Eleven Years a Prisoner in Algiers
On July 25, 1785, after six weeks on the Atlantic, the American schooner Maria cruised along the Portuguese coast, three miles southeast of Cape Saint Vincent when a fourteen-gun Algerian xebec captured the American vessel and its crew of six, stowing them in the dank sail locker below deck. Among the miserable captives sat James Leander Cathcart, the future U.S. consul general to the Barbary States.
Throughout his eleven years as a captive, Cathcart curried favor with anybody who could help him, and he eventually rose to the highest position a Christian slave could hold; chief Christian secretary to the Algerian dey.
In this passage from White Slaves, African Masters Cathcart describes the working conditions and food in which he endured:
"Figure to yourself above a thousand poor wretches, many of them half naked without hat or shoes, at work in the heat of the sun all day till four and sometimes till five or six o'clock on a summer day, carrying earth in a basket to the top of a high building, exposed to the heat and often blistered with the sun, chafed and scalded with the weight of their load, the perspiration flowing from them; add to this that they only received two small loaves of black bread of seven ounces each in all the day and a very small portion of horse beans, probably without any oil, as their small allowance is given out the day before and is generally either stolen or made away with in some way or another by the people to whose care it was intrusted, and on their arrival at the prison at night they then receive a loaf of the same sort of bread, but weighing twelve ounces which is all they ever receive on Friday... it frequently happens that they find rats, mice and other animals boiled in the burgul, which is by no means a pleasant addition to their mess."
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