THE ALGERINE CAPTIVE (1797). Royall Tyler (1757–1826) grew up
in Boston in the ferment of pre-Revolutionary activities. His best-known
work is The Contrast (1787), which was the first professionally produced
American comedy in New York City. In addition to the novel The Algerine
Captive, Tyler wrote several dramas, a number of essays and sketches, and
a considerable body of poetry. At his death in 1826 most of his published
writings did not attribute authorship to him.
The Algerine Captive (1797), a picaresque narrative with strong antislavery sentiment, is the only work in which Tyler uses maritime imagery. In
two central chapters Updike Underhill, the novel’s hapless central figure,
relates his experiences as surgeon aboard the slave ship Sympathy. The shipboard section links the two disparate books of the novel and prefaces Underhill’s own captivity narrative, which reverses the structure of white
masters and black slaves.