Nick Name: Morgan the terrible
Birthday: January 24, 1635
Nationality: British, Welsh
Died At Age: 53
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Also Known As: Sir Henry Morgan
Born Country: Wales
Born in: Llanrumney, Glamorgan
Notorious As: Privateer, Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica
Spouse/Ex-: Mary Elizabeth Morgan (m. 1665)
father: Robert Morgan
Died on: August 25, 1688
place of death: Lawrencefield, Jamaica
Who was Henry Morgan?
Sir Henry Morgan was a noted Welsh privateer who became a plantation owner and also served as the lieutenant-governor of Jamaica thrice. A friend of the then-governor of Jamaica, Sir Thomas Modyford, Morgan received a letter of marque from Modyford, thereby gaining the license to attack and capture Spanish vessels after diplomatic relations between Spain and England strained in 1667. Keeping Port Royal, Jamaica, as his base, Morgan earned a fortune raiding settlements and shipping on the Spanish Main and emerged as Spain’s worst enemy after Sir Francis Drake. Some of the most notable attacks of Morgan were those on Portobello and Puerto Principe; Maracaibo and Gibraltar, on Lake Maracaibo; and on Panama City. He bought three large sugar plantations in the Caribbean with the prize money received from such raids. Morgan was arrested after England signed a peace treaty with Spain. He was summoned to England. However, he received a hero’s welcome. He was made a “Knight Bachelor” by Charles II and sent back to Jamaica, where he was made the lieutenant-governor of Jamaica thrice and also served on the ‘Assembly of Jamaica’ till 1683.
Childhood & Early Life
According to sources, Henry Morgan was born in Wales on January 24, 1635, either in Llanrumney, Glamorgan, or in Pencarn, Monmouthshire. Some sources mention that his father was a farmer named Robert Morgan. It is believed that two of his uncles were in the English military, and Morgan aspired to follow in their footsteps. Sources also mention that in 1654, when General Venables and Admiral Penn captured Jamaica from Spain, Morgan was with them.
There is not much information available on how Morgan ended up in the West Indies. Possibly, he traveled there with the force of Robert Venables, sent on a Caribbean expedition against the Spanish by Oliver Cromwell in 1654, or he served as an apprentice of a cutlery maker for 3 years in exchange for his emigration expenses.
According to Richard Browne, who served under Morgan as a surgeon in 1670, Morgan either went to the Caribbean as a "private gentleman" following the English capture of Jamaica in 1655 or was kidnapped in Bristol and sent to Barbados, where he was sold as a slave.
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Not much is known about how Morgan began his career as a privateer. It is believed he remained a member of a group of privateers in the early 1660s under Sir Christopher Myngs, which launched attacks in Spanish cities and in the Caribbean and Central American settlements. According to some sources, he probably served as the captain of a ship of Myngs in 1663, during the attacks on the Sack of Campeche and Santiago de Cuba on the Yucatán Peninsula.
Morgan’s uncle and Welsh politician Edward Morgan was made the deputy governor of Jamaica in 1664. In early 1666, Morgan married Edward’s daughter, Mary, in Port Royal. The marriage led Morgan to get close to several prominent figures of the Jamaican society.
While H. R. Allen mentioned that Morgan was second-in-command to the 17th-century Dutch corsair and buccaneer Edward Mansvelt in 1666, Jan Rogoziński and Stephan Talty mentioned that Morgan was in charge of the Port Royal militia that year and oversaw Jamaica’s defense. Fort Charles, the first fort built in Port Royal, Jamaica, was partly built under his supervision. Sources also mention that during this time, Morgan bought his first Jamaican plantation.
With time, Morgan and the then-governor of Jamaica, Sir Thomas Modyford, became close friends. As diplomatic relations between the kingdoms of England and Spain worsened in 1667, Modyford issued a letter of marque to Morgan, authorizing the latter to muster English privateers to take action against the Spanish.
Morgan and his men succeeded in raiding Puerto Principe (now Camagüey in present-day Cuba). However, the booty was quite less than what they had expected. He then successfully attacked Porto Bello (presently in Panama) on July 11, 1668. It remained a principal trade route between Spain and the Spanish territories. Sources mention that after plundering the city, Morgan took back valuables and money worth £70,000 to £100,000 to Port Royal and received a 5-percent share of the booty, while Modyford received a 10-percent share.
In 1668, Morgan sailed for Maracaibo and Gibraltar. He conducted raids on the two cities and seized all the wealth he could and then destroyed a large Spanish squadron before escaping. Sources mention that evidence of torture inflicted on the remaining occupants of the largely deserted Maracaibo and also on the residents of Gibraltar, for getting information of hidden money and valuables, were found.
After Morgan returned to Port Royal, he found a change in the English foreign policy. This happened after a pro-Spanish faction thrived in gaining attention of King Charles II. Morgan’s actions, which went beyond his duty, were admonished by Modyford. Although no official action was taken against Morgan or the other privateers, the letters of marque were revoked. A portion of his prize money was used in purchasing his second plantation, measuring 836 acres.
According to the 1669 order of Mariana, the Queen Regent of Spain, English trade ships were attacked by Spanish privateers in March 1670. Modyford delegated Morgan to undertake any kind of action necessary for the preservation of the island.
Morgan sailed toward the Spanish Main and first took over the islands of Old Providence and Santa Catalina. He then captured Chagres and occupied Fort San Lorenzo. Thereafter, he moved toward Old Panama City on January 9, 1671. After reaching the city on January 27 that year, Morgan and the privateers succeeded in overpowering the Spanish forces. However, he profited less this time, compared to his other raids. Morgan returned to Port Royal on March 12 the same year.
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Arrest, Knighthood, Governorship, & Political Career
While privateer raids were launched by Morgan on Panama under the behest of Modyford, the ‘Treaty of Madrid’ was adopted by England and Spain in July 1670. Modyford was removed from governorship, arrested, and sent to England, while Sir Thomas Lynch replaced him as the new governor of Jamaica.
Amidst speculations that the Spanish were considering war against the English because of the Panama destruction, an arrest order was issued against Morgan by Charles II, in an attempt to appease Spain. Accordingly, Morgan was summoned to London, where he returned in April 1672, only to get a hero’s welcome.
In January 1674, Charles II and his advisors decided to make John Vaughan, 3rd Earl of Carbery, the new governor of Jamaica, replacing Lynch. Morgan was made Vaughan’s deputy, while Modyford was released and inducted as the chief justice of Jamaica. In November that year, Morgan was made a “Knight Bachelor” by Charles II.
After returning to Jamaica, Morgan was not on good terms with Carbery. Carbery accused Morgan of collaborating with the French in attacking Spanish interests and called for a hearing in July 1676, before the ‘Assembly of Jamaica.’ There, Morgan stated he had only had a diplomatic meeting with the French officials. Carbery was called back by the king and the ‘Privy Council’ in early 1678, thus leading Morgan to act as the lieutenant-governor of Jamaica for 3 months that year. He had held the post temporarily earlier for sometime during 1674–1675 and later during 1680–1682, in the absence of the post-holder. During the last two tenures of his governorship, Morgan declared martial law amidst threats of invasion of the French in the Caribbean.
As the owner of a large slave plantation, Morgan thrived to some extent in his three campaigns against the Jamaican Maroons of Juan de Serras during the 1670s and the 1680s.
Lynch was re-appointed as the governor of the island while Morgan’s posts as lieutenant-governor and lieutenant-general were revoked after Lynch paid £50,000 to Charles II. Eventually, Lynch ousted the supporters of Morgan and then removed Morgan and his brother-in-law from the ‘Assembly of Jamaica’ by 1683.
In 1684, Morgan’s former shipmate Alexandre Exquemelin gave an account of Morgan’s exploits, tortures, and offenses in a Dutch volume titled ‘De Americaensche Zee-Roovers.’ In response, Morgan brought a libel suit against the book’s publishers, William Crooke and Thomas Malthus. Morgan won the suit and received damages of £200, while the book was retracted.
Family & Personal Life
Morgan and his wife, Mary, had no children. He suffered from dropsy and died on August 25, 1688. A state funeral was observed, following which he was buried at Palisadoes cemetery in Port Royal.
In his will, dated June 17, 1688, he awarded £60 per annum from his estate to his sister, Catherine Loyd. He left his Jamaican property to the sons of his two cousins, Anna Petronilla Byndloss and Johanna Archbold, namely Charles Byndloss and Henry Archbold (who were his godsons), respectively, on the condition that they would adopt Morgan’s surname.
The Palisadoes cemetery, which included Morgan's grave, sank into Kingston harbor following the earthquake that struck Port Royal on June 7, 1692. Morgan’s remains were never located thereafter.
In Popular Culture
Over the years, the life and pursuits of Morgan have been depicted in several literary works, including the novels ‘Captain Blood’ (1922) by Rafael Sabatini, ‘Cup of Gold’ (1929) by John Steinbeck, and ‘Live and Let Die’ (1954) by Ian Fleming. He has also been depicted in films such as ‘The Black Swan’ (1942), ‘Pirates of Tortuga’ (1961), and ‘The Black Corsair’ (1976).
The ‘Captain Morgan’ brand of rum was first manufactured by the ‘Seagram Company’ in 1944. It was sold to ‘Diageo’ in 2001. Many places have been named after him. These include the ‘Morgan's Harbour Hotel and Beach Club’ in Kingston and the ‘Morgan's Bridge’ and the ‘Morgan's Pass’ in the Caribbean.