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Thursday, 20 September 2012

78) Famous Pirates of the Caribbean: Sir Henry Morgan (1635 – 25.08.1688): Pirate and Buccaneer or a War Hero?

78) Famous Pirates of the Caribbean: Sir Henry Morgan (1635 – 25.08.1688): Pirate and Buccaneer or a War Hero?
i) A one dollar coin issued by Perth Mint,Australia on behalf of Tuvalu Islands

Sir Henry Morgan:

Sir Henry Morgan, born around 1635 at Llanrumney, Wales was a Welsh privateer (nicknamed “Barbadosed”) who organized daring buccaneer raids along the Spanish Main from his base in Jamaica. 
He came from a family of distinguished senior Army officers and bureaucrats serving both under Cromwell as well as Charles II. 

Part of early sea-faring days sailing under other Commanders  in the New World:

Morgan first took part as a seafarer in the Caribbean in 1658 as part of Cromwell’s plan to invade Hispaniola, an action that failed at the battle of San Domingo. Later, his fleet moved to Jamaica which the English successfully attacked, captured from the Spanish and maintained their continued presence upon.

Thereafter, Morgan was joined the fleet of Commodore Christopher Myngs and in 1661, Commodore Christopher Myngs, who appointed Morgan as a captain of his first ship.

Morgan was also a member of John Morris’ and Jackmann’s expeditions which attacked and captured the Spanish settlements at Vildermos, Trujillo (Honduras) and Granada.

Capturing several Spanish Prizes and plundering the coast of Mexico :

In 1665, he plundered the Mexican Coast and attacked Spanish ships through the tacit consent of successive Governors of Jamaica, even though this was not viewed in a positive vein by the English authorities, and one of Governors Sir Thomas Modyford (whose credentials themselves had been questioned by the Authorities) even granted Morgan a “Letter of Marque” to attack Spanish ships and settlements even though England and Spain were temporarily at peace with each other. 

(A “Letter of Marque” is a license granted by a Sovereign to a subject, authorizing him to make reprisals on the subjects of a hostile state for injuries done to him by the enemy’s armed forces. Hence, it included a license to fit out an armed vessel or privateer and employ it for capture of enemy merchant ships. The holder of the Marque was entitled by International Law to commit acts against the hostile Nation’s ships and property acts which would have otherwise been condemned as piracy). 

Modyford, under the terms of the fragile truce was required to recall all privateers and pirate fleets of the West Indies, but turned a blind eye, when the majority of the Buccaneers failed to heed the recall on the pretext that the Recall messages were never received by them.

By the time Morgan sailed into Port Royal at Jamaica after a successful raid of capturing several “prizes” including Spanish ships, several communications had been received by Modyford from the King of England, to use force to recall all the pirates, but he continued to issue “Letters of Marque” under the pretext that England’s interest was best served by a collateral aim of driving out the Dutch from the Caribbean.

Part of the Fleet of Admiral Mansfield assembled to attack Spanish installations/shipping and Morgan’s promotion as Vice Admiral:

Accordingly, Governor Modyford fitted out a fleet of 15 ships and about 600 men under Admiral Mansfield with Morgan as the vice-admiral of this fleet. Their destinations were chosen with care, the more wealthy/lucrative settlements being given preference over those where risks of personal injury were high and the cache of captured riches more commensurate with the risks undertaken the main purpose of the Fleet shifting to looting towns rather than the capture and defense of captured territories.

 Greed having won over Loyalty to the Crown, many sailors sailed back to Jamaica and left the fleet , unhappy with the buccaneering overtones of the fleet. 

Attack on Providence:

Under this scheme, the island of Providence (or Providencia in Spanish) was attacked and captured with all its wealth from the poorly organized Spanish defenders who were caught unawares in view of the peace treaty with England. 

Modyford appointed his brother James Modyford as Governor of Providence, but the island was quickly recaptured by the Spanish.  Mansfield was caught and executed by the Spanish authorities. 

Modyford was again warned by the King of England to recall the “pirates” but again refused to do so.

Fearful of a Spanish attack on Jamaica by the Spanish in retaliation for the attack on Providence, Modyford fitted out another commission, this time to Morgan in his capacity as Admiral of the Fleet to take Spanish prisoners and find out their plans against Jamaica. Under this commission, Morgan recruited about 500 of the most dreaded pirates from several places to man his fleet of 10 ships.

Attack on Puerto Principe:

The Fleet attacked and captured  Puerto Principe (Port of Prince) after teaming up with a French detachment, but the Spanish citizens of Puerto Principe, abandoned the town with their valuables and provisions leaving very little gold and valuables behind. Morgan’s men tortured the stragglers for information about hidden riches, but could only manage to capture about 50,000 Pieces of Eight, which was not enough to cover wages and costs of outfitting the fleet and its repairs.

 (Spanish coins included “the Reale”, “Escudo”, “Doubloon”, and “Pieces of Eight” which was the most common coin in the New World and was worth about 8 “Reales”, hence they were called “Pieces of Eight”. On the other hand, the Spanish “Doubloon” was worth about 8 “Escudos”) .

The above image shows, Henry Morgan leading the attack on Puerto Principe from the front with his men. 

Attack on Porto Bello:

Next on the list of numerous attacks on Spanish assets was Porto Bello , the third most important Spanish settlement in the New World (in Panama), which was well protected by three forts. It was also a leading centre for Spanish trade in the Americas, hence a rich haul of gold and valuables was expected to be captured by Morgan. With stealth and cunning the first fort was caught unawares at night  and easily captured. 

The second fort gave withering fire but Morgan’s determined force scaled the walls of the fort with ladders and overcame the defenders. 

On seeing the fate of the first two forts, the third fort unilaterally surrendered to Morgan’s men. The city of Porto Bello was easily captured thereafter.

Meanwhile, the Spanish regrouped and sent a large fleet to Morgan’s force, but the fleet were easily ambushed by Morgan and defeated. The sack of Porto Bello continued for two months thereafter. Through seizing gold and valuables as well as ransoming kidnapped citizens, Morgan collected about 2,00,000 pieces of Eight.

“HMS Oxford” joins Morgan’s fleet as Flagship:

 Meanwhile, a ship the “HMS Oxford” sent to Port Royal, Jamaica for defence of the city, was sent by Governor Modyford to join Morgan’s fleet which he converted into his Flagship. 

Under pressure from the King of England to recall all pirates and privateers and cease attacking Spanish settlements, Modyford, again turned a blind eye to Morgan’s escapades, stating that he had only authorized attacks on shipping and not Spanish settlements, and issued a reprimand to Morgan, while tacitly approving his activities.

Failed bid to capture Cartegena and wrecking of the “HMS Oxford”:

In his next adventure, under commission from Governor Modyford, Morgan assembled an 11-ship fleet with 900 men for an attack on the Spanish settlement of Cartagena.  

 The night before the impending attack, the “HMS Oxford” (Morgan’s flagship) had an explosion aboard the ship through an explosion accidentally caused by a few drunken sailors, rendering it a wreck with the loss of many lives. 

Taking this as a sign of ill-omen, there were a few desertions from Morgan’s fleet so the attack on Cartagena was carried out by 10 ships manned by 800 sailors/soldiers. 

Sailing into the wind and tired with overwork, many sailors fell sick or died, leaving Morgan with only about 500 able-bodied men, hence the plans for the attack on the heavily fortified city of Cartagena were abandoned and Maracaibo was attacked instead.

Attacks on Maracaibo and Gibraltar:

Their next destination was Maracaibo, where unknown to Morgan, the Spanish had built the “San Carlos” Fort, from which Morgan’s fleet came under heavy cannon fire from the greatly outnumbered defenders. Morgan attacked the fort at night, only to find it abandoned and booby trapped with explosives, which accounted for several casualties among the buccaneers.

Morgan then proceeded to Maracaibo where too, the majority of the citizens had fled, but some were caught and tortured in brutal fashion to reveal information about concealed riches. Prisoners and a large amount of gold and valuables were recovered (from wells, secret cellars in buildings, buried in fields etc).

The next destination was Gibraltar, where its citizens were kidnapped and ransomed and a large amount of wealth fell to the buccaneers. 

 Meanwhile, the Spanish had regrouped at Fort San Carlos and barricaded the narrow sea entrance to the island with a fleet consisting of three Spanish Warships, – the “Magdalena”, the “San Luis” and the “La Marquesa”. 

Morgan’s Flagship, the “Satisfaction” was turned into a fire-ship which was sailed into the Spanish Flagship the “Magdalena” which immediately caught fire and was gutted. The second largest ship, the “San Luis” ran aground in the melee and the “La Marquesa” was boarded successfully by the pirates.

Attacks on Spanish settlements in Panama:

Morgan attacked and captured Santa Catalina followed by a capture of the fortress of San Lorenzo in December 1670. 

Through an ambush, Morgan defeated a larger Spanish force and captured the city of Panama. Once again Morgan’s men tortured the inhabitants, but could not lay hand on much gold and valuables as the Spanish were forewarned of Morgan’s attack and had removed most of the Gold and valuables to safer settlements.

Morgan’s arrest as a “pirate”and reward by being “knighted”:

Because the attacks on Spanish settlements in Panama and their ransacking violated the terms of the Treaty signed between England and Spain in 1670, Morgan was arrested and taken to England as a pirate in 1672, but pleaded ignorance about having any knowledge of the Treaty. 

However, unlike, William Kidd, who was forsaken by his benefactors as well as the English King, Morgan had a lot of popular support in England and owing to an overwhelming public opinion approving his exploits, his explanations were accepted by the Authorities, and instead of being convicted for his “illegal” activities, he was knighted by the King as a popular hero of his time and even rose to the position of Lt. Governor of Jamaica.

Morgan’s hidden Treasure?

It was rumoured that Henry Morgan, used to disappear every time that  he reached port at Jamaica and took away with him a lot of the captured treasure, thus depriving the Governor Modyford and the English Government as well, both of whom despite maintaining an outwardly stance against Morgan’s exploits as a "buccaneer", nevertheless, looked forward to a share of the looted Spanish Treasure. 

 It was also rumoured that he had hidden a considerable amount of captured Treasure,somewhere between Panama and Jamaica, which has never been found, leading to several Treasure hunts till the present day.

Important Offices held in Jamaica:

He officiated as Lt. Governor of Jamaica on 3 occasions, (from 1674-1675, 1678, 1680-1682).

During his stint as Lt. Governor at Jamaica, he became the scourge of English and Spanish pirates.

In 1683, he was suspended from the Jamaican Council due to office politics on account of a book which was published “De Americaensche Zee-Roovers (translated as “History of the Buccaneers of America) highlighting Morgan’s pirating adventures. 

Though he was technically a "Buccaneer", he held “letters of Marque” from the Governor of Jamaica during his sailing days, which went in his favour.

 Morgan on this ground successfully sued the Publishers in a libel case, nevertheless, considerable damage had been done to his reputation through his portrayal as a ruthless barbarous “pirate” whose men used to engage in excessive cruelty and torture to extract information about hidden riches. 

Death and Legacy:

He was taken ill shortly thereafter and passed away on 25.08.1688 at the age of about 53 years. 

The island where he was buried now lies beneath the sea, perhaps a fitting tribute to a famous buccaneer whom the sea has claimed as its own.

He lived at a time when he successfully managed to exploit the conditions in which England was at war and at the same time he did not miss a single opportunity, legitimate or otherwise to enrich himself and the men who sailed with him.

Discovery of the “Satisfaction”:

In August 2011, a ship-wreck believed to be the “Satisfaction”, Morgan’s Flagship was found off the coast of Panama together with sealed cargo boxes and coral encrusted chests creating lot of interest in the find.

Morgan’s mention in Literature, Films, Music, documentaries etc.:

A Portrait of Henry Morgan

He inspired several written pieces including, “Cup of Gold” (John Steinbeck – 1929 is about Morgan’s life), “Yolanda, the Black Corsair’s daughter (Emilio Salgiri – 1904 where Morgan is a lieutenant of the Central character), “The Master Mariner” (Nicholas Monsarrat – where the villain sails with Morgan as Mate), “Cutlass Empire” ( F.Van Wyck Mason – 1949- on Morgan’s loves, life and battles), “The Privateer” (Josephine Tey -1952  on Morgan’s life), “The maid on the shore” (Kage Baker – highlights his expedition to Panama),  “Live and let Die” (Ian Fleming – 1954 –  features  the discovery of Morgan’s treasure),”Harry Morgan’s Way: The biography of Sir Henry Morgan” (Dudley Pope - 1977), “Caribbean” (James A. Michener – 1989), “Robots in Time” (Isaac Asimov), “Deadmen’s Cave ( Leonard Wibberley – 1954). 

A documentary was made on his exploits by BBC which was also aired on National Geographic and other popular channels.

He also figures in various pieces of music. 

Berton Braley’s “This is the ballad of Henry Morgan”,  “Captain Morgan’s March “ (a traditional Welsh Air), Several songs are written on him by Celtic rock Band “Tempest”.  A song titled “Henry Morgan is attributed to a group “Eggs over Easy”, “Morgan the Pirate” has been sung by “The Mighty Diamonds”,  Several songs have been sung by “Alestorm” a Scottish Heavy Metal Band.

A rum has been named as the “Captain Morgan”.

Hotel/Restaurants have been named after him in Honduras, Haiti and Belize. Several video games have been inspired by him.

Perth Mint coin:

The obverse of this coin depicts an effigy of Queen Elizabeth II.

 This 2009 $1 dollar coin shows The Perth Mint “P” mint mark is also seen on this coin. The reverse of the coin shows Henry Morgan with his ship in the background and captured Treasure.  The coin is made of aluminium-bronze.

The coin is issued under the authority of the Government of Tuvalu and is legal tender in Tuvalu. 

The Perth Mint also brought out this coin in 99.9% silver as part of a five coin set on notorious pirates (the Golden Age of Piracy from 1650 to 1725).

Links to posts on other famous Pirates of the Caribbean:

1) Famous-Pirates-of- the Carribean: Captain William Kidd

2) Famous Pirates-of the Caribbean :Edward-Teach or BlackBeard

3) Famous-Pirates-of-the Caribbean: Bartholomew Roberts or Black Bart

4) Famous-Pirates-of-the Caribbean: Jack Rackham or Calico Jack 

5) Famous-Pirates-of-the Caribbean: Henry Avery


  1. Vineeta Jain commented on 21.09.12:
    "Interesting piece!"

  2. Morgan was, probably, one of the most famous pirates ever