James Riley (1777, Middletown, Conn. – 1840 at sea) was the Captain of the American merchant ship Commerce. He led his crew through the Sahara Desert after they were shipwrecked off the coast of Western Sahara in August 1815, and wrote a book on their ordeal detailing his memoirs. The book was published in 1817 and was originally titled "Authentic Narrative of the Loss of the American Brig Commerce" by the "Late Master and Supercargo" James Riley, modernly republished as Sufferings in Africa, ISBN 1-59048-108-9, and comes down to us today as a startling switch on the usual master-slave relationship.
This true story describes how they came to be shipwrecked, and their travails in the Sahara Desert.
Lost in this unknown world, Captain Riley felt responsible for his crew and their safety. He told of the events leading to their capture by marauding Sahrawi natives who kept them as slaves. Horribly mistreated, they were beaten, sun-burnt, starved, and forced to drink their own and camel urine. A slave would be worked until close to death, and then either traded or killed.