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Henry Morgan

Posted to Maritime Musings (by on August 19, 2011

A successful pirate who died a nobleman

Henry Morgan (1635-1688) was born in Wales and died in Jamaica.  Between those two dates, he lived a notorious and audacious life.  At age twenty, he sailed to Barbados where he served as an apprentice to a cutler.  Three years later, he showed up in Jamaica as a soldier of fortune.  In 1663, his uncle was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica.   Henry Morgan promptly married his uncle’s daughter.  He then captained a ship in a privateering expedition against the Spanish.  On a second expedition, the leader was captured and executed by the Spanish, who considered him a pirate.  The remaining privateers prompted elected Henry Morgan as their new leader.  When a temporary truce was established between England and Spain in 1667, the various letters of marque issued to English privateers, including Morgan’s, were rescinded.  Morgan promptly switched targets.  Instead of plundering Spanish ships (and having to split the proceeds with the English Crown), he and his men attacked Spanish towns in the Caribbean.  The first to fall was Providencia, an island in the Caribbean now ruled by Columbia.  The Spanish were unprepared for such an attack and promptly surrendered.  In 1667, Morgan commanded a fleet of ten ships and 500 men in an attack against Cuba.  They captured and sacked Puerto Principe (since renamed Camaguey).  The fleet then turned south and attacked Porto Bello in Panama.  In a surprise assault, they promptly captured the first of three forts defending the port from which the treasures of Peru were shipped to Spain.  Morgan captured the second fort by out-gunning its defenders.  The third fort promptly surrendered without a fight.  Porto Bello proved to be a rich prize, but Morgan lost several ships in the process.  Upon return to Jamaica, Morgan invested in several plantations.  Despite official disapproval of his activities by the English Crown, Morgan continued to raid Spanish towns, including a particularly bold attack in 1671 against Panama City.  Shortly after his return to Jamaica, Morgan was arrested and shipped off to London for trial.  He was acquitted after arguing that he had no personal knowledge of the treaty with Spain.  In an amazing turn of events, Morgan was knighted in 1674 and returned to Jamaica as the Lieutenant-Governor, a post he held until 1681.  By then, years of hard living and heavy drinking were taking their toll.  In 1683, though, one of his former compatriots published a book in which he claimed that Morgan had first come to the Caribbean as an indentured servant.  Morgan sued for libel and was awarded 200 pounds in damages.  He died in 1688, out of favor with the Crown, but is remembered today as one of the boldest and most successful pirates of the Caribbean.  Recently, a shipwreck (suspected to be part of Morgan’s 1667 fleet) was found off the coast of Portobello, Panama.

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