Family Barerra, 1718

Recently a ship that our family owned a share of was attacked by the Knights of Malta off the coast of Tinos. They seized the ship and all the goods on it claiming that it was in Ottoman waters even though the war was not yet over. My family along with the captain plan to take our case to the Tribunale degli Armamenti. Since we are Catholic Christians and the captain who is the other owner of the ship is Orthodox Greek, our ship was seized against the Consolato del Mare.[1]

In preparation for going before the tribunal we have been traveling and gathering evidence. We have gathered witnesses’ testimony to take with us to Malta that will show that we are good and devout Catholics and that the captain is also a good and trustworthy Christian. We have done this because the corsairs will almost certainly claim we are not Catholic and that the captain is not Christian. We have also gathered written testimony from witnesses who know that we are the owners of the ship and that the goods that were on board were bought by us with our own money. This we have done because corsairs often try to say goods were bought with Muslim money or that the plaintiff is lying about the amount of goods on board the ship. Additionally, we have found witnesses to the attack that have written a narrative about how they saw the corsairs attack our ship and throw the captain and crew into a raft leaving them at the mercy of the sea. We hope to find legal representation at Malta, but if we cannot find someone we will ask the court to find someone for us. While we have good evidence in our favor we have heard that the corsairs often pay Muslims to claim that plaintiffs are lying and that the word of a Muslim is sometimes taken over a Christian in the court.[2]

The tribunal will likely say that the ship was rightfully seized because it was in Ottoman waters. However, we plan to argue that the war was not yet over and that the ship was in Venetian waters and is owned and captained by good Christians. We will ask that the tribunal return the ship to us along with the goods that were on it.[3]

I pray that we win the case and the ship and goods are returned to us. The loss of the ship and the goods on board has been devastating to our family. When we built the ship and entered in the business arrangement with the Greek merchant we hoped to gain a nice profit. However, now we are spending a considerable amount of money traveling to gather evidence and to appear before the tribunal to get them back. If we do not succeed in winning the case our family will be in very poor shape. If we do not win this case at the tribunal we will have no choice but to turn to the Vatican for justice next.[4]

Adriana Barrera -1718

[1] Molly Greene, Catholic Pirates and Greek Merchants: A Maritime History of the Mediterranean (Princeton University Press: Princeton, 2010), 139-200.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.


Family Barerra, 1651

Recently I came across some old documents that my great-grandmother Mariona Barrera, had written in 1560. They told of a time when our family fell into misfortune and were involved in around about way in the undertaking of a lawsuit for the recovery of profits that we were cheated out of. My great-grandfather struck a deal with a Greek merchant. He agreed to build him a boat if in return the merchant gave him a share of his profits from his first few voyages as payment. This arrangement was made because the merchant did not have all the capital needed to pay for the boat up front. My grandfather decided to trust him because he was a fellow Christian even though he is eastern orthodox and therefore is separated from the Catholic Church which of course we are members of. The Catholic Church had long tried to bring the Eastern Orthodox Church under its control and unify the churches, but their efforts were met with little success. Everyone told him not to trust the merchant because he was a heretic but my great-grandfather did not listen.[1]

All seemed well with the arrangement that was made at first. However, while at sea the merchant’s boat was attacked by the Knights of Malta. Even though the merchant was Eastern Orthodox and therefore a Christian and a Venetian subject, all the goods on board were seized because the Knights of Malta were angry that Venice willingly traded with the Ottomans. When the knights seized a ship with their enemies’ goods on board they were required to pay the ship’s captain for the goods they took according to the Consolato del Mare. If this would have happened all would have been well for my family. Unfortunately, the Knights of Malta cheated the captain and claimed that they seized much less than they really did. This incident left the captain unable to pay my great-grandfather what he owed on the boat.[2]

According to my great-grandmother the Greek merchant decided to go to the Venetian government for assistance in the matter since he was a Venetian subject. Venice sided with the merchant and imposed a sequestro in an effort to recover some of the profits and goods the merchant lost. The Knights of Malta protested this action but in the end they lost the fight. The merchant received most of the compensation he was due. This in turn allowed him to pay us the debt that he owed us.[3]

As a result of this incident my family no longer takes this type of financial risks. We always ensure we receive payment up front for our services even though other shipbuilders allow payments at a later date. I never understood why we take this approach even though we lose some business because of it but now I know it is due to this almost disastrous event.

-Monserrat, 1650

[1] Molly Greene, Catholic Pirates and Greek Merchants: A Maritime History of the Mediterranean (Princeton University Press: Princeton, 2010), 52-77.

[2] Ibid., 57-58,65.

[3] Ibid.

Family Barerra, Undated Post to an Account Book from 1670

Lately the newspapers have been saying the city of Candia is now virtually deserted. During the Ottoman-Venetian War many people fled the city. Now that the Ottomans possess it there is hardly anyone left in the city. Sometimes I wonder if Barcelona will also become so scarcely populated. If that ever happened my family would suffer a great deal. If we no longer had people to have us build ships we would have to move elsewhere to find work. The Spanish Empire is currently declining. Our population has decreased as a result of wars and people migrating to the New World. We are having financial problems as well. The crown spends money, but takes little in. The nobles are allowed to do whatever they wish while the poor peasants are taxed to an extreme. In addition, we have lost the skills of Muslims and Jews who were forced to leave the country. Some have tried to learn their craft and replace them, but they do not have the same skill as those we lost. Many people have started to leave due to these hardships. I do not blame them, but I worry about the future of my family in this country that seems to be headed downhill.[1]

At least the Ottomans are trying to improve Candia and bring people back, unlike Spain. Well, that is what I read anyway. Of course, the elite were given the best properties, but the rest of the abandoned properties are being sold to anyone that has the money to purchase them whether they are Muslim or Christian. There also seem to be a lot of conversions to Islam there, but toleration for Christianity. Conversion to Christianity has long been forced here in Spain, but conversion to Islam is treasonous. This openness to both religions is something that could benefit Spain much like it is helping the Ottomans to repopulate the city. However, I do not foresee it ever happening here. I have also heard that all kinds of people are allowed to enlist in the military there. This certainly draws many people to the city who desire such a privilege. But, I am not sure if it is a good thing to have so many untrained soldiers involved in the economy like they are there. They are surely worried about their own interests more than defending the island.[2]

It seems that the Ottomans are beginning to be quite successful in repopulating Candia. From what I have read, the rural population have begun to move to the urban areas because of the new opportunities the Ottomans are offering there. There are also people coming from other places to settle there because of the same benefits. I wish that Barcelona would do some of the things the Ottomans are doing to try and bring some people back, which would help my family’s business, but I do not think they will ever be allowed to by the Crown.[3]


̴ Aina, 1670

[1] Molly Green, A Shared World: Christians and Muslims in the Early Modern Mediterranean (Princeton University Press: New Jersey, 200), 78-109.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

Family Barerra, Miscellaneous Letter Book Entries, c. 1655, 1700

As shipbuilders my family is often at risk of being kidnapped by Muslims and enslaved. This is exactly what happened to one of our business acquaintances and dearest friends, Alamar. He is a merchant who was out to sea one day in a boat we built for him and was tricked by the wicked pirates of Algiers. They flew the colors of our countrymen which fooled Alamar and he allowed them to board his ship. The corsairs then seized the goods on board, enslaved the men, and sank the ship. He was taken to the market where he was sold to a very cruel man that beat him every day.  His family tried to pay his ransom so that he could return home. However, his master was fond of him because of his talents in trading and demanded a high ransom that his family could not pay. He was eventually able to escape his enslavement by stealing a boat. We are very glad to have him back home. We did not think we would ever see him again since most men who are enslaved by those barbaric people are seldom ransomed and often cannot escape. It is clear that the Muslims’ overwhelming goal in their pirating activities is to enslave Christians. This is a horrible thing because some Christians that are taken captive convert to Islam. I am convinced that this is what they want. Their desire is to destroy Christianity. Christians, on the other hand, enslave Africans who are not Christians and are sold by their own people. In my opinion the Christians enslavement of Africans is more justified than the Muslims raiding and taking captive good Christians.[1]

̴ Francesca Barrera, 1655


My family business has recently taken some losses. We had been getting orders to build slave boats. These boats went to Africa and purchased slaves from traders and then took them to the new world to supply our colonies with workers. Spain has not been as actively involved in the slave trade in recent decades as other nations such as the British and Portuguese. Up until about 1650 our country relied soley on the asiento to supply our colonies with African slaves. The asiento gave other nations such as Portuguese permission to sell slaves to our colonies. By doing this we were not as directly involved in the Atlantic slave trade. However, around 1650 Spain decided to try and become more directly involved in the slave trade and obtain our own slaves. This gave my family more ships to build. However, obtaining our own slaves was not successful and now Spain has gone back to a fuller reliance on the asiento. This move back to the old ways has meant that my family’s shipbuilding business has lost some income. This is unfortunate, but I have faith that business will increase again soon.

̴ Ariadna Barrera, 1700




[1] Robert C. Davis, Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800, ed. Rab Houston and Edward Muir (New York: Palgrave  Macmillian, 2003), 27-65.

Family Barrera, 1625

Things here in Spain have taken a turn for the worst. While many still believe that everything is going to turn out alright I truly believe that our country is in decline. Many of the skilled labor that our country once had have left the region. First, the Jews had to leave or convert to Christianity. Those that converted faced accusations that their conversions were not sincere and even presently Marranos are taken before the inquisition. Even all these years later after their forced conversions most people do not know how to identify them. They are neither truly Jewish nor Christian. For this reason they are often seen as untrustworthy and some people are hostile towards them. Next, the Moriscos were driven from the country from 1609 to 1614 by Phillip III. These people were once Muslims who converted to Christianity for political reasons. They were forced to convert or leave the country. However, even though they converted to Christianity they were eventually forced to leave anyway. They were not allowed to take many their possessions with them and their valuables including their land was confiscated.  Many of the Jews and Muslims that were driven from the country relocated to lands under the control of the Ottoman Empire like Constantinople where their skills are valued and they are able to live openly as Jews and Muslims.[1]

Unlike in some other places in the Mediterranean Christians here did not convert to Islam or Judaism. If they had converted they would have had to leave the country. However, I have heard accounts of people returning to the country after being held captive by the Ottomans and claiming to the inquisitors that they had been forced to convert to Islam in order to avoid being treated badly. These renegades are usually allowed to rejoin our society without repercussions. However it is hard to tell if they converted because they had to or because they wanted to and so many people do not fully trust them even though they claim they have returned to Christianity.[2]

My family now only does business with old Christians. However, business is hard to come by now days. The economy is suffering greatly and so there are not as many merchantmen needing ships. The government has begun to tax the poor very harshly however much of the money goes to the nobles instead of the crown. Valencia, one of the ports I do a lot of business in, has suffered greatly. Hundreds of thousands of Moriscos have been forced to leave from there. Since it was a Muslim port it makes sense that it was the hardest hit by the expulsion. However, so many people leaving has greatly hurt my family’s business and it does not appear that things will improve anytime soon. Some fellow Christians are trying to take over jobs that the Moriscos had previously held, however they do not have the experience that is needed for them to be successful.[3]


-Mariona Barrera, 1625

[1] Eric R., Dursteler, Venitans in Constantinople: Nation, Identity, and Coexistance in the Early Modern Mediterranean (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2006), 103-129.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

Family Barerra, 1495

Many changes have taken place over the last few years in vilanova maris as well as in Barcelona and I am not certain how I feel about them. Many of my husband’s business acquaintances who are conversos have been taken for questioning. I am almost certain that most of them were not sincere in their conversions and were still practicing Judaism.  Still it saddens me that I will most likely never see them again. They were kind people. Before the marriage of our King and Queen in the year 1469, which resulted in Castile and Aragon uniting, we did not have to worry as much about whether or not our friends were Jews. Although some found our actions suspicious, it was possible for us to do business with the Jewish people and to be friends with them. However, our monarchs are devout catholics and have forced the Jews to convert or be expelled. I also fear that, because my family has done business with conversos, I will be suspected as a supporter of their illegal deeds. Every day I fear that the inquisitors will come and take me or my husband away from our family. I have heard awful stories about what happens to people when they are taken for questioning. I can only hope that they are not true. Additionally worrisome is the fact that my husband also has a few Muslim customers. Recently our King and Queen’s armies defeated the Kingdom of Granada. I am not sure how this will affect my business. It appears that, at least for the time being, things are peaceful with the Muslims. I hope that it stays that way.  Otherwise I am at risk of losing even more customers than I already have if they are expelled as the Jews have been. I pray that I will still have enough business once all the non-Christians are converted or forced to leave.[1]

-Monserrat Barrera, 1495

[1] In addition to the websites that are hyperlinked above The Mediterranean in History, edited by David Abulafua (Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2003) was consulted when writing this blog.