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No Limits to Their Sway
Cartagena's Privateers and the Masterless Caribbean in the Age of Revolutions

Author(s): Edgardo Perez Morales

Following the 1808 French invasion of the Iberian Peninsula, an unprecedented political crisis threw the Spanish Monarchy into turmoil. On the Caribbean coast of modern-day Colombia, the important port town of Cartagena rejected Spanish authority, finally declaring independence in 1811. With new leadership that included free people of color, Cartagena welcomed merchants, revolutionaries, and adventurers from Venezuela, the Antilles, the United States, and Europe. Most importantly, independent Cartagena opened its doors to privateers of color from the French Caribbean. Hired mercenaries of the sea, privateers defended Cartagena's claim to sovereignty, attacking Spanish ships and seizing Spanish property, especially near Cuba, and establishing vibrant maritime connections with Haiti.

Most of Cartagena's privateers were people of color and descendants of slaves who benefited from the relative freedom and flexibility of life at sea, but also faced kidnapping, enslavement, and brutality. Many came from Haiti and Guadeloupe; some had been directly involved in the Haitian Revolution. While their manpower proved crucial in the early Anti-Spanish struggles, Afro-Caribbean privateers were also perceived as a threat, suspected of holding questionable loyalties, disorderly tendencies, and too strong a commitment to political and social privileges for people of color. Based on handwritten and printed sources in Spanish, English, and French, this book tells the story of Cartagena's multinational and multicultural seafarers, revealing the Trans-Atlantic and maritime dimensions of South American independence.

Biography of Author(s)

Edgardo Pérez Morales is an assistant professor of history at the University of Southern California.


  • "The fearsome 'Cartagena privateers' have long haunted Atlantic history. Edgardo Pérez Morales brings them out of the dark shadows and gives them the rich, vivid, well-researched treatment they deserve. This exciting work adds an important new dimension to the Atlantic 'Age of Revolution.'"
    Marcus Rediker, author of Outlaws of the Atlantic: Sailors, Pirates, and Motley Crews in the Age of Sail
  • "A graceful account of the 'masterless' privateers during the Age of Revolutions that brings needed attention to Cartagena, an extremely important site in the Spanish Atlantic and an understudied one."
    Jane Landers, author of Atlantic Creoles in the Age of Revolutions