In August 1815, while sailing from Gibraltar to Cape Verde a merchant ship got wrecked in a fog off the Western coast of Morocco. Shipwrecked as they were on the edge of the Sahara they quickly ran out of food and more importantly, water. This was the unlucky fate of American Captain James Riley and his men. Berber tribesmen came upon them who took them prisoner and ultimately enslaved them. They endured incredible hardship moving from camp to camp and were badly treated by the Berber and not properly fed or provided with enough water. Everyday their situation deteriorated further and further. 2 passing Berbers, who happened to be brothers, visited the tribe that had enslaved Riley and his men. Riley spotted an opportunity, he told them that if he got them to the Port of Mogador a fellow Captain and friend would pay a handsome bounty for their freedom. They agreed, mainly as 1 of them Sidi Hamet thought Riley was a man of character for the way he looked after his crew. There was only 1 hole in Riley’s offer. He did not know a Captain in Mogador; in fact, he did not know anyone there. It was a bluff to get out of their current crisis and it was their only shot at freedom. Initially the brothers only wanted to take a few of the crew but Riley managed to get about double that taken away from the tribe. Unfortunately, a couple of the crew were left behind and unfortunately, they were never heard of again. Over the next few weeks and many hundreds of miles Riley showed great resilience and perseverance to keep his men alive, together and keep the Berbers onside to get them to Mogador. Only thought his superb leadership and negotiating skills did they finally reach the outskirts of the Port of Mogador and the most dangerous point of their journey yet. He wrote a letter and gave it to the Berbers who went into the city and sought out any European. They met a local who was familiar with a British merchant, William Wilshire, who was also a crown representative and when he saw the contents of the letter, he immediately agreed to forward the funds to release the captive sailors. They were brought to him in Mogador and shortly afterwards were able to return to the US and ultimately to their family.
In terms of what we can learn from this is the fact that real leaders show their true worth in a crisis. Real leaders stand up for their team, department or company when they need to and put the needs of others before themselves. Riley was able to negotiate and improvise to get a deal which saved his men, satisfied his captors and the brothers who helped him gain his and his crews freedom.
An interesting addendum to this story is that Riley wrote a book – An Authentic Narrative – which was very popular and was published 18 times by 1860. It was said to have been a favourite of Abraham Lincoln and partly influenced him on the plight of Black slaves in the Southern States of the US and the need for their emancipation.