Tangier, England’s lost Atlantic outpost, 1661-1684


“English consuls in the pirate cities lived in constant danger. When the corsairs brought in a party of English people taken on board an enemy ship, it was the duty of the Consul to attend the auction at which they were sold and to negotiate the release of any who could prove themselves to have been merely passengers. Any mistake on his part, or any grievance, real or imaginary, which the pirates might raise against the captains of English ships, or against the Governor of Tangier, had to be smoothed over most careful diplomacy, on pain of a popular riot which was very likely to end in the murder of the Consul, unless the Government protected him by rigorous imprisonment.”

The post of Consul at Algiers was held from 1667-1674 by John Ward, who, after many vicissitudes was cut to pieces by an angry mob in front of the palace. The Dey, an old man who had little influence, was unable or unwilling to restrain the rioters, and his wife, “a cunning, covetous English woman, who would sell her soul for a bribe,” in whose hands the chief power was said to lie, appears to have done nothing to save the Consul from his fate. While galleys were still used in the Mediterranean, slavery was practiced, as a matter of course by Europeans as well as Mohammedans, for it was impossible to obtain volunteers for the rower’s bench.

“Two galleys were built at Leghorn in 1671-1672 for use at Tangier” against the common enemy of Christendom,” and Sir Jean Baptiste Duteil, who superintended the work, sent proposals to Lord Arlington for the purchases of slaves to man them. It was usual to employ prisoners taken from pirate ships, but there was some difficulty in finding rowers for the Tangier galleys, which required forty or fifty each. It was proposed to send condemned criminals from England for the purpose, as this would “save the lives of many poor Christians, and clear the country of such idle people.”

“English convicts, however, petitioned against being sent to the galleys, and slaves were finally bought in October 1672 at Malta, where the Chevalier de Princourt and M. Bardou, commissioned by the Kings of England and France respectively to buy slaves for their galleys, arranged to buy all slaves in common at a price agreed between them, and then to draw lots, “and he who wins is to choose a slave first, and then the other is to choose, and so alternately to the end.” At the same time, Dueteil was negotiating with private persons at Malta, but found there were few slaves to be had, “though forty corsairs were out.”

“Still, he hoped to have both galleys ready for sea, with oars and sails, by the spring of 1673. “A list of slaves belonging to his Maties Bagnio at Tang”, dated 1677, contains seventy-nine names. The galleys gave occasional support to the King’s frigates in engagements with pirates near Tangier, but after four years they were superseded by “galley-frigates,” and the slaves were made over to Mr. Shere, the engineer, for work on the Mole.” 


“In time of peace, there was a certain amount of sport to be had; no more than twelve Englishmen might hunt or shoot at a time, and the officers who in a moment of excitement passed the boundary, was liable to be taken prisoner and made a slave for life. Lancelot Addison, a chaplain at Tangier, wrote in 1663: “Wild boars are no rarity in this diocese, which the Moores hunt and kill in a manly pastime. In 1669 Lord Howard was sent from England on a special embassy to the Moorish Court, with instructions to conclude, if possible a treaty of peace and commerce which would ensure for Tangier free trade and intercourse with the interior of Morocco.”

“The Ambassador sailed from Plymouth in the Mary Rose on 23 July, and reached Tangier on 11th August “safely,” though sickly.” The secretary to the Embassy was Mr. Thomas Warren, merchant of London, who carried on a considerable trade in gunpowder and saltpeter with Morocco. His agents at this time were negotiating for the sale of a large quantity of powder to the Emperor Er Rasheed II.,”

“”Letters to the Governor of Tangier from the Emperor and his chief advisers at this time gave ample proof of the futility of negotiating with the Moorish Government. It must be admitted that Ismail had some ground for his indifference to the proposals of the English. He had but too little reason to fear the military resources of Charles II., of who he spoke of as “an old woman, a slave to his Parliament”; he knew from his own spies that Tangier, by which alone he judged of England’s strength, was left ill provided with men an ammunition.”

“The defeat of his troops in October 1680 had been recounted to him in a carefully edited form by the Moorish commanders; he could see for himself that his enemies had followed up their victory only by an open willingness to treat for peace. His Ambassador told him that all the presents sent to him from England were tribute paid by the English King, and every mark of friendship and every attempt at conciliation he counted for a sign of weakness and fear. Ismail was firmly convinced that no European kingdom could prosper without his help, for the English, French, and Dutch were all rivals for his favor.”

“In 1682 the Dutch bought from him a treaty of peace and commerce at the price of six hundred quintals of the best powder and a large and richly furnished State coach. At the same time, a French Ambassador was at the Moorish Court, and the English Consul at Salli learned from some of the Moors that he was attempting to plan with the Emperor a joint attack upon Tangier. Whether this be true or false, I know not,” remarked Mr. Onby, the Consul, “but this is what I pumpt out of them, they all being very shy of telling anything of new.”

“At any rate, Kirke had suspicious of a Franco-Moorish plot, and asked for a cipher, as his letters “often happened to be broken up as they passed through France.” The persistent demands of the English for peace by sea caused great annoyance to the Emperor, who would not at first admit that he was powerless to grant their request. The Salli rovers paid not the slightest heed to the four months, true agreed to at Whitehall, merely thinking it a splendid opportunity to capture English trading vessels, while the King’s frigates lay idly by, bound to inaction by their orders. The Emperor was deaf to all remonstrances, for her knew that the pirates of Salli, though owning his suzerainty, would have paid little respect to his authority had he tried to impose upon them an unwelcome peace.” 

Source: Tangier, England’s lost Atlantic outpost, 1661-1684