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

A Tight Place For Morgan

At this important crisis again turned up the man with an idea. This was an inventive buccaneer, who proposed to Morgan that they should take a medium-sized ship which they had captured at the other end of the lake, and make a fire-ship of her. In order that the Spaniards might not suspect the character of this incendiary craft, he proposed that they should fit her up like one of the pirate war-vessels, for in this case the Spaniards would not try to get away from her, but would be glad to have her come near enough for them to capture her.

Morgan was pleased with this plan, and the fire ship was prepared with all haste. All the pitch, tar, and brimstone in the town were put on board of her, together with other combustibles. On the deck were placed logs of wood, which were dressed up in coats and hats to look like men, and by their sides were muskets and cutlasses. Portholes were made, and in these were placed other logs to represent cannon. Thus this merchant vessel, now as inflammable as a pine knot, was made to resemble a somewhat formidable pirate ship. The rest of the fleet was made ready, the valuables and prisoners and slaves were put on board; and they all sailed boldly down toward the Spanish vessels, the fire-ship in front.

When the Spanish admiral saw this insignificant fleet approaching, he made ready to sink it to the bottom, and when the leading vessel made its way directly toward his own ship, as if with the impudent intention of boarding her, he did not fire at her, but let her come on. The few pirates on board the fire-ship ran her up against the side of the great man-of-war; and after making her fast and applying their matches, they immediately slipped overboard, and swam to one of their own vessels before the Spaniards had an idea of what had happened. The fire-ship was soon ablaze, and as the flames quickly spread, the large vessel took fire, and the people on board had scarcely time to get out of her before she sank.

The commander of one of the other ships was so much frightened by what had occurred in so short a space of time that he ran his vessel aground and wrecked her, her men jumping out into the water and making for the land. As for the other ship, the pirates boldly attacked her and captured her, and as she was a very fine vessel, Morgan left his own. small vessel, in which he had been commanding his fleet, and took possession of her. Thus, in a very short time, the whole state of affairs was changed. The Spaniards had no ships at all, and Morgan was in command of a very fine vessel, in which he led his triumphant fleet.

Victory is a grand thing to a pirate as it is to every human being who has been engaged in a conflict, but none of the joys of triumph could equal the sordid rapacity of Morgan and his men. They spent days in trying to recover the money and plate which were on board the sunken Spanish ships. The sterns of these projected above water, and a great deal of valuable treasure was recovered from them. The pirates worked very hard at this, although they had not the slightest idea how they were to pass the castle and get away with the plunder after they had obtained it.

When the wrecks had been stripped of everything of value, the time came for demanding a ransom for not burning the town and hanging the prisoners, and as the poor citizens knew very well what they might expect, they sent word to the admiral, who had escaped to the castle, begging him to accede to the demands of Morgan, and to let the wretched pirates go. But the admiral, Don Alonso, was a thoroughbred Spaniard, and he would listen to no such cowardly suggestion. He would consent to no ransom being paid, and on no account would he allow the pirates to pass the channel. The citizens, however, who knew what was good for them, raised the money, and paid the ransom in coin and cattle, and Morgan declared that if the admiral would not let him out of the lake, he would have to attend to that matter himself.

But before he made another bold stroke against the enemy his stingy and niggardly spirit urged him to defend himself against his friends, and before endeavoring to leave he ordered a division of the spoils. Many of the goods taken from the two towns were on board the different vessels of the fleet, and he was very much afraid that if his comrades, who commanded the other ships, should be so fortunate as to get out to sea, they would sail away with the booty they carried, and he would not see any of it. Therefore, the booty from every ship was brought on board his own fine vessel, and every man was put through an examination as rigid as if he had been passing a custom house, and was obliged to prove that he had not concealed or kept back any money or jewels. The value of the plunder was very great, and when it had been divided, according to the scale which Morgan had adopted, the pirate leader felt safe. He now had his share of the prizes in his own possession, and that to him was more important than anything else in the world.

The question of getting away was a very serious one; the greater part of his fleet consisted of small vessels which could not defy the guns of the fort, and as the stout hearts and brawny arms of his followers could be of no use to him in this dilemma, Morgan was obliged to fall back upon his own brains; therefore, he planned a trick.

When everything had been prepared for departure, Morgan anchored his fleet at a distance from the castle, but not so far away that the Spaniards could not observe his movements. Then he loaded some boats with armed men and had them rowed ashore on the side of the channel on which the castle stood. The boats landed behind a little wood, and there the men, instead of getting out, crouched themselves down in the bottom of the boats so that they should not be seen. Then the boats, apparently empty, were rowed back to the pirate ships. and in a short time, again full of men sitting upright, with their muskets and cut-lasses, they went to the shore, and soon afterwards returned apparently empty as before.

This performance was repeated over and over again, until the people in the castle were convinced that Morgan was putting his men on shore in order to make a land attack upon the rear of the castle during the night. But the Spanish admiral was not to be caught by any such clumsy stratagem as that, and, therefore, in great haste he had his big cannon moved to the land side of the fort, and posted there the greater part of his garrison in order that when the pirates made their assault in the dead of the night they would meet with a reception for which they had not bargained.

When it was dark, and the tide began to run out, the pirate vessels weighed anchor, and they all drifted down toward the castle. Morgan's spies had perceived some of the extraordinary movements in the Spanish fortifications, and he therefore drifted down with a good deal of confidence, although, had his trick been discovered in time it would have gone very hard with his fleet. It is probable that he had taken all these chances into consideration and had felt pretty sure that if the cannon of the fort had been opened upon them it would not have been the big ship which carried him and his precious load which would have been sunk by the great guns, and that no matter what happened to the smaller vessels and the men on board them, he and his own ship would be able to sail away.

But the Spaniards did not perceive the approach of the drifting fleet, for they were intrepidly waiting at the back of the castle to make it very hot for the pirates when they should arrive. Slowly past the great walls of the fort drifted the fleet of buccaneers, and then, at a signal, every vessel hoisted its sails, and, with a good wind, sailed rapidly toward the open ea. The last pirate vessel had scarcely passed the fort when the Spaniards discovered what was going on, and in great haste they rolled their cannon back to the water side of the fort and began firing furiously, but it was of no use.

The pirates sailed on until they were out of danger, and then they anchored and arranged for putting on shore the greater number of their prisoners, who were only an encumbrance to them. As a parting insult, Morgan fired seven or eight of his largest guns at the castle, whose humiliated occupants did not reply by a single shot.

In order to understand what thoroughly contemptible scoundrels these pirates were it may be stated that when Morgan and his men reached Jamaica after a good deal of storm and trouble on the way, they found there many of their comrades who had not been able to join them at their rendezvous at Savona. These unfortunate fellows, who had not known where Morgan had gone and were unable to join him, had endeavored to do some piratical business of their own, but had had very little luck and a great many misfortunes. Morgan's men, with their pockets full of money, jeered and sneered at their poor comrades who had had such hard times, and without any thought of sharing with them the least portion of their own vile gains they treated them with contempt and derision.

The buccaneer, Captain Henry Morgan, was now a very great personage, but with his next expedition, which was a very important one, and in its extent resembled warfare rather than piracy, we shall have little to do because his exploits in this case were not performed on our Atlantic coasts, but over the Isthmus, on the shores of the Pacific.

Morgan raised a great fleet, carrying a little army of two thousand men, and with this he made his way to the other side of the Isthmus and attacked the city of Panama, which, of course, he captured. His terrible deeds at this place resembled those which he performed after the capture of the smaller towns which we have been considering, except that they were on a scale of greater magnitude. Nearly the whole of the town of Panama was burned, and the excesses, cruelties, and pillages of the conquerors were something almost without parallel.

Before marching overland to Panama, Morgan had recaptured the island of St. Catherine, which was a very valuable station for his purposes, and had also taken the castle of Chagres on the mainland near by, and on his return from the conquest and pillage of the unfortunate city he and his forces gathered together at Chagres in order to divide the spoils.

Now came great trouble and dissatisfaction; many of the buccaneers loudly declared that Morgan was taking everything that was really valuable for his own, especially the precious stones and jewels, and that they were getting a very small share of the booty of Panama. There seemed to be good reason for these complaints, for the sum of about two hundred dollars apiece was all that Morgan's men received after their terrible hardships and dangers and the pillage of a very rich town. The murmurings and complaints against Morgan's peculiar methods became louder and more frequent, and at last the wily Welshman began to be afraid that serious trouble would come to him if he did not take care of himself. This, however, he was very capable of doing. Silently and quietly one night, without giving notice to any of the buccaneers at Chagres, except a few who were in his secret, Morgan, in his large ship, sailed away for Jamaica, followed by only a few other vessels, containing some of his favored companions.

When the great body of the buccaneers, the principal portion of which were Frenchmen, found that their leader had deserted them, there was a grand commotion, and if they had been able, the furious men who had had this trick played upon them, would have followed Morgan to treat him as they had so often treated the Spaniards. But they could not follow—Morgan had taken great care that this should not happen. Their ships were out of order; they had been left very short of provisions and ammunition, and found that not only were they unable to avenge themselves on their traitor leader, but that it would be very hard for them to get away at all.

Poor Esquemeling, the literary pirate, was one of those who was left behind, and in his doleful state he made the following reflection, which we quote from his book: "Captain Morgan left us all in such a miserable condition as might serve for a lively representation of what rewards attend wickedness at the latter end of life. Whence we ought to have learned how to regulate and amend our actions for the future."

After Morgan had safely reached Jamaica with all his booty, the idea renewed itself in his mind of returning to St. Catherine, fortifying the place and putting it in complete order, and then occupying it as a station for all pirates, with himself the supreme governor and king of the buccaneers. But before he had completed his arrangements for doing this there was a change in the affairs at Jamaica: the king of England, having listened to the complaints of the Spanish crown, had recalled the former Governor and put him on trial to answer for the manner in which he allowed the island to be used by the pirates for their wicked purposes against a friendly nation, and had sent a new Governor with orders to allow no buccaneers in Jamaica, and in every way to suppress piracy in those parts.

Now the shrewd Morgan saw that his present business was likely to become a very undesirable one, and he accordingly determined to give it up. Having brutally pillaged and most cruelly treated the Spaniards as long as he was able to do so, and having cheated and defrauded his friends and companions to the utmost extent possible, he made up his mind to reform, and a more thoroughly base and contemptible reformed scoundrel was never seen on the face of the earth.

Morgan was now a rich man, and he lost no time in becoming very respectable. He endeavored to win favor with the new Governor, and was so successful that when that official was obliged to return to England on account of his health, he left the ex-pirate in charge of the affairs of the island in the capacity of Deputy-Governor. More than this, King Charles, who apparently had heard of Morgan's great bravery and ability, and had not cared to listen to anything else about him, knighted him, and this preeminent and inhuman water-thief became Sir Henry Morgan.

In his new official capacity Morgan was very severe upon his former associates, and when any of them were captured and brought before him, he condemned some to be imprisoned and some to be hung, and in every way apparently endeavored to break up the unlawful business of buccaneering.

About this time John Esquemeling betook himself to Europe with all possible despatch, for he had work to do and things to tell with which the Deputy-Governor would have no sympathy whatever. He got away safely, and he wrote his book, and if he had not had this good fortune, the world would have lost a great part of the story of what happened to the soft little baby who was born among the quiet green fields of Wales.

Even during the time that he was Deputy-Governor, Morgan was suspected of sharing in the gains of some buccaneers at the same time that he punished others, and after the death of Charles II. he was sent to England and imprisoned, but what eventually became of him we do not know. If he succeeded in ill-using and defrauding his Satanic Majesty, there is no record of the fact.