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Sir Henry Morgan

Sir Henry Morgan (c. 1635-August 25, 1688) was a privateer of Welsh birth, who made a name in the Caribbean as a leader of buccaneers and roughnecks.

Early life

The eldest son of Robert Morgan, a squire of Llanrhymny in Glamorgan, Wales, the details of Morgan's early life are sketchy. He was said to have been kidnapped as a boy in Bristol and sold as a slave in Barbados, making his way to Jamaica. However his uncle Edward Morgan was Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica after the Restoration of Charles II of England, and Henry Morgan married his uncle's daughter, his cousin, Mary. Therefore it is more likely that he was the 'Captain Morgan' who joined the fleet of Christopher Myngs in 1663 and accompanied the expedition of John Morris and Jackman when the Spanish settlements at Vildemos, Trujillo and Granada were taken.

In 1666 Morgan commanded a ship in Edward Mansfield's expedition which seized the island of Old Providence (Santa Catalina), and when Mansfield was captured and killed by the Spanish shortly afterwards, Morgan was chosen by the buccaneers as their admiral.

Governor's commission, Privateering career

In 1668 he was commissioned by Sir Thomas Modyford, the governor of Jamaica, to capture some Spanish prisoners in Cuba, in order to discover details of the threatened attack on Jamaica. Collecting ten ships with 500 men, Morgan landed on the island and captured and sacked Puerto Principe, then went on to take the fortified and well-garrisoned town of Portobelo, Panama. It is said that Morgan's men used captured Jesuits as human shields in taking the third, most difficult fortress.

The governor of Panama, astonished at this daring adventure, attempted in vain to drive out the invaders, and finally Morgan consented to evacuate the place on the payment of a large ransom. These exploits had considerably exceeded the terms of Morgan's commission and had been accompanied by frightful cruelties and excesses, but the governor of Jamaica endeavoured to cover the whole under the necessity of allowing the English a free hand to attack the Spanish whenever possible. In London the Admiralty publicly claimed ignorance about this, whilst Morgan and his crew returned to their base at Port Royal, Jamaica, to celebrate.

Modyford almost immediately entrusted Morgan with another expedition against the Spaniards, and he proceeded to ravage the coast of Cuba. In January, 1669 the largest of his ships was blown up accidentally in the course of a carousal on board; Morgan and his officers narrowly escaped death. In March he sacked Maracaibo, Venezuela which had emptied out when his fleet was first spied, and afterwards spent a few weeks at the Venezuelan settlement of Gibraltar on Lake Maracaibo, torturing the wealthy residents to discover hidden booty.

Returning to Maracaibo, Morgan found three Spanish ships waiting at the inlet to the Caribbean; but these he destroyed or captured, recovered a considerable amount of treasure from one which had run aground, exacted a heavy ransom as the price of his evacuating the place, and finally by an ingenious stratagem faking a landward attack on the fort, which convinced the governor to shift his cannon, eluded the enemy's guns altogether and escaped in safety. On his return to Jamaica he was again reproved, but not punished by Modyford.

The Spaniards on their side were moreover acting in the same way, and a new commission was given to Morgan, as commander-in-chief now of all the ships of war in Jamaica, to levy war on the Spaniards and destroy their ships and stores, the booty gained in the expedition being the only pay. Thus Morgan and his crew were privateers, not pirates. Accordingly, after ravaging the coasts of Cuba and the mainland, Morgan determined on an expedition to Panama.

He recaptured the island of Santa Catalina on December 15, 1670, and on the December 27 gained possession of the castle of Chagres, killing 300 of the garrison. Then with 1400 men he ascended the Chagres River, some of the worst swampland in the area. When his force finally appeared outside of Panama they were very weakened and tired.

Loss of English support

On January 18, 1671, Morgan discovered that Panama had roughly 1500 infantry and cavalry. He split his forces in two using one to march through the woods and flank the enemy. The Spaniards were untrained and rushed Morgan's line where he cut them down with gunfire, only to have his flankers emerge and finish the rest of the army off. After taking a booty that exceeded 100,000 pounds, he burnt down the city and massacred all its inhabitants, the worst atrocity perpetrated by any Welsh pirate in history.

However, because the sack of Panama violated a peace treaty between England and Spain, Morgan was arrested and conducted to England in 1672. He was able to prove he had no knowledge of the treaty, and in 1674 Morgan was knighted before returning to Jamaica the following year to take up the post of Lieutenant Governor.

By 1681, then acting governor Morgan had fallen out of favour with the British King, who was intent on weakening the semi-autonomous Jamaican Council, and was replaced by long-time political rival Thomas Lynch. He gained considerable weight and gained a reputation for rowdy drunkenness.

Retirement

In 1683, Morgan was suspended from the Jamaican Council by the machinations of Governor Lynch. Also during this time, an account of Morgan's irreputable exploits was published by Alexandre Exquemelin in a Dutch volume entitled De Americaensche Zee-Roovers (History of the Bouccaneers of America). Morgan took steps to discredit the book and successfully brought a libel suit against the book's publisher, securing a retraction and damages of 200 English pounds (Campbel, 2003).

When Thomas Lynch died in 1684, his friend Christopher Monck was appointed to the governorship and arranged the dismissal of Morgan's suspension from the Jamaican Council in 1688. Morgan's health had steadily declined since 1681. He was diagnosed with 'dropsie' but may have contracted tuberculosis in London - and died August 25, 1688. It's possible that he may have had liver failure due to his heavy drinking.

Morgan had lived in an opportune time for pirates. He was able to successfully use the conflicts between England and her enemies to both support England and to enrich himself and his crews. With his death, the pirates that would follow would also use this same ploy, but to less successful results. He also was one of the few pirates who was able to basically retire from his piracy, having had great success, and with little legal retribution.

Trivia

Katie King

A character known as Annie Owen Morgan (or Katie King) was a common control for spiritualists in the 19th century; most notably as a bodily materialisation allegedly summoned by Florence Cook. Katie/Annie was reputed to be Henry Morgan's daughter.

References

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