by Keith Taylor
A few years ago Miles Harvey hit it big with his nonfiction book The Island of Lost Maps, which not only told a fascinating story about a thief who cut maps from rare old books housed in North America's best libraries, but also led Harvey's readers through the maze of dealers and collectors whose passions are inflamed and whose morals are compromised by their lust for acquisition. It was a fascinating even a spine-tingling story elegantly told in an evocative prose that never got in the way.
And the story clearly didn't end. While promoting that book, Harvey found himself in Florida, where someone took him out to Fort Caroline National Memorial, a place he'd never heard of. Fort Caroline memorializes an almost forgotten mid-sixteenth-century colony that was founded by French Protestants in Florida more than half a century before the Puritans got their foothold in Massachusetts. That colony was almost entirely destroyed by the Spanish, who didn't want any French influence in their New World and certainly didn't want any heretical Protestants exercising influence over the native populations. One of the few people who managed to survive the massacre was a young cartographer and painter, Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues.
Miles Harvey's new book, Painter in a Savage Land: The Strange Saga of the First European Artist in North America, attempts to rediscover this almost forgotten artist and to re-create his life and capture a sense of his contribution. As Harvey tells us, Le Moyne seemed to have had "a knack for survival." He not only escaped the Spanish attack on the French colony by running off into the Florida forest, but also managed to find his way back to Europe with a few other men in a small and leaking boat. They were starving by the time they washed up on the coast. He survived the brutal and bloody Wars of Religion in France, when most Protestant converts were either massacred or
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