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Title page for ETD etd-10142015-093351

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Sutton, Angela Christine
URN etd-10142015-093351
Title White Slaves in Barbary: The Early American Republic, Orientalism and the Barbary Pirates
Degree Master of Arts
Department History
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Catherine Molineux Committee Member
Jane Landers Committee Member
  • Orientalism
  • Africa
  • Caribbean
Date of Defense 2009-05-13
Availability unrestricted
"In this work, I have not attempted a full description of the many hellish torments and punishments those piratical sea-rovers invent and inflict on the unfortunate Christians who may by chance unhappily fall into their hands..." wrote John Foss, an American sailor captured by pirates off the coast of North Africa and sold into slavery in 1793. Many other captives were not as reserved, describing the pirates' bloody attacks with colorful, titallating language that provoked outrage in early America. Although often exaggerated or forged, the Orientalist tropes perpetuated about the Barbary Pirates would shape not only future encounters with the Barbary powers, but early American foreign policy as well. These first American encounters with North Africa through the pirates set a precedent for how the young nation would engage with belligerent powers in the future. While European superpowers paid tribute and appeased the Barbary nations in order to incapacitate their economic rivals on the seas, the American Congress commissioned a naval fleet and prepared for war. To understand this unusual response to the Barbary threat, this paper explores the captivity narratives' role in early American perceptions of North Africa. In examining these narratives in their historical context, and comparing the ideas and opinions in the American newspapers and broadsides with the papers of the Jefferson administration, it comes clear that the legend of the Barbary Pirates shaped America views of "the Orient," which led to an uncharacteristic acceptance of radical foreign policy.
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