First published in Dutch in 1678, Alexander Exquemelin's Buccaneers of America (Americaensche Zee-Rovers) presented European readers with a novel and shockingly candid portrait of the international band of sea rovers operating throughout the Caribbean and along the coastlines of Central and South America in the late seventeenth century. Exquemelin's sensationalized account captured considerable attention and was translated into multiple European languages, including German, Spanish, and English, in the ensuing years. Many scholarly treatments of his influential narrative have focused on distinguishing truth from fiction; sometimes, he has been cited as a reliable witness, and often he has been criticized for his apparent fabrications and exaggerations. This essay proposes an alternative approach to questions of truthfulness by focusing instead on how Exquemelin himself continually engages with issues of language and authority. Exquemelin was fascinated with the challenges of producing credible accounts of experience and with the techniques and politics of manipulating narrative for empowerment. For Exquemelin, buccaneers are not only violent criminals but also linguistic rebels who usurp, but ultimately cannot control, the authoritative word. Exquemelin also examines language produced by officials of empire, such as Spanish priests, English governors, and state sovereigns. Drawing parallels between their deceptive language and that of the buccaneers, Exquemelin indicates that the horror of piracy, which consists of atrocities concealed and advanced through discursive manipulation, is also the horror of imperialism generally.

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