Buccaneers and Pirates of our Coasts - F. R. Stockton

How Morgan Was Helped By Some Religious People

When the Welsh buccaneer started out on another expedition his company consisted entirely of Englishmen, and was not nearly so large as it had been; when he announced to his followers that he intended to attack the fortified town of Porto Bello, on the mainland, there was a general murmuring among the men, for Porto Bello was one of the strongest towns possessed by the Spaniards, and the buccaneers did not believe that their comparatively small force would be able to take it. But Morgan made them a speech in which he endeavored to encourage them to follow him in this difficult undertaking. One of his arguments was, that although their numbers were small, their hearts were large; but he produced the greatest effect upon them when he said that as they were but a few, each man's share of the booty would be much larger than if it must be divided among a great number. This touched the souls of the pirates, and they vowed to follow their leader wherever he might take them.

The buccaneers found Porto Bello a very hard nut to crack; they landed and marched upon the town, which was defended by several forts or castles. Even when one of these had been taken by assault, and after it had been blown up with all its garrison, who had been taken prisoners, still the town was not intimidated, and the Governor vowed he would never surrender, but would die fighting to the last. The pirates raged like demons; they shot down every man they could see at the cannon or upon the walls, and they made desperate efforts to capture the principal fort, but they did not succeed, and after a long time Morgan began to despair. The garrison was strong and well commanded, and whenever the pirates attempted to scale the wall they were shot down, while fire-pots full of powder, with stones and other missiles, were hurled upon them.

At last the wily Morgan had an idea. He set his men to work to make some ladders high enough to reach to the top of the walls, and wide enough to allow three or four men to go up abreast. If he could get these properly set up, his crew of desperate tiger-cats could make a combined rush and get over the walls. But to carry the ladders and place them would be almost impossible, for the men who bore them would surely be shot down before they could finish the work. But it was not Morgan's plan that his men should carry these ladders. He had captured some convents in the suburbs of the town, with a number of nuns and monks, known as "religious people," and he now ordered these poor creatures, the women as well as the men, to take up the ladders and place them against the walls, believing that the Spanish Governor would not allow his soldiers to fire at these innocent persons whom the pirates had forced to do their will.

But the Governor was determined to defend the town no matter who had to suffer, and so the soldiers fired at the nuns and monks just as though they were buccaneers or any other enemies. The "religious people" cried out in terror, and screamed to their friends not to fire upon them; but the soldiers obeyed the commands of the Governor, while the pirates were swearing terribly behind them and threatening them with their pistols, and so the poor nuns and monks had to press forward, many of them dropping dead or wounded. They continued their work until the ladders were placed, and then over the walls went the pirates, with yells and howls of triumph, and not long after that the town was taken. The Governor died, fighting in the principal fort, and the citizens and soldiers all united in the most vigorous defence; but it was of no use. Each pirate seemed to have not only nine lives, but nine arms, each one wielding a cutlass or aiming a pistol.

When the fighting was over, the second act in the horrible drama took place as usual. The pirates ate, drank, rioted, and committed all manner of outrages and cruelties upon the inhabitants, closing the performance with the customary threat that if the already distressed and impoverished inhabitants did not pay an enormous ransom, their town would be burned.

Before the ransom was paid, the Governor of Panama heard what was going on at Porto Bello, and sent a force to the assistance of the town, but this time the buccaneers did not hastily retreat. Morgan knew of a narrow defile through which the Spanish forces must pass, and there he posted a number of his men, who defended the pass so well that the Spaniards were obliged to retreat. This Governor must have been a student of military science; he was utterly astounded when he heard that this pirate leader, with less than four hundred men, had captured the redoubtable town of Porto Bello, defended by a strong garrison and inhabited by citizens who were brave and accustomed to fighting, and, being anxious to increase his knowledge of improved methods of warfare, he sent a messenger to Morgan "desiring him to send him some small pattern of those arms wherewith he had taken with such violence so great a city." The pirate leader received the messenger with much courtesy, and sent to the Governor a pistol and a few balls, "desiring him to accept that slender pattern of the arms wherewith he had taken Porto Bello, and keep them for a twelvemonth; after which time he promised to come to Panama and fetch them away."

This courteous correspondence was continued by the Governor returning the pistol and balls with thanks, and also sending Morgan a handsome gold ring with the message that he need not trouble himself to come to Panama; for, if he did, he would meet with very different fortune from that which had come to him at Porto Bello.

Morgan put the ring on his finger and postponed his reply, and, as soon as the ransom was paid, he put his booty on board his ships and departed. When the spoils of Porto Bello came to be counted, it was found that they were of great value, and each man received a lordly share.

When Captain Morgan was ready to set out on another expedition, he found plenty of pirates ready to join him, and he commanded all the ships and men whom he enlisted to rendezvous at a place called the Isle of Cows. A fine, large, English ship had recently come to Jamaica from New England, and this vessel also joined Morgan's forces on the island, where the pirate leader took this ship as his own, being much the best and largest vessel of the fleet.

Besides the ships belonging to Morgan, there was in the harbor where they were now congregated, a fine vessel belonging to some French buccaneers, and Morgan desired very much that this vessel should join his fleet, but the French cherished hard feelings against the English, and would not join them.

Although Morgan was a brave man, his meanness was quite equal to his courage, and he determined to be revenged upon these Frenchmen who had refused to give him their aid, and therefore played a malicious trick upon them. Sometime before, this French vessel, being out of provisions when upon the high seas, had met an English ship, and had taken from her such supplies as it had needed. The captain did not pay for these, being out of money as well as food, not an uncommon thing among buccaneers, but they gave the English notes of exchange payable in Jamaica; but as these notes were never honored, the people of the English ship had never been paid for their provisions.

This affair properly arranged in Morgan's mind, he sent a very polite note to the captain of the French ship and some of his officers, inviting them to dine with him on his own vessel. The French accepted the invitation, but when Morgan received them on board his ship he did not conduct them down to dinner; instead of that, he began to upbraid them for the manner in which they had treated an English crew, and then he ordered them to be taken down below and imprisoned in the hold. Having accomplished this, and feeling greatly elated by this piece of sly vengeance, he went into his fine cabin, and he and his officers sat down to the grand feast he had prepared.

There were fine times on board this great English ship; the pirates were about to set forth on an important expedition, and they celebrated the occasion by eating and drinking, firing guns, and all manner of riotous hilarity. In the midst of the wild festivities—and nobody knew how it happened—a spark of fire got into the powder magazine, and the ship blew up, sending the lifeless bodies of three hundred English sailors, and the French prisoners, high into the air. The only persons on board who escaped were Morgan and his officers who were in the cabin close to the stern of the vessel, at some distance from the magazine.

Henry Morgan


This terrible accident threw the pirate fleet into great confusion for a time; but Morgan soon recovered himself, and, casting about to see what was the best thing to be done, it came into his head that he would act the part of the wolf in the fable of the wolf and the lamb. As there was no way of finding out how the magazine happened to explode, he took the ground that the French prisoners whom he had shut up in the hold, had thrown a lighted match into the magazine, wishing thus to revenge themselves even though they should, at the same time, lose their own lives. The people of the French ship bitterly opposed any such view of the case, but their protestations were of no use; they might declare as much as they pleased that it was impossible for them to make the waters muddy, being lower down in the stream than the wolfish pirate who was accusing them, but it availed nothing. Morgan sprang upon them and their ship, and sent them to Jamaica, where, upon his false charge, they were shut up in prison, and so remained for a long time.

Such atrocious wickedness as the treatment of the nuns and monks, described in this chapter, would never have been countenanced in any warfare between civilized nations. But Morgan's pirates were not making war; they were robbers and murderers on a grand scale. They had no right to call themselves civilized; they were worse than barbarians.