Once upon a time, in the heart of Central America, there was a country named Poyais. It was exceptionally rich in resources, civilization, and culture and was ruled by the brave and enlightened Scottish soldier, Sir Gregor MacGregor, who became its ruler after his heroic exploits in the fight for South American independence. On a cold January morning in 1823, a group of Scottish immigrants looking for a new life set sail for this tropical Eden called Poyais.The only catch was that it didn't exist.A month later the ship landed on the swamp-infested Mosquito Coast and the settlers realized that they had become the victims of one of the most elaborate hoaxes in history. The land they had been sold was nonexistent, the banknotes and guidebooks they carried with them were forgeries, their documents were worthless. Poyais was a fiction. The man responsible? Sir Gregor MacGregor. Who was this eccentric, scurrilous man? And why is he such a lovable rogue?
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David Sinclair is the author of eight previous books, including the recent Hall of Mirrors and the best-selling The Pound: A Biography. He has enjoyed a long career as a senior journalist with some of Britain's leading newspapers. He divides his time between London and Normandy.From Publishers Weekly:
Author, journalist and historian Sinclair (The Pound: A Biography, etc.) turns in this enthralling history to the outrageous and tragic story of Poyais, a South American nation that, as the subtitle indicates, never actually existed. Sir Gregor MacGregor, a pusillanimous and pompous soldier who fought in the South American wars of liberation, concocted the Territory of Poyais in the early 1820s as a means of getting rich off of land sales and financial speculation. Appointing himself "His Highness Gregor, Cazique of Poyais," MacGregor spread word of this purported utopia throughout Britain, describing weather patterns, soil and vegetation, and the government and enviable lack of taxes. He produced currency and a 350-page guidebook. Two ships of ambitious settlers sailed for the Mosquito Coast of Central America in 1822 and 1823, respectively. The settlers, fully convinced of the paradise that awaited them, found nothing but a swampy lagoon on landing. Of the roughly 250 emigrants, fewer than 50 returned to Britain. Some committed suicide; some died of yellow fever, malaria or exhaustion; and others migrated to Belize. As background, Sinclair traces MacGregor's psychological and professional development as an amoral confidence man while leading troops in various campaigns against Spain in Central America. While the book suffers from a cumbersome foreword by Desmond FitzGerald (who traces a distant family connection to MacGregor), Sinclair provides a fascinating glimpse into 19th-century conquest, warfare and utopian ideals.
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