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White Gold: The Extraordinary Story of Thomas Pellow and Islam's One Million White Slaves [Hardcover]

Giles Milton
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

June 2005
The true story of white European slaves in eighteenth century Algiers, Tunis, and Morocco

In the summer of 1716, a Cornish cabin boy named Thomas Pellow and fifty-one of his comrades were captured at sea by the Barbary corsairs. Their captors--Ali Hakem and his network of Islamic slave traders--had declared war on the whole of Christendom. France, Spain, England and Italy had suffered a series of devastating attacks. Thousands of Europeans had been snatched from their homes and taken in chains to the great slave markets of Algiers, Tunis and Salé in Morocco.

Pellow and his shipmates were bought by the tyrannical sultan of Morocco, Moulay Ismail, who was constructing an imperial palace of such scale and grandeur that it would surpass every other building in the world, a palace built entirely by Christian slave labor.

Resourceful, resilient, and quick-thinking, Pellow was selected by Moulay Ismail for special treatment, and was one of the fortunate few who survived to tell his tale.

An extraordinary and shocking story, drawn from unpublished letters and manuscripts written by slaves and by the padres and ambassadors sent to free them, White Gold reveals a disturbing and long forgotten chapter of history.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 316 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux; 1st American ed edition (June 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374289352
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374289355
  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 16.1 x 3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 612 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,094,570 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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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Customer Reviews

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History (re)Told Jan. 9 2007
Format:Hardcover
I have to admit my utter ignorance of much of the history covered in White Gold prior to reading the book itself. I had of course heard of the Barbary Pirates, the Corsairs, but simply had missed that there was ever such widespread marauding, piracy and slavery involving European and (for some reason particularly compelling to me) American captives.

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.
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  43 reviews
59 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First I ever heard of White Slavery from England June 29 2005
By A. Woodley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Did you know that Arab slave traders used to pluck villagrs and fishermen from the coast of Britain and take them off to serve in slavery in the Islamic world. I didn't even know that this trade existed, and in fact it continued into the eighteenth century - this little known fact has been turned into another compelling history by Giles milton

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
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gilles Milton does it again! Oct. 25 2005
By Richard E. Hourula - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A huge traffic in European slaves along the Barbary Coast during the 1700's? Who knew? An English lad captured at sea a slave in the imperial court for over 20 years who escaped to tell his tale? Who knew? Gilles Milton the brilliant non-fiction author of such grand books as "Nathaniel's Nugget" and "Samurai William" knew and tells the story magnificently.

Surely that is too many adjectives in praise of Mr. Milton. No one who reads this book or is familiar with his previous works will so accuse me.

"White Gold" is the amazing story of Thomas Pellow, a mere sprite of 11 when taken slave. By combinations of daring, luck, guile and endurance Pellow survived as a slave, raising to lofty positions (albeit still as a slave) all the while determined to return home. The epic journey that his escape entails is riveting reading.

As always Milton offers much background to the central story, placing it within the general context of North Africa's Islamic kings, British diplomacy and the lot of those hundreds of thousands of Europeans who were taken as slaves in Africa.

The story is rife with palace intrigues, beheadings, eunuchs, harems, wars, piracy the very limits of human endurance and the cruelty of those who so push people.

Milton is a master storyteller. To reads "White Gold", as with his other books, is to enjoy a wonderful combination of entertainment and edification. You'll have fascinating yarns to share and an enriched view of history. And perhaps like me, you'll have a book you'll want to foist on others.
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The well kept secret of white slaves June 5 2005
By Radoko - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I found this book in Dar es Salaam bookstore. Fascinating history of the well kept secret of white slaves in North Africa. None of our history books note that this is the reason the US Navy was sent to whip the Barbary pirates. Probably too embarrassing to admit that there was a time that Europe and the US was impotent in this white slave trade. Well written but not for the weak of heart.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and informative look at forgotten or ignored era Sept. 23 2005
By D. White - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
If you are like me, you have only heard of the Barbary Pirates briefly mentioned in history classes as an aside when discussing Jefferson. I had no idea that the pirates raided as far away as England, Iceland, and Russia.

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.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History Repeats - Islamic Extremists Aug. 11 2006
By J. Sharpe - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is an amazingly interesting book. I couldn't put it down. Myself and many of my friends had no idea this was a part of European/Islamic history. Some feel this isn't for the faint hearted.

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.
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