The Barbary Corsairs, Pirates and Slavers: & the Amazing Adventures of Joseph Pitts, with Paul Auchterlonie

Exciting exploration of an astonishing tale from our history – that of the Barbary Pirates and Joseph Pitts, a one-time slave of the pirates from Exeter, based on Paul’s book, Encountering Islam


The Ebenezers are delighted to welcome Paul Auchterlonie

The Barbary Corsairs: these pirates from North Africa terrorised and controlled the Mediterranean for over 200 years.

The most notorious of these pirates were Hayreddin Barbarossa (Redbeard) and Oruc Reis, brothers who took over Algiers in the early 16th century and set up a base for pirates who raided European coastal towns as far north as Iceland. The Barbary Corsairs were still raiding European towns until the 19th century.

Long before European empires dominated the Middle East, Britain came face to face with Islam through the predations of the Barbary Corsairs. From the 16th to the early 19th centuries, Muslim ships based in North African ports terrorised European shipping, enslaving hundreds of thousands of Christians. The tale of Joseph Pitts is the intriguing and unique story of one Englishman’s experience of life within an Islamic society, both as a Christian slave and as a Muslim soldier.

Joseph Pitts was born in Exeter around 1663 and captured by Algerian pirates on his first voyage in 1678. Taken to Algiers, he was sold as a slave, forced to convert to Islam, and accompanied his third master on the pilgrimage to Mecca, becoming the first Englishman to visit the Muslim Holy Places.

Pitts then became a soldier in the Algerian army, taking part in campaigns against both the Moroccans and the Spanish, before undertaking a daring escape while serving with the Algerian Navy. Having had to walk across the Alps, Pitts finally reached Exeter after a journey lasting a whole year. On his return, he wrote an account of his adventures, describing his time in Algiers, his experiences as a slave, his pilgrimage to Mecca (the first detailed description in English), how Muslims practice Islam and concluding with his audacious escape.

Joseph Pitts’s book A Faithful Account of the Religion and Manners of the Mahometans, first published in 1704, is a unique combination of captivity narrative, travel account and description of Islam. Nowhere in the literature of the period is there a more intimate example of the “clash of civilisations”, since Pitts, uniquely, had experienced life from within a Muslim society.


Paul Auchterlonie

Paul read Arabic at Oxford University and for forty years has worked as a librarian specialising in Middle Eastern and Islamic studies, first at the _School of Oriental and African Studies_, London, then at the University of Lancaster.

From 1981 to 2011, he was librarian of the Middle East collections at the University of Exeter. He is the author and editor of numerous works on Middle Eastern bibliography and library science, and has recently published articles on historical and cultural relations between Britain and the Middle East.

He served for many years as the Chair of the Middle East Libraries Committee (U.K.) and is currently an Honorary Research Fellow at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter.

selected bib:

Encountering Islam: Joseph Pitts: An English Slave in 17th-Century Algiers & Mecca by Paul Auchterlonie (1 Mar 2012)

Introductory Guide to Middle Eastern and Islamic Bibliography: (Middle East Libraries Committee research guides... by Paul Auchterlonie (Feb 1990)

Collections in British Libraries on Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies: (Occasional papers series) by Paul Auchterlonie (1981)

2013Martin Keeley