Joseph Pitts was born in Exeter, and like most Englishmen of the West Country he inherited a strong attachment to the sea. When he was fifteen years old he followed his inclination and joined the vessel Speedwell, whose master was Mr George Taylor. Joseph Pitts must have been close to insensibility or surrender. The young Pitts, it transpired, was to be given to the latter as a token of his brother’s esteem. Pitts’s fellow countrymen could not raise the necessary cash and he was returned to Algiers. The following night, the master entreated Pitts to renounce his religion. Pitts hoped that the mistress of the household would grant him his freedom. Fortunately for Pitts, his new owner was an old man of kindly disposition. Pitts describes it as ‘like the tombstones which people of fashion have among us, but with a very handsome embroidered covering’.