Henry Morgan


Sir Henry Morgan ranks as one of the greatest scoundrels known to history. He was one of the most successful pirates to haunt the shores of the Spanish Main. He thrived during the 1660's in the years immediately after the Second Anglo Spanish War, after Britain took possession of some important colonies in the area, but before the government started to crack down on piracy. He was considered a privateer, rather than a pirate, because his fleets sailed with the tacit approval of the British government. He was responsible, however, for a series of atrocities, and rampages of such brutal abandon, that eventually the government felt it could no longer tolerate the lawless behavior. When Britain began to crack down on piracy, Morgan lost no time in giving up his disreputable ways, betraying his pirate fellows, bribing the English government to acquit him of his wrong-doings, and purchasing a veneer of respectability. He was even appointed governor of Jamaica, and sued a fellow-pirate who wrote a book about his vicious career for "slander".

Henry Morgan
Morgan was born to a Welsh farmer, but sold himself into indentured servitude for three years in order to obtain passage to the new world. He was intelligent and capable, and upon gaining his freedom, lost no time in settling in Jamaica and learning the trade of a freebooter. In 1655, during a war with Spain, Britain had won the Island of Jamaica from the Spanish, and soon after decided to allow pirates a free haven in the area because it was in Britain's interest that Spanish ships and towns should be attacked. They did not do this by adopting an official policy, but rather the government was known to look the other way, and officials were sometimes involved in financing piratical ventures, "on the side". In this environment, Henry quickly rose to a position of prominence for his daring exploits and intelligent leadership and by 1664 was elected a pirate captain.

Three of the most famous of Henry's raids were Porto-Bello (Cuba), in 1664; Maracaibo (Venezuela) in 1669, and Panama City in 1671. All were accompanied by unspeakable atrocities, torture, and blood-thirsty violence of an appalling nature. The British government disavowed any involvement with Morgan, but the reports of some of these outrages were too much to countenance, even unofficially. In 1672 Britain resolved to crack down on piracy and arrested Morgan. Morgan however, was exceedingly wealthy and well connected, and had no trouble in convincing the British government of his "innocence of any knowledge of a truce between Spain and Britain", and was eventually knighted. Morgan had already betrayed some of his pirate fellows, by stealing more than his fair share of the loot, so in 1674 he returned to Jamaica and helped "clean up" the pirate problem there, by executing any pirates there who may have harbored a grudge against him.

In 1678, one of the Pirates who had accompanied Morgan on his raids published an extremely famous book about the exploits of the Buccaneers in the Americas. Morgan however, sued the author for slander and succeeded in having some parts of the book retracted. In 1781 Morgan was replaced as governor. He died seven years later, likely of liver failure from excessive drink.

Key events during the life of Sir Henry Morgan:

Henry Morgan born in Wales.
  Taken as an indentured servant to West Indies.
  Labored on a plantation in Barbadoes.
Break-out of the second Anglo-Spanish War.
Jamaica taken by the British; turned into a base for privateers.
  As a free man, went to Jamaica, became a pirate and bought a ship.
Led a fleet of privateers to attack Port-au-Prince.
Led a fleet of privateers to attack Port-Bello, Cuba, with horrible atrocities.
Sacked Maracaibo, Venezuela, and escaped a Spanish trap.
Captured the island of Santa Catalina, Columbia.
Raided Panama City with a fleet of 37 ships. Massacred all the inhabitants.
Arrested by English government for atrocities.
Exonerated and knighted by the English government. Became governor of Jamaica.
Esquemeling publishes History of the Buccaneers of America, detailing Morgan's exploits.
Replaced as governor of Jamaica.
Death of Morgan

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
The Origin of Captain Henry Morgan  in  The Buccaneers of America  by  John Esquemeling
Morgan and the Raid on Panama  in  Historical Tales: Spanish American  by  Charles Morris
Henry Morgan and the Buccaneers  in  Historical Tales: Spanish  by  Charles Morris
Pirate Potentate  in  Buccaneers and Pirates of Our Coasts  by  Frank R. Stockton
How Morgan was Helped by Some Religious People in  Buccaneers and Pirates of Our Coasts  by  Frank R. Stockton

Image Links

Captain Morgan recruiting his forces
 in The Buccaneers of America

Being come to the place of the duel, the Englishman stabbed the Frenchman in the back
 in The Buccaneers of America

Morgan dividing the treasure taken at Maracaibo
 in The Buccaneers of America

Sacking of Panama; Morgan re-entered the city with his troops
 in The Buccaneers of America

Morgan said all this without rising from the hammock.
 in For Prey and Spoils

Morgan began to upbraid them, and ordered them taken below
 in Buccaneers and Pirates of Our Coasts

Short Biography
John Esquemeling Nobleman who became a pirate, then returned to Europe and penned a famous book on the subject.
Charles II Restored to the throne after death of Cromwell. Presided over the great fire and plague of London.
Edward Morgan Uncle of Henry Morgan the privateer, and governor Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica after 1660.
Christopher Myngs English Captain who became a buccaneer and pirate after the Second Anglo-Spanish War.
Edward Mansfield Privateers captain who led some of Morgan's initial voyages.