The Pilgrims Encounters with Muslim Barbary Pirates

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Published on: November 22, 2014

On November 21, 1620 (NS), the Pilgrims signed the Mayflower Compact and began their Plymouth Colony.

Five years later, in 1625, the Pilgrims filled two ships with dried fish and beaver skins and sent them back to England to trade for much needed supplies.

Governor William Bradford wrote in his History of the Plymouth Settlement 1608-1650 (rendered in Modern English by Harold Paget, 1909, ch. 6, p. 165-7):

“The adventurers…sent over two fishing ships… The pinnace was ordered to load with corfish…to bring home to England…and besides she had some 800 lbs. of beaver, as well as other furs, to a good value from the plantation.

The captain seeing so much lading wished to put aboard the bigger ship for greater safety, but Mr. Edward Winslow, their agent in the business, was bound in a bond to send it to London in the small ship… The captain of the big ship…towed the small ship at his stern all the way over.

So they went joyfully home together and had such fine weather that he never cast her off till they were well within the England channel, almost in sight of Plymouth.

But even there she was unhapply taken by a Turkish man-of-war and carried off to Saller (Morocco), where the captain and crew were made slaves… Thus all their hopes were dashed and the joyful news they meant to carry home was turned to heavy tidings…In the big ship Captain Myles Standish…arrived at a very bad time…a plague very deadly in London… The friendly adventurers were so reduced by their losses last year, and now by the ship taken by the Turks…that all trade was dead.”

Muslim piracy had dominated the seas.

In 1605, St. Vincent de Paul was sailing from Marseille, France, when he was captured by Muslim Turks.

St. Vincent de Paul was sold into slavery in Tunis, North Africa. Fortunately, St. Vincent de Paul was able to convert his owner to Christianity in 1607.

St. Vincent de Paul escaped to Europe where he started an order to help the poor.

Between 1606-1609, Muslim pirates from Algiers captured 466 British and Scottish ships.

Giles Milton wrote White Gold: The Extraordinary Story of Thomas Pellow and North Africa’s One Million European Slaves (UK: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 2004).

In it, he told how in 1625, Muslim corsair pirates sailed up the Thames River and raided England. They attacked the coast of Cornwall, captured 60 villagers at Mount’s Bay and 80 at Looe. Muslims took Lundy Island in Bristol Channel and raised the standard of Islam.

By the end of 1625, over 1,000 English subjects were sent to the slave markets of Sale, Morocco.
In 1627, Algerian and Ottoman Muslim pirates, led by Murat Reis the Younger, raided Iceland, carrying into slavery an estimated 400 from the cities of Reykjavik, Austurland and Vestmannaeyjar.

One captured girl, who had been made a slave concubine in Algeria, was rescued back by King Christian IV of Denmark.

In 1631, the entire village of Baltimore, Ireland, was captured by Muslim pirates, led by Murat Reis the Younger. Only two ever returned. (Des Ekin, The Stolen Village: Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates, O’Brien Press, 2006).

Thomas Osborne Davis wrote in his poem, “The Sack of Baltimore” (1895):

“The yell of ‘Allah!’ breaks above the shriek and roar; O’blessed God! The Algerine is lord of Baltimore…”

By 1640, hundreds of English ships and over 1,500 British subjects were enslaved in Tunis and in 3,000 Algiers.

As centuries passed, the U.S. Navy and Marines fought the Muslim Barbary pirates.

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