It is often forgotten that for 300 years Africans raided the coast of Britain seizing loot and slaves.

Barbary slavesBased mainly in the ports of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli they were known as the ‘Barbary Pirates’.

They attacked and plundered not only countries bordering the Mediterranean but as far north as the English Channel, Ireland, Scotland and Iceland, with the western coast of England almost being raided at will.

Barbary pirates raided on land as well as at sea. For example, in August 1625 corsairs raided Mount’s Bay, Cornwall, capturing 60 men, women and children and taking them into slavery.

The situation was so bad that in December 1640 a Committee for Algiers was set up by the British Parliament to oversee the ransoming of captives. At that time it was reported that there were some 3,000 to 5,000 English people in captivity in Algiers.

In 1675 Sir John Narborough, backed by a Royal Navy squadron, managed to negotiate a peace with Tunis. A heavy naval bombardment by the British then brought about a similar peace with Tripoli.

barbary pirates - Algiers

Algiers was also attacked from the sea, not only by British warships but also by the French and Spanish.

The United States fought two wars against the Barbary States of North Africa: the First Barbary War of 1801–1805 and the Second Barbary War, 1815 – 1816.

Finally after an attack by the British and Dutch in 1816 more than 4,000 Christian slaves were liberated and the power of the Barbary pirates was broken.

African, European and Arab slavery

The numbers of slaves captured by the various slaving nations will never be known with certainty.

These are some estimates

Europeans enslaved by Africans: 1 million

West Coast Africans enslaved by Europeans: 10 – 12 million

Africans enslaved by Arabs or Muslims: 17 million

All these figures can be contested. This is not a lesson in ‘comparative evil’, but Europeans were certainly not the only ones involved in slavery. As the BBC put it:

Europe did not have a monopoly on slavery. Muslim traders also exported as many as 17 million slaves to the coast of the Indian Ocean, the Middle East, and North Africa.

Some historians say that between the years 1500 and 1900, five million African slaves were transported via the Red Sea, the Sahara and East Africa to other parts of the world.

Slavery is – of course – a terrible blot on all human history. But it extended far beyond Africa. 

Asian slavery could be found from India to China, from Afghanistan to Korea.

Present day slavery can be found in Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Chad and Sudan. There are slave markets today in Libya, in which refugees and migrants are being sold.

The fight against slavery – ‘modern’ and descent based – must continue until this scourge is finally eliminated.