Released Slaves in Malta and their spouses.

Last Updated: 07-09-2022.

Manumission is the act of a slave owner freeing his or her slaves. A released slave was called a ‘manumesso’, or esclave , Negro or  Converti.

The motivations of slave owners in manumitting slaves were complex, as disparate as reconciliation with one’s Maker, freeing a slave who is in fact an offspring of the owner, a reward for good service, or simply because the services are no longer needed and so on. 

In Malta there also existed private foundations for the redemption of Maltese slaves: A portrait by the artist Favray in the chapel of Selmun shows Caterina Vitale, who gave up her lands to establish one such foundation. This is to be explained in the context of the fact that it often happened that Maltese corsairs would be imprisoned and therefore made slaves of their hostile captors and often converted to Islam (as was the case of the boy Zammit ( The purpose of these foundations was to free Maltese from their foreign captors. These Maltese slaves are therefore not to be confused with slaves in Malta who were invariably of non-European origin. 

A slave would often but not necessarily always convert to Christianity. Sometimes we find reference to former slaves as neophytes as a euphemism for their former status.

The released slave would often take on the surname of the former master, sometimes adding the prefix “de” or “di” for difference. The later descendants would often drop the prefix.

In 1647, Abela noted that Malta’s noble families had slaves. In particular the noble family of Mamo is noted as having had many slaves. Abela does not indicate whether any of such families were themselves originally of slave descent but it has been suggested that the more remote common ancestor of the counts Sant was an Ethiopian slave. 

Although slavery and trading in slavery was abolished by Napoleon in 1798, we find documentary reference to Maltese involved in this trade even in the late 19th century, e.g. in 1860 Annibale De Bono, a trader from Malta, is described as the nephew of the slave trader Andrea De Bono who had a trading post in Southern Sudan. 

A list of Marriage records from Parishes and Notary Acts.

Data may be incomplete 

1. Mdina Marriage Parish Records; 

2. Porto Salvo Marriage Parish Records;

3. San Paolo Marriage Parish Records;

4. Various Parishes;

5. Notary Acts collection.