(1635 - 1688)
Sir Henry Morgan
Sir Henry Morgan was
born Llanrhymni, Wales in 1635. He went on to become one of the most successful
privateers ever to roam the Spanish Main.
As young boy he was
sent from Bristol, England to the island of Barbados as an indentured servant. This
was a form of white slavery which was widely used at that time. Supposedly
indentured servants were to work for approximately seven years and then be granted their
freedom to pursue their own careers. Many holders of these servants tried to
circumvent the English law by various means so that the servant would spend a longer time
working for little or wages.
came when in 1654 Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, then ruler of England, sent a large
invasion force to the West Indies with the intention of capturing Hispaniola from the
Spanish. The fleet anchored in Barbados, where many young men deserted their owners to
join up with this invasion force.
This fleet sailed
for Santo Domingo on March 31st 1655. The invasion was not a successful one.
The commanders did not want to return to England without some success, so they invaded the
smaller Spanish colony of Jamaica and took it over.
Due to illness among the soldiers left guarding this new English colony, Cromwell
recruited persons to settle there by offering them 30 free acres of land. Later King
Charles II offered letters of marque to privateers using Jamaica (Port Royal) as a base.
These privateers became the English "naval protection" force for the
government sort of closed their eyes to the privateers' exploits as it needed the
privateers in the area to protect its land holdings. In fact, the Governor of
Jamaica was usually given a cut of the booty the privateers gained.
did not go to sea until sometime between his twentieth and thirtieth birthdays. His
early sea exploits have not been chronicled so little is known about this phase of his
life. He did have command of his own ship by 1666. He led raids against
Puerto Principe and Porto Bello. Port Bello was very brutal and involved rape,
torture, and murder.
Battle Of The Maracaibo Lagoon
In 1669 Morgan ventured through the tight inlets of the Maracaibo lagoon with four hundred
men and a few small ships. He sacked Maracaibo, which the Spaniards had hastily abandoned
upon seeing his approach. His fleet then sailed further south to Gibralter where he
lingered for weeks, torturing residents and trying to raise a ransom for the town, but
only gaining about 5000 pieces of eight in total. The French buccaneer L'Ollonais had
raided the area only three years earlier and had done a good job plundering the Spaniards
of their riches.
Morgan at last
weighed anchor and sailed north. He must have been unsettled to find that three Spanish
war galleons under the command of Admiral Don Alonso Del Campo waited for him by the
narrow inlets that were the only exit to the Caribbean. These war galleons -- the 40 gun
flagship Magdalena, the 30 gun Luis, and the 24 gun La Marquesa --
far outclassed anything Morgan had in his motley collection of sloops and converted
merchantmen. Furthermore, behind the galleons, the Spaniards had fortified an island in
the narrowest stretch of the inlet with cannon and infantry.
(given the atrocities Morgan had inflicted), Don Del Campo offered to let Morgan go
provided the privateers turn over the loot they had taken from the area. Del Campo gave
Morgan and his men two days to decide their fate. The buccaneers decided to fight.
At dawn on April
31st, Del Campo awoke to find a half dozen small English ships sailing towards his fleet.
He ordered the galleons manoeuvre into position and fire a broadside. The Magdalena
had barely discharged her first barrage when a small English ship, ladened with
explosives, crashed into the side of the galleon. A skeleton English crew of twelve men
grappled their ship to the galleon, lit several fuses, then jumped over the side and swam
for their lives. Behind them the exploding fireship ripped a hole in the side of the Magdalena
and flames raced uncontrollably through the galleon. Within minutes Del Campo gave orders
to abandon ship.
captain of the Luis had ineptly run his ship aground in the narrow waters by the
inlet, and she too began to sink. Morgan focussed his attention on the La Marquesa,
which was soon surrounded by his ships and boarded. After a short, bloody fight she was in
In the euphoria of
victory Morgan ordered an immediate frontal assault against the Spanish fortifications on
the island. Here, however, the Spanish held and the buccaneers were beaten back with over
30 dead and many wounded. The setback chastened Morgan to adopt a brilliant plan of
deception. He sent rowboats ladened with men to the far shore of the island, only to have
the men duck when the boats were out of sight and return to the ships with every man. The
Spaniards, fearing a land assault from behind, turned their heavy guns away from the inlet
and towards the vulnerable side of their fortifications. While the Spaniards were busily
shifting their cannons and preparing themselves for infantry attack, Morgan raised anchor
and sailed through the inlet unscathed.
In late 1670 Morgan sailed for Panama with a fleet of thirty-five small ships and over two
thousand English and French privateers. It was the largest force of privateers
brought together for one venture, and it was big -- the sack of Panama, then considered
the wealthiest city in the New World.
The attack was
difficult because of the city's location -- on the far side of a mountainous,
jungle-covered isthmus. The opening move involved reducing a Spanish fortress at the mouth
of the Chagres River. In a few days the buccaneers had carried the fort, but at the
expense of one hundred dead and many wounded. They then began a grueling march through the
thick jungle to the Pacific side of the Isthmus of Panama. Morgan had planned to feed his
small army with stores of food captured from the Spanish or foraged from the jungle.
However, the retreating Spaniards set fire to all provisions before they retreated.
After a few days Morgan's men were reduced eating leather, leaves, and tree bark. Malaria
and yellow fever delibeted many of the men. Snakes, mosquitos, ticks, alligators,
and insects tormented them. Men sank chest deep into foul swamps, hacked through
thick undergrowth with cutlasses, and suffered occassional musket fire from Spanish
snipers. A few men died from poison arrows fired from natives.
After eight days,
Morgan's drained force camped within sight of Panama City. The next day Spanish army
marched out to meet them on the plain. The Spanish governor, Don Guzman, had 2000 infantry
and 500 calvary; however, most of the infantry were slaves or ill-trained militia. The
governor's secret weapon, by which he set much store, was a herd of several hundred head
of cattle, which he planned to have driven through English lines during the battle.
Then, his forces would then swoop down to mop up the trampled buccaneers.
The battle proved
short. The governor first ordered the calvary to make an ill-advised frontal attack on the
buccaneeers. A couple salvos from the English and French muskets decimated the charge and
the attack collapsed. The infantry put up half-hearted resistance until a detachment of
Morgan's men appeared over a small hill and attacked their flank. The famed cattle
scattered in all directions and soon every Spaniard was running for his life.
Panama with his half-starved men waving banners and blowing horns. The city was set ablaze
by the Spaniards (or by the privateers themselves accidently) and burned down around them.
Warehouses full of silk, spices and other riches brought from Spain's colonies in the
Pacific were destroyed in the blaze. Morgan's force camped in the smoldering ashes for
weeks, torturing captives to find the whereabouts of treasure they may have hidden away,
and sending expeditions out into the surrounding countryside in search of fleeing citizens
and their loot.
The Spanish had
plenty warning of Morgan's approach and the takings from the attack were far less than
anticipated. Most of the wealthier citizens had long since collected their valuables and
disappeared. On the long march back to their ships the men grew mutinous as word spread
that each sailor's share would amount to less than 200 pieces of eight. Rather than try to
allay them, Morgan wisely took his cut of the loot aboard his ship and sailed for Port
Royal, leaving a bloodthirsty mob of buccaneers behind.
Spain's reaction to the sack of Panama was to threaten war, and England's King Charles II
made a show of having both Morgan and Jamaica's governor arrested and brought back to
England. They lived comfortably in the Tower of London until the furor had died
down. Charles II then knighted Henry for his deeds and sent him back to Jamaica as
Morgan never sailed
again. He spent the rest of his life in Port Royal. He died there in 1688.
Henry Morgan sails today
To harry the Spanish Main,
With a pretty bill for the Dons to pay
Ere he comes back again.
Him cheat him friend of his last guinea,
Him kill both friar and priest - O dear!
Him cut de t'roat of piccaninny,
Bloody, bloody buccaneer.
February 20, 2000
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