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Spanish Shilling

Some stories and experiences after a lifetime spent in Spain

Barbary Pirates
30 March 2021 @ 10:16

I am reading an old book about the Barbary Pirates that used to terrify the coastal villages of Southern Spain. Our village of Mojácar, for example, was so concerned about these raiders who would arrive on the shore late at night and be gone the next morning along with your daughters, your gold and your life, built the village on a high hill a kilometre inland, with a good escape route up the mountains behind, just in case the watchmen spotted the incoming attackers.

The pirates, following on from the traditions of Islam, together with a sense of outrage after the Fall of Granada, were based in various port cities along the ‘Coast of Barbary’ in North Africa, primarily Algiers, Tunis and Oran. They were a loose alliance of North African Moors and Turks from the Ottoman Empire and they preyed on European shipping and coastal towns, with their attacks stretching as far north as Ireland, England and even Iceland in search of slaves or ransom.

The corsarios lasted well into the early nineteenth century and Wikipedia notes – ‘Pirates destroyed thousands of French, Spanish, Italian and British ships, and long stretches of coast in Spain and Italy were almost completely abandoned by their inhabitants, discouraging settlement until the 19th century. From the 16th to 19th century, pirates captured an estimated 800,000 to 1.25 million Europeans as slaves…’.

Another fragment from the same source is interesting: The Americans fought two ‘Barbary Wars’ (1801 – 1805 and 1815) after ‘Payments in ransom and tribute to the Barbary states amounted to 20% of United States government annual expenditures in 1800’.

It gives a better idea of the importance of the old stone towers along our stretch of the coast to warn the local people of sightings of pirates.

The book, in old English print, refers to the treaties at the time between various European states and the Dey of Algiers (1719), with the latter saying ‘that the Barbary Corfairs, being born Pirates, and not able to fubfist by any other Means, it was the Chriftians Bufinefs to be always on their Guard, even in Time of Peace’. The book is called ‘A Voyage to Barbary for the Redemption of Captives’ and tells of how monies were collected by a French charity in 1720 to sail to Algiers to ransom as many Christians as they might. I have just read of how a French ship had been taken off the coast of Barcelona by Ottoman Turks the year before and towed towards Algiers only to be sunk in a storm off Morocco and how one ten-year-old French-girl was sorely treated by the local mountain-men before being ransomed to Algiers, to be ransomed in turn back to the French.

The French expedition eventually returned (in 1721) to Marseille with 62 'Slaves' bought from Algiers and a further 45 from Tunis.

The picture comes from a C.S. Forester book lurking in my library. I've forgotten the details, but I think the good guys win. 



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