Of Cross and Crescent
Early North American abolitionists in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries presented the situation of Christians captured by Muslims, the so-called Barbary pirates, as analogous to the situation of enslaved Africans in the Americas. This essay examines Barbary captivity as a rhetorical topos employed in public debates in order to defy both of these apparatuses of violence. It discusses, as its main example, a Puritan tract that has so far received only marginal attention in scholarship on Barbary captivity: Samuel Sewall’s The Selling of Joseph: A Memorial (1700), one of the first antislavery tracts printed in the North American colonies. Setting up an analogy between the captivity of Christians in the hands of Muslims and the enslavement of Africans in North America, Sewall’s treatise raises crucial epistemological and ethical questions about the comparability of dissimilar regimes of violence.