Alexandre Olivier Exquemelin is supposed to be of a Dutch background, participating in Naval service until it became clear that piracy was a more lucrative and interesting career choice. His book serves as one of the few known first hand accounts of the activities in the Caribbean during the age of Captain Henry Morgan and other prominent buccaneers and pirates.
What is The Buccaneers of America about?
The Buccaneers of America is about a few of the pirates and the acts of piracy witnessed by Exquemelin, and told to him, while he himself was sailing in the Caribbean. The book largely concerns the activities of l’Olonnais and Morgan, two prominent pirates at the time of Exquemelin’s own adventures.
Genre: First Hand Account
This book comes with a nifty little introduction that explains how this first hand account was finally translated into various other languages. Evidently, it was considered offensive in England for a time and was censored or translated to lessen the blow of piracy for the English audience (especially where Henry Morgan’s account was involved). Ultimately, maritime historians and historians of piracy consider this book an interesting first hand account of the piracy in the Caribbean as written accounts from pirate ships themselves aren’t all that common.
Themes: Pirates are cool but bad
There’s definitely a mixture of horror and hero worship going on in Exquemelin’s storytelling. He admires some of the bravery and the brashness of the pirates–after all, he himself was enchanted by the possibility of piracy–but he also appears to condemn certain acts of piracy. There’s certainly no loyalty to the imperial nations that claim ownership over the islands this book discusses, but no undying romanticized admiration of the pirates either.
This book addresses one of the pirates that I know comparatively little about, l’Olonnais. The author spends approximately half the narrative on his exploits, and then another half on some of the adventures of Henry Morgan–a pirate whose tales I rather enjoy. Since the majority of my reading about Morgan’s exploits and sack of Panama have been through fictional retellings, it was very interesting to finally read a nonfiction version of the story. There were some details that I could tell were inspiring for Cup of Gold, my favorite fictional account of Morgan.
I have to say that I was expecting more of this book. The introduction went a way to hype it up and say this was some sort of massive account of piracy in the Caribbean telling some stories that had never been told before. But it only focused on the two pirates, and the author really was just retelling stories not giving his own perspective on them. This book just wasn’t what the introduction made it out to be and that was disappointing.
Honestly the writing style could do with better editing. I think this version of the book was just a straight translated account, but it could definitely stand to be edited for clarity, grammar, and structure. I know there are those out there that think editing and abridging original sources makes them less reliable, but I am all for doing so when it makes the reading process easier and more fun.
All in all, if you’re like me and you like pirates and learning about the history of pirates, this isn’t a bad book to pick up sometime. It’s dry, and depending on the edition the translations might be odd, but it was nice to read about l’Olonnais for once and to see another perspective on the sack of Panama by Henry Morgan. The introduction was rather interesting in my edition, and I appreciated it context for the account.