Colorful history of the five-decade piratical assault on Spain’s tottering New World empire.
Port Royal, Jamaica, England’s tenuous toehold in the West Indies, was home to runaway slaves, indentured servants, adventurers, political refugees and other refuse of the New World who constituted the pirate armies of Edward Mansfield and Henry Morgan. Under a thin veil of “commissions” issued by Governor Thomas Modyford, these privateers plundered the wealthy, vastly dispersed Spanish empire, whose outdated weapons, hardened bureaucracy and provincial rivalries exposed it to marauders who had nothing to lose and staggering riches to gain. With absolutely no interest in occupation, no guaranteed food supplies outside their home ports, no access to repair facilities for their ships and no stockades to protect them, the pirate armies prized daring and risk-taking, wanted only treasure and depended upon their reputation for terror to get it. With the possible exception of Francis L’Ollonais, no pirate leader exceeded Henry Morgan’s talent for cruelty, and no one matched his success. Talty (Mulatto America, 2003) chronicles Morgan’s flamboyant 33-year career, including the sacks of Granada, Portobelo, Maracaibo and Panama, as well as his quest for respectability as a landowner and protector of Jamaica. (The longer timeframe gives this book a potential edge over Peter Earle’s excellent but more narrowly focused The Sack of Panamá, Feb. 2007) Arrested in 1672, Morgan was deported to England to answer for his depredations. On second thought, Charles II knighted him, returned him to the island as deputy governor and charged him with ridding the area of . . . pirates. This he largely achieved before dying ingloriously of dropsy in 1688, four years in advance of Port Royal’s destruction by a devastating earthquake and tsunami viewed by many as God’s judgment on the wickedest city on earth.
A vivid portrait of pirate life, and even better as an analysis of why the ruthless outlaws were so peculiarly suited for success against hapless Spain.