Will PA Quakers Ransom NY Mariners from Algerian Muslims?

Dateline: Philadelphia, 1693. Would Quaker-dominated Philadelphia contribute to their ransom money or turn isolationist?

Algerian Muslims captured American mariners embarked on free trade. Following Islamic law, the Muslims could free them, enslave them, or accept a ransom payment. The Algerians wanted ransom.

Please see my post in a series on Islamic sharia law: 5 Slavery in the Quran, Traditions, and Classical Sharia Law

John Miller, the “minister” of New York, wrote a letter and included printed briefs to Pennsylvania (and no doubt other colonies) asking for contribution to pay the ransom, which must have been huge if he needed help of entire colonies.

Members of the Philadelphia Council:

William Markham, Esq. and Lieutenant Governor, who, incidentally, was not a Quaker.

Robert Turner, Wm. Salway, Lawrence Cock, Patrick Robinson, Secretary

Aside: Lawrence Cock was also known as Lassy (Lacy) Cock, a Swedish translator between the English Americans and Natives.

Now let’s return to the issue at hand.

One problem is that September was the “sickly time” or a season of fevers and diseases. Councilmen stayed home, so the Council could not form a quorum.

John Miller requests that the Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania should distribute letters and printed briefs asking for help to a wide readership. Would the Council allow their publication? What would Markham do?

Modernized transcription begins:

The Lieutenant Governor having a letter from John Miller, the minister of New York, directed to him, dated 18th August 1693, which came to his hands the 4th instant, containing enclosed several copies of a printed brief, granted by his Excellency Benjamin Fletcher, etc. by and with the advice of the Council of New York to Warner Wessells, Anth. [?] Christians, and others, friends of Cornelius Christians, Peter Wessells, Bartholomew Rowston, John Crage [Craig] and Wm. Green, late of New York, mariners, and now captives in Algiers—by reason that their relations are not able to ransom them—to ask and receive the charity of all Christian people under his Excellency’s government, for their redemption.

And also, several letters to several places and persons in Pennsylvania relating thereto;

And therefore desiring the Lt. Governor’s assistance therein; and that he would promote it as much as he can, and to cause [to] distribute the said briefs and letters.

And since by reason of the sickly time, the Lieutenant Governor could not have a full Council, and being unwilling to defer the consideration of the affair any longer did communicate the same [content of the Letter and brief] to this Board, and after the said letter and brief were read, desired the advice and opinion of the Council therein, who, though they declared themselves willing to exercise their charity towards such captives;

Yet upon debate were of the opinion that they having no command or advice from his Excellency concerning it, and the briefs being granted by his Excellency, by and with the advice of the Council of New York only, and that it had no relation to this Province [of Pennsylvania] and did therefore humbly conceive that they ought not to be distributed.

Transcription ends.

In other words, the Philadelphia Council met without a full number and decided not to get involved because capture and ransom it did not touch Pennsylvania.

In the bigger picture, Islamic law says Muslims can capture free people and often did.

In the early eighteenth century, Thomas Jefferson got tired of the Algerian “divine” piracy, and sent the marines to the “shores of Tripoli,” to free captured Americans and to guarantee free trade.

Apparently these earlier Pennsylvanians did not share the same vision as Jefferson will have, and neither did the New Yorkers, since neither province had a navy. And it is not clear the Quakers would have gotten involved in instituting justice by military force in the first place.


Minutes of the Provincial Council, vol. 1, 1683-1700, (Jo. Severns and Co. 1852), pp. 389-90.

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