Wednesday, August 10, 2011

History: Revisionist With a Capital R

I will say before I even begin that depending on the “news media” for your news has become a dicey proposition, and so depending on it for your history is even more so. But a recent article from ABC News online seems to take your gullibility cake, chew it up and spit it back into your mouth mother bird style. Historically speaking, anyway.

Back in March I spoke a little bit about a group of six cannon that were being lifted from the Chagres River on the Atlantic coast of Panama. News media insisted that the cannon were unequivocally those of the famed buccaneer Henry Morgan. Though the authenticity of such statements has yet to be proven, it looks like the big guns – if you’ll pardon the pun – have moved in for the kill. Now we are being told that “Pirate Henry Morgan’s Long-Lost Ship…” has been “… Unearthed.”

As ABC News notes, the wooden hull of a ship and “… several wooden chests” have been found in the Chagres through the combined efforts of two prestigious American universities and volunteers from NPS. The find is in the Laja reef area which is a notorious coral and rock bed poised to tear out the bottom of just about any ship that enters there. This is where Morgan lost more than one ship in 1671 on his way to raid Panama City. All that said, there is as yet no evidence that the find in question is Morgan’s Satisfaction, as the article asserts.

Further down, at paragraph seven, we find that the expedition has received a “… substantial amount” of monetary backing from none other than our old friends the folks at Captain Morgan’s Rum. Tom Herbst, their brand manager, is quoted as saying:

When the opportunity arose for us to help make this discovery mission possible, it was a natural fit for us to get involved. The artifacts uncovered during this mission will help bring Henry Morgan and his adventures to life in a way never thought possible.

While, as a student of both anthropology and archaeology, I am all in favor of corporate funding for any responsible project, you have to question this one. Is the integrity of the actual find being skewed to fulfill the wishes of its sponsor? Will this ship be deemed Satisfaction regardless of evidence to the contrary, should such come to light? Did Captain Morgan’s Rum just buy their brand an artifact?

The article, though short, also whimsically (some might say maliciously) distorts the history of Morgan himself. According to the article:

Morgan was hired by the British government to protect its colonies in the Americas. He traversed the seas, taking down anything that might harm British interests.

That sounds more like the description of a superhero than a man who was hauled back to England and taken to task by his king for attacking Panama City. Not to mention all that torture and rape and what not. Lucky he may have been, but Morgan was neither protector of the realm nor, for that matter, much of a sailor.

As promised back in March, Triple P will keep an eye on this one and report as the story develops. All I can say at this point is that I hope the ship is what the researchers and their sponsor imagine it is. Given the tone of the ABC News article, any alternative may never be made clear to the public. Not only would that be a horrible blow to seafaring history, it would also constitute an unconscionable shame.

Header: Rio Chagres from Castillo San Lorenzo by Gaspar Serrano


Undine said...

OK, I'm more cynical than most, but when I got to paragraph four of your post, I immediately caught the too-familiar whiff of shenanigans in the air. I suspect that Mr. Herbst already has his next ad campaign firmly in place.

And as for your last two sentences...I'm sure you know as well as I how often that sort of thing happens. (I could start a whole new blog just on that topic, if I wasn't so lazy, not to mention averse to lawsuits.) Do let us know how this whole business plays out.

Pauline said...

I have to agree. What is unfortunate is that relatively respectible seafaring history publications such as "No Quarter Given" are pretty much running with this story without including the brand tie-in.

Coopting history to make money is, as you so accurately point out, nothing new. It is still unfortunately disappointing all the same.

Danielle Thorne said...

Excellent article as usual as well of point of view. This is the first I've heard of it. It will be interesting to watch this story unfold.

Pauline said...

Thanks Danielle. I'll be interested to see how this plays out although unfortunately, much like Undine, I've a hunch I already know.

Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Hey, the found the ship in the same area where they found the cannons, so it HAS to be Captain Morgan's ship... right?

It's not like there were any other ships that went down there... Oh yeah... Wait a minute... Never mind.

Pauline said...

I really hope this whole thing is done correctly, so to say, but time will tell. Money talks and so on.

Charles L. Wallace said...

Seems to me they would buy more exposure if they gain no Satisfaction (pun intended ;-) from this ship: in such a manner, Captain Morgan Rum can continue the search for the real ship, and keep in the news. Time will tell.