Family ben David and the Knights of Malta

To whom it may concern,
During the previous war with the Venetian State of the Sea, one of our shipping vessels was boarded and the goods seized by the Knights of Malta. The ship was off of the coast of then Venetian controlled Tinos, and not subject to the Knights attacks against Ottoman subjects.  Clearly these Knights were operating against their own rules and saw this war as an opportunity to gain money at the expense of their Christian brethren. While we are not Christian, it is insulting none the less that these pirates did not adhere to their own rules and confiscated the items aboard. The captain of the ship identified himself as a Jewish merchant from Cairo, a relative of mine. However, as he was operating in Christian territory, he should have been immune from the pirates attack. The case speaks for itself at the barbarous nature of these pirates and how opportunistic they are. Several witnesses’ statements have been gathered to corroborate the story of the captain who is attempting to have his goods returned.  These pirates must be held accountable for their actions and it is up to the Ottoman state and the state of Malta to ensure that they see justice served. If these men are allowed to continue operating free from oversight then there are far greater issues than just piracy at foot. These men prey on helpless merchants who are simply trying to make a living. The goods stolen were being sent from Cairo and the money that would have been made would have helped our family greatly. My relative who lost his goods was forced to abandon his home until compensation can be made; he and his family are living with us until he can be back on his feet. These pirates are damaging more than just financial standing amongst their victims.

Family ben David and the Greek Mediterranean

To whom it may concern, Our family has had their share of hardships, but we have had a run of good luck recently. My uncle was working on a Greek merchant ship that was boarded off the coast of Egypt by Maltese pirates. The captain was a Greek and was treated rather harshly by the pirates. These pirates term themselves Knights, but they only have honor in their legal system. After they seized all of the merchant’s good they released my uncle and left them adrift. He was able to get save passageback to Alexandria on another ship working with our family who happened by. My uncle and the Greek captain of the ship were able to bring the case to the Tribunale degli Armamenti and seeing that the Knights had acted to aggressively towards a fellow Christian, the captain, theywere able to receive compensation. This is indeed a good day for our family and we are looking forward for my uncle’s return to Alexandria to resume his normal business.  Business is hard enough as it is without these piratical raids off the coast. The Maltese pirates spend most of their time raiding off of Egypt, this is very detrimental to our business, but with this victory our family, at least, might see some reprieve and have a chance to flourish once again uninterrupted by the pirates. Work can continue and the trade will allow us to move up through the world.

Family ben David 2 Ottoman Crete

Candia, another Venetian outpost lost to them. I was shocked to hear this news,
as it has been a long time since the Turks have taken some territory. It appears the
Turks are on the rise again and their lust for empire and conquest cannot be quenched.
One moment they are friendly with the Venetians, the next they are at war and taking
their land. How can this be? I had a very good contact on the island whom would
correspond regularly with me. I heard that many if not all of the Venetians left the
island when the Turks took over. As unfortunate it is to hear this about my friend and
colleague, with the Turks, our own rulers, in power there it will certainly benefit our
own coffers and allow us to receive a better trade deal with our own laws in place.
However, I am concerned that the system they are implementing there might not be
the standard with which we have grown accustomed to here in Cairo. I also heard that
when the Turks took Candia, the city had been abandoned and there was a lot of ‘free’
land to divide up. Perhaps our family can buy some of this property and spread our
own influence in this tumultuous time. From this unpleasantness there could possibly
be a bright side and if we act quickly we can make a fortune. The state they are
establishing there is a lot more diverse that before and we might not be restricted to ac
specific part of the city. Perhaps now is our time to gain power and influence, there is
already a large Jewish presence on the island, this could help us spread our own roots.

Family ben David 2, 1665

3rd May, 1665.
On our trip to Algiers while trading spices we came across several slaves in the local
market. The wretched men were going to be sold to the galleys. Many of their Muslim masters
had little use for them other than the terrible labors they would endure at sea. Our business in
Algiers was to merely establish better trade relations with the city’s rulers. We only stopped by
the market as a curiosity. As we too are Ottoman subjects, there was little concern for our own
safety or that we ourselves would be sold into bondage. Our guide had several slaves and even
stopped to purchase another in hopes of finding a Christian with a hidden talent or skill. Many of
these slaves had to have been of value in their own countries, or so our guide believed. He spent
a large amount of time interrogating his new purchase when we finally stopped for the night.1
Such is the conditions of this city in Barbary. I will be glad to return to Alexandria at weeks end.
10 May, 1665.
On our return voyage from Algiers, we were boarded by Barbary corsairs. We believed
that we would be safe from persecution, but they insisted that we were harboring Christian
freight. Our cousin Aaron was taken by the pirates on account of his “Christian appearance.” We
protested this, but we were unarmed and not able to resist. Several months had passed before we
heard from Aaron. On account of his connections to our family we have arranged a ransom to
have him returned, however, his Muslim masters have set him up with a tavern and have him

paying his debt. His experience in Alexandria has helped him to secure livable conditions until
he can be returned. God be praised when he will bring Aaron back to our family and our city.
God curses those men who enslaved him; one of their own citizens of the same flag.

1 Robert C. Davis, Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800, (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 93-95.
4. 5.
6. Many of the links listed above are from my own research. However, the vast majority of this post comes from information located in Christian Slaves, Muslim masters.

Ben David Family 2, c. 1600

Spencer Black 23 Feb. 2016 Blog Post 2
To whom it may concern,
The Ben David family has seen its share of history.1 We have witnessed the fall of our
government to the Turkic conquerors, and even the receding of the once great city of Venice.
With the constant changes we have witnessed as come the unease associated with it. The Turks
have impressed upon us their share of miseries, but have thus far been very good for our business
and have brought many exotic goods into our city. Their empire is vast and far reaching. They
have access to many Eastern goods. Their competition with Venice has also been beneficial to
our coffers.2 Venice can no longer monopolize in the spice trade in Cairo since the Turks have
taken over.3 Many of the Venetians from here have left for friendly shores such as the capital on
the Bosphorus.
The Turks at least ensure security within their communities. While we pay to practice our
religion, it allows us to trade without fear of reprisal as some of our brothers to the West have
encountered, however, we must still remain cautious. We have seen many people come through
the port in recent time; this must be due to stability returning to the region. One thing that can be
said of the Turks is that they protect their land. With their empire growing they have helped
ensure that legal issues and trade issues have become one and the same. I believe that we will be
safer under their rule and they will treat us fairer than the Venetian merchants had.4 The
Venetians were fair if you could benefit them; however, Cairo is now out of their reach.5

Family ben David 2, 1450-1500

To my progeny,
My name is Moses ben David, our family and I are living in Alexandria.  I am a notary public and a local community leader. Our family has been very blessed. Trade in our area has been shifting recently, what with the surge of Turkic violence in the East and the fall of Constantinople. We have maintained our situation here in Alexandria and have maintained relationships across Egypt and even into Spain. However, some disruptions have occurred with our relations to the Diaspora in Spain. The Turks have raised their attempts to control trade across the Mediterranean and have begun to clash with the Spaniards.1  This has only served to disrupt our trade slightly, but we still hold strong that we will maintain communication with our brothers in Spain.  With the resurgence of a new Islamic threat in the region, one cannot help but wonder if they will turn their sights on Egypt. We have a good life here, and if something were to change who knows what would happen to our family. Perhaps we would be moved to another region or be forced to toil under the sun as our ancestors had done in this same area. I believe that trade in the future will continue to rise, along with our family’s fortunes. We are inherently linked to this region and come from a long tradition of merchants and pillars of the community.
1. Molly Greene, “Resurgent Islam: 15001700,” in The Mediterranean in History, (Los Angeles, CA: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2003), 222.

Family ben David, 1718

Protocol of Benjamin ben David , Son of Moses ben David II, notary public for the city of Alexandria , kept for the purpose of accounts , personal business, and all other details related to the job of a notary public within the jurisdiction of Alexandria. Kept for the purpose of providing evidence and facts when disputes arise.

The year is 1718, the last Ottoman-Venetian war has come to an end. However a great misdeed has been done to me and my family. I have gone to see the French Consul today . I shall retell my story here for my own records as I did for the French Consul.

“Five months ago I invested in a Christian ship that was going to the island of Morea. I joined the ship to make sure that the goods were delivered and that I and my family that invested with me in the goods would receive the profits on the voyage. We are all Christian people, my father having converted in 1678. As such we believed that our goods would be safe. The ship and its crew were also Christian owned and operated. This we hoped would ensure the safety of the ship from corsairs of the Knights of Malta. This, however, did not, alas, offer us any safety from the greedy Maltese corsairs who came upon us a mere 70 miles out in our venture. On the horizon to the south of us came a ship with the Maltese flag , it was upon us in an instant. The Maltese pirate captain ordered us to stop. He and his crew then came aboard the ship and ordered us to tell them where the Turks were and to admit that the ship as well as its goods was also owned by Turks. We argued vehemently that we were not Turks and no Turks were to be had on the ship. They ignored our pleas and took command of the ship. I and the captain along with the crew were put on a skiff and set adrift. We soon made it ashore here and immediately set about gathering evidence and character witnesses. Today we present to you, Your Excellency, the clear set evidence and witnesses that I and the captain have gathered for ourselves in order to gain your aid in retrieving our goods.”

After I, the captain and the witnesses for our Christianity presented our cases, the Consulate agreed to aid us. The consul’s scribe made a copy of our and the witnesses testimonials.  He also made his own statement of belief and request for aid and safe passage through the waters of all Christian rulers that we should come across. Now I and the captain will be making our trip to plead our case at Tribunale degli Armamenti on Malta to regain our goods.

This piracy has greatly affected my family. As I said previously myself and many of my family invested in this ship and its goods, and it was no small sum. If we do not get them back we will most likely be destitute. We invested almost all our savings and money into this venture hoping for riches.