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Life on the Margins: (Ex) Buccaneers and Spanish Subjects on the Campeche Logwood Periphery, 1660-1716

  • Jesse Cromwell

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In 1675, William Dampier set sail from Jamaica for the Bay of Campeche on Mexico's Yucatán coast to trade for logwood. Dampier, who would later become famous as a naturalist, a buccaneer, and one of the foremost chroniclers of the Golden Age of English buccaneering, recorded his experiences over the course of a year spent in English logwood communities near this Spanish settlement. The author's account gives a fascinating portrayal of a society beyond the margins of imperial control. In Laguna de Términos, an inlet just west of the town of Campeche (in Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula), English sailors cut logwood, a popular dyestuff used in Europe for red, purple, and black clothing dyes and ink, that grew throughout the swampy tropical lowlands of the area. They traded their harvest with merchants who would ship it to ports as far away as Boston, London, and Amsterdam. Seeking an independent life separate from the arbitrary power of shipboard hierarchy, the loggers lived communally. They worked, hunted, and drank on their own schedule.

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* The author is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History at the University of Texas at Austin. He wishes to thank Ann Twinam and Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra for their suggestions on drafts of this article. In addition, the comments of Jeremy Adelman at the University of Texas at Austin's Atlantic World Seminar were most helpful. The author also thanks Martine van Ittersum and an anonymous reviewer at Itinerario for their corrections and revisions. This article was made possible by a fellowship with the Mellon Summer Institute in Spanish Vernacular Paleography and a Dora Bonham Research Grant (University of Texas at Austin).

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Life on the Margins: (Ex) Buccaneers and Spanish Subjects on the Campeche Logwood Periphery, 1660-1716

  • Jesse Cromwell

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