Vanished Worlds, Enduring People

Opening a Transatlantic World

Lionel Wafer. A New Voyage and Description of the Isthmus of America. London: James Knapton, 1699. [view]

Wafer, a Scotsman, began his career on the high seas as a ship’s surgeon. An encounter with Captain Edmund Cook in Jamaica led him to join Cook’s privateering expedition to the Isthmus of Panama (1679-81), to troll those waters in search of Spanish ships laden with gold and silver. In crossing the isthmus, Wafer was injured by an explosion of gunpowder. Unable to walk, he was left behind with Cuna Indians, who apparently accepted him. He eventually made his way back to the coast, rejoining his buccaneering cohorts. Subsequently charged with piracy, he spent two years (1688-1690) in a Virginia prison. His book, published when he returned to London, contains a wealth of information about the natural history of the isthmus, and the daily life and shamanistic practices of the Cuna.

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