It’s not easy to find good reads these days. Most books we find are cheap paper backs about dirty romances, lousy mysteries, tales from credulous pre-teens who say they saw Heaven, and rabid right-wingers who hate anything new. Fortunately, there are reads out there that are both thrilling and true.
Stephan Talty’s book, “Empire of Blue Water: Captain Morgan’s Great Pirate Army, the Epic Battle for the Americas, and the Catastrophe the Ended that Outlaw’s Bloody Reign.” At first glance it seems like just a collection of events and dates, which is usually common among history books. However, Talty’s work flows smoothly, and reads more like a novel than a history lesson.
Talty opens the scene with the ruins of the former British port power of Port Royal (those who watched the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” will know that location) west of present-day Kingston, Jamaica. At its height, Port Royal was the pirate capital of the world and the stomping grounds of many sinister and swarthy scoundrels. During an era of colonization and new discoveries, England wanted to possess American territory near where the Spanish were desperately mining millions of tons of silver on their monstrous galleon ships. After varied attempts, the English were able to colonize Jamaica, and thus wealth would soon come to England and prove fatal for Spain.
At the time, Spain was in decline: King Carlos II, a result of very close inbreeding, was literally a drooling slob who couldn’t even chew food; Spain’s previous wars had left the country bankrupt; and despite helping to pay off its debt, the more silver that was brought into Spain the more it decreased in value, thus the country was suffering from an elaborate crack addiction. To avoid international conflict, England couldn’t directly pillage Spanish goods. England’s solution therefore, was to hire gangs of privateers (basically pirates under orders from the state) to raid and steal Spanish possessions. They found the perfect privateer in a young twenty-year-old Welshman named Henry Morgan.
Morgan and his crew would shuffle back and forth around the Caribbean. They encountered both good and bad on their travels including his massive plunder in northern Venezuela and his near-death crossing of the jungles of Panama (the effects of which virtually ended Spain’s dominance of the New World and gave rise to the British Empire).
Talty is able to give these experiences real feeling and sensation by putting the reader in the shoes of his made-up character, Roderick. Through the eyes of Roderick, the reader can actually be there with Morgan escaping from savage cannibals on various islands, swimming in the silver and gold riches, climbing the walls of a Spanish fortress, surviving the disease-ridden deathtrap jungles, and even getting wasted (and lucky) in sin city of Port Royal.
All good things must come to an end though, and eventually Morgan’s power ceased and the English turned their back on the privateers and pirates. And what of Port Royal? Well, at the time, the pious leaders of the American colonies called it God’s wrath, and given how the city was essentially a mix between Amsterdam and Las Vegas, who could argue against that? Find out all this and more for yourself by reading Talty’s exciting book.