Essaouira Mogador is a town at the Atlantic coast of Morocco

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William Willshire (1790 – 1851)

He was a British consul established as the foremost European merchant in Mogador (1814-1844) , which was at that time an important trading port linking Saharan and Sub-Saharan Africa to Europe and North America. Today Willshire is best remembered as the man who redeemed, cared for and helped repatriate hundreds of Western sailors enslaved in the Sultanate of Morocco during the early part of the 19th century, including Captain James Riley, Robert Adamset and Captain Alexander Scott, both of whom would later write and publish harrowing accounts of their hardships endured as slaves in the desert.


Captain Alexander Scott

Shortly after the redemption of Riley and his crew, he also redeemed another notable enslaved Westerner, Captain Alexander Scott, who had survived captivity for 6 years and who also wrote an account of his hardships for The New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal in 1821


William Willshire


Read also about Joseph Dupuis (1789-1874) He devoted much of his life to freeing Christian slaves in North Africa and was vicekonsul in Mogador and in partnership with Willshire and the one who recommended him as British vice-consul at Mogador.

See also Pirates and History of the British

His position as Vice Consul in Mogador never carried with it significant financial reward (between 1831 and 1845 his salary from the foreign office was just a £100 a year), but during the 1820s and 30s as Willshire's business interests flourished, his social and professional influence in Mogadore increased, along with his personal fortune.

Over time he began to play an important role in the various intrigues of the Moroccan elite and the foreign and Jewish merchants. For example, during the early 1830s he was conferred power of attorney in the long and complex bankruptcy dispute between the influential Moroccan based Anglo/Moroccan Jewish merchant house Macnin & Co and its several dozen London based creditors, in their attempt to recoup the company's £21,729 debt from its Moroccan based assets.

Upon the return of James Riley to Mogadore that same year, the pair struck up what was to be a highly lucrative business partnership, exporting goods to New York. Other activities that Willshire engaged in included drawing a sketch map of Southern Morocco for the Royal Geographical Society and writing a commentary on it in 1845.



Captain James Riley

Captain Jamed Riley

In late 1839, Willshire along with his son Leonard and James Riley, were granted an audience with the Moroccan Sultan Abd al-Rahman where he received the blessings of the monarch.


Sultan Abd el Rahman

Sultan Abd al-Rahman ibn Hisham


"While sailing from Gibraltar to the Cape Verde Islands, Riley’s mid-sized merchant ship got lost in the fog and wrecked on the west Moroccan coast. Trapped on shore and having run out of both food and water, Riley and the surviving crew threw themselves on the mercy of some passing Berber tribesmen, who promptly enslaved and carried them off into the desert. Abused, underfed, and overworked, the captives were nearly dead when their masters sold them to an Arab trader, who bought the Americans on Riley’s promise of ransom if they returned to the coast. The rest of An Authentic Narrative recounts the survivors’ slightly less brutal journey over desert and mountains to the port city of Mogador (modern Essaouira) and their eventual freedom."

.......... the whole story, from the shipwreck until the survivors’ return to Mogador,
lasted barely two months, of which only the first three weeks were spent as slaves of the Berbers .....

Source: Slavery in North Africa – the Famous Story of Captain James Riley



William Willshire, the British vice consul who redeemed Western sailors enslaved in Morocco

The Sultan's Jew: Morocco and the Sephardi World

“Clear the Country of All You Christian Dogs”


Liens en français

Histoire : William Willshire, le diplomate engagé pour les captifs anglais au Maroc