The swashbuckling, high-seas adventures of an English mariner who pioneered the enslavement of Africans, along the way enriching himself but earning history’s enduring censure.
Hazlewood (Savage: The Life and Times of Jemmy Button, 2001) crafts an engrossing, swift, and sanguinary narrative around Hawkyns, born circa 1532 into a wealthy Plymouth merchant family. He became a master sailor and a ferocious negotiator (cannon and sword were among his more persuasive tools), a man who sailed boldly into Spanish ports in the New World and forced the terrified denizens to trade (i.e., buy slaves) or suffer consequences that included burning homes, plundering local wealth, and killing temporizers. At the time Hawkyns’s sail first loomed on history’s horizon, Portugal and Spain enjoyed primacy in the slave trade between Africa and the Western Hemisphere, based on their arrangements with African leaders. Then the fearless Englishman arrived, using stealth and brutality to carve for his nation a profitable part of this market in humans. As Hazlewood points out, there was little objection anywhere to slavery on moral grounds. Queen Elizabeth, dancing delicately on history’s high wire, offered private support (she had other disturbing dishes on her plate: Mary, Queen of Scots; the powerful Spanish), and Hawkyns found willing investors. The author describes in great detail his first two very profitable ventures and the disastrous third one, during which he barely escaped with his life when the Spanish attacked him in Mexico. Hazlewood rightly points out, as well, the religious implications of all of this. Hawkyns’s Protestant men destroyed and desecrated Roman Catholic symbols and structures in the New World, and the Inquisitors later dealt harshly with some of the English they captured. The author also makes excellent use of some astonishing details, as when he describes English sailors fishing in a South American river for an alligator—and using one of their dogs as bait.
A gripping tale and a sterling analysis of England’s first foray into the nastiest of human enterprises. (16 pp. b&w photos, not seen)