By Christine E. Sears (auth.)
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Extra info for American Slaves and African Masters: Algiers and the Western Sahara, 1776–1820
Though always helpful, their work was particularly appreciated during plague outbreaks. Sick slaves might rest and be treated in the hospital, and, as Foss explained, the priests and “Doctors” protected, or tried to protect, slaves from taskmasters eager to make them return to work. Some priests let slaves rest in the hospital and avoid work. 41 If religion did not bind them, American and European slaves were unified in the belief that the Catholic priests in Algiers should assist them. They expected charitable care from Catholic priests.
While Catholic orders generally were supported by specific countries and concentrated on redeeming conationalists, they did not limit their activism to coreligionists or countrymen. Thomas Jefferson initially worked through Mathurins in an attempt to free Americans. Ultimately, this failed for several reasons, the most glaring being the dissolution of the order during the French Revolution. 40 All European and American slaves esteemed Catholic priests as caretakers of the sick and needy, more than providers of religious comfort.
A slave might marry a Muslim woman if he converted to Islam and remained in Algiers or in a Muslim polity. Only a handful chose this route, and those who did had little chance of redemption. 18 Foss and other enslaved Americans left families in the United States, and they looked forward to rejoining their mothers and fathers, siblings and grandparents, wives and children, after a temporary enslavement. Until that time, they corresponded with their families, an activity the Ottoman Algerian government not only permitted, but also encouraged because the Algerian Regency hoped that slaves’ letters might speed their redemption.