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We have had occasion to refer often to Mexico in these pages. It ...
We have had occasion to refer often to Mexico in these pages. It has been our aim to do so in a kind spirit; for, while we have never doubted that the factions which have possessed themselves of the government in that country have done us great wrong, wrong that would have justified a much earlier appeal to arms, we have always regarded the class of Mexicans who alone can properly be termed the 'people,' as mild, amiable, and disposed to be on friendly terms with us.[...]".
Posted November 1, 2010
There are good reasons to read JACK TIER, OR THE FLORIDA REEF, Fenimore Cooper's sea tale of 1848. -- (1) It is amusing: "old Mrs Budd" is a dotty dear, totally at sea with nautical terminology, longitude, navigational instruments, ropes and sails. None of this stops her from dogmatizing or malapropisms. And no one can convince her that there is more than one noon at a time all over the earth. If it is noon in London, then it has to been noon in Manhattan as well. -- (2) The novel may have the most surprising surprise ending in American literature. Who is the pudgy, dark little sailor man called Jack Tier? Is he what he presents himself: traitorous Captain Spike's old shipmate? I was preening myself on reading the clues aright. But was I wrong! -- (3) The novel is full of facts and atmosphere about the Caribbean, the long coast of wartime (1846 - 1948) Mexico, the mighty Florida Reef with its Dry Tortuga islands, with Key West, with sharks, shellfish, sea turtles, terrifying squalls and coral islets. -- (4) Religion plays a role in the lives of the two young lovers, 18 year old Rose Budd and 23 year old first Harry Mulford, first mate of the Molly Swash. When they are marooned together on the keel of a capsized ship help up only by the air within it, Rose kneels and prays and wishes that Harry would kneel with her. Harry does pray, but not at her side. That is not the way of sailors. -- (5) Very compelling, although a bit off to one side, are the political and battle activities of the USA's war with Mexico over Texas, and where the border between the two nations should have been drawn. Few Americans in 1848 saw any merits in Mexico's claims to Texas. Mexico had provoked, 13 years earlier, the Texans to revolt from her rule. But Mexico had never ratified Texas's independence or its later annexation by the USA, which led to the war of 1846 - 1848. The U.S. army quickly captures huge swathes of Mexico and eventually its capital, Mexico City. Author Cooper worries that the government in Washington will bite off more than it can chew and occupy indefinitely the entire land. (By novel's end it is not yet clear that Mexico will be compelled to sell for $15 million both New Mexico and California to "the Colossus of the North.) *** JACK TIER is a novel about an American traitor, Captain Spike, and an aristocratic Mexican patriot, Don Juan Montefalderon y Castro, who do a dirty business with each other. Captain Spike ("Don Estaban" to Don Juan), by arrangements made the previous summer in Manhattan, is selling gunpowder hidden in flour barrels to the Mexican government to use against the American invaders. Spike also hopes to sell his 50 year old ship, the Molly Swath, to Mexico to use against American merchantmen. *** Things get complicated when the USS Poughkeepsie pursues the Molly Swath from Manhattan into the Caribbean, eventually catching her at the island lighthouse in the Dry Tortugas, 60 miles from Key West, where Spike and Montefalderon meet to do business. Then there is the little matter of a tornado out of nowhere that capsizes the Mexican boat and drowns its crew. There is first mate Mulford's finding proof of his captain's treachery. There is Captain Spike's plan to marry young Rose against her will and take her to Mexico. A grand yarn! -OOO-Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.