The Fall of Old Panama

By James Stanley Gilbert

Postcard: The ruins of the church tower still stand at Old Panama, the colonial city Morgan destroyed in 1671.


His Catholic Majesty, Philip of Spain,
Ruled o'er the West Coast, the Indies and main;
His ships, heavy laden with pesos and plate,
Sailed o'er the South Sea with tribute of state.
From Lima and Quito his galleys pulled forth
For Panama pearls and gold of the North;
And cargoes of treasure were sent overland
While his soldiers kept guard from the gulf to the strand.
From Panama Bay to the port "Name of God"
Long freight trains of slaves thro' the dense forests trod:
Then, some through the straights and some from the main,
King Philip's good ships sought their owner again.

On England's grand throne great Elizabeth reigned,
And on sea and on land her power maintained;
O'er the hearts of her subjects, o'er the conquests they made,
O'er their lives and their fortunes her sceptre she swayed.
But her title of "Queen of the Seas" to dispute
King Philip essayed from the land of the lute;
And velvet-clad Dons cast their love songs aside
To battle the English, and wind, wave and tide.

In many and mortal affray they engaged,
And bravely and fiercely the struggle they waged,
But the men of old Devon—those stouts hearts of oak—
As often succesfully parried each stroke.
The Drakes and the Gilberts, the Grenvils and Leighs,
The Oxenhams, Raleighs—the props and the stays
Of England's first greatness—were the heroes of old
Who helped Britain's first queen with the Spanish king's gold.
The robbed the arch-robber of ill-gotten gain,
And brought England the glory they wrested from Spain.
His galleons they captured, his treasure train seized—
Outfought him abroad and with zeal unappeased.
At home they defeated the Armada's great fleet,
And laid a world's spoil at Elizabeth's feet.

Alas, that such deeds should grow dim wth the years!
Alas, that such men should have trained buccaneers!
That from such examples--so noble, so true—
A race of marauders and ruffians grew!
That fiends such as Morgan should follow the wake
Of men like John Oxman and Sir Francis Drake,
Who swore by the oak, by the ash and the thorn,
God helping them always, to sail round the Horn
To fair Panama and the placid South Sea,
Which they saw one day from the top of the tree!
For old England's glory their standard to raise,
To cruise the Pacific and its isle-dotted bays.
Four miles from where Ancon looks down on the New
Stood old Panama, whence Pizarro once drew
The bravest of followers Peru to obtain
And her Incas subject to the power of Spain;
Where once stood cathedrals and palaces fair,
Whose altars and vessels and tapestries rare
Were the pride of a people whose opulence then
Was the envy of kings and the longing of men;
Where once stately streets to the plains stretched away,
And warehouses skirted the vessel-lined bay;
Where plantations and gardens and flowering trees
Once perfumed the tropical evening breeze—
Stands naught but a ruin half-hidden from view,
A pirate's foul gift to his bloodthirsty crew!

From sacked Porto Bello redhanded they came,
All bloodstained from conquest unworthy the name,
To the mouth of the Chagres, where, high on the hill,
San Lorenzo kept guard, to plunder and kill
Its devoted defenders, who courageously fought
For homes, wives and children, accounting as naught
Their lives held so precious, so cherished before,
Could they drive the fierce pirates away from their shore.
Three days they repulsed them, but to find every night
The foe still upon them in ne'er-ending fight.
Their arms could not conquer the powers of hell!
San Lorenzo surrendered—ingloriously fell!
Burned, famished and bleeding from many a wound,
They lay while the stronghold was razed to the ground.

On, up to Cruces the buccaneers sped,
But to find it in ashes, its inhabitants fled.
Yet on and still on, with Morgan ahead,
The pressed down the road that to Panama led.
Nine days through the forest unbroken they tramped,
And at last on a mount near the city they camped.
Before them the ocean for leagues away rolled;
Below them the islands lay bathed in the gold
Of the sun, that just setting, looked mournfully down
On the last day of life of the ill-fated town:
While around them the plains with groves of bright trees
Sheltered cattle and fountains their wants to appease.
The famed "golden cup" lay filled at their hand,
And to drain it at sunrise the buccaneers planned.
"Oh, ho, for the morrow!" quoth Morgan the bold.
"Oh, ho, for the day and the tale to be told!"

The dawn's faint purple had scarce 'gan to light
The peak of Ancon, erst hid in the night,
When the blare of the trumpet and the beat of the drum
Made known that the day of the struggle had come.
In the camp of the pirates, "To arms!" is the cry;
"Press forward, my hearties, our treasure is nigh!
Avoid the main road—there are ambuscades there—
Push on through the forest, your firearms prepare!"
Now out on the hill, still called the "Advance,"
The buccaneers over their enemy glance.
Before them they see in the full light of day
The Spaniards drawn up in battle array.
Two squadrons of horse, four thousand of line,
With bullocks and peons their forces combine.
And then, were it safer for them to retreat,
Would Morgan have ordered the signal to beat?
Too late it is now—it is triumph or die!
Though desperate to battle, 'twere folly to fly!
'Tis useless to falter! "On, onward my men!
We have won against odds, we shall win once again!"

And "On!" cry the Spaniards, shouting "Viva el Rey!
Our numbers are greater! Ours, ours is the day!
Our bullocks will rout them! Huzza for old Spain!
The gore of the thieves shall enrich the plain!"
Alas, for the hopes so sadly misplaced,
For never before such a foe had they faced!
No Indians now, but trained men of might,
Who had learned in stern schools to die and to fight.
Two hours they fought 'neath the tropical sun,
Then threw down their muskets, and—Morgan had won!
The verdant savanna like a great river runs
With the blood of six thousands of Panama's sons!
"On, on to the city!" cries Morgan the bold!
"Oh, ho, 'tis the day, and the tale is soon told!"

Then awful the combat, as over the walls
The bloodthirsty pirate in eagerness falls!
With Spartan-like valor did the sons of those who
Had assisted Pizarro to conquer Peru
Attempt to o'erpower the fierce buccaneer—
To save city and home and all they held dear!
But vainly they struggled—repulsed o'er and o'er,
The pirates return to the battle once more!
At last they are vanquished! "Now, comrades we'll sup
On the riches we find in the West's golden cup!"

"Fire, pillage and slaughter!" the order goes round
Till palace and cottages are burned to the ground;
Till cathedral and warehouse no treasures contain,
And in the whole city no gold doth remain;
Till mother and daughter are captured and chained
With father and brother, or ransom obtained.
Monasteries and hospitals—down with them all!
Leave not a stone standing on yon city wall!
"Oh, ho, 'tis the day!" quoth Morgan the bold!
"Oh, ho, 'tis the day, and the tale is now told!"

O demon insensate! O offspring of hell!
What pen may thine awful enormities tell!
How picture the cruelties, useless and vain,
Upon the march back through forest again!
Old men tottering feebly 'neath Time's hoary crown,
Frail women in chains and with burdens borne down,
Fresh youth and grown man and the child but just born,
Scourged pitilessly on with the lash and the thorn,
While sobs, lamentation and shrieks of despair
Unceasingly freighted the soft summer air!
The ink turns to tears and corrodes the sad pen
O'er the tortures at Cruces repeated again.
There, under the shade of the broad mango trees—
'Mid anguish that nothing may ever appease—
Are parents and children and husbands and wives,
Condemned without mercy to horrible lives!

Then back down the Chagres the buccaneers hie
To where ships near the castle awaiting them lie;
And embarked with his slaves, his treasure and gold,
Once again for Port Royal sails Morgan the bold!

From "Panama Patchwork," 1894-1913