Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
Books for Adults - NonfictionMemoirs of Captain Sam Bellamy (review 1) Memoirs of Captain Sam Bellamy (review 2)
In March 1717, Sam Bellamy purportedly left his journal in the safekeeping of a pirate, who chose to remain on Saint Croix rather than accompany Sam north to Cape Cod. Centuries later, a descendant of this pirate shared the journal with Boyd on the provisos that Boyd would neither divulge his identity nor make copies or photographs of it. From his notes and other historical resources, Boyd shares Samís story with readers. Specifically, this is the story of Samuel Bellamyís association with Olivier Levasseur and Paulsgrave Williams.
The story begins with Samís account of Olivier Levasseur (also known as La Buse/The Buzzard), who served as Samís mentor after they separated from Benjamin Hornigold. Levasseur came from a wealthy French family and studied both military history and religion. He joined the Knights of Malta and, eventually, became one of their galley captains. The religious orderís greed and lack of celibacy, as well as Levasseurís refusal to take hostages, caused a crisis of faith, and he left the order to serve his king, Louis XIV. Later, he turned to outright piracy.
After recording this information, Sam digressed to write about his youth and how he came to the Caribbean. The youngest of six children, he was intelligent and curious, wishing to discuss anything and everything with anyone he met. A local minister provided him with an education, and from that learning, Sam came to believe knowledge and hard work would allow him to rise above his station in life. All was fine until Sam questioned aloud the divine right of kings, which the minister deemed blasphemous and sent him packing. He moved to Exeter where he did odd jobs, which led to work as a courier for Jewish merchants Ė a job that provided him with contacts and knowledge in international trade. At the age of nineteen, he joined the Royal Navy, but later retired to become a merchant in New England. This is when he met Maria Hallett, and they decided to marry, but her influential father refused to allow it.
Sam and his friend, Paulsgrave Williams, set off to the West Indies. Samís objective is to gain sufficient wealth to return to Cape Cod and marry Maria; Paul seeks adventure. They begin their joint venture as wreckers on the Moskito Coast, which is when Sam first meets John Julian. A chance encounter with Henry Jennings and Charles Vane leads Sam and Paul into piracy, and they eventually join Benjamin Hornigoldís crew. The majority of the rest of the journal covers Samís exploits as a pirate, particularly in consort with Levasseur and on Saint Croix. The last few chapters cover the capture and sinking of the Whydah; the aftermath of the wreck; what happens to Levasseur, Williams, and Julian; and a discussion on the authenticity of the memoirs. The book also includes images and maps, an annotated bibliography, and some additional thoughts pertaining to William Snelgrave, one of the sources Boyd consulted.
There are a few puzzling segments in this story. The first comes in the introduction where Boydís choice of words might lead readers to believe Sam Bellamy did not die in the storm that sank the Whydah. Only two men are known to have survived the sinking, and one of these was John Julian. (There were seven other survivors, but they were aboard the Marianne at the time.) Boyd also calls into question whether the wreckage Barry Clifford discovered is Bellamyís Whydah or one of the other slave ships known by that name.
Memoirs of Captain Sam Bellamy makes for entertaining reading, and the material seems genuine. The problem comes in the lack of provenance that allows us to authenticate the journal. Also, there doesnít seem to be any historical documentation to back up Levasseurís, and even Samís, early history. Although the book would have benefited from a professional proofreader, Memoirs provides an interesting tale about Golden Age pirates and a good mystery for discussion among pirate aficionados.
Review Copyrighted ©2016 Cindy Vallar
Memoirs of Captain Sam Bellamy, the Prince of Pirates: Saint Croix, 1716-1717
By John A. Boyd
CreateSpace, 2015, ISBN 978-1517768058, $19.95
e-book ISBN 1490536396, $9.99
I was asked to review this book by Cindy because of my knowledge of Sam Bellamy and Oliview Levasseur. I've never done this kind of review before. It's been an interesting experience.
The back cover of this book says it is about three pirate captains: Samuel Bellamy, Paulsgrave Williams, and Olivier Levasseur. But it actually is more about treasure hunting than it is about these menís exploits as pirates.
The book opens with a long history lesson about the Knights of Malta, as it was reportedly told to Bellamy by Levasseur as the tale of his childhood upbringing. I donít know enough about the Knights of Malta to vouch for the authenticity of this narrative. I do know that in Jugement du Pirate La Buse Ė written 7 July 1730 before Levasseurís execution for piracy Ė it says he was a native of Calais and benefitted from an excellent education. I think if Levasseur truly were a member of the Knights of Malta, such a significant piece of information would have been recorded. While there are documents suggesting Levasseur was a Mason, this is the first one Iíve encountered that claims he was a Knight of Malta.
Next comes Bellamyís tale of childhood, beginning with his birth in England and early education by a local minister, who took a poor boy under his wing. Then, at fifteen, Bellamy and the minister have a falling out and Bellamy leaves for Exeter where he becomes interested in the jewelry trade. He is taken in by one of the families in the trade and makes a living at it for several years. At seventeen he gets an opportunity to work some courier jobs and finally, at nineteen, he joins the Royal Navy. After a few adventures, Bellamy leaves the Royal Navy in 1713 to head to America.
Bellamy eventually makes his way to Cape Cod where he meets the family of Maria Hallett. When Mariaís father refuses his request to marry her, Bellamy plans to hunt for treasure to make his fortune.
Bellamy puts together a crew and sails on a treasure-hunting mission in the Caribbean. He and Williams make several trips, meeting future crewmember and Miskito Indian John Julian. During one expedition, they are stalked by Henry Jennings and Charles Vane. Compelled to join the pirates on a couple of attacks, Bellamy and Williams are horrified by the unprovoked cruelty of Jennings and Vane. They eventually manage to escape and return to salvaging treasure wrecks.
In this story, Bellamy encounters Benjamin Hornigold in March, 1716, while seeking out pirates to learn more about their ways so he can avoid Jennings and Vane in the future. Eventually Hornigold is deposed for his refusal to attack English ships. From here the majority of the story is familiar to those whoíve studied Bellamy. He and Williams take up with Levasseur, who is sailing in consort with Hornigold. Together, they make frequent trips to St. Croix because of its safe harbor.
During one of their layovers on St. Croix, a group of men, both pirates and treasure hunters, decides they want to stay on the island. A group marriage ceremony, presided over by Levasseur and Bellamy, is held and the men are allowed to begin new lives.
The book has it that Bellamyís crew insists on plundering nearly every fishing and merchant ship they come across and allowing anyone who wishes to join the crew. This is all reportedly in spite of Bellamyís wishes that they only attack larger vessels and be more particular about who may join the crew.
The story ends with Bellamy leaving St. Croix, intending to pick up Maria Hallett and bring her back to join a secret colony and become a gentleman planter.
While this is an entertaining story for those who wish to read about piracy and treasure hunting, unfortunately I cannot recommend it as a reliable source for someone trying to research Bellamy, Williams, or Levasseur.
My biggest problem is that the majority of this story is based on a secret document the author could only look at for a few hours a day, couldnít take pictures of, and couldnít reveal the location of.
Even if the document could be proven to be authentic, Levasseurís story, written by Bellamy as it was told to him by Levasseur, makes this portion of the document mere hearsay.
Additionally, since the document must remain secret and hidden, it is not available to scholars and researchers to do any sort of authentication, such as testing the ingredients of the ink used, the type of implement it was written with, or the means of manufacturing the parchment or paper the document is written on. There is therefore no means to prove Bellamy is the true author of the document, or any way to trace how the document came into the ownerís possession.
A friend and I did a quick translation of chapter two of Jean-Baptiste Labatís Nouveau Voyage aux isles de líAmerique, 1663-1738 (volume 7, pages 46-56). We were not able to verify Mr. Boydís claim of the existence of a secret colony on St. Croix. Labat only talks about a settlement and visiting various ports, and nothing is said about the residents having to conceal themselves from any of the governments of the day. In fact, it has so little detail that there isnít even a description of the residents or any towns there.
Another big problem for me with this story concerns the group marriage ceremony on St. Croix. During his interrogation before his 1717 trial for piracy in Boston, Massachusetts, Simon Van Vorst relates an incident of three men trying to escape from the pirates on St. Croix. One is caught and severely whipped for the infraction. This story, unfortunately, neither addresses why some men were allowed to marry and establish new lives while another was whipped for trying to escape, nor why the author paints Bellamy as not believing in forced labor yet punishes men who donít want to be pirates.
Boyd has Bellamy joining Hornigoldís band of pirates to merely learn more about piracy to help him avoid Jennings and Vane, yet that same month Bellamy immediately forces Peter Cornelius Hoof to join his crew after capturing the ship heís serving on. (Remember, the author claims these things were done against Bellamyís better judgment.)
I can go on with such examples, but I want to leave it open for you to read the book and judge for yourself. As I stated, itís an entertaining story. If the author had created his own characters and settings, it could be the beginnings of a great fictional pirate story. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this book as being useful to researchers of pirate history.
Review Copyrighted ©2016 Laura Nelson
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Lost Pirate Treasures of Saint Croix: Your Search for Billions Starts Here
By John A. Boyd
CreateSpace, 2013, ISBN 978-1490536392, $19.95
e-book ISBN 1490536396, $9.99
Who doesnít secretly wish to discover treasure? Boyd, who lives on St. Croix, provides readers with piratical history and legend pertaining to the island. He came to write this book after studying the connection between Caribs, a native tribe of the Caribbean, and pirates. That research led him to wonder what the scurvy dogs did with their ill-gotten plunder. St. Croix isnít often connected with pirates, at least the better-known ones. Boyd did discover that historian Arnold R. Highfield, who has written about the U.S. Virgin Islands and Dutch West Indies, identified Jean Martel and Michel de Grammont as having visited the island. Boyd, himself, has turned up evidence that so did Sam Bellamy and Olivier la Buse. What may have attracted pirates to this island is the lack of government authority. At the time of the golden age, St. Croix was remote, abandoned, and offered anchorages where they could careen their vessels.
Aside from including a top ten list of pirate havens, Boyd looks at the richest pirates of the Caribbean and St. Croix. He also includes a summary of the colonial history of the island, especially as it relates to pirates and smugglers. He even unearthed references to the island in Captain Johnsonís A General History of the Pyrates. Maps and other black-and-white illustrations accompany the text. One chapter discusses treasure connected to Treasure Island. For readers to fully understand what goes on in this chapter, they may want to first read John Amrhein, Jr.ís Treasure Island: The Untold Story.
The chapter on Jean Laffite is perhaps the most tenuous in its connection to St. Croix, although Boyd does label this chapter as a footnote in history. It does contain a few factual errors. The four documents Laffite received when British Captains Lockyer and McWilliams visited Barataria came from Lt. Col. Edward Nicholls and Captain William H. Percy, not King George III. Although historians donít know the particulars of how and where Jean Laffite and Andrew Jackson met, the meeting did occur, but Pierre Laffiteís freedom was not part of the deal. Pierre had already escaped from jail. His freedom was actually part of the persuasion points that the British used in attempting to convince Jean to help them. There are definitely a lot of legends pertaining to Jeanís buried treasure, but historians rarely mention that he buried his wealth and if he had so much treasure, why was he often short of funds?
The chapter on Puerto Rican pirates provides some interesting perspectives on how we romanticize pirates today and how different countries viewed the same pirates. What is missing from the accounts of Miguel Henriquez and Roberto Cofresi, though, is why theyíre included in a book about pirate treasure on St. Croix.
The final chapter isnít about historical pirates. Nor is it written by Boyd. Instead, his granddaughter, Ana Evans, writes about her adventurous search for pirate treasure. Boyd concludes the book with tips for creating your own pirate adventures, some of which come from his own experiences. These offer very sound advice.
A professional copy editor would have caught the spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors, but some readers may not be bothered by these. Boyd provides a lengthy discussion on Philippe de Longvilliers de Poincy, but there is so much information in this chapter that occasionally the portion that pertains to St. Croix and the Tortuga treasure gets lost. (De Poincy was a governor, not a pirate. Every once in awhile I found myself wishing for footnotes to clarify some points, but this may stem from my having a greater interest in the history than the treasure.) Some readers may question the historical data on Alexandre Exquemelin, but there are some references that indicate he acquired his surgical training prior to his coming to the West Indies. One point that should be clarified is that Henry Morgan did sue the publisher of the English version of Exquemelinís famous account of the buccaneers, written under the name of John Esquemeling. (Morgan did win and the publisher had to delete some of the objectionable material from the book.)
Not all the pirates mentioned have definitive connections to St. Croix, but Boyd makes a good case for most of those who may have used the island at one time or another. He also has a strong belief that treasure seekers need to study not only the history, but also the legends. Readers will find that while the author wouldnít mind discovering treasures of gold and silver, heís found riches of another sort Ė history and family.
Review Copyrighted ©2016 Cindy Vallar
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