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Futility Closet

Oct 21, 2019

One night in 1631, pirates from the Barbary coast stole ashore at the little Irish village of Baltimore and abducted 107 people to a life of slavery in Algiers -- a rare instance of African raiders seizing white slaves from the British Isles. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the sack of Baltimore and the new life that awaited the captives in North Africa.

We'll also save the Tower of London and puzzle over a controversial number.


In 1999, inventor Allison Andrews proposed dividing all our pants in half.

In 1955, test pilot Alvin Johnston put an airliner through a barrel roll.

Sources for our feature on the sack of Baltimore:

Des Ekin, The Stolen Village: Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates, 2012.

Nabil Matar, British Captives From the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, 2014.

David D. Hebb, Piracy and the English Government 1616–1642: Policy-Making Under the Early Stuarts, 2016.

Sir Robert Lambert Playfair, The Scourge of Christendom: Annals of British Relations With Algiers Prior to the French Conquest, 1884.

Theresa D. Murray, "From Baltimore to Barbary: The 1631 Sack of Baltimore," History Ireland 14:4 (July/August 2006).

Nabil Matar, "The Barbary Corsairs, King Charles I and the Civil War," Seventeenth Century 16:2 (October 2001), 239-258.

Nabil I. Matar, "Wives, Captive Husbands, and Turks: The First Women Petitioners in Caroline England," Explorations in Renaissance Culture 40:1-2 (Summer-Winter 2014), 125+.

Paul Baepler, "The Barbary Captivity Narrative in American Culture," Early American Literature 39:2 (January 2004), 217-246.

Robert C. Davis, "Counting European Slaves on the Barbary Coast," Past & Present 172 (August 2001), 87-124.

Paul Baepler, "White Slaves, African Masters," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 588 (July 2003), 90-111.

Erik Göbel, "The Danish Algerian Sea Passes, 1747-1838: An Example of Extraterritorial Production of Human Security," Historical Social Research 35:4, 164-189.

Des Ekin, "The Irish Village That Was Kidnapped by Islamist Extremists," Irish Independent, Sept. 2, 2006, 1.

"Cork Village to Recall Historical Event in Summer Festival," Irish Times, June 20, 2000, 2.

Frank McNally, "An Irishman's Diary," Irish Times, June 20, 2007, 17.

"Algerian Pirates Who Took Devon Settlers as Slaves," [Exeter] Express & Echo, June 20, 2007, 15.

"Pirates of the Cork Coast," Irish Times, Sept. 16, 2006, 9.

"Village Stolen for a Life of Slavery," [Plymouth, U.K.] Western Morning News, Feb. 17, 2007, 10.

"Islamic Pirates' Raid on Baltimore," Nationalist, Nov. 16, 2010.

Lara Marlowe, "Secrets of Barbary Corsair Life Uncovered: Historian Debunks Myth of 'Savage' Attack by Barbary Corsairs on Baltimore," Irish Times, Feb. 18, 1998, 13.

"Anniversary of Baltimore Pirate Raid," Irish Examiner, June 20, 2013.

"The Irish Slaves in North Africa," Irish Independent, Nov. 11, 2006, 1.

James McConnachie, "Scourge of the Waves: Mediterranean Pirates Were Easily as Exotic and Terrifying as Their More Famous Caribbean Counterparts," Sunday Times, March 28, 2010, 42.

Barry Roche, "Pirate Raid That Stunned Nation," Sun, Jan. 10, 2003, 8.

Thomas Osborne Davis, "The Sack of Baltimore," in Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed., A Victorian Anthology, 1895.

Listener mail:

Encyclopaedia Britannica, "Victoria Day" (accessed Oct. 10, 2019).

Canadian Encyclopedia, "Victoria Day," Feb. 7, 2006.

"Why Do We Celebrate Victoria Day?", CBC Kids (accessed Oct. 10, 2019).

Wikipedia, "Victoria Day (Scotland)" (accessed Oct. 10, 2019).

No Such Thing as a Fish, Episode 111, "No Such Thing as Snappedy Chat," originally aired April 28, 2016.

Wikipedia, "Queen's Official Birthday" (accessed Oct. 9, 2019).

Wikipedia, "Ravens of the Tower of London" (accessed Oct. 10, 2019).

William Booth, "The Secrets of the Tower of London's Royal Ravenmaster," Washington Post, Oct. 20, 2018.

"How the Ravenmaster of London Protects the Kingdom With Birds," CBC Radio, Oct. 30, 2018.

PD Smith, "The Ravenmaster by Christopher Skaife Review -- My Life at the Tower of London," Guardian, Nov. 3, 2018.

"Tower of London Welcomes First Raven Chicks in 30 Years," BBC News, May 17, 2019.

Meilan Solly, "Tower of London Welcomes Baby Ravens for the First Time in 30 Years,", May 21, 2019.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Mendel Smith, who sent this corroborating link (warning -- this spoils the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on Google Podcasts, on Apple Podcasts, or via the RSS feed at

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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at Thanks for listening!