This extract comes from Vice-Admiral Sir William Henry Dillon's sparkling and informative A Narrative of My Professional Adventures (1790-1839), published in two volumes by the Navy Records Society in 1956.
It is from vol. 2, pages 215-16, and concerns Dillon's visit to Oran in 1812 when HMS Leopard, of which he was then captain, was anchored in the Bay of Algiers.
The pitiful teenager who's the focus of the reminiscence was doubtless a crew member or passenger on an American merchant vessel taken by Barbary corsairs (or "Algerine" pirates, as they were also known), who scoured the Mediterranean capturing vulnerable vessels and enslaving those aboard, and even raided European coastal villages carrying off their inhabitants.
Whether the desperate boy whose heart-rending plight we glimpse here was ransomed or rescued or freed by some means (conversion to Islam?) at some future date, or spent his whole (short?) life in captivity, is unknown.
'During my leisure hours I had visited the grounds where the Christian slaves had to work. It was a painful sight to behold those poor fellows under the lash of the Moor, watching all their actions and inflicting a cut with his whip if he noticed anyone idle. Several spoke to me, and I could not give them any hopes.
Whilst listening to their misfortunes, a fine youth came and caught hold of the skirt of my coat. At first, from his handsome and feminine appearance, I thought it was a female addressing me, but he soon undeceived me. He was an American, a lad of about 17, most beautifully limbed: in other respects the most exquisite shape I have ever beheld. Never had I seen such a lovely figure of the male sex.
However, painful as it was to refuse the supplications of this Adonis, his being subject of the United States, I explained to him, prevented my interference in his behalf, and I hurried away from the spot, regretting that I had been near it.
The next thing that deserved notice were the projecting iron hooks upon the outward walls of the bastion, upon which are hurled from the upper parts those victims who are sentenced to death. The sight of this place filled my mind with horror, and I hastened away. It was not considered safe for an officer of my rank to walk about in the town....'