The Caribbean Pirate - Henry Morgan

Sir Henry Morgan

Sir Henry Morgan was a famous Caribbean pirate and privateer. He was one of the most successful pirates of all time. Although very little is known about Morgan’s early life, he was supposedly born in 1635. He was the eldest son of Robert Morgan, a farmer living in the locality of Caerau, Cardiff, Wales, near what is now known as Ely. Sometime during the 1650’s, Morgan decided to set sail and make his way to Jamaica, where his uncle was lieutenant governor. Here he met his uncle’s daughter Mary Elizabeth Morgan and after a short courtship they were married in 1666. During their thirty years together they remained childless and Mary died in 1696. 

In 1667, Morgan was commissioned by the governor of Jamaica to capture Spanish prisoners in Cuba and to learn details of a possible attack planned on Jamaica. With ten ships and over five hundred men, Morgan first sailed to Cuba and destroyed the town of Puerto Principe. Afterwards Morgan and his crew then sailed to Panama, where they captured the fortified town of Portobelo. Morgan and his crew only agreed to leave Portobelo, and spare the city from incineration, after the governor offered them a large ransom. They then sailed to their headquarters in Port Royal, Jamaica, where they celebrated their successes. 

Morgan’s exploits earned him the respect and trust of Jamaica’s governor, who subsequently sent him on further plundering missions again to Cuba and then to Venezuela. Morgan then set about planning an attack on the isthmus of Panama. 

On December 15, 1670, Morgan and over 1,400 soldiers attacked and occupied the Santa Catalina Island off the coast 

of Nicaragua before reaching Panama. Twelve days later on December 27, after a long battle in which 300 Spaniards were killed, Morgan and his men took Chagres Castle and then planned a major attack on Panama. 

On January 18, 1671, Morgan split his forces in two and routed roughly 1,500 poorly trained Spanish soldiers who were stationed in Panama and left his men with over 100,000 pounds of stolen goods and treasures before burning Panama City to the ground. The residents of the city were tortured until they revealed the locations of more treasure. 

In 1674, Queen Elizabeth 1 bestowed a knighthood on Henry Morgan for his service to the crown. After this he then returned to Jamaica and became the island’s Lieutenant Governor, a post he served for nine years before being suspended in 1683. Morgan died in 1688, possibly of tuberculosis or cirrhosis of the liver. 

Henry Morgan had lived in an opportune time for privateers. He was able to successfully use the conflicts between England and her enemies both to support England and to enrich himself and his crews. With his death, the pirates who would follow would also use this same ploy, but with less successful results. 

Sir Henry Morgan has remained prominent in popular culture well after his death. The labels on bottles of Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum is a testament to his popularity, as are the many films that hollywood has produced about this colourful character.