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The Abolition of Slavery in Ottoman Tunisia$

Ismael M. Montana

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780813044828

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813044828.001.0001

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(p.138) Appendix A: The Tunisian Trans-Saharan Slave Trade and the Traffic across the Mediterranean

(p.138) Appendix A: The Tunisian Trans-Saharan Slave Trade and the Traffic across the Mediterranean

The Abolition of Slavery in Ottoman Tunisia
University Press of Florida

Document 1

Lord Sydney to Robert Traill, FO 77/3, NA, Kew


6 October 1788


I am recommended to signify to you the King's pleasure, that you procure and transmit to me for the information of the Lord of the Committee of Council of Trade, an account of the trade in slaves carried in the Dominions of the Bey of Tunis, stating the numbers annually brought into them and sold, distinguishing those that are natives of Asia from those that are natives of Africa, and specifying as far as may be possible from parts of Asia and Africa the so sold in the Dominions of the Bey are brought and stating whether the male slaves are usually castrated: and it is His majesty's further pleasure that you furnish me, for the use the Committee, with an account of the Caravans, if any periodically sent from the Bey's Dominions into the interior parts of Africa, to what countries they go, of what commerce thereby carried on to and from the interior of Africa consists, and the probable annual amount of each article; together with all circumstances which you may be able to collect that may tend to throw a light on the nature and extent of their commerce and on the condition, population, state of cultivation and governance of those countries in the interior of Africa, with which this trade is carried on.

I am Sir,

Lord Sydney

(p.139) Document 2

Robert Trail to Lord Sydney, FO 77/3, NA, Kew


1 February 1789

My Lord,

Honored by your Lordship's much esteemed circular letter on the October 6th last which I did not receive until the 26th December through the hands of Consul Aldny of Leghorn and ever desirous to fulfill my duty to the utmost of my power in the charge of this Consulate, wherewith I am at present honoured. I have therefore ever since the receipt of your Lordship's above commands been endeavoring to collect every information and light that I possibly could obtain to add to my own intelligence on the nature and extent of the trade in slaves and other articles, carried on in the Dominions of this Bey and by the best intelligence that I can procure, I find this Government [of Tunis] do not enter into this commerce at all. But there are five or six yearly caravans of particular group called Godempsis, who undertake a journey of forty-day distance from hence towards the interior parts of Africa. There being no caravans undertaken towards Asia from this Bey's Dominions to Godempsi, which is their native country. From thence, there are other caravans undertaken but once a year to Gass [Ghat], which is twenty days farther journey in the interior of Africa. From Gass [Ghat] to Jannese [Jenne] seven days farther and from thence to Ayire [Aïr], which is forty days, journey. The country produces a considerable quantity of senna, which is the principal article of commerce that these caravans bring with them back, except the Negroes from Africa. From Ayire in eight days farther journey, they arrive at Eghdir [Agades] which place is every extensive and is governed by a despotic prince, who is called Twerkia [Tuareg], and fifteen days farther from thence, they arrive at Giauri [Gwari], where they generally procure the castrated Blacks; from thence ten days farther is Burgu and ten days from that is a very extensive forest call Gabba, which produces great quantities of Logwood and other dyers woods which articles are generally sent to Giorback [Yorubaland], which is a sea port eight days journey distance from said forest, and there dispose of the Christians, who go to the Coast of Guinea. The above-mentioned different countries are each governed by a despotic commander.

The Twerkians are the people who generally procure the Negroes, which are purchased by the caravans made to that place yearly from Godempsi. In which they generally collect to the amount of one thousand or one thousand three hundred Negroes part of whom they dispose of as they can find (p.140) sale for on their return. But the greatest part are brought to Godempsi from whence there is generally to the amount of one thousand yearly brought into the Dominions of Tunis, when the caravans are considerable, though some years the quantity does not arrive to half that number of which there is seldom upwards of one hundred or one hundred and fifty men and boys and those castrated. The women slaves being much more useful in the Moorish families. The Godempsi sometimes bring with them four or five castrated Black boys, whom they dispose of among the principal people here at a very exorbitant rate. But when such are wanted, they are particularly commissioned from the Levant.

The only articles of commerce, which are brought by these caravans into this King's Dominions, are senna, gold dust, ostrich feathers and at times a few elephant teeth. The most considerable article, which is the senna, they bring during the year generally to the amount of three thousand, Hundred weight to Jerba which being the first place on the confined of this Kingdom where they stop. They are then generally forced to dispose of at least one-third of their quantity to the governor of the said place by which means there is seldom above one thousand hundred when arrives at Tunis, which being made little use of here, is generally sold from about £3.10 to £4 for hundred weight, and shipped from thence to Europe. The quantity of gold dust, which is brought seldom amount to the value of £500 and the ostrich feathers are of little importance as the quantity does not exceed one hundred unplucked skins yearly, which are sold from £5 to £6 each skin.

Nothing in Levant or worthy your Lordship's attention arriving in this state at present and having presumed so long, about your Lordship's patience with the above narrative, I have the honour to be your Lordship most humble servant and etc.

Robert Traill

Document 3

Mr. Reynold to Col. Lutherland, enclosure: Report of the proceedings on the discovery of the concealment of slaves on board the Greek Brig. Millitiade, FO 84/373, NA, Kew

Lazaretto, Cephalonia

6 January 1841

The Greek Brigantine “Millitiade,” Captain Manolli Russi, in 6 days according to his declaration from Tunis having on board 28 passengers and a crew consisting of 5 persons, including the captain having arrived in this port [Lazaretto] and anchored near the lighthouse of Sir. Theodore, the (p.141) above-mentioned Captain came on shore accompanied by Mons. Docteur Pierre Gaspare Corbeau, the latter declared to the prior of the Lazzareto that he and several other Frank [French] passengers positively declined proceeding with the said captain for reasons, which he would only explain to the Incaricato di Sanita in person.

Consequently, the undersigned withdrew with the said Mons. Corbeau and inquired of him what he had to communicate. He replied “Besides the bad treatment to which we have been exposed on board the said vessel and its illegal navigators since there is no muster-will containing the names of the crew and passengers, it has also on board 14 slaves in contravention of the Laws of Nations whom the Captain embarked near La Golleta at Tunis tied with cords in order to deliver them as slaves to a Turk in Candia. After our departure from Tunis, the said Captain instead of making sail and proceeding on his voyage loitered in the Gulf of Tunis, and on the Wednesday after sunset of the 2nd day, i.e. the evening of the Wednesday after Christmas, 13 Black men were brought on board. A black female slave was already on board when the others were brought all bound together with cords, accompanied by a slave merchant personally known to me and also to everyone at Tunis, is publicly exercising that trade which is permitted by the Tunisian Government. The said slaves are on board but they are concealed in the hold of the vessel, and are not permitted to appear on deck.

When we approached this Island, the persons who gives out as master, and who is at this very moment in the Parlatorio and likewise two other persons who are on board but in that capacity I do not know sent for us and told us to swear to say nothing about the slaves being on board, because they know that such traffic was against the Laws of Nations and that it would be punished if it were discovered, threatening at the same to kill us all and throw us into the sea, if we should reveal the fact. This happened when we were near the Island, and moreover when I came upon deck, he who passes for master asked me, if I had money to buy provisions with, and upon my saying yes, his father (that man with a white beard) said to me if I had known that you had money, I will have thrown you into the sea. Just now, whilst you were speaking to me the Sordisant Captain whispered to me making signs at the same time that should I reveal what I know and what was on board, he would serve me out (mi avrebbe servito) showing me his knife at the same time. Therefore I implored the Magistrate to take such measures as he may consider necessary, so that I and the other Frank [French] passengers may be permitted to land in this Lazareeto, and that the slaves may be liberated. All this I affirm upon oath as the simple and pure truth.”


(p.142) The boat was then ordered to return on board and bring on shore all the passengers or at least he who had presented himself as such at the Parlatori having repeatedly sworn and declared that there were only 28 passengers on board. The undersigned having said nothing about the information received from Mons. Corbeau, on the return of the boat to the Parlatorio with the 28 persons, called aside Mr. Giovane Pietro Cattin, quandrom Pietro, a native of Savoy and passengers on board the said vessel on being requested by the magistrate to declare upon oath, all that he knew with regard to the 14 slaves on board the vessel, he answered, “I embarked on the said vessel at Tunis, in order to go to Candia with my family consisting of my wife, daughter and servant. The Captain by delaying made us lose two days in the Gulf of Tunis, and on the second day, I landed at La Golleta, in order to complain to a certain Gaspari, who I believed acts as Consul for all Nations against such delay, but receiving nothing but empty promises from him, that the vessel should proceed on the arrival of the son of the captain, who had returned to Tunis. I re-embarked, and during the evening of the said day, which I believe was the Wednesday after Christmas-day (new-style) we saw a boat arriving, having with it the son of the Captain, and 13 Black slaves all of them with their hands tied behind their backs with cords and also a slave merchant, whom I have often seen selling slaves in Tunis. The slaves were untied one by one, and by dint of blows from a rope were forced to come up the side, and arriving upon deck were sent below into the hold from whence they were not allowed to go upon deck, except one by one and always guarded. We made sail about half an hour after they got on board, and having a fine breeze on the whole we have made a good voyage but it was evident that the crew were most ignorant for when we got sight of this Island, no one knew where we were, but the Captain or at least he who pretends to be such, thinking that it might be Cephalonia, said to me, “If you will swear to say nothing about our having black people on board, (he does not call them slaves) we will go in, but if you do say anything, we are lost men” he and the others made us repeat this oath until we were angry, and this very morning, when Mons. Corbeau went on shore with the Soi-disant master, the crew seeing that they were a long time made us a thousand menace against our saying anything, and when the boat returned to take us on shore, that man with the great mustachios, said to us, “if we had thrown you into the sea this would not have happened.” He adds moreover that whilst the Captain was on shore at the Lazzarreto, the black men wishing to come upon deck two of the crew armed themselves with sabres and made them go down again into the hold, (p.143) by dint of blows.” Having had this over from him in French, this gentleman speaks French with greater facility than Italian he confirmed it upon oath.


Signora Virginia, wife of the Signor G. P. Cattin being interrogated fully confirmed the deposition of her husband, concerning the bringing onboard of the 13 male slaves with their hands tied behind and the negress who was already on board. The whole of which she saw from on shore from the House of Mr. Gaspari, which she had gone to complain of the delay. This having been read to her in French, she confirmed it.

[Signed] Virginia Cattin

Celestin Le Comte

Native of Cambray, a locksmith by profession, being interrogated confirms the deposition of the preceding witness and adds moreover that being sent to sleep in the hold together with the 13 men slave, he was positive that they were slaves, and that all the passengers shed tears on seeing the cruel way in which they were brought on board, so much so that when they were unbound they had not strength enough to get up the side and were forced to do so by cuffs and blows. They were accompanied and brought on board by a slave merchant well-known to him by sight, but not by name, and no attempt was made to conceal that they were slaves, a fact corroborated by every act of the crew towards them during the voyage who only allowed them to go upon deck to satisfy the wants of nature, and then drove them again by blows with a rope's end.

This having been read to him in French he confirmed it with an oath.


After receiving this information, the undersigned ordered that the boat of the aforesaid Brig. with sailors and one guardian should proceed immediately alongside accompanied by the boat of the Captain of the port, having in it Signor Luca Moraiti, prior of the Lazzaretto and disembark the 13 aforesaid black slaves, and this was done without informing the Soi-disant Captain that anything was known about the slaves who were on board and whilst the boat was pushing off from the mole of Lazzaretto, the Soi-disant (p.144) Captain changed colour and exhibited all the signs of alarm. After some time addressing himself undersigned, he said, “Sir [you] have in your power to ruin me.” What? Answered the undersigned, I confess, “said he. “That I have some persons on board whom I have not mentioned.” “And who they were they?” asked the undersigned, “Black men,” answered he.

In the meantime the Prior of the Lazzaretto, Signor Luca Moraiti, having arrived alongside the Brig. the 13 men and the negress were brought out of the hold, and carried on shore in the boat of the vessel, having in it likewise the above mentioned old man with the white beard, and the boat was towed and escorted by the boat of the Sanita and they were placed in separate Stalie of the Lazzaretto, that is the Frank passengers apart, the Turks and Greeks and other, the Soi-disant captain in another and the father-in-law of the captain (who is the old man with the white beard) and a boy in another. They were secured for a night in Lazzaretto by guards outside and a guardian sent on board the vessel, and guard boat in sight.

Mr. Reynold, Incaricato di Sanita