The book I’m reviewing today- The Lost Fleet by Barry Clifford, published by HarperCollins, New York in 2002. 287 pages, Non-Fiction.
Mr. Barry Clifford is also the author of the non-fiction book, Expedition Whydah which I have reviewed previously (here’s the link to that review) in which he recounts the true story of him finding the world’s first verified and identifiable pirate ship, the Whydah Galley. It was a good book with duel focus on the hunt for the pirate ship in modern day and a separate thread about the ship and her Captain (Sam Bellamy) until both perished in a nor’easter on the east coast of the United States off Cape Cod.
This book follows the same pattern of writing…interweaving the modern-day search for a lost (sunken and previously unexplored) fleet of Spanish warships and pirate ships with the true stories of the men who sailed during that era and their various exploits. The book carefully takes the reader through the sinking of the “lost” French fleet of warships but then moves to take the reader into the Spanish Main and Caribbean to explore the early days of piracy…..pirates against the Spanish; vice later in what you might recognize as the Golden Age of Piracy when it was basically pirates against anyone. Besides the modern-day search using basic underwater archeology techniques only to identify and catalog ships based on a map drawn by the French Admiral of the sunken fleet (with individual ships names and locations on the reef), this book carefully covers other events seminal to pirate history and lore that were unknown to me and seem carefully researched. Aside from the sinking ships and loss of life on the tiny deserted island of Las Aves off the Venezuelan Coast, the book carefully discusses a meeting of some of the best-known pirates of the time who had been included in the Spanish Fleet as mercenaries….but probably had ships that sank and were formally in their own pirate fleets. How do we know this info? Cause some of it came from the pirates themselves OR the French Officers who were also stuck on the tiny island until rescue by the rest of the French Fleet. Indeed, the pirates were so well fed and happy on the island that they refused to leave with the French, enjoying their days with food and drink and fine clothes washed up from the wreckage of over ten large capital warships that the French were planning on using against the Dutch. Included at this one of kind event in the middle of the ocean may have been Captain William Kidd, Thomas Paine, the Chevalier de Grammont, Jan Willems, and Laurens de Graff. Las Aves had become the nexus for pirate leaders who would shape the United States East Coast and the Caribbean for the next 50 years….mentoring and inspiring the Golden Age of Piracy. Of course, most have heard of Captain Kidd…but it doesn’t surprises me that most have not heard of the most long lived and exceptionally successful pirate to come out of this meeting at Las Aves…Lourens “Lourencillio” de Graff. It’s my belief that de Graff isn’t exceptionally well known because he was a direct descendant of African slave parents (he was black), he became a legitimate French military leader and he died quietly in an American backwater (at the time). Most pirate stories focus on those who live dashing lives, are terribly cruel to the ships and crews they hunt down and seem to live very short violent lives to meet violent ends.
But now with several non-fiction books I’ve read and reviewed about pirates, both the Captains and crews were not terribly bloodthirsty and seemed to have been able to stay relevant and free for longer periods of time, a significant achievement.
This book is worth buying just to learn about Laurens de Graff and understand the history of the lost fleet. It’s available on Amazon using this link, The Lost Fleet by Barry Clifford.
Epilogue: One thing I don’t think is totally professional is the interpersonal drama woven both into this book and the Expedition Whydah text. Mr. Clifford also takes shots at other folks and organizations who he claims are out to discredit him…which comes with the territory if you’re a treasure hunter I think.
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