White Gold: The Extraordinary Story of Thomas Pellow and Islam's One Million White Slaves Hardcover – Jun 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
For this harrowing story of white captives in 18th-century Morocco, Milton (author of the highly praised Nathaniel's Nutmeg) draws primarily on the memoir of a Cornish cabin boy, Thomas Pellow, who was taken by Islamic pirates in 1716 and sold as a slave to the legendarily tyrannical Sultan Moulay Ismail. Pellow remained in Morocco for more than 20 years, his family barely recognizing him when he at last escaped home. Placing Pellow's tale within wider horizons, Milton describes how, during the 17th and 18th centuries, thousands of European captives were snatched from their coastal villages by Islamic slave traders intent on waging war on Christendom. Put into forced labor and appalling living conditions, they perished in huge numbers. As a pragmatic convert to Islam, Pellow fared better, earning a wife who bore him a daughter. Milton includes Pellow's years as a soldier in Moulay Ismail's army and draws out his cliff-hanging escape back to England. Pellow's sensational tale dominates the book, and though rendered in seductively poised prose, in the end it feels short on ideas and argument. Milton also fails to cite other historians working in this area (a prime example being Linda Colley). 16 pages of b&w illus. not seen by PW; 2 maps.
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The horrors of the transatlantic slave trade have been extensively documented in print and eloquently portrayed on film and television. But chattel slavery was a well-established African as well as European institution, and its victims were not exclusively people of color. In the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries, the Barbary states of North Africa used Islamic pirates, or corsairs, to conduct slave raids, which fed the flourishing slave markets of Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. Many of the enslaved were white Europeans or North Americans captured at sea. Among them was Thomas Pellow, an 11-year-old English child who was seized in 1716 and served for 23 years as a personal servant to Sultan Moulay Ismail of Morocco. Milton relates Pellow's compelling story as a triumph of wile, pluck, and endurance; but this is also a tale of great brutality and suffering, as Milton eloquently shows that all of the indignities one associates with European and American slavery were visited upon those held in North Africa. A riveting account. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
I only stumbled onto this via House of Tears, and from that the brief chapter on the tale of Thomas Pellow. Another good source if this one tickles your fancy.
In any case, although the book is far from perfect, they're starting from a great source. This tale would seem unreal if it had any glimmer of romance to it, but Milton manages to portray Pellow's life without getting sucked into glamourizing what must have been a largely bitter existence. Equally, he manages deftly, I think, the contradiction of european slave trading prior to and throughout the period.
I would very much recommend this as high adventure and history lesson, and hope you will agree.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
He tells this story mostly from the records remaining about Thomas Pellow, an 11-year-old English child who was seized in 1716 and served for 23 years as a personal servant to Sultan Moulay Ismail of Morocco. However Pellow provides a background for the slave trade in general. It seems to be a very good choice of subject. He was young enough to assimilate to a greater extent with his new owners - learnign the language and customs quickly. He was also smart and plucky enough to get himself out of all kinds of situations which would have meant instant death for many. The value of life was not that great.
For the rest of Pellow's crewmates there was little hope and many served in appalling circumstances and died there labouring on the immense palaces the Moulay wanted to build.
Most extraodinary is the almost catch 22 the prisoners found themselves in, if they converted to Islam they would not be eligible for ransom by their government, however if they didn't convert they were almost sure to die in appalling conditions.
Milton writes without turning this into a tabloid-style history - it is balanced and interesting, he doesn't linger on the horrors, keeping to the story. I think this makes it strongger, and I found this book a real page turner - following Pellow's captivity and eventual daring gives it structure and the research fills in the background - my highest recommendation
Indeed this book may soon be unavailable due to those reasons. It could be construed that this account of slavery might cause offense to Muslims, though none of the Muslims I know personally would be so offended. But one of the motivations for me to buy this book was the "review" by the (Islamic?) correspondent of the Washington Post, which you kindly reproduce. Viewing this distainful dismissal was for me most revealing and may (I hope) encourage others to make this purchase also.
They will be rewarded by an account of a period of history which is being quietly swept under the carpet and out of sight.
This book is deeply fascinating not only because it is the first many of us have heard about this form of white slavery, but it also gives a fascinating look at the Moulay Ismael dynasty in Morocco. While this look is limited by telling the story through Thomas Pellows' experiences, it is fascinating to get a glimpse of an absolute ruler who had even more power and lived in more grandeur than Louis XIV.
The only way to improve the book would be to include more information on how the pirate raids and the enslavement of the English merchants and villagers affected and changed English government and society.
One reviewer wrote, "Does this sound uncomfortably familiar? Like some Islamic extremists of today, the Sultans laughed about holding Europe to ransom. They were rarely met with force." History does indeed repeat itself.