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Keywords:

  • adventure;
  • Colombia;
  • Gregor MacGregor;
  • masculinity;
  • Venezuela;
  • wars of independence

This article examines the recruiting practices, political propositions and changing identities of the Scottish adventurer Gregor MacGregor in the early nineteenth-century Caribbean. Based on original archival research and revision of the existing secondary literature, it seeks to understand why he has consistently been judged as a failure, and why neither Scotland nor any of the countries MacGregor worked in have wanted to claim him as their own hero. After an introduction providing biographical details and some historical context for the Caribbean in the period 1811–1830, the article looks in detail at what have been seen to be his successes and failures in the Caribbean region. It asks to what extent questions of ethnicity or masculinity have affected the way contemporaries and historians viewed MacGregor and his actions. In conclusion, it suggests that although he was a soldier and a sailor, and he was declared both an Inca and a King, his career was deemed a failure by both contemporaries and historians in Scotland, South America and the Caribbean. The main explanation for this negative assessment is that his ambitions continually fell foul of the interests of various Caribbean elites and of the distinctive historical circumstances of the region.1