White Slaves

Graham Lear
4 min readSep 4, 2017


White woman being sold into slavery

No one has heard of the Reverend Devereux Spratt, why would they seeing as he was alive in 1641 but the name Devereux Spratt holds a dark secret in the world of slavery as he was heavily involved in the slave trade. As a white man in the 1600s its no surprise that he was involved in the slave trade.

What is surprising though is the fact that Reverend Devereux Spratt was no slave trader but a slave himself. April 1661 started so well for the Reverend Devereux Spratt finding himself in Cork Ireland he secured passage on a ship to sail to England. In his own words years later, before we had lost sight of land, we were captured by Algerian pirates, who put all the men in irons.

Barbary corsairs were the bane of everyone's life in the 1600s authorised by their governments to attack the shipping of Christian countries they did it at will all across the waters of Europe. British Admiralty records show that during this time the corsairs plundered British shipping pretty much at will, taking no fewer than 466 vessels between 1609 and 1616, and 27 more vessels from near Plymouth in 1625 selling their human white cargo to rich Black African Muslims.

White man being sold as a slave

However, that is only part of the story because not only did they plunder British ships as well as other European they also landed and raided small towns and villages on the coast of England and Ireland. Almost all the inhabitants of the village of Baltimore, in Ireland, were taken in this way in 1631. Samuel Pepys gives a vivid account of an encounter with two men who’d been taken into slavery, in his diary of 8 February 1661. …to the Fleece tavern to drink and there we spent till 4 a-clock telling stories of Algier and the manner of the life of Slaves there; and truly, Captain Mootham and Mr Dawes (who have been both slaves there) did make me full acquainted with their condition there. As, how they eat nothing but bread and water…. How they beat upon the soles of the feet and bellies at the Liberty of their Padron. How they are all night called into their master’s Bagnard, and there they lie.

According to observers of the late 1500s and early 1600s, there were around 35,000 European Christian slaves held throughout this time on the Barbary Coast — many in Tripoli, Tunis, and various Moroccan towns, but most of all in Algiers. The greatest number were sailors, taken with their ships, but a good many were fishermen and coastal villagers. Out of all these, the British captives were mostly sailors, and although they were numerous there were relatively fewer of them than of people from lands close to Africa, especially Spain and Italy. The unfortunate southerners were sometimes taken by the thousands, by slavers who raided the coasts of Valencia, Andalusia, Calabria and Sicily so often that eventually it was said that ‘there was no one left to capture any longer.

White slave woman being sold to a ruling pasha

250 years between 1530 and 1780, the figure could easily have been as high as 1,250,000 — this is only just over a tenth of the Africans taken as slaves to the Americas from 1500 to 1800, but a considerable figure nevertheless. White slaves in Barbary were generally from impoverished families, and had almost as little hope of buying back their freedom as the Africans taken to the Americas: most would end their days as slaves in North Africa, dying of starvation, disease, or maltreatment.

The White Slaves in Barbary fell into two broad categories. The ‘public slaves’ belonged to the ruling pasha, who by right of rulership could claim an eighth of all Christians captured by the corsairs, and buy all the others he wanted at reduced prices. These slaves were housed in large prisons known as baños (baths), often in wretchedly overcrowded conditions. They were mostly used to row the corsair galleys in the pursuit of loot (and more slaves) — work so strenuous that thousands died or went mad while chained to the oar.

Many other slaves belonged to ‘private parties.’ Their treatment and work varied as much as their masters did. Some were well cared for, becoming virtual companions of their owners. Others were worked as hard as any ‘public’ slave, in agricultural labour, or construction work, or selling water or other goods around town on his (or her) owner’s behalf. They were expected to pay a proportion of their earnings to their owner — those who failed to raise the required amount typically being beaten to encourage them to work harder. Many slaves converted to Islam, though, as Morgan put it, this only meant they were ‘freed from the Oar, tho’ not from [their] Patron’s Service.’ Christian women who had been taken into the pasha’s harem often ‘turned Turk’ to stay with their children, who were raised as Muslims.

We never hear the plight of the White slaves. It's not taught in schools, all we hear about is the Black slaves. It is about time people especially Black people learned that they were not the only ones sold into bondage white people also suffered.



Graham Lear

What is life without a little controversy in it? Quite boring and sterile would be my answer.