|Sir Henry Morgan
(1635 - 1688)
Ho! 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.
Base of Operations:
Port Royal, Jamaica. A pirate den, a stronghold of the British Crown and
hornets nest of ships out for Spanish gold and blood.
Objective: To own Spain.
Spiritual Orientation: Recited Bible to entire crew with instances of "God" replaced by "The Devil." Employed Nuns and Monks as pawns in scams, fired them and stole their garments.
Biggest Production: Recited Bible to entire crew Panama, 1671.
Captain Morgan's motto should have been "Proper preparation prevents p... poor performance!"
Step 1 - The PreparationsAmass a pirate fleet with support ships. Make a deal with support ships for a substantial cut of the booty. Set fire to every city leading to Panama as practice. Pillage as you go, travel light but armed to the teeth.
Step 2 - The PerformanceSneak the support ship's crews into Panama as very English-looking Spanish farmers. Set fire to Panama. Visciously plunder every abandoned dwelling, church and palace for gold and money.
Step 3 - The PlunderVirtually the entire city of Panama, 200,000 pieces of eight, entire churches full of gold, silver, precious stones, crates of every conceivable item for trade.
Step 4 - The Pirate!Break the deal.
Smallest Production: Providencia, on the way to Panama. The Hidalgos are surprised by only a handful of Morgan's crew on reconnaissance. Before capture and imprisonment, the Hidalgos request a mock battle in which they would fire into the air, Morgan's men would fall and scream as if hit. The Hidalgos' honor is preserved.
Career Highpoints: The English were duly impressed with the Panama job and hired him on the spot. Henry Morgan was brought to England, knighted and given his own fleet of 37 ships and 2000 privateers to command. Later he was made Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica.
Demise: 1688, Jamaica. Drunk and mad from venereal disease, Morgan lives in obscurity, muttering to disbelieving taverners about his "pirate fleet".
Born in Llanrhymni, Wales in approximately 1635, Henry Morgan was eventually to become one of the most successful, decorated, and debauched privateers ever to roam the Spanish Main.
As a boy he was kidnapped from Bristol. His captors shipped him to the EnglishWest Indies colony of Barbados where he was sold as a slave boy to a plantation owner. This form of "white slavery" was common during the era. White slaves were, theoretically, "indentured servants" who were supposed to be granted freedom after seven or so years of adult bondage. Many white slave holders circumvented English law however by starving the "servant" during his sixth year of service until a contract for another seven years of service could be "agreed" upon.
Henry's salvation came in unusual form. In 1654 Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, the current ruler of England, dispatched a large invasion force to the West Indies with the intention of capturing Hispaniola from the Spanish. The fleet anchored in Barbados, where its invasion force was swelled in numbers by hundreds of young men anxious to desert their owners and gain freedom. Among the recruits was nineteen year old Henry.
On 31st March 1655 some thirty-eight ships with 8000 soldiers departed Barbados for the Spanish bastion of Santo Domingo. The resulting invasion attempt was a fiasco and the English were routed by the Spanish defenders. Anxious to keep their heads, the force's commanders decided they dare not return to England without some token of success. Alas, the smaller, sparsely populated Spanish colony of Jamaica was invaded and captured a couple weeks later.
In the following years most of the invasion fleet dispersed, and many of the English soldiers left to garrison the colony perished of fever. Cromwell found himself with a vulnerable but strategically important base in the middle of Spain's New World. In order to populate the island he offered 30 acres of land free to any emigrant willing to settle there. In following years, especially after the ascension of King Charles II to the English throne, letters of marque were offered to privateers operating from the island. Since England could not afford to protect the island with a squadron of navy ships, the privateers were the only naval protection Jamaica enjoyed.
At a relatively late stage of his life, between his twentieth and thirtieth birthdays, Morgan's apprenticeship to the sea began. Details from his early privateering days are scarce, but it's fairly safe to assume he served aboard vessels operating from Port Royal. Whether the violent, drunken life of a sea robber was to corrupt his personality, or merely suit it, is not known.
By 1666 he had command of his own vessel, and soon afterwards was leading loosely organized fleets of privateers against Puerto Principe and Puerto Bello. The sacking of Puerto Bello was particularly brutal and resulted in rape, torture, and murder on a grand scale. Although London publicly claimed ignorance about this and most of the privateers activities, in reality Morgan and other buccaneers worked in close collusion with Jamaica's colonial governor (who was cut in on the loot). King Charles II, who feared what might happen to Jamaica if its only source of naval protection was lost, quietly permitted the privateers to operate out of Port Royal (for, of course, a share of the loot.)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.
Strangely enough (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.
Meanwhile the 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 English hands.
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.Sacking Panama
In late 1670 Morgan sailed for Panama with a fleet of thirty-five small ships (between 10 and 120 tons in size) and over two thousand English and French privateers. It was the largest force of privateers yet brought together for one venture. And the proposed venture was big -- the sack of Panama, 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 bloody cost of one hundred dead and many more wounded. Afterwards began a grueling march through thick jungle to the Panama side of the isthmus. Morgan had planned to feed his small army with stores of food captured from the Spanish or foraged from the jungle. But these plans proved inadequate and after a few days his men were reduced eating leather, leaves, tree bark, virtually anything. Malaria and yellow fever weakened hundreds. Snakes, mosquitos, ticks, alligators, and untold varieties of insects assailed them. Men sank chest deep into foul swamps, hacked through thick undergrowth with cutlasses, and suffered occassional musket fire from Spanish snipers. Small numbers of men died from poison arrows fired from natives who glided like shadows through the dense tangle of jungle.
More than a week after they entered the jungle, Morgan's drained force bivouacked in sight of Panama City. The next day they rose to see the Spanish army march out to meet them on the vista. At his command, the Spanish governor, Don Guzman, had 2000 infantry and 500 calvary, but 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 a critical juncture in the battle. Ideally 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.
Morgan triumphantly entered Panama with a gang of half-starved men waving banners and blowing horns. Unfortunately for the city was set ablaze by the Spaniards (or by the privateers themselves accidently) and burned down around them. This destroyed rich warehouses full of silk, spices and other loot brought from Spain's colonies in the Pacific. 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 an bloodthirsty mob of buccaneers behind.Retirement
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 "prison" (the Tower) until the furor had died down. Charles II then knighted Henry for his deeds and sent him back to Jamaica as lieutenant-governor.
Morgan never sailed again, but lived a comfortable life in Port Royal until his death in 1688. (We prefer the first version - See "Demise" above - but are happy to tell both sides of any story!!!)
The Golden Altar
by Michael J. Merry
Four Seasons Publishers
April 1, 2002
The Best Reviews
The Blether Book Review Site
|Global Travel Club
|Tel: +44 (0)1268 541732
|Fax: +44 (0)1268 541363
|Site Design by Global Creations - Copyright © 1998-2006. All Rights Reserved.