Turkish Captivity of Jacob Leisler and the Susannah

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Débarquement et maltraitement de prisonniers à Alger
Débarquement et maltraitement de prisonniers à Alger. 1706. Jan Goeree & Casper Luyken. Courtesy Amsterdam Museum.

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This online exhibition deals with 1677 Barbary Corsairs capture of Jacob Leisler and his crew in the English Channel, their captivity in Algiers, their subsequent redemption, and Leisler's efforts to recoup his losses. The exhibition opens with Leisler's purchase of the ship Susannah in November 1676. The ill-fated voyage began the following February. The Susannah sailed to St. Mary’s, Maryland, where Leisler conducted business with his Chesapeake partners and loaded the vessel with tobacco. In early July 1677, the Susannah arrived in England, where the vessel cleared customs and Leisler conducted business with his English partners, then sailed to Amsterdam, where the good were sold. Aboard the Susannah were Leisler's two stepsons, Timothy and Cornelis vander Veen, who had formed their own company under their stepfather’s guidance. Also on board was Lucas Kierstede, a cousin of Leisler's wife.

The Susannah remained in Europe for three months. During its return voyage Barbary pirates captured the vessel on October 8, 1677. The ship and crew were taken to Algiers, their goods sold, the Susannah destroyed, and the crew imprisoned awaiting cash redemption or to be sold into slavery. New Yorkers learned of Leisler’s capture in early 1678, but it would not be until August of that year that they received full knowledge of the Algerian demands. Meanwhile, Leisler had obtained his own release in March 1678 and sailed for Marseilles then London. It took three years of negotiations before the funds raised through the New York churches were transmitted to Algiers through the Jewish community in Livorno, Italy. Of the crew of eight and one passenger in captivity, two would die before they could be released. During this same period, Leisler worked at recouping his losses and engaged in a bitter dispute with his wife’s stepsisters’ families, who had used his captivity to take financial advantage of his wife.

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