an Age of Enlightenment
Bombarding Barbary did not obliterate the region’s slave-making capacity. But, helped by disease, it did radically diminish the number of French subjects in chains.1 With a gradual contraction of the galley fleet and a corresponding willingness to return Muslim rowers, especially after Louis XlV’s death in 1715, most Catholic captives outside Morocco able to demonstrate ties to France could anticipate relatively speedy release. Except for mariners and merchants snatched during brief interludes of war—1728–1729 and 1741–1742—those who lingered in Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli possessed one of four sorts of disputed identity. Early in the century, they lacked the proper papers, or they had mixed or alien parentage but a connection to the kingdom via employment or emigration. Later, they had deserted the French or a foreign army, or they had come under French dominion through conquest. They were, in other words, unlucky, undocumented, unfaithful, or unintentional Frenchmen.
For one regent (Philippe d’Orléans) and two monarchs (Louis XV and Louis XVI), freeing slaves in even these marginal categories remained a tactic for binding individuals to the state and jockeying for preeminence over European competitors. For the Trinitarians and Mercedarians, redemption remained a holy calling whose pursuit promoted allegiance to the Gallican Church and crown. Over the course of several decades, however, such continuity in purpose was undermined by a divergence in context. Besides the greater scarcity and ambiguous status of victims carried to the Ottoman regencies, the eighteenth century saw—among many other developments—the rapid expansion of human trafficking to the Caribbean, the failure of Marseille’s quarantine system, and the further loss of autonomy and standing for the two Catholic orders.