James Riley (captain)

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James Riley (1777, Middletown, Conn.[1] – 13 March 1840 at sea) was the Captain of the United States merchant ship Commerce.[2]

Sufferings in Africa[edit]

Riley led his crew through the Sahara Desert, after they were shipwrecked off the coast of contemporary Western Sahara in August 1815, and wrote a memoir about their ordeal. This true story describes how they came to be shipwrecked and their travails in the Sahara Desert. The book, published in 1817 and originally titled Authentic Narrative of the Loss of the American Brig 'Commerce' by the "Late Master and Supercargo" James Riley, is modernly republished as Sufferings in Africa.[3] The book struck the nineteenth century reader because it was a startling switch on the then-usual master-slave relationship, which was white owners and black slaves.[citation needed]

Lost in this unknown world, Captain Riley felt responsible for his crew and their safety. He told of the events leading to their capture by marauding Sahrawi natives who kept them as slaves. Horribly mistreated, they were beaten, sun-burnt, starved, and forced to drink their own and camel urine. A slave would be worked until close to death and then either traded or killed.[citation needed]

Aftermath[edit]

Once back on shore, Riley devoted himself to anti-slavery work but eventually returned to a life at sea. He died March 13, 1840, on his vessel the Brig William Tell between New York and St. Thomas, "of disease caused by unparalleled suffering more than twenty years previous during his shipwreck and captivity on the desert of Sahara."[4] The lives of his crew were foreshortened, no doubt, from complications caused by their hardships in the African desert. The last surviving crewman was the cabin boy, who lived to be 82.[citation needed]

In 1851, eleven years after Riley's death at sea, the publishing firm of G. Brewster issued the book Sequel to Riley's Narrative: Being a Sketch of Interesting Incidents in the Life, Voyages and Travels of Capt. James Riley, from the Period of His Return to His Native Land, After His Shipwreck, Captivity and Sufferings Among the Arabs of the Desert, as Related in His Narrative, Until His Death.[5]

Influence[edit]

Riley founded the midwestern village of Willshire, Ohio, which he named for William Willshire, the man who redeemed him from slavery.[6]

Abraham Lincoln, who later became president of the United States, listed Sufferings in Africa, as one of the three most influential works that shaped his political ideology, particularly his views on slavery. The others were the Bible and The Pilgrim's Progress (1678).[7]

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ "James Riley". Online Biographies. 
  2. ^ King, Dean (2004). Skeletons on the Zahara. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 978-0-316-83514-5. 
  3. ^ Riley, James (1817). Sufferings in Africa. ISBN 1-59048-108-9. 
  4. ^ Josiah Riley (3 June 1853). "Obituary of Capt. Riley". Alton Weekly Courier. Alton Weekly Courier. Newspapers.com. 
  5. ^ Riley, James & Riley, William Willshire (1851). Sequel to Riley's Narrative: Being a Sketch of Interesting Incidents in the Life, Voyages and Travels of Capt. James Riley, from the Period of His Return to His Native Land, After His Shipwreck, Captivity and Sufferings Among the Arabs of the Desert, as Related in His Narrative, Until His Death. G. Brewster. 
  6. ^ King, Dean (2004). Skeletons on the Zahara. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 978-0-316-83514-5. 
  7. ^ Oren, Michael. "To the Shores of Tripoli". Wall Street Journal. 

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Maislish, David (2005). White Slave: Based on the Journal of James Riley; Wrecked with His Crew Off the Coast of Africa, Enslaved and Seeking Redemption in the Desert (Illustrated ed.). Pen Press. ISBN 9781904754985.