51 of 52 people found the following review helpful
on 21 December 2004
Brilliant research and background work bring to life the story of Morocco's White slave trade. Milton has the skill of a novelist and manages to engage the reader immediately. His stories of Barbary corsairs sailing with inpunity up and down the English channel during the 17th century is incredible-particularly the year when they established a slave gathering base on Lundy Island. He estimates over 1 million European slaves were taken. He centralises his story around Thomas Pellow who endured 23 years in captivity before escaping.
I thoroughly recommend this book to all lovers of well written history.It fills a gap in our knowledge.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 31 May 2008
I love Giles Milton's books. If you haven't read Nathaniel's Nutmeg or Samurai William, then do so.
I already knew a bit of this story - that Barbary corsairs raided the Cornish and Irish coasts in the seventeenth century for slaves, but I wasn't aware of the enormous scale of the Moroccan and Algerian white slave trade. Or that it continued up to the Congress of Vienna. And I had never heard of the dramatic incident that brought it to an end - a British fleet, massively armed thanks to Britain being in the first flush of the Industrial Revolution, pounding Algiers to rubble until the local sultan agreed to give up the trade.
And did you know that an abusive gesture used by Muslims to Christians was to raise the middle finger, to indicate that there was just one God? Anyway, a great read.
33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on 11 October 2006
I have been a huge fan of Milton since Nathaniels Nutmeg, which was a phenomenal story. The whole point of his books are to take periods of history, little understood, and create a vivid story. It would be wrong to say it reads like fiction, because one is fully aware you are reading a book of history, but it is told with so much enthusiasm and poise as to make it eminently readable.
The story, as one would guess, is of the little known tale of white slaves that were captured bu the Barbary corsairs and sold to such places as Morocco and Algiers (Algeria). It goes into graphic detail about the conditions and brutality they endured, and the cruelty of their owners, particularly a despotic sultan of Morocco. I mean, you couldn't make up moulay Ismail, a brutal and ruthless villain, who was so unpredictable he could sometimes forgive even treason.
The character we follow is a chap called Thomas Pellow, captured at 11, and subjected to 23 years (ish) slavery. It follows his beatings, his enforced conversion to Islam, his rise in authority in the grandiose palace of Meknes, to when he even defied the Sultan yet lived. He then became a renegade, and thought in an army of such people, and made numerous desperate escape attempts.
Utterley absorbing. We follow sieges, naval battles, tortures, awful executions, daring emissaries, desperate escapes, betrayals. You couldn't ask for much more. If you like your history fast paced and bloody, this is for you.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 15 January 2009
I had heard a snippet of information about how white Christian Europeans had been enslaved by the Sultans of Morocco, but this was missing from my history lessons. A well researched and written history of white slaves from the 1600's taken from many parts of Europe into North Africa, told from the story of a young Cornish boy Thomas Pellow who was held as a slave for twenty-three years before escaping back to Britain. Giles Milton has opened my eyes to knowledge I did not know was there. This led me on to reading the book White Cargo, of white slaves in the British American Colonies. Oh what else were we not taught at school. 
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on 14 April 2010
THis book ought to be highly recommended reading for the following people:
a) those who ask the questions "what is history for?" and "why should we bother with history?". They may have their minds challenged, at least once, because if they are not challenged by this book, those people not only haven't got a brain, they don't have a heart either.
b) those who armed with statistics forget the deeper human side to every event or series of events; it might be ink on paper but it took blood, sweat and tears to produce this story of those awful events. Our day and age has also its share of awful events which may or may be reported about, and when they are, they just become part of a numbers game.
c) those that still believe "that would have never happened to us, never did, never will". Those who ignore history are those most likely to repeat it. Such people also tend to not see any holes in their tidy mental schemes which go along the mantra "our country set the world to rights and always came to the rescue of our people".
e) those that have either ignored or bypassed the fact that, of all the world civilizations that have practised slavery, it was only those cultures from Europe that turned their backs on practising slavery when they eventually listened to social reformers which, in England's case, was a Christian MP by the name of William Wilberforce. Where are the change of mind and practice, the apologies from non-European cultures towards the oppression they caused? Not only is the world still waiting, but they have not changed neither minds nor practices. Any replies sent on a postcard, please, and preferrably not from Darfur.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 13 July 2009
Imagine, you are singing hymns on yet another uneventful Sunday morning in a church in a sleepy little Cornish Village. The doors crash open and in burst a band of terrifying Barbary Corsairs, brandising weapons and with no compassion they round up the congregation and march them to their ships. A horrifying true story of ordinary people kidnapped into slavery and sold in the market place at Meknes in Morrocco, and of a psychopathic Sultan, Moulay Ismail whose main purpose was to work his Christian slaves to death in the baking sun, or alternatively dispose of them on a whim to feed his blood thirsty nature. The true story of Thomas Pellow, and others like him, stolen away, never to see their homeland again for many many years. The story horrified me, made me curl up in terror, but I couldnt put it down.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 12 August 2004
I was quite surprised to see a book on this subject as I had never heard about it before. It deals with the trade of White slaves in North Africa, focusing primarily on Morocco between 1600 and up until about 1750. At school, I was only taught about the Black slave trade but was never told about one dealing with White's. Using first hand accounts of survivors, it shows the hardships that were imposed on these men and women. Not only did they suffer with the heat, the backbreaking work or the squalid conditions in which they were kept, they were in constant fear of their lives. Their slave masters would use torture to make them change their religion or could be executed for the most minor of things.
The bias for primary sources does centre on British slaves, but there are mention of and recollections from other nationalities from all over Europe, as well North America. The only faults I found with it were in the way it has been speculated how people felt, when they did not leave a record or the way there was not more of a background to the events that are covered in this work. These are only minor gripes and have not taken away from my enjoyment of the piece. If history is the new Rock n' Roll, then it is nice to see someone come up with a subject that is not only new, but interesting. This has been an absolutely brilliant read and I would highly recommend it to anyone.
34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on 16 July 2004
captivating story,pardon the pun.this book really is an amazing
story of human endurance through the most horrific experiences
fate could throw at anyone,it also gave me an insight into how
the muslim world of north africa held christianity in hatred and
contempt.the tale of thomas pellow captured by barbary pirates
and his servitude under a cruel and sadistic ruler is a truly
remarkable and nightmarish journey told at a terrific pace but
still manages to pack in masses of historical facts and insight
into numerous locations and characters.apart from the central story of pellow and his adventures the descriptions of the conditions and labour of the european slaves is heart rending.
families torn apart,british governments powerless to stop the
white slavers is an episode of our history that needed to be told.a brilliant read.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 28 December 2008
A very well written book which just goes to show that someone, somewhere at sometime are being made to do something they don't want to do. Yes, unfortunately no one is immune from abuse even today. These white slaves were taken sometimes during raids by pirates and brigands along the coasts of England and other European countries. They came in the night and took nearly whole villages as captives. The poor souls did not stand a chance and most of them never saw their homes or family's ever again. Most were taken to the Middle East to be sold to wealthy Arabs and other rich rulers. This book is well worth a read.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 8 January 2009
I had been reading around the Ottoman Empire and had my interest piqued by the harrowing topic of white european slavery. I've always found Giles Milton a thoroughly readable author, and he does not disappoint. Unlike many other history narratives, he presents a vivid and enticing picture for the reader. His ability to present snippets and anecdotes without detracting from providing detail and trend to me is unsurpassed.
Revolving around the tribulations of Thomas Pellow an 11 Year old from Cornwall, who is captured by Moorish pirates this story is astonishing, even more so when it's placed as recently as the 18th Century! At a time when the British Navy was in the ascendancy, St Pauls Cathedral a shiny new building, and Britain in general was becoming wealthy and powerful it is amazing to think that arabic raiders patrolled the English Channel snapping up British, American, Russian,and Dutch Sailors.
He goes on from this proposition to place you firmly in the living hell inhabited by these unfortunates, who were very often beaten and or worked to death by their masters, forced to convert to Islam on pain of death.
The Moors are not simply wicked stereotypes they are placed in their proper context, and Ismail Moulay the tyrannical Sultan of Morocco is enigmatic, and interesting despite his vile and cruel nature.
What is refreshing from Milton is his willingness to talk about a topic which many might flinch from today candidly, you will be left thinking not only about the story of Thomas Pellow but the terrible things people are capable of in the name of religion.