'Tis time again for another pirate tale. This week it's Cap'n Morgan. I like this story because it shows the often blurred line between criminal and legal status of pirates. Many, like Morgan, were considered upstanding citizens and popular men in their own country, despite their bloody deeds abroad. Sometimes war is the rationale, but in many cases, as here, it was just hypocrisy and prejudice of governments.
MORGAN, SIR HENRY. Buccaneer.
This, the greatest of all the "brethren of the coast," was a Welshman, born at Llanrhymmy in Monmouthshire in the year 1635. The son of a well-to-do farmer, Robert Morgan, he early took to the seafaring life. When quite a young man Morgan went to Barbadoes, but afterwards he settled at Jamaica, which was his home for the rest of his life.
Morgan may have been induced to go to the West Indies by his uncle, Colonel Morgan, who was for a time Deputy Governor of Jamaica, a post Sir Henry Morgan afterwards held.
Morgan was a man of great energy, and must have possessed great power of winning his own way with people. That he could be absolutely unscrupulous when it suited his ends there can be little doubt. He was cruel at times, but was not the inhuman monster that he is made out to be by Esquemeling in his "History of the Bucaniers." This was largely proved by the evidence given in the suit for libel brought and won by Morgan against the publishers, although Morgan was, if possible, more indignant over the statement in the same book that he had been kidnapped in Wales and sold, as a boy, and sent to be a slave in Barbadoes. That he could descend to rank dishonesty was shown when, returning from his extraordinary and successful assault on the city of Panama in 1670, to Chagres, he left most of his faithful followers behind, without ships or food, while he slipped off in the night with most of the booty to Jamaica. No doubt, young Morgan came to Jamaica with good credentials from his uncle, the Colonel, for the latter was held in high esteem by Modyford, then Governor of Barbadoes, who describes Colonel Morgan as "that honest privateer."
Colonel Morgan did not live to see his nephew reach the pinnacle of his success, for in the year 1665 he was sent at the head of an expedition to attack the Dutch stronghold at St. Eustatius Island, but he was too old to stand the hardships of such an expedition and died shortly afterwards.
By this time Morgan had made his name as a successful and resolute buccaneer by returning to Port Royal from a raiding expedition in Central America with a huge booty.
In 1665 Morgan, with two other buccaneers, Jackman and Morris, plundered the province of Campeachy, and then, acting as Vice-Admiral to the most famous buccaneer of the day, Captain Mansfield, plundered Cuba, captured Providence Island, sacked Granada, burnt and plundered the coast of Costa Rica, bringing back another booty of almost fabulous wealth to Jamaica. In this year Morgan married a daughter of his uncle, Colonel Morgan.
In 1668, when 33 years of age, Morgan was commissioned by the Jamaican Government to collect together the privateers, and by 1669 he was in command of a big fleet, when he was almost killed by a great explosion in the _Oxford_, which happened while Morgan was giving a banquet to his captains. About this time Morgan calmly took a fine ship, the _Cour Volant_, from a French pirate, and made her his own flagship, christening her the _Satisfaction_.
In 1670 the greatest event of Morgan's life took place--the sacking of Panama. First landing a party which took the Castle of San Lorenzo at the mouth of the Chagres River, Morgan left a strong garrison there to cover his retreat and pushed on with 1,400 men in a fleet of canoes up the river on January 9th, 1671. The journey across the isthmus, through the tropical jungle, was very hard on the men, particularly as they had depended on finding provisions to supply their wants on the way, and carried no food with them. They practically starved until the sixth day, when they found a barn full of maize, which the fleeing Spaniards had neglected to destroy. On the evening of the ninth day a scout reported he had seen the steeple of a church in Panama. Morgan, with that touch of genius which so often brought him success, attacked the city from a direction the Spaniards had not thought possible, so that their guns were all placed where they were useless, and they were compelled to do just what the buccaneer leader wanted them to do--namely, to come out of their fortifications and fight him in the open. The battle raged fiercely for two hours between the brave Spanish defenders and the equally brave but almost exhausted buccaneers. When at last the Spaniards turned and ran, the buccaneers were too tired to immediately follow up their success, but after resting they advanced, and at the end of three hours' street fighting the city was theirs. The first thing Morgan now did was to assemble all his men and strictly forbid them to drink any wine, telling them that he had secret information that the wine had been poisoned by the Spaniards before they left the city. This was, of course, a scheme of Morgan's to stop his men from becoming drunk, when they would be at the mercy of the enemy, as had happened in many a previous buccaneer assault.
Morgan now set about plundering the city, a large part of which was burnt to the ground, though whether this was done by his orders or by the Spanish Governor has never been decided. After three weeks the buccaneers started back on their journey to San Lorenzo, with a troop of 200 pack-mules laden with gold, silver, and goods of all sorts, together with a large number of prisoners. The rearguard on the march was under the command of a kinsman of the Admiral, Colonel Bledry Morgan.
On their arrival at Chagres the spoils were divided, amidst a great deal of quarrelling, and in March, 1671, Morgan sailed off to Port Royal with a few friends and the greater part of the plunder, leaving his faithful followers behind without ships or provisions, and with but £10 apiece as their share of the spoils.
On May 31st, 1671, the Council of Jamaica passed a vote of thanks to Morgan for his successful expedition, and this in spite of the fact that in July, a year before, a treaty had been concluded at Madrid between Spain and England for "restraining depredations and establishing peace" in the New World.
In April, 1672, Morgan was carried to England as a prisoner in the _Welcome_ frigate. But he was too popular to be convicted, and after being acquitted was appointed Deputy Governor of Jamaica, and in November, 1674, he was knighted and returned to the West Indies. In 1672 Major-General Banister, who was Commander-in-Chief of the troops in Jamaica, writing to Lord Arlington about Morgan, said: "He (Morgan) is a well deserving person, and one of great courage and conduct, who may, with His Majesty's pleasure, perform good public service at home, or be very advantageous to this island if war should again break forth with the Spaniards."
While Morgan was in England he brought an action for libel against William Crooke, the publisher of the "History of the Bucaniers of America." The result of this trial was that Crooke paid £200 damages to Morgan and published a long and grovelling apology.
Morgan was essentially a man of action, and a regular life on shore proved irksome to him, for we learn from a report sent home by Lord Vaughan in 1674 that Morgan "frequented the taverns of Port Royal, drinking and gambling in unseemly fashion," but nevertheless the Jamaican Assembly had voted the Lieutenant-Governor a sum of £600 special salary. In 1676 Vaughan brought definite charges against Morgan and another member of the Council, Robert Byndloss, of giving aid to certain Jamaica pirates.
Morgan made a spirited defence and, no doubt largely owing to his popularity, got off, and in 1678 was granted a commission to be a captain of a company of 100 men.
The Governor to succeed Vaughan was Lord Carlisle, who seems to have liked Morgan, in spite of his jovial "goings on" with his old buccaneer friends in the taverns of Port Royal, and in some of his letters speaks of Morgan's "generous manner," and hints that whatever allowances are made to him "he will be a beggar."
In 1681 Sir Thomas Lynch was appointed to be Governor, and trouble at once began between him and his deputy. Amongst the charges the former brought against Morgan was one of his having been overheard to say, "God damn the Assembly!" for which he was suspended from that body.
In April, 1688, the King, at the urgent request of the Duke of Albemarle, ordered Morgan to be reinstated in the Assembly, but Morgan did not live long to enjoy his restored honours, for he died on August 25th, 1688.
An extract from the journal of Captain Lawrence Wright, commander of H.M.S. _Assistance_, dated August, 1688, describes the ceremonies held at Port Royal at the burial of Morgan, and shows how important and popular a man he was thought to be. It runs:
"Saturday 25. This day about eleven hours noone Sir Henry Morgan died, & the 26th was brought over from Passage-fort to the King's house at Port Royall, from thence to the Church, & after a sermon was carried to the Pallisadoes & there buried. All the forts fired an equal number of guns, wee fired two & twenty & after wee & the Drake had fired, all the merchant men fired."
Morgan was buried in Jamaica, and his will, which was filed in the Record Office at Spanish Town, makes provision for his wife and near relations.