This is the forgotten story of the million white Europeans, snatched from their homes and taken in chains to the great slave markets of North Africa to be sold to the highest bidder. Ignored by their own governments, and forced to endure the harshest of conditions, very few lived to tell the tale.
Using the firsthand testimony of a Cornish cabin boy named Thomas Pellow, Giles Milton vividly reconstructs a disturbing, little known chapter of history. Pellow was bought by the tyrannical sultan of Morocco who was constructing an imperial pleasure palace of enormous scale and grandeur, built entirely by Christian slave labour. As his personal slave, he would witness first-hand the barbaric splendour of the imperial court, as well as experience the daily terror of a cruel regime.
Gripping, immaculately researched, and brilliantly realised, WHITE GOLD reveals an explosive chapter of popular history, told with all the pace and verve of one of our finest historians.
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.