By Andrew Califf and contributions by Jerry Walter, Simone Judea Muhammad, Philip Hutton, Anna Brown and William Robison.
Geoff McCafferty’s IFR team arrived in Managua and bussed to the colorful, Spanish spired city of Granada. Students were taken around the oldest city in the Americas by horse carriages and introduced to some of the main sights. The city’s history is dynamic, dramatic and holds engaging secrets for everybody. Pirates, a volcanic eruption, and a tactical, backstabbing confederate are a few of the things the grand city has endured since its founding by the Spanish in 1524. Before beginning excavations, the McCaffertys also introduced students to indigenous artifacts displayed at Mi Museo. These artifacts represent what the group will hopefully excavate in the field at El Rayo.
“During the tour of Granada, we were told a little more about Henry Morgan’s operations in Nicaragua. Nicaragua was an extremely advantageous territory for pirates and Granada in particular, was beneficial due to its central location and value as a Spanish port city. Pirate history, and especially Morgan’s history due to his infamy as a slave owner and trader with money gained from raids, is crucial to understanding concepts of race and ethnicity within a historical context. Morgan found allies in the Miskito people of Nicaragua. He accomplished this by bargaining with their own hatred of the Spanish and pinning down a common enemy, even thoughMorgan was also an invader in their land.
Gustavo Mondragon is a tour guide in Granada and will also be joining the team on the excavation site. The first day, he takes the time to educate us about Granada’s history. This included a visit to Lake Nicaragua, or Cocibolca, which was also a route many pirates used for strategic attacks on the city. One student, Jericho Walter is particularly interested in this sort of history as a subject of research.
Pirates have been romanticized and commercialized to hell and back. Daniel Defoe most likely wrote A General History of the Pyrates, which is almost entirely fictional but presented as fact and heavily influenced what has now become common knowledge about pirates such as Anne Bonny.
Unpacking the extreme intricacies of pirates as both a class and a culture and looking beyond the fiction is important work. Henry Morgan was not a genius or a charismatic businessman; rather, he was a man who understood how to exploit already fraught lands and communities. This is truly visible in the history of his raid on Granada — silver was the sought prize as much as proof that a band of canoes sailing up in clear view of armed forts could pull it off.
With that accomplished, word spread that Morgan would take what he wanted by weaving through webs and exploiting cultural tensions that had been brewing for centuries. In the time where the English and the Spanish and other Europeans were actively fighting for indigenous land, Morgan (before his position as governor) as a former privateer had no alignment except to himself. The lack of national loyalty in piracy is exactly why they were able to accomplish raids such as the Granada one; with no crown to serve, there was nothing that was off limits.” —Jerry Walter