White Gold: The Extraordinary Story of Thomas Pellow and by Giles Milton

By Giles Milton

In the summer season of 1716, a Cornish cabin boy named Thomas Pellow and fifty-one of his comrades have been captured at sea via Barbary corsairs. Their captors--Ali Hakem and his community of Islamic slave traders--had declared struggle more commonly of Christendom. Pellow and his shipmates have been got by means of the tyrannical sultan of Morocco. Drawn from the unpublished letters and manuscripts of Pellow and survivors like him, White Gold is an interesting glimpse at a time lengthy forgotten through history.

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Rainsborough was shocked at the number of vessels under their command. More than fifty had been made ready for action and their captains were preparing to launch attacks on both England and Newfoundland. One of Rainsborough’s lieutenants, John Dunton, learned that the corsairs were expecting to seize more captives than ever before. ” Rainsborough was in no doubt that they were in deadly earnest. “The last yeare, by this time, they had brought in 500 of his Majestie’s subjects,” he wrote, “and I veryly beleve, had wee not come, they would have taken many more this yeare.

His revelations about life in Meknes also tally with Moroccan sources. Both Ahmed ez-Zayyani and Ahmad bin Khalid al-Nasari paint a strikingly similar picture of life in the imperial capital. Thomas Pellow and his fellow shipmates were captured at a time when North Africa’s slave population had diminished, but conditions were as wretched as ever. Their incarceration coincided with one of the last great flurries of slave trading, when virtually every country in Europe found itself under attack. But the story of the white slave trade begins almost ninety years earlier, when the Barbary corsairs launched a series of spectacular raids on the very heart of Christendom.

Only the vizier, sweltering in his leopardskin pelt, dared to wipe the beads of sweat from his brow. The stillness intensified as the chariot drew near. From beyond the courtyard there was a furious cry, followed by the crack of a whip. The hullabaloo grew suddenly louder, echoing through the palace courts and corridors. Seconds later, Sultan Moulay Ismail of Morocco entered the parade ground in his gilded chariot, drawn not by horses but by a harnessed band of wives and eunuchs. This unfortunate team staggered up to the assembled courtiers before allowing their reins to slacken.

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