Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
Books for Adults - Nonfiction
The day pirates attacked the Morning Star was the start of a horrific and nearly fatal experience for most of the passengers and crew of this barque, but like all stories it begins long before 19 February 1828. Although pirates had plagued British shipping for most of the decade, the Royal Navy lacked sufficient resources to protect commercial ventures and suppress piracy. One safeguard was to sail in a convoy protected by a warship, yet even this did not guarantee a merchantman reached port. The vessel set sail only to vanish. All those left behind knew was that she never arrived at her destination. Such was the fate of the packet ship Topaz. Evidence suggests that she fell victim to pirates rather than being lost because of weather or a lack of seaworthiness. Unlike her, Morning Star limped into port and word spread.
The pirates of this generation were mostly of Spanish or Portuguese descent and many came from western colonies. Their motto seemed to follow the adage, “Dead men tell no tales.” Benito de Soto certainly heeded that advice. He, like many pirates, came from a murky background. Whether childhood friends or fellow pirates, he and Nicholas Fernandez banded together to steal a schooner and went on the account in 1824. Since Commodore David Porter and his American naval squadron were hunting down pirates in the Caribbean, de Soto and his men sailed to richer waters, which led them to cross paths with Morning Star. The barque – built by Quakers and captained by a man of that religion – was the ideal target for de Soto. She carried an enticing cargo. Her sluggishness slowed down the convoy until the escort ship abandoned her to protect the rest of the ships. Most importantly, not a single cannon guarded her decks or the fifty-three men, women, and children on board.
What made this pillaging and the brutalities the passengers and crew endured stand out from similar attacks was that, although the pirates sealed them belowdecks and set the ship on fire, one woman was determined not to die. This volume provides a vivid account of what happened that fateful day, as well as how these two ships crossed paths. The book also includes a selected bibliography, an index, and a center section of black-and-white pictures. Some chapters include a few source notes for the quotations, yet other information that is presented isn’t footnoted. For example, the author mentions Jean Laffite and possible ties that de Soto and Fernandez may have had with Laffite, but no historical references are provided to support these facts, which differ from what historians have uncovered in recent years.
But Hunting the Last Great Pirate is more than just the story of a deadly encounter with pirates. Ford provides the backdrop of world events at the time, as well as background on the ships and people involved, including the victims, the pirates, and those whose lives and decisions impacted either group. While the criminals were captured, prosecuting de Soto and his men proved far more complicated than anyone expected or desired. Through quotes from contemporary documents and testimonies from some of the pirates, Ford recounts the events in chronological sequence and includes an eyewitness account of what unfolded as the convoy parted ways with Morning Star. He adeptly shares how that abandonment impacted the prosecution and why some officials strove to cover up the scandal. Readers seeking a thorough and surprising account of this incident will discover that this book meets those criteria. In the process, they will come away with a far better understanding of what happened and why.
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