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Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
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Books for Adults - Nonfiction

Cover Art: No Limits to
        Their Sway
No Limits to Their Sway: Cartagena’s Privateers and the Masterless Caribbean in the Age of Revolutions
By Edgardo Pérez Morales
Vanderbilt University, 2018, ISBN 978-0-8265-2192-7, US $27.95 / Ł29.50

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The American Revolution gave rise to a new age, one that encompassed the years 1776 through 1830 and came to be known as the Age of Revolutions. Morales’s book examines this historical period, especially as it relates to Cartagena and its bid to gain independence from Spain during the second decade of the 19th century. Although few documents from Cartagena de Indias (modern-day Colombia) exist today, there are other contemporary documents from various archives that permit us to glimpse this often-mentioned, but little-studied, period of Latin American history and, in particular, the privateers who participated in this colony’s bid to break from Spain. One such man, his crew, and their ship helps Morales achieve this goal. The privateer’s name is Louis-Michel Aury.

No Limits to Their Sway opens with a list of key figures who appear within the narrative itself, as well as an introduction to set the stage and ground readers in the historical background that led to this facet of the Age of Revolutions. Divided into nine chapters and an epilogue, this book also includes a list of primary sources on “Cartagena-Flagged Privateers, 1812-1816,” end notes, and an index. (There is no separate bibliography; all source material is cited within the notes section.) To further assist readers are some maps, a graph, and images of documents and other privateer-related materials.

The first two chapters – “Slavery, Seamanship, Freedom” and “Heralds of Liberty and Disobedience” focus on slavery, seamanship, freedom, and revolution and how they interconnect. It is here that Morales explores the intricate intertwining of the wars for independence in the United States, France, and Haiti, as well as the privateers who aided in these bids. The inclusion of all this background material grounds the reader for what is to come and brings to light some interesting details about these men and where they came from.

“Cartagena de Indias and the Age of Revolutions” and “The American Connection” (chapters three and four) examine Cartagena’s bid for independence. Here, Morales specifically examines changes, social and political, that led to this country’s people rising up against Spain. Chapter five (“Detachment from the Land and Irreverence at Sea”), on the other hand, explores the privateers and how these men of the sea differed from people who remained on land, particularly those in authority.

Two outside influences that played differing roles in Cartagena’s struggle were Cuba, which remained loyal to Spain, and Haiti, a former French colony that had already gained its freedom from the motherland. This study, which unfolds in chapters six and seven (“Under the Walls of Havana” and “Haiti: The Beacon Republic”), compare and contrast how each impacted the privateering policies that Cartagena enacted.

The final two chapters and the epilogue – “‘Horrors of Carthagena’;” Robbery, Mutiny, Fire;” and “From Amelia Island to the Republic of Colombia,” respectively – highlight the devastating effects of failed bids for independence and the determination to continue the struggle until objectives were achieved. In discussing these topics, Morales also analyzes the discrimination Afro-Caribbean people faced after independence and why histories on Latin American autonomy have ignored Cartagena’s story and that of the privateers who participated in it.  

No Limits to Their Sway is an enlightening and marvelous study that provides readers with a valuable and much-needed resource. Morales skillfully and logically presents the material and his conclusions, while reinforcing key points with archival data in different languages provide a well-rounded and unbiased examination of both the Age of Revolutions in general and the conflicts in the Spanish Main in particular. That he accomplishes this in a manner that allows laypersons and students of history alike to grasp the subject matter without falling asleep or skipping over text is a testament to the depth of his research and his thorough understanding of it.


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Review Copyrighted ©2018 Cindy Vallar


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