John Esquemeling

John Esquemeling was a member of Henry Morgan's pirate band, and an eye witness of the incidents related.  Although not definitely known, the author of the capture of Porto Bello and the burning of Panama, is thought to have been from The Netherlands as his account first appeared in the Dutch language.  It was later translated into Spanish and then into English.  The English translation appeared as a part of the book called The Buccaneers of America, published by Swan Sonnenschein & Co., of London. The author's account is both graphic and picturesque and is written in the third person.  With the exception of a few instances where he speaks of the extraordinary exploits of the English under Morgan, as matters of course, he has taken no sides, and is as prone to criticize his leader, as any individual on the opposite side.  The worst criticism to be made of his narrative is his tendency to magnify the importance of certain places and things.  Hence, from his description of Old Panama, one would be led to believe it a much larger and important than it really was.  He refers to there having been five thousand houses in the place at the time of its fall.  This would indicate a population of 40,000 or 50,000 persons.  Even in a much more extensive area than the site of Old Panama it would have been impossible to comprehend so many buildings, and there is nothing today to indicate it. 

The expedition against Old Panama was Henry Morgan's crowning achievement, and his action toward his men after their return to the Fort of Chagre, as Esquemeling terms San Lorenzo, marked the beginning of the end of his career as the greatest pirate of his time.   He was a man of quick impulse, one good act being almost invariably offset by an evil one.  He cared not for conquest for conquest's sake, but he was out for the coin of the realm, which in his time was figured in pieces of eight.  One of the most astonishing moves in his whole career was his attitude towards piracy after his ascendancy to the post of Governor of Jamaica, not long after his return from the Panama expedition.   To him, more than to any one man, is probably due the ridding of the pirates from the waters and islands of the West Indies.

The Panama expedition was not as successful as Morgan had figured on in the matter of booty.  The escape of the Spanish galleon with the plate and church valuables robbed him of the best of his expected treasure.  Local tradition has it that he left with as high as 1,200 mule loads of loot, while a biography of Morgan puts it at thirty-seven.   Esquemeling gives it at 175 mule loads, which is probably about the correct figure.

Following is Esquemeling's account of the capture of Porto Bello, and the fall of Old Panama in the writer's own picturesque language, which cannot fail but to add spice to the narrative.

February 20, 2000

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