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A 1769 drawing of a xebec used by Algerian pirates by Christian Børs, a sailor from Bergen, Norway, who was taken prisoner in Algeria

From French chebec, from Spanish xabeque or Catalan xabec or Italian sciabecco, from Arabic شُبَّاك(šubbāk, fishing-net). Not to confuse with the sambuq, an Indian-Sea vessel.



xebec (plural xebecs)

  1. A small two-masted, and later three-masted, Mediterranean transport ship with an overhanging bow and stern. [from mid 18th c.]
    • 1744, “a sea-officer” [Thomas Mathews?], A Narrative of the Proceedings of His Majesty’s Fleet in the Mediterranean, and the Combined Fleets of France and Spain, from the Year 1741, to March 1744. [], London: Printed for J. Millan, [], OCLC 883653443, page 25:
      Fourteen Xebecks loaded with Ammunition, Cannon, and other warlike Stores from Majorca, bound to any Part of Italy, where they could be landed for the Uſe of the Spaniſh Army, having got ſafe to Genoa in the latter End of June, Admiral Mathews on board of the Namur, with the Barfleur, Norfolk, Princeſs Caroline, Ipſwich and Revenge went there, and concluded a Treaty; []
    • 1746 September, “Ships Taken by the French and Spaniards, August 1746”, in Sylvanus Urban [pseudonym; Edward Cave], editor, The Gentleman’s Magazine, volume XVI, London, OCLC 192374019, page 459:
      An Engliſh privateer, Capt. Clymer, taken by two Spaniſh xebecs in the Weſt Indies.
    • 1784, S[amuel] Ancell, chapter V, in A Circumstantial Journal of the Long and Tedious Blockade and Siege of Gibraltar, from the 12th of September, 1779, (the Day the Garrison Opened Their Batteries against the Spaniards) to the 23d Day of February, 1783; [], Liverpool: Printed by Charles Wosencroft, OCLC 642356192, page 27:
      This afternoon, Wind W.S.W. an Engliſh brig appeared in the offing; ſhe was chaſed by a xebec and ſeveral gallies, but fortunately got ſafe into New Mole: She brings the joyful and happy tidings of a fine fleet being within twenty-four hours ſail of the Garriſon.
    • 1793 November 13, attributed to Mathew Carey, “[Appendix.] No. IV. Extract of a Letter from John M‘Shane, Captain of the Minerva, to William Bell, dated Algiers, November 13, 1793”, in A Short History of Algiers, with a Concise View of the Origin of the Rupture between Algiers and the United States. [], 3rd improved edition, New York, N.Y.: Published by Evert Duyckinck, []; W[illiam] W. Vermilye, printer, published 1805, OCLC 80923186, page 82:
      On the 18th October, about five leagues from Gibraltar, we were boarded by a zebeck of 20 guns, belonging to this place, who after coming within musket-shot, kept up a constant firing with small arms, until they manned our yards from theirs, then the firing ceased, and they came down sword in hand, spared our lives, but nothing else, having stripped us of the clothes we had on, and put us on board the zebeck, []
    • 1798, John Charnock, “ST. VINCENT, Sir John Jervis, K.B. Earl of”, in Biographia Navalis; or, Impartial Memoirs of the Lives and Characters of Officers of the Navy of Great Britain, from the Year 1660 to the Present Time; [], volume VI (Being the Second Volume of the Continuation), London: Printed for R. Faulder, [], OCLC 858348049, footnote ‡, page 406:
      Soon after this time he [John Jervis, 1st Earl of St Vincent] was put into the Experiment as acting captain, on account of a ſhort indiſpoſition which attacked ſir Richard Strachan, and ſignalized himſelf in the moſt remarkable manner during an action with a very large zebec, carrying 26 heavy guns and 400 men.
    • 1824, William James, “Encounters of Detached Ships”, in The Naval History of Great Britain, from the Declaration of War by France, in February 1793; to the Accession of George IV. in January 1820; [] In Five Volumes, volume IV, London: Printed for Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, OCLC 606079942, page 104:
      On the 13th of December, at eight in the morning, Cape St. Martin, coast of Spain, bearing south-south-west six leagues, the british 16-gun brig-sloop Halcyon, captain Henry Whitmarsh Pearse, perceived three sail standing towards her from the land. Being on contrary tacks, the two parties closed fast; and, when about four miles apart, the Halcyon discovered the strangers to be an armed ship, brig, and xebec.
    • 1963, Thomas Pynchon, “Epilogue: 1919”, in V.: A Novel, New York, N.Y.: J. B. Lippincott & Co., OCLC 602193192; republished New York, N.Y.: Bantam Books, 1964, OCLC 924727755, page 19:
      Winter. The green xebec whose figurehead was Astarte, goddess of sexual love, tacked slowly into the Grand Harbour.
    • 2005, Daniel Panzac; John E. Hawkes; Victoria Hobson, transl., “The Commercial Fleets of the Maghreb”, in Suraiya Faroqhi and Halil İnalcık, editors, Barbary Corsairs: The End of a Legend 1800–1820 (The Ottoman Empire and Its Heritage: Politics, Society and Economy; 29), Leiden: Koninklijke Brill, →ISBN, ISSN 1380-6076, pages 193–194:
      The choice of ship of the Maghrebi sailors was influenced above all by local traditions, by their different objectives, and by the availability of the vessels. It is apparent that the xebeck, with its sleek lines, its reputation for speed—admittedly at the expense of its carrying capacity—was the preferred choice of the North Africans. It is true that the xebeck served in privateering and at least a percentage of the ships assigned to shipping merchandise were converted corsairs, with somewhat reduced gunpowder and much smaller crews.

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