HISTORICAL MARKER, MILE 8 ON HWY B 1
In 16––, gold stolen by Spanish traitors and outlaws from the cathedral in Mexico City was smuggled onto a Spanish diplomatic ship, the Santa Dolores, unbeknownst to the captain and crew. The Forzoso accompanied it as a military escort. 2 Dutch pirate captain Basil Thölde attacked and boarded the Santa Dolores. Traitorous saboteurs had damaged much of the ship’s gunpowder supply in preparation for Thölde’s attack and aided in the sinking the Forzoso. 3 The pirates came here with the captured ship and offered the Spanish soldiers a choice of joining in their mutiny against the Spanish crown or imprisonment and potential marooning on the island. Prisoners were left in Captain Basil Thölde’s custody when he disembarked with a large portion of the stolen gold. In addition to the captured Spanish officers and sailors, there was also the son of an English diplomat, early chemist pioneer William Boyle and a relative of the Mexican Viscount. 4 There was a skirmish between a handful of loyal Spanish officers and Thölde’s crew on the island. The loyalists to the crown succeeded in recapturing the Santa Dolores and rescuing Boyle, but failed to save the young noble Spaniard or retrieve the stolen gold. 5
1 “The pirate stories about the island are the stuff of legend, but I can tell you the real story,” says the man in elbow patches. I had wandered off from the rest of the party crew on our senior year fraternity spring break and into this old rickety beachside hotel that was all shellacked wood and ceiling fans—it had a novel’s ambience. Which novel? That’s a good question. Something semi-tropical with a character Humphrey Bogart could play in the movie and probably a fat man or a gunzel (the slang meaning—not the one the Production Code types assumed when it slipped through). I’d seen this man in sweaty tweed and deemed him handsome in a nerdy way. I guess the novel would have room for that type, too; I’m a CLIT major. We’re making eye contact like you do when you proposition another man without Grindr; it’s why I’m still sitting here.
2 “Is the pirate’s booty fantastical?” I ask him as I drink straight from the plastic margarita pitcher I’m allegedly bringing out to the dark waves and my pot smoking boys from school. I’ve left them crapped out in lounge chairs, who knows how far from the beach house we’re renting somewhere on Hwy B—the island only has two. Fuck if I know how any of us are ever going to find it at this point. “Oh no, Basil Thölde was a pirate, or at least he hired a bunch of Dutch prisoners and escaped Africans, and came to the island with a lot of Spanish gold, but there was so much more than that.” “So much more than gold?” I stare into the plastic pitcher, “Will I need more?” “I doubt it. I think a pitcher is probably enough, even for a growing boy like you.” “Is that what you did your post doc on, Doc?” “No, Thölde is what I’m doing my post doc on right now!” He smiles with boyish pride and looks very kissable.
3 “See, Thölde was also an alchemist! So, it starts with a couple of Jesuit priests and Thölde, all with insurrection on the brain. Thölde is looking for gold for his alchemical experiments—specifically a Philosopher’s Tree. In smaller experiments, he appeared to have success in a process of seeding a small amount of gold and growing more gold in the shape of a tree; a sort of cousin to the Philosopher’s Stone. Thölde wanted to conduct this on a larger scale, but he needed the seed gold. He was going to use it to financially fuel the insurrection against the Spanish in New Spain, starting with a tribe known to the priests. They steal the gold from the cathedral—I don’t know how—load it onto a diplomatic ship, the Santa Dolores, and plan to sabotage the powder so the pirates can board them, while co-conspirators sabotage the Forzoso. And it all works. The insurrectionists leave an amount of gold and the Santa Dolores with Thölde for his alchemy here on the island, and take off with the rest to go buy arms for the insurrection.” “You really like that word.” “Which?” “Insurrrrrection.” “Oh, well when you say it like that, I do. Also, kinda drunk, so wording less originally.”
4 He is gently touching me as he speaks now, and I am no longer thinking about finding the rental down the road with my frat bros. They’re officially on their own. “The crew and the Jesuits leave the loyalist prisoners behind with Thölde, including a pair of aristocratic lovers: Antonio de Palafox y Mendoza, from an important noble Spanish family, and William Boyle, son of an English diplomatic family in Spain. That’s where the love triangle begins.” “What are you drinking?” “Mojitos, extra sugar.” “Scuse me! Can we get this dandy another extra sweet mojito, barkeep? Ok, tell me more about Antonio, Willy, and…?” “Why, Basil Thölde, of course!” “Basil was an ass pirate?!”
5 Willy Boyle apparently got jelly of Antonio and Basil, because he ended up helping the loyal Spanish officers steal the Santa Dolores back from Basil. “How do you know all this?” “Willy’s journal. And Basil’s. Get this. The weasel steals Basil’s alchemical research, too. Eventually, he gets back to England with it, and it’s the Enlightenment. He steals Basil’s research and uses it as the basis for modern chemistry. The first documented case of stolen academic research. Fucking plagiarist.” “What happened to Antonio and Basil?” “Still working on that… I am still combing through the New Spain records around this incident. The Santa Dolores makes it back to Spain and I think I have identified the Native insurrection the Jesuits and the Dutch and African crew supplied and supported. I don’t think Antonio ever makes it back to Spain, but I don’t know if they join up with the rest of the crew or not. Willy confirms they survive the loyalists, but they could just as easily have died on the island, here.” “So you’re doing queer research, here?” “I am, mostly, anyway. Actually the island is probably a dead end, it’s more like a vacation from my research, unless some archaeologists find something interesting—but since it’s just a bunch of treasure hunters here, it seems unlikely.” “Well, why don’t we do another kind of queer research?” “I do have a room here.” “I hoped you did.”
Erika Franz is originally from Morgantown, WV and moved to Washington DC where s/he studied history at the undergraduate and graduate levels, earning a Masters. S/he has published nonfiction in a variety of local publications and fiction in The First Line. Currently, s/he lives in Baltimore, works in college admissions by day, and reads or writes the rest of the time, when not adventuring with her wife. twitter: @ETFranz Image: Attack by Pirates, Arnold Böcklin, 1880