Frenchmen in Chains : Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Dispatches from North Africa

Conférence en français.

Frenchmen snatched by pirates off the coasts and waters of the Mediterranean and Atlantic and carried into Barbary captivity during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries did not quietly await deliverance. In letters home, sailors, merchants, fishermen and ship passengers enslaved in Tripoli, Tunis, Algiers and Morocco lobbied vigorously on their own behalf, imploring families, town councils and religious leaders to forward ransom funds and urging government officials to exert diplomatic or military pressure to secure their release. These epistolary remains, scattered in French archives, show individuals from a range of social backgrounds, stripped of status and freedom and struggling to cast their experience in a favorable light ; as dutiful children and parents, devout Catholics, loyal subjects, civic denizens or proud patriots. Letters often recount the moment of capture and detail the loss of merchandise. Some describe poor food, hard labor, abominable treatment and plague; others pass on intelligence about political intrigue in North Africa or make observations about social mores.
This paper, based on approximately one hundred slave letters, will examine the first-hand perceptions and rhetorical strategies of French captives in North Africa from the reign of Louis XIII to the Revolutionary Wars. It will point out changes in both the correspondence's tenor and the authors' identities over two centuries, as bombardments of and peace treaties with the Barbary powers diminished the threat of captivity and political upheavals in France compelled even far-flung slaves to shift their allegiances. From the Old Regime to the beginning of the Napoleonic era, this paper will argue, captives progressively invoked principles of religion, liberty and national honor to beg for their release. Letters composed until the Revolution appeal for redemption largely on grounds of civic duty and Catholic charity, displaying none of the religious cynicism that begin to infuse published memoirs of Barbary captivity during the eighteenth century. Those dating from the 1790 contrast revolutionary ideals of freedom with images of Frenchmen in chains. Finally, residents of recently annexed territories like Corsica and Venice pledge loyalty to the Republic and demand the same physical and political liberties as native-born citizens.

Mots-clés : esclavage. Afrique du Nord. récit.Tripoli. Alger. Tunis. Marseille. Corse. Venise. liberté. archive

Publications sur les voyages
"Cervantes" and "Barbary Wars" in The Historical Encyclopedia of Prisoners of War and Internment, Santa Barbara, CA, ABC-CLIO, forthcoming, spring 2000.
"Commerce, Conversion and French Religious Identity in the Early-Modern Mediterranean"
"The Adventure of Religious Pluralism in Early Modern France", University of Exeter, April 19-21, 1999 (chapter in collected volume forthcoming, winter 2000).
"From Barbary to France : Processions of Redemption and Early-Modern Cultural Identity", in La liberazione dei 'captivi' tra Christianità e Islam. Oltre la crociata e il gihad tolleranza e servizi umanitario (Rome, 16-19 September 1998), ed. Giulio Cipollone (Rome : Gangemi Editore, 2000), p. 789-805.