Captain Blood HTML version

13. Tortuga
It is time fully to disclose the fact that the survival of the story of Captain Blood's exploits
is due entirely to the industry of Jeremy Pitt, the Somersetshire shipmaster. In addition
to his ability as a navigator, this amiable young man appears to have wielded an
indefatigable pen, and to have been inspired to indulge its fluency by the affection he
very obviously bore to Peter Blood.
He kept the log of the forty-gun frigate Arabella, on which he served as master, or, as
we should say to-day, navigating officer, as no log that I have seen was ever kept. It
runs into some twenty-odd volumes of assorted sizes, some of which are missing
altogether and others of which are so sadly depleted of leaves as to be of little use. But
if at times in the laborious perusal of them - they are preserved in the library of Mr.
James Speke of Comerton - I have inveighed against these lacunae, at others I have
been equally troubled by the excessive prolixity of what remains and the difficulty of
disintegrating from the confused whole the really essential parts.
I have a suspicion that Esquemeling - though how or where I can make no surmise -
must have obtained access to these records, and that he plucked from them the brilliant
feathers of several exploits to stick them into the tail of his own hero, Captain Morgan.
But that is by the way. I mention it chiefly as a warning, for when presently I come to
relate the affair of Maracaybo, those of you who have read Esquemeling may be in
danger of supposing that Henry Morgan really performed those things which here are
veraciously attributed to Peter Blood. I think, however, that when you come to weigh the
motives actuating both Blood and the Spanish Admiral, in that affair, and when you
consider how integrally the event is a part of Blood's history - whilst merely a detached
incident in Morgan's - you will reach my own conclusion as to which is the real plagiarist.
The first of these logs of Pitt's is taken up almost entirely with a retrospective narrative
of the events up to the time of Blood's first coming to Tortuga. This and the Tannatt
Collection of State Trials are the chief - though not the only - sources of my history so
Pitt lays great stress upon the fact that it was the circumstances upon which I have
dwelt, and these alone, that drove Peter Blood to seek an anchorage at Tortuga. He
insists at considerable length, and with a vehemence which in itself makes it plain that
an opposite opinion was held in some quarters, that it was no part of the design of
Blood or of any of his companions in misfortune to join hands with the buccaneers who,
under a semi-official French protection, made of Tortuga a lair whence they could sally
out to drive their merciless piratical trade chiefly at the expense of Spain.
It was, Pitt tells us, Blood's original intention to make his way to France or Holland. But
in the long weeks of waiting for a ship to convey him to one or the other of these
countries, his resources dwindled and finally vanished. Also, his chronicler thinks that