In the early 17th century, just as the trade in African slaves was increasing, large numbers of British sailors were being captured in the Mediterranean and sold as slaves to North African kingdoms. The Barbary Pirates who attacked the ships had invented a very good trade – North Africa was happy to buy the slaves as labourers, and the pirates also ransomed their captives. Often they would send one man from a crew back to England to raise the ransom for the others, and this is how we know about the Dorset sailors.
The Government and England generally were greatly concerned about these slaves, and indeed in 1625 Charles I sent a mission to north Africa to try to buy back 2,000 British slaves. No-one related this to the British enslaving Africans, a trade which was increasing at exactly the same time.
The photo to the right shows Lyme men dressed up as pirates for Regatta Week in the 1920s. In the 17th century, their ancestors were threatened by real pirates in the Mediterranean, and at least 25 Lyme sailors were taken captive and enslaved in North Africa.
Lyme Regis Museum
List of four Lyme sailors ‘deteyned in misserable slavery’ in North Africa 1677-1679. Happily four out of the five listed got back to Lyme as the births of their children appear in the Parish Registers in the 1680s.
Original document (right) listing Lyme sailors taken captive:
Lyme February 19th 1677 Wheras Nicholas Bradick of Lyme Regis Aged about Twentie fower yeres taken captive by the Pirats of Argieire [Algiers] in September last past and now there deteyned in misserable slavery in wich he is like to Remayne without the charytable assistance of well disposed Christians. his Ransome being about One Hundred Pounds which exceeds the abillitie of his Friends, Therefore wee doe heartylie recommend the deplorable condicion of the said poore captive to your Christian considracion hopeing god will incyne [incline] your harts to a cheerful contribucion to soe good a workes as the Redempcion of a Christian from sure missery, wherin we have wee have bin frequently helpful to others, and hope to finde the like Christian compassion from you, wee being commaunded to remember those in bonds as bound with them, and Assureing you that what shall be soe collected shall be ymployed to the above said charytable Use, or Returned and Thankfully acknowledged by us.
Jo: Dare taken in November 1678
John Bacon sonn of Richad Bacon of Lyme Rs mariner a[ged] 22 yeres or thereabouts was taken on october last past his Ransom one hunded pounds or thereabouts which exceeds [illegible contracted word] his g[?etting] being but the last yere cast ashore out of a vessel belo [nging] to this place where he lost all or most pte [part] he had
Sept the 18th 79
Stephen Bowdidg of Lyme Regis aged about 19 yeres taken in october last Ransome £120 or thereabouts