the island that disappeared

some recommended reading

England and the Civil Wars

 England’s first merchant adventurers were inspired by Biblical prophecy, and religious mysticism, as well as by the search for plunder and profit. But many of them were also keen readers of Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis, which imagined an island utopia somewhere in the mid-Atlantic. See Paradise Dreamed: How Utopian Thinkers have Changed the Modern World by Pamela Neville-Sington and David Sington (Bloomsbury, 1993).


In the course of researching the story of Providence, Every One a Witness: the Stuart Age by Arthur Finlay Scott (Apollo Editions 1975), became one of my favourite books. It’s an indispensable collection of firsthand accounts of life in 17th century England.


It can be hard to imagine just how powerful religion was in 17th century England. William Hunt’s The Puritan Moment: The Coming of Revolution in an English County (Harvard University Press, 1983) looks at the rise of religious fundamentalism in Essex. Its local focus makes for an immersive reading experience.


Conrad Russell’s The Origins of the English Civil War (Palgrave, 1973) is good background reading - the chapter Puritanism, Arminianism, and Counter-Revolution, by Nicholas Tyacke is especially good for anyone confused by the religious controversies of the day.


Christopher Hill wrote a lot about the Civil War period, and everything he wrote is brilliant. Particularly good are The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas during the English Revolution (Penguin, 1975) and God’s Englishman: Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution (Penguin, 1970)

Michael Braddick’s England’s Fury, God’s Fire: A New History of the English Civil Wars (Penguin 2008) is a good guide to the civil war.

But for firsthand accounts from the Civil War, you’re better off reading The English Civil War at First Hand by Tristram Hunt (Penguin, 2011)



Providence and England’s first colonies

Four good books to understand the context in which Providence was settled are Alison Games’ Migration and the Origins of the English Atlantic World (Harvard, 1999), J.H. Elliott’s Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830 (Yale, 2006), Cyril Hamshere’s The British in the Caribbean (Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1972) and K. G. Davies’ The North Atlantic World in the Seventeenth Century (University of Minnesota Press, 1974).


The Puritan colony on Providence was a rival to the Puritan colony in Massachusetts, and for a time, it looked as if Central America might be the base for the England’s future empire. An approachable account of the settling of New England is Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War by Nathaniel Philbrick (Penguin, 2006).


Providence Island, 1630-1641: The Other Puritan Colony by Karen Ordahl Kupperman (Cambridge University Press, 1993) is the single most authoritative book about the Puritan colony on the island. Harder to find, and a bit more entertaining, is The Colonising Activities of the English Puritans: The Last Phase of the Elizabethan Struggle with Spain by A.P. Newton (Yale University Press, 1914)



The Miskitos and the Africans

Paul Theroux’s The Mosquito Coast is a great read, but it doesn’t tell you much about the Miskito Indians who gave their name to that part of Central America (nothing to do with biting insects after all). The English colonists’ encounters with the Miskitos were among the first they had with the indigenous people of the Americas, and were rare for being both enduring and mutually beneficial. An early explorer’s account is The Mosqueto Indian and his Golden River, by the anonymous ‘M. W.’ It can be found in A Collection of Voyages and Travels byAnsham Churchill (London, 1732).


Easier to find, comprehensive and enjoyably catty is Penny Ante Imperialism: The Mosquito Shore and the Bay of Honduras 1600-1914 by Robert A. Naylor (Associated University Presses, 1989)


It is a little known fact that Providence was the site of the first slave revolt on an English colony. The revolt’s leaders’ names were not recorded, but the settler Samuel Rishworth was probably the first Englishmen to raise his voice in opposition to the trade in enslaved Africans. The Sociology of Slavery, by Orlando Patterson (McGibbon and Kee, 1967) is an excellent introduction to slavery in the British Caribbean.



The Western Design and the Rise of the Buccaneers

Once the Civil War was over, Providence became the inspiration for the Western Design, the first systematic attempt at empire building by a British government. Not easy to find, but well worth the hunt is Voyage undertaken by William Jackson to the West Indies, or Continent of America(London, 1642). Captain Jackson’s account of his skirmishes on the mainland of Spanish America encouraged Englishmen to believe that King Philip’s empire was there for the taking.


Henry Morgan is probably the most famous British privateer – he was Welsh, not English and wouldn’t have appreciated being called a pirate. Morgan was the Admiral of the Brethren of the Coast – the buccaneers who put Jamaica on the map – and always hoped to make Providence his own. But he was also Deputy Governor of Jamaica. The governor’s sponsorship of his privateering raids on the Spanish Main was an act of collusion between government and organized crime – in Spanish eyes, at least – not seen before or since. Harry Morgan's Way: The Biography of Sir Henry Morgan, 1635–84 by Dudley Pope (Martin Secker & Warburg, 1977) is as entertaining as it is informative.


David Cordingley’s Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates (Abacus, 1995) is a good insight into the lives of the out-and-out pirates that took the privateers’ place once the governor of Jamaica turned his back of the Brethren of the Coast.


Were pirate ships ‘floating republics? Were their crews proto-democratic forerunners of the French Revolution? It’s a moot point, ably explored by Gabriel Kuhn in Life Under the Jolly Roger: Reflections on Golden Age Piracy (PM Press, 2010).


The slave-driven rural factories the British created in Jamaica spawned rebels by the shipload. Mariners, Renegades and Castaways: the story of Herman Melville and the world we live in, by the incomparable C. L. R. James (University Press of New England, 1953), is a fascinating exploration of the subject.



The Resettlement of Providence and the Modern Era

 That the Victorians deluded themselves into believing their empire was a force for good in the world is hardly news, but Jane Porter’s Sir Edward Seaward’s Narrative of his Shipwreck and Consequent Discovery of Certain Islands in the Caribbean Seas (Longman, 1832) really takes the biscuit. Though few of her readers would have heard of Providence, her novel is a rose-tinted re-imagining of what the English colony had been trying to achieve.


In writing The Island that Disappeared, I wanted to show how far from the truth the Victorians strayed, and to tell the story of how ‘civilization’ really came to the island, albeit with some poetic license.


For an accurate, if rather dry account of how Providence was actually resettled, try Island Heritage: a Baptist View of the History of San Andrés and Providencia by Loren C. Turnage (Historical Commission of the Colombia Baptist Mission, 1977).

Then there’s James J. Parsons’ San Andrés and Providencia: English Speaking Islands in the Western Caribbean (University of California Press, 1956) and Walwin Petersen’s not always accurate The Province of Providence (Christian University of San Andrés, 2002).

San Andrés and Providence: an oral history of the island and people by Maria Margarita Ruíz and Carol O’Flin de Chaves (Banco de la República, 1992) is another partial telling of the story. Though brief, The Genealogical History of Providencia Island by J. Cordell Robinson (Borgo Press, 1996) is essential reading for islander genealogists.


Peter J. Wilson is a New Zealander sociologist who wrote two books about Providence in the early ‘70s, both very interesting. Crab Antics  (Waveland Press, 1995) set me thinking about the legacy of Puritans and pirates on the island. Oscar: an enquiry into the nature of sanity (Waveland Press, 1974) is a roaming study of Oscar Bryan, the island’s one-time historian and wisest fool.



cast list

Part One: the Puritan Colony 1629-41

Captain Samuel Axe – fort builder and member of the island council
Philip Bell – the colony’s first governor
Francisco Biafara – runaway slave who raised the alarm on the Main
William Blauveldt – Dutch buccaneer
Nathaniel Butler – the colony’s last governor, turned privateer
Captain Sussex Camock - trader and member of the island council
Captain Andrew Carter – despotic stand-in for Nathaniel Butler
Capitán Gregorio de Castellar – ineffectual leader of first Spanish attack
Daniel Elfrith – the man who discovered Providence
King Charles I of England – the king who declared war on Parliament
Francisco Díaz Pimienta – leader of the Spanish attack that brought down the colony
Henry Halhead – ‘Old Councillor’ and leading Puritan settler
Captain John Humphrey – New Englander and would-be governor
Captain Robert Hunt – the colony’s second, ineffectual governor
William Laud – despotic Archbishop of Canterbury
Reverend Lewis Morgan – island’s first, argumentative Puritan minister
King Philip IV of Spain – perennial foe of Protestant England
John Pym – unofficial leader of the opposition in the House of Commons and founding member of Providence Island Company
Samuel Rishworth – ‘Old Councillor’ and leading Puritan settler
Captain William Rudyerd – military man, member of the island council
Lord Saye and Sele (William Fiennes) - unofficial leader of the opposition in the House of Lords and founding member of the Providence Island Company
Reverend Hope Sherrard - island’s second, even more argumentative Puritan minister
Earl of Warwick (Robert Rich) - founding member of Providence Island Company
John Winthrop – governor of the rival Puritan colony in Massachusetts


Part Two: Rise of the Buccaneers 1641-1670

King Charles II – son of the late king, restored to throne in 1660
Oliver Cromwell – leader of Parliamentary armies, regicide and leader of Commonwealth
Alexander Esquemelin – the buccaneers’ chronicler
Thomas Gage – ‘the English American’ behind the Western Design
Juan Pérez de Guzmán – governor of Panama
Captain William Jackson – privateer who exposed Spanish weakness
José Ramírez de Leiba  - second Spanish governor of ‘Santa Catalina’
Edward Mansveldt – privateer and first Admiral of the Brethren
Sir James Modyford – would-be governor of ‘Santa Catalina’
Sir Thomas Modyford – governor of Jamaica
Henry Morgan – privateer and second Admiral of the Brethren
Gerónimo de Ojeda – first Spanish governor of ‘Santa Catalina’
Sir Thomas Whetstone – Cromwell’s nephew, deputy governor of Providence


Part Three: The Resettlement of Providence and the Wars of Independence 1789-1830

Francis Archbold – the settlers’ Scottish leader
Louis-Michel Aury – pirate and wannabe republican
Teodor Birelski – Polish army deserter and settler
Simón Bolívar – republican general
Agustín Codazzi – Louis-Michel Aury’s right-hand man
Jacob Dunham – Providence’s trader, supplier and creditor
Philip Beekman Livingston – American ship’s captain and settler
Tomás O’Neille – governor of San Andrés y Providencia



Part Four: The Golden Years, and the Arrival of the Modern Age 1830-2014

George Frederick Augustus - king of the Miskitos in 1823
C. F. Collett – British navy officer who visited Providence in 1835
Colonel Hector Hall – would-be governor of bogus colony at Poyais
John James Davidson – Providence’s magistrate in 1835
Antonio Escalona – seasick-prone intendente of San Andrés y Providencia
Pastor Frank Hutchins – brought Seventh-Day Adventism to Providence
Philip Livingston Jr – slave emancipator, educator and preacher
Gregor MacGregor – charlatan behind bogus colony at Poyais
Jane Porter – author of Sir Edward Seaward’s Narrative (1841)
Lieutenant General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla – Colombian military dictator who brought the islands’ into the fold of national life
Edward and Eliza Seaward – protagonists of the novel Sir Edward Seaward’s Narrative
Peter Shepherd - Providence’s trader, supplier and creditor in 1835
Dr Herman von Tietje – Providence’s first doctor
Richard Turner – Providence’s first Catholic priest

‘Ed’ – beggar, former cocaine trafficker
Tony Archbold – ship’s captain and the island’s unofficial historian
Antonio ‘Basha’ Fernández – island farmer, guardian of the old ways
Wanki Clarence – possible heir to the Miskito throne
Richard Hawkins – bar owner, reef diver and Rastafarian
Rodrigo Howard – retired teacher
Luz Marina Livingston – farmer, radio presenter and ‘strong fighter’