Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2012 Issue

Travel in Jamaica: Buccaneers at the National Library in Downtown Kingston, in the Year 2012


The ungentlemanly Frenchman Francis Lolonois.

BOOK 2 : John Esquemeling, Bucaniers of America (Thos. Malthus, 1684)

One of the best Americana books ever written then fell into my anointed hands : History of the Bucaniers, by the mysterious John Esquemeling. It is a 4° volume, recently rebound, with some flying pages and some browned parts. The stamp “Public Library Jamaica” on the first page of the Preface (the title page is missing) reminded me of how close I was to Port Royal, where these villains were based – just across the Kingston bay, one or two miles away. Jamaica was their home. And this book tells their story. Francis Lolonois was a bloodthristy French brute. One of the engravings shows him plunging his hand into the open chest of a Spaniard to tear out his heart and force it into another victim’s mouth ! On his portrait, the buccaneer stares at you, unrepentant, giving you the creeps from the crypt. What about the bold Rock Brasiliano ? A stout man, “as much beloved when sobre as hated when drunk”, writes Esquemeling. Fearless, intrepid, these men became the wonders of their time. Their exploits were worthy of the Iliad but were all stained with evil deeds, including rape and torture. As Esquemeling puts it, “the Bucaniers [were] terrible people.”

Who was Esquemeling, by the way ? No one really knows up to this day. He introduces himself as a surgeon, and says he embarked as such with the buccaneers. A French protestant probably, as he retired to Holland where he published his book in Dutch in 1678. Esquemeling, or Oexmelin in French, came to the New World as less than a slave, a “servant” – ready to serve a ruthless “boucanier” master (the French ancestors of the buccaneers, or freebooters, or pivateers) for several years. He eventually joined the buccaneers of Jamaica, and soon met the most renowned of them all, Sir Henry Morgan. “He was exercising at shooting and was quite successful,” writes Esquemeling. “Nothing could surprise him as he was always expecting the unexpected.” Morgan was part of the triumvirate of buccaneering, with Thomas Modyford, the Governor of Jamaica, who would grant him some “commissions” to attack Spanish possessions, and General Monck, Duke of Albermale, hero of the restoration and a relative to Modyford. The powerful Duke was supporting the two others from England. Esquemeling gives us brilliant accounts of Morgan’s expeditions, including the historical raid on Panama in 1671. He also mentions some early ones, conducted, he says, without commissions. Were it true, Morgan would have been considered no more as an English privateer fighting for the Crown under due commissions, but as a petty pirate. When the book came out in English, Mr Morgan, who had become Sir Henry, took proceedings against the editors. The London Gazette of June 8th, 1685, reads : “There have been lately Printed and Published two books, one by Wil. Crook, the other by Thos. Malthus, both Intitled THE HISTORY OF THE BUCANIERS : both which Books contain many False, Scandalous and Malicious Reflections on the Life and Actions of Sir Henry Morgan of Jamaica kt. The said Henry Morgan hath by Judgement had in the King’s-Bench-Court, recovered against the said libel £200 of Damages.”  

Rare Book Monthly

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