North African Servitude
in Black and White
Measured numerically rather than imaginatively, French enslavement in North Africa was largely a seventeenth-century affair. One variety of Barbary servitude, however, spanned the Old Regime to the Restoration. It derived not from corsairing but from crashing—on remote strips of the Algerian and Moroccan coast. In those regions, indigenous tribes that rejected centralized government authority—and the treaties they forged—may have seized hundreds of Frenchmen and women (plus additional British, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Scandinavians, and Americans) between the reigns of Louis XV and Charles X.1 As in urban centers, a portion of these shipwreck victims died, primarily from deprivation of food and water in a harsh environment. Likewise, a few converted to Islam and stayed behind.2 It seems, however, that most trekked through miles of rugged terrain before making contact with compatriots either in Algiers or Mogador (now Essaouira), the Moroccan trading port constructed for Europeans in 1764.3 In the interim, slaves collected wood, herded goats, carried water, dragged plows, prepared meals, drove camels, and, on occasion, provided medical services for masters they judged inhumane and possibly cannibal.
Disproportionately the fate of Caribbean colonials, sub-Saharan slave traffickers, and West African explorers sailing close to notoriously treacherous shores, such bondage became more common as France expanded its role in the Atlantic slave trade and retook possession of Senegal from Great Britain.4 From the last quarter of the eighteenth century, it preoccupied various iterations of the French government and fascinated the French reading public. At least eight French accounts—plus additional translations—of death, depravity, and transculturation in the Atlas Mountains and Saharan Desert appeared before 1824, replacing