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Morgan Henry
(c. 16351688)

Morgan Henry (c. 16351688)

Sir Henry Morgan was a Welsh privateer, who made a name in the Caribbean as a leader of buccaneers. He was among Wales's most notorious and successful privateers.
Henry Morgan is supposedly the oldest son of Robert Morgan, a squire of Llanrhymny in Glamorgan, Wales, however it has also been postulated that he was from Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, there being a record of an entry in the 'Bristol Apprentice Books' showing 'Servants to Foreign Plantations' : February 9th 1655; 'Henry Morgan of Abergavenny, Labourer, Bound to Timothy Tounsend of Bristoll, Cutler, for three years, to serve in Barbadoes on the like Condiciouns' ; there is no record of Morgan himself before 1665. He said later that he left school early, and was "more used to the pike than the book." Exquemelin says that he was indentured in Barbados but he was forced to retract and subsequent editions were amended after Morgan sued the publishers for libel and was awarded £200 against the publishers; Richard Browne, his surgeon at Panama, said that Morgan came to Jamaica in 1658, as a young man, and raised himself to "fame and fortune by his valor". Jamaica had been conquered by the English Commonwealth in May, 1655.

His uncle Edward Morgan was Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica after the Restoration of Charles II of England in 1660, and Henry Morgan married his uncle's daughter 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 the autumn of 1665, Morgan commanded a ship in the old privateer Edward Mansfield's expedition sent by Sir Thomas Modyford, the governor of Jamaica, which seized the islands of Providence and Santa Catalina. When Mansfield was captured and killed by the Spanish shortly afterwards, Morgan was chosen by the buccaneers as their admiral.

In 1667, he was commissioned by Modyford to capture some Spanish prisoners in Cuba in order to discover details of the threatened attack on Jamaica. Collecting ten ships with five hundred 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, with Morgan and his officers narrowly escaping 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 treasure.

Returning to Maracaibo, Morgan found three Spanish ships waiting at the inlet to the Caribbean; these he destroyed or captured, recovered a considerable amount of treasure from one which had run aground and exacted a heavy ransom as the price of his evacuating the place. Finally, by an ingenious stratagem, he faked a landward attack on the fort which convinced the governor to shift his cannon. In doing so, he 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 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 December 27, he gained possession of the castle of Chagres, killing three hundred of the garrison. Then with one thousand four hundred 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.

On January 18, 1671, Morgan discovered that Panama had roughly fifteen hundred infantry and cavalry. He split his forces in two, using one to march through the forest 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 off the rest of the Spanish soldiers. After looting and taking booty that exceeded a hundred thousand pounds, Morgan had his men burn the city and massacred all its inhabitants, an action considered, to this date, the most barbarous atrocity ever perpetrated by a British privateer against Spanish colonies in America.

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 favor 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 a reputation for rowdy drunkenness.

In 1683, Morgan was suspended from the Jamaican Council by the machinations of Governor Lynch. Also during this time, an account of Morgan's disreputable exploits was published by Alexandre Exquemelin, who once had been his confidante, probably as a barber-surgeon, in a Dutch volume entitled 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 two hundred English pounds (Campbell, 2003). The book nonetheless contributed much to Morgan's ill-reputed fame as a bloodthirsty pirate over time.

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 is also possible that he may have had liver failure due to his heavy drinking. He is buried in Palisadoes cemetery, which sank beneath the sea after the 1692 earthquake.

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


Guinea Bissau, 2009, Pirates

Jamaica, 1971, Henry Morgan

St. Kitts-Nevis, 1970/1976, Henry Morgan

Turks & Caicos, 1985, Henry Morgan

Virgin Islands, 1970, Henry Morgan

Virgin Islands, 1970/1974, Henry Morgan' ship

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