It has been said that the Indian captivity narrative, in which kidnapped or captured colonials reported the hardships of imprisonment at the hands of native people, is the first truly American literary genre. In White Slaves, African Masters
, historian Paul Baepler
shows that this genre had a precursor in the so-called Barbary captivity narrative, in which some unlucky European (or, later, American) describes life as a slave of the Algerian and Moroccan pashas, rulers of the Barbary Coast. Such narratives form part of Cervantes's Don Quixote
and Defoe's Robinson Crusoe
; they also make up a large canon of literary, historical, and autobiographical works that are scarcely known today, even among historians. Yet in their time, these writings were widely circulated. Cotton Mather
, the famed New England cleric, used several of them to denounce the Muslims of North Africa, proclaiming from the pulpit that being their prisoner was "the most horrible captivity in the world," and Benjamin Franklin drew on Barbary captivity narratives to decry the slave trade of the Southern United States.
In this one-of-a-kind anthology, Baepler gathers several noteworthy examples from American sources, beginning with Cotton Mather's sermons, continuing through post-Revolutionary War writings, such as Jonathan Cowdery's "American Captives in Tripoli" (whose daring rescue by U.S. marines provided us with the phrase "the shores of Tripoli"), and ending with a bogus narrative by one Eliza Bradley, whose 1820 memoir went into 13 U.S. editions. The narratives, Baepler reminds us, point to the long pattern of mutual misunderstanding that has prevailed between the United States and the Muslim world. Read as history and literature, these narratives also help illuminate a dark corner of the past. --Gregory McNamee
From Library Journal
Baepler (Univ. of Minnesota) has done American literary and cultural historians a service by collecting these long-out-of-print Barbary captivity narratives. These accounts of persons captured by Morocco and the Barbary regencies of Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli inform study of the more familiar American slave and Indian captivity narratives. The nine pieces included here (mostly excerpts) span two centuries, from Cotton Mather's "The Glory of Goodness" to Ion Perdicaris's "In Raissuli's Hands," which led to Teddy Roosevelt's launching of warships to Morocco. Most of the works, though, are from 1790 to 1820, when the genre was enormously popular, probably because of the nation's increasing interest in the question of slavery. Baepler's excellent introduction and full bibliography of primary and secondary sources greatly enhance our knowledge of this fascinating genre. Recommended for all collections in American studies.ALouis J. Parascandola, Long Island Univ., Brooklyn, NY
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