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Book Review, NRJ 65.1

February 19, 2020 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

Captain Kidd’s Lost Ship: The Wreck of the Quedagh Merchant

Frederick H. Hanselmann

The allure of pirates has spanned generations, inspiring numerous fictional works and a myriad of historical and archaeological research to understand the lives of these nationless sailors. In recent decades, archaeology has begun to embrace the study of pirates and methodically explore their resources, including vessels, as significant cultural resources. Frederick Hanselmann, the director of the Underwater Archaeology and Exploration Program at the University of Miami, has spent his career working throughout the Spanish Main and analyzing the political and economic interactions between the colonial empires throughout the area. Through his work, Captain Kidd’s Lost Ship: The Wreck of the Quedagh Merchant, he brings the varying empires and their interactions together around Captain William Kidd and the age of piracy. Hanselmann’s work not only provides significant evidence that the wreck off Catalina Island in the Dominican Republic is in fact Quedagh Merchant; in doing so, he also offers a framework for contextualizing a shipwreck within a larger historical narrative and creating a viable management and interpretation plan for a shipwreck site.

In characterizing the wreck as Quedagh Merchant, Hanselmann first addresses the theoretical frameworks used to connect the broader historical trends with the individual actions of those involved with the physical remains of the site in the Dominican Republic. He focuses his framework around multiscalar world-systems and individual agency as symbolized in the shipwreck site and its global story. Delving directly into the global and individual histories at play, Hanselmann contextualizes the connections and power roles that developed between the British, their Indian counterparts, and the American colonies in the larger world that Indian Ocean piracy and Captain William Kidd navigated through. The in-depth historical context provided the basis for laying the groundwork for exploring the shipwreck. Hanselmann moves his framework, and argument, forward by next addressing the site itself. He lays out the archaeological methodology used to investigate the site before providing the hypothesis developed concerning the identity of the wreck. Observations noted about the form and function of the wreck outlined in the hypothesis were compared to the historical research. Through this comparison, he provided compelling evidence the wreck is indeed the Indian vessel, Quedagh Merchant, captured by Captain William Kidd. To complete his framework, Hanselmann covers the structures now in place to not only protect the site, but to also interpret the site and use it as a part of the tourism of the Dominican Republic. By the end, Hanselmann successfully argues the vessel is Quedagh Merchant and shows a useful framework for theoretical analyzing a shipwreck site and providing meaningful management and interpretation.

While the work is filled with many direct quotes that make reading a little dense, Hanselmann is able to use these quotes effectively to aid in laying his theoretical approach, historical research, and management overview. These features, and quotes accompanied by well-placed images and tables, allow him to present a strong argument for the identity of the shipwreck site off Catalina Island, its place in the global piratical and colonial history of the late seventeenth century, and feasible management and interpretation strategies. Captain Kidd’s Lost Ship is not only a compelling work for any person interested in piracy, but also a fundamental example of using a clear theoretical framework for analyzing and interpreting a shipwreck site.

  • Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2019
  • 6-1/4” x 9-1/4”, hardcover, xxii + 198 pages
  • Illustrations, drawings, tables, maps, bibliography, index. $85.00
  • ISBN: 9780813056227

Reviewed by Allyson Ropp, St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum

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