How I met Alexandre

I would be unforgivable to forget the day I met him.  It was New Year's Day, 2008, aboard the Cunard liner, Queen Mary 2, cruising majestically somewhere in the middle of the beautiful blue Caribbean.

What was his name?  Almost unpronounceable, his name was Alexandre Olivier Exquemelin.  And even though he had been dead over 300 years, he was as alive to me as if I had actually bumped into him.  The man who introduced us (so to speak) was Professor Roderick McDonald of Rider University (New Jersey).


He had the unenviable task of giving a lecture at 10:00am on New Year’s Day, following the party-to-end-all-parties on board the QM2 the previous New Year’s Eve.  Using the cunning ploy of calling his lecture ‘Buccaneers and Pirates of the Caribbean’, Professor McDonald ensured himself an audience, and I remember sitting fascinated by the information that he presented about that short period in history when pirates roamed the West Indies in search of plunder and wealth.

So who was this unpronounceable Alexandre Olivier Exquemelin?  

He was the man who wrote the book about pirates.  And that statement should be taken quite literally.  He was the only person who witnessed the exploits of these men and wrote down what he saw in a book, published under the English title of ‘The American Sea-Rovers’.  Just about everything we know about pirates started with this unique book.  So when I say that he was the man who wrote the book, it’s quite literally true.

I had for some time been looking for a subject to write about which would combine a world perspective with something local to where I live in South Wales.  And when I learned that Monsieur Exquemelin had sailed with the infamous Henry Morgan, I realised that I had found my subject.  

Henry Morgan had been born not more that a few miles from where I live, and had lived to acquire his ferocious reputation through his exploits during the sacking of Puerto Principe, Maracaibo and most significantly, the old city of Panama, none of which were more than a few hundred miles from where we floated that morning in the Caribbean.

So, a big thank you to Professor McDonald for introducing me to my enigmatic Frenchman - I'm so glad I made it to his lecture that morning.

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