show?
The engravings show European ships being attacked at sea and enslaved Europeans being traded at market. Some images present the enslaved in the form of Christian martyrs, suffering torture and crucifixion at the hands of their captors, who are portrayed in this book as 'heathen'. One shows a procession of freed Europeans, with children dressed as angels and reverent fathers carrying palm leaves.
The transatlantic slave trade
The use of enslaved Europeans developed around the same time as the transatlantic slave trade was taking hold. Africans were forcibly transported to the Americas and sold to work on plantations, to satisfy European demand for sugar, tobacco and other crops. While Dan’s book is a graphic record of the suffering of enslaved white Europeans, there are few equivalent images of Europeans’ treatment of enslaved Africans in the 17th century. The numbers of enslaved Europeans are thought to be a fraction of the millions of Africans who were enslaved and transported.
Slavery in Robinson Crusoe
Slavery is a troubling theme in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719). The protagonist is on his way to Guinea to buy enslaved Africans when he is captured as a ‘miserable slave’ by Moroccan privateers of Sallee. He escapes, but this doesn’t stop him from exploiting the slave trade himself. Crusoe sells his companion Xury for ‘60 pieces of eight’ to some Portuguese sailors, on condition that they free him in ten years if he becomes a Christian. Later, as a plantation owner in Brazil, Crusoe sets off to buy enslaved Africans, and is shipwrecked and cast ashore on an island. There he rescues Friday from cannibals, but interprets Friday’s gratitude as a sign of willingness to ‘be my Slave for ever’ (p. 172).