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Admiral Sir Henry Morgan (Harri Morgan in Welsh), (ca. 1635 – 25 August 1688) was a Welshmarker privateer, who made a name in the Caribbeanmarker. He was one of the most notorious and successful privateers from Walesmarker, and one of the most dangerous pirates who worked in the Spanish Main.

Early life

Henry Morgan was reportedly the oldest son of Robert Morgan, a squire of Llanrumneymarker in the Welshmarker county of Monmouthshiremarker. Other sources suggest he was from Abergavennymarker within the same county. An entry in the 'Bristol Apprentice Books' showing 'Servants to Foreign Plantations': February 9, 1655, included "Henry Morgan of Abergavenny, Labourer, Bound to Timothy Tounsend of Bristol, Cutler, for three years, to serve in Barbadoras on the like Condiciouns".

There was no record of Morgan before 1665. He later said that he left school early, and was "more used to the pike than the book". Exquemelin says that he was indentured in Barbadosmarker. After Morgan sued the publishers for libel and was awarded £200, Exquelmin was forced to retract his statement. Subsequent editions of his book were amended.

Richard Browne, Morgan's surgeon at Panama, said that Morgan came to Jamaicamarker in 1658 as a young man, and raised himself to "fame and fortune by his valour". Recent versions of his life claim that, despite having had little experience as a sailor, Morgan sailed to the Caribbean to take part in the Western Design, Cromwell's plan to invade Hispaniolamarker. His first battle at Santo Domingomarker ended in a failed attempt to take the island. The fleet moved on to Jamaicamarker, which the English force successfully invaded and occupied.

His uncle Edward Morgan was Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica after the Restoration of Charles II of England in 1660. Henry Morgan married his uncle's daughter Mary, a cousin. Morgan was reportedly the "Captain Morgan" who joined the fleet of Christopher Myngs in 1663. He was part of the expedition of John Morris and Jackman when they took the Spanish settlements at Vildemos (on the Tabasco rivermarker); Trujillomarker, (Hondurasmarker) and Granada (in Coahuilamarker, Mexicomarker).

In late 1665, Morgan commanded a ship in the old privateer Edward Mansfield's expedition sent by Sir Thomas Modyford, the governor of Jamaicamarker. They seized the islands of Providencia and Santa Catalina Island, Colombia. When Mansfield was captured by the Spanish and executed shortly afterward, the privateers elected Morgan as their admiral.

Career under Mansvelt

By 1661 Commodore Christopher Mings appointed Morgan captain of his first vessel. He plundered the Mexican coast under Lord Thomas Hickman Windsor’s commission in 1665. When Lord Windsor, governor of Jamaica, refused to stop the pirates from attacking Spanish ships, the Crown relieved him, and appointed Sir Thomas Modyford in his place. Although Modyford proclaimed loyalty to the Crown, he became a critical element of Morgan’s exhibitions by going against the word of the king and granting Morgan letters of marque to attack Spanish ships and settlements. Modyford was originally appointed governor of Barbados for both his loyalty and service to King Charles II during the English Civil War and his familial relation to the First Duke of Albemarle, but he was later removed from this position. Modyford was then appointed Governor of Jamaica as an attempt to save his dignity. This, along with the Royalist’s defeat at Worcester, decreased Modyford’s loyalty to the crown. As governor, Modyford was required to call in all pirates and privateers of the West Indies because England and Spain were temporarily at peace. However, the majority of these buccaneers either refused to return or did not receive the message that there was a recall, including Morgan.

When Morgan did return, Modyford had already received letters from the King of England warning him to force all of the pirates to return to port. Modyford chose to neglect these warnings and continue to issue letters of marque under the guise that it was for the King’s best interest to protect Jamaica, and this was a necessary element in that goal. Because Modyford desired to get rid of the Dutch presence in the Caribbean he issued a letter of marque to Captain Edward Mansvelt to assemble a fleet of fifteen ships which was manned by roughly 500-600 men. Having just returned from a successful expedition of the Mexican Coast, where he captured several ships off of the coast of Campeche , Morgan was appointed vice admiral of the fleet.Mansvelt was given orders to attack the Dutchmarker settlement of Curaçao, but once the crew was out at sea it was decided that Curaçao was not lucrative enough for the impending danger associated with attacking it. With this in mind, a vote was taken and the crew decided that attacking a different settlement would be a safer and more lucrative alternative. Unhappy with this decision, many of the buccaneers deserted the expedition and headed back to port while others continued on with Admiral Mansvelt and Vice-Admiral Morgan to attack the Spanish island of Providence.

When Morgan and Mansvelt’s fleet arrived at Providence, the Spanish were unprepared. Unable to form a defense, the Spanish surrendered all of their forts. Mansvelt and Morgan ruthlessly decided to destroy all but one of these forts. The buccaneers lived in the city and collected all of its wealth while Morgan and Mansvelt sailed around Costa Ricamarker. Eventually, they spotted a Spanish man-of-war on the horizon and decided to return to Jamaica to gather reinforcements so that the island of Providence could be a town run and inhabited by pirates. As a sign of his sympathy toward pirates Modyford appointed his brother, Sir James Modyford, as governor of Providence. In the mind of Mansvelt, the idea of a pirate-run settlement was brilliant. However, he and Modyford both overlooked the true essence of a pirate: a pirate is not a soldier who is disciplined and prepared to fight the world’s best armies when the armies were ready for them. Rather, Mansvelt’s pirates were conditioned to raid a town, then leave. Thus, the pirate reign in Providence was short-lived as the island was quickly recaptured by the Spanish. After this expedition, Modyford was again reprimanded by the King of England and asked to recall all of his pirates and privateers. Once again, Modyford refused.

After learning of a rumor that the Spanish planned to attack Jamaica in retaliation for the sack of Providence, Modyford provided yet another commission to the buccaneers. This time, he gave the commission directly to Morgan to take Spanish citizens prisoner in order to protect the island of Jamaica. Modyford used the excuse of protecting the King’s influence in the Americas, but this was most likely simply a guise for his own personal agenda of gaining money and keeping his post as Governor of Jamaica. Nonetheless, Morgan assembled a fleet of ten ships in a way that was quite different from most Admirals of the time. Instead of sending out a flyer and allowing willing buccaneers of the region to come to him, Morgan sailed to the places where the most daring pirates could be found. When he arrived at the ports, he dressed himself in red silk and wore fancy gold and jewels so that he appeared to be extremely successful so that more swashbucklers were drawn to him. Using a word-of-mouth approach, he was able to acquire five hundred of the best pirates in the area.

Puerto Principe: first independent command

In 1667, he was commissioned by Modyford to capture some Spanish prisoners in Cubamarker in order to discover details of the threatened attack on Jamaica. Collecting 10 ships with 500 men, Morgan landed on the island and captured and sacked Puerto Principe (Camagueymarker).

Modyford almost immediately entrusted Morgan with another expedition against the Spaniards, and he proceeded to ravage the coast of Cubamarker. In a meeting held by Morgan prior to the start of their journey, he proposed that the fleet attack Havana. Although this suggestion showed his arrogance, after much debate it was decided that they did not have enough men to take Havana, so they decided instead to take Puerto Principe. While on their quest for Spanish ships, Morgan’s fleet encountered heavy storms that brought them to the south shore of modern-day Cuba as opposed to the north shore where they had originally aimed. Due to the rough journey, Morgan’s men had very little food and water and were forced to land on the south shore to search for provisions instead of continuing on to the north shore of Cuba. Once on land, the crew met a French crew that had also been driven ashore in search of provisions and decided to join forces. A Spanish prisoner that Morgan held hostage escaped and warned the citizens of Puerto Principe of the impending attack. The citizens quickly deserted the town with their valuables, leaving very little for the buccaneers. After searching the town and torturing its residents for information regarding the location of their riches, Morgan’s fleet was only able to gather fifty-thousand pieces of eight.This was not enough to pay off the debts that the buccaneers had accumulated back in Jamaica, so they were required to find more riches before returning to Port Royal.

Attack on Porto Bello

In order to cover their debts, Morgan and his men decided to aim for a city that harbored lots of valuables. As the third most important Spanish city in the New World, Porto Bello was an obvious choice for the buccaneers. Furthermore, Porto Bello was considered the center of Spanish trade in the Americas, so it contained warehouses of the goods and valuables of many wealthy merchants. Because of its enormous concentration of wealth, Porto Bello was extremely well protected by three Spanish forts.

However, the French crew refused to take part in this voyage because they did not get along with Morgan’s English crew. It was reported that there was a dispute between a Frenchman and Englishman that had been decided to be solved in a duel when the Englishman stabbed the other in the back before the duel could take place. In addition to this, the French believed that they had been cheated out of their fair share of the loot by Morgan. Whereas the reputation of most pirates would have been ruined by this rumor, Morgan set sail to sack Porto Bello with his original fleet of ten ships and five-hundred men.When the fleet reached the settlement on the northern coast of South America, the buccaneers found the fortresses very intimidating. With this in mind, Morgan gave them a rousing speech in which he reminded them that the Spanish did not know of their presence and promised them gold and silver. When the sun went down, the ships began to sail towards Puerto do Naos where there was a river that could lead them to Porto Bello. With information gained from a prisoner, the buccaneers were able to quickly destroy the first fort. Seeing how easily the first two castles were taken, the third castle surrendered, enabling Morgan’s buccaneers to overrun the city. Not long after this, the Spanish counterattacked in an attempt to protect their wealth and center of trade but the buccaneers were ready for the battle and Morgan organized an ambush of the fleet in a narrow passage. After defeating the much larger and more powerful Spanish fleet, Morgan and his men continued to inhabit Porto Bello for two months while they collected all of the wealth of the city that they could find before ransoming the Spanish for the safety of its town and citizens. From the ransom alone, Morgan and his men collected roughly 100,000 pieces of eight to bring their total loot from Porto Bello to over 200,000 pieces of eight. In a foreshadowing of Morgan’s future endeavors, the governor of Panama asked him how he had beaten the Spanish army sent from his city along with an emerald ring and a request that he not attack Panama. Soon after, England sent Port Royal HMS Oxford (as a gift meant to protect Port Royal); Port Royal gave it to Morgan to help his career.

Because Modyford had already been warned to recall his pirates, his recent commission to Morgan once again put him under enormous pressure from the Crown. Modyford officially denounced the attacks on the town by citing that he sanctioned only attacks on ships. Modyford attempted to justify his commission by emphasizing the rumored Spanish invasion of Jamaica. However, he did not believe that merely talking of a rumored attack would be enough to save his governorship and dignity, so he decided to try to provoke the Spanish into actually attacking Jamaica. Although seemingly illogical, Modyford hoped to cover up his last commission by granting Morgan yet another one.

The Maracaibo Raid

In the same fashion as before, Morgan set out to assemble a fleet of buccaneers that would be willing to engage in a bold attack on the Spanish Main and was able to attract nine-hundred men to his eleven-ship fleet. Once gathered, Morgan brought his men to the Isla Vaca, also known as Cow Island, to decide on a city to attack. After deliberation it was decided that the Spanish settlement of Cartagena would be their intended target because of the riches it contained. It was one of Spain’s most important cities, and held all of the gold that was in transit from Peru to Spain, so sacking Cartagena would not only provoke the Spanish into an attack while weakening one of their strongest cities, but it would also make for a very large loot.

The night that the final decision to attack Cartagena was made, there was a celebration. During this rum-filled celebration, a few intoxicated sailors accidentally lit a fuse that ignited explosives on-board Morgan’s flagship, the Oxford, which was originally a gift given to Modyford to help protect Jamaica from privateers like Morgan. However, the ship ended up in Morgan’s possession and became his flagship. When the Oxford was destroyed, many men lost their lives, and many others chose to desert seeing the tragedy as an omen of bad luck, so the fleet was decreased to only ten ships and eight-hundred men. However, Morgan still continued onto the Spanish Main to attack Cartagena in March of 1669.

The voyage to Cartagena proved to be just as disastrous to the strength of the fleet. Because the crew was forced to sail into the wind the entire way to the Spanish Main, many of the vessels were unable to continue on because the either the sailors were too exhausted from working day and night or the ship was under too much stress. When Morgan finally made it to the Spanish Main, his original crew of nine-hundred had been diminished to only five hundred: a force far too weak to overtake the highly-protected city of Cartagena. A French captain onboard suggested to Morgan that they attempt to sack a town named Maracaibo that he had been to three years prior.

Reaching the town of Maracaibo, however, was no easy feat. The town was located on Lake Maracaibo, but to reach the lake they had to go through a narrow and shallow channel. Although the channel was only twelve feet deep, narrow, winding, and sprinkled with islands and sandbars, the French captain claimed that he could direct the ships safely through it. Unbeknownst to him, the Spanish had built a fort at the channel’s narrowest point since the last time the captain had been there three years ago. When the fleet reached this point, they were unable to navigate the rough terrain because of the cannon and gun fire coming from the fort. Morgan was left with no choice but to order his men to land on the beach despite their lack of protection from the Spanish gun fire. Once nightfall arrived, Morgan and his men slowly entered the fort but only found that there were no Spaniards there at all. Instead, the Spanish had left a slow-burning explosive as a trap for the buccaneers.

In order to protect his fleet for their voyage back through the channel, Morgan stole all of the supplies from the fort and ordered his men to bury the cannons in the sand. Because the Spanish already knew about Morgan’s plan to attack Maracaibo, the men took canoes and small vessels through the channel to the town as opposed to the lengthy process of bringing the larger vessels. This modified plan was still not quick enough and the residents of Maracaibo were able to escape with their valuables before the buccaneers arrived. After searching the area and torturing any citizens they could find for three weeks, Morgan and his men loaded the large vessels with their provisions and booty, as well as prisoners to be used as messengers, and set off to attack the nearby town of Gibraltar.

On January 1669, HMS Oxford was blown up accidentally when the ammunitions depot was lit during a party, with Morgan and his officers narrowly escaping death. In March he sacked Maracaibomarker, Venezuelamarker which had emptied out when his fleet was first spied, and afterwards spent a few weeks at the Venezuelan settlement of Gibraltar on Lake Maracaibomarker, torturing the wealthy residents to discover hidden treasure.

After collecting the wealth of the town and ransoming its citizens, Morgan loaded the ships to return home. Returning to Maracaibo, Morgan found three Spanish ships, the Magdalena, the San Luis, and the Soledad, waiting at the inlet to the Caribbeanmarker; he destroyed the Magdalena, and captured the Soledad, while the San Luis's crew burned down their ship to stop the pirates from having it. In the time that Morgan was ransacking the two towns, the Spaniards had reinforced the fort located at the narrowest point of the passage and barricaded the passage with three Spanish warships. Morgan and his men were given a choice to either surrender or be arrested, so they decided to fight for their freedom.

The buccaneers were outmanned by the Spanish, so they were forced to devise a clever plan to outsmart the Spanish. Morgan ordered the pirate’s largest ship, the Satisfaction, to be turned into a “fire ship” that would be sailed directly into the Spanish Flagship, the Magdalen. Hollowed out logs were filled with explosives and dressed to look like a pirate crew, and the twelve men that manned the ship were instructed to throw grappling hooks into the riggings of the Magdalen so that it couldn’t sail away. Miraculously, Morgan’s plan worked and the Magdalen was destroyed. The second largest Spanish ship, the Santa Louisa, was run ashore by the ship Morgan was now in control of. The final ship, La Marquesa was taken by the pirates after the ropes tangled. After the battle, Morgan was still unable to cross the channel because of the fort, but the Spanish had no ships with which to attack Morgan. Finally, by an ingenious stratagem, he faked a landward attack on the fort which convinced the governor to shift his cannon, allowing Morgan to slowly creep by the fort using only the movement of the tide.In doing so, he eluded the enemy's guns altogether and escaped in safety. On his return to Jamaicamarker he was again reproved, but not punished by Modyford.

The Spaniards for their part started to react and threaten Jamaica. A new commission was given to Morgan as commander-in-chief of all the ships of war in Jamaica, to levy war on the Spaniards and destroy their ships and stores - the booty gained in the expedition being the only pay. Thus Morgan and his crew were on this occasion privateers, not pirates. After ravaging the coasts of Cuba and the mainland, Morgan determined on an expedition to Panamamarker.

Burning of Panama and loss of English support

Cathedral of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción at Panamá Viejo
He recaptured the island of Santa Catalina on December 15, 1670, and, on December 27, he gained possession of the fortress of San Lorenzo in the Caribbean coast of Panamamarker, killing 300 men of the garrison and leaving 23 alive. Then with 1,400 men he ascended the Chagres Rivermarker towards the Pacific coast and Panama Citymarker.

On January 18, 1671, Morgan discovered that Panamamarker had roughly 1,500 infantry and cavalry. He split his forces in two, using one to march through the forest and flank the enemy. The Spaniards were untrained and rushed Morgan's line where he cut them down with gunfire, only to have his flankers emerge and finish off the rest of the Spanish soldiers. Although Panama was at the time the richest city in New Spain, Morgan and his men obtained far less plunder than they had expected. Much of the city's wealth had been removed onto a Spanish ship that then stood out into the Gulf of Panamamarker, beyond the looters' reach. Most of the inhabitants' remaining goods were destroyed in a fire of unclear cause. Morgan's men tortured those residents of Panama they could catch, but very little gold was forthcoming from the victims. After Morgan's attack, the Panama city had to be rebuilt in a new site a few kilometres to the west (the current site). The former site is called Panamá Viejomarker and still contains the remaining parts of the old Panama City.

Because the sack of Panama violated a peace treaty between Englandmarker and Spainmarker, Morgan was arrested and conducted to the Kingdom of England in 1672. He proved he had no knowledge of the treaty. Instead of punishment, Morgan was knighted in 1674 before returning to Jamaicamarker the following year to take up the post of Lieutenant Governor.

By 1681, then-acting governor Morgan had fallen out of favour with the English king, who was intent on weakening the semi-autonomous Jamaican Council, and was replaced by long-time political rival Thomas Lynch. He gained considerable weight and a reputation for rowdy drunkenness.


In 1683, Morgan was suspended from the Jamaican Council by the machinations of Governor Lynch. Also during this time, an account of Morgan's disreputable exploits was published by Alexandre Exquemelin, who once had been his confidante, probably as a barber-surgeon, in a Dutch volume entitled De Americaensche Zee-Roovers (History of the Buccaneers of America). Morgan took steps to discredit the book and successfully brought a libel suit against the book's publisher, securing a retraction and damages of two hundred English pounds (Campbell, 2003). The book nonetheless contributed much to Morgan's reputed fame as a bloodthirsty pirate over time.

When Thomas Lynch died in 1684, his friend Christopher Monck was appointed to the governorship and arranged the dismissal of Morgan's suspension from the Jamaican Council in 1688. Morgan's health had steadily declined since 1681. He was diagnosed with "dropsie", but may have contracted tuberculosis in Londonmarker, and died August 25, 1688. It is also possible that he may have had liver failure due to his heavy drinking. He is buried in Palisadoesmarker cemetery, which sank beneath the sea after the 1692 earthquake. [15467]

Morgan had lived in an opportune time for pirates. He was successfully able to 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. He was also one of the few pirates who were able to retire from his piracy, having had great success, and with little legal retribution.

Popular culture


  • The 1935 film Captain Blood, starring Errol Flynn, adapted from Rafael Sabatini's novel (see below), was loosely based on Morgan's life. This film provided Flynn with a star-making role.
  • The 1942 film, The Black Swan, based on the novel of the same name by Rafael Sabatini, had an account of Henry Morgan after his becoming the governor of Jamaica. Morgan was portrayed by Laird Cregar in the film.
  • The 1947 film Forever Amber, adapted from the novel by the same name, featured Morgan as a character.
  • The 1952 film Blackbeard the Pirate features Henry Morgan as an antagonist, portrayed by Torin Thatcher.
  • The 1961 film Morgan, the Pirate, starring Steve Reeves, gave an account of how Morgan became a pirate and was courted by the British to work for them.
  • The 1961 film, Pirates of Tortuga, Robert Stephens portrayed Morgan's having set up an independent pirate kingdom on Tortuga instead of answering Charles II's summons to England.
  • In 2006, The History Channel premiered the documentary True Caribbean Pirates, which told the known facts of Henry Morgan's life and death through re-enactments. Morgan was portrayed by Lance J. Holt.


  • John Steinbeck's first novel, Cup of Gold (1926), is about Henry Morgan's life.
  • Book 1 of Nicholas Monsarrat's The Master Mariner has anti-hero Matthew Lawe sailing with Morgan as Mate.
  • Kathleen Winslor's romance novel, Forever Amber (1944), featured Morgan as a character.
  • F. Van Wyck Mason's 1949 novel "Cutlass Empire" romanticized Morgan's life, loves and battles.
  • Josephine Tey's 1952 novel The Privateer dramatized Morgan's life.
  • Kerry Newcomb's swashbuckler Mad Morgan, written in 2000, is based on Morgan's life and times.
  • Kage Baker's short novel "The Maid on the Shore," published in the short story collection Dark Mondays, features Henry Morgan during his expedition to Panama.
  • Berton Braley's 1934 poem This is the ballad of Henry Morgan
  • Dudley Pope's Harry Morgan's Way: The Biography of Sir Henry Morgan combines firsthand sailor's knowledge of the Caribbean and use of primary documents; noted in the bibliography of James Stuart Olson and Robert Shadle Historical Dictionary of the British Empire 1996
  • Stephan Talty's Empire of Blue Water, written in 2007, is a biography of Morgan and partial history of the conflict between the buccaneers and the Spanish Empire.
  • Stephan Talty's Empire of Blue Water: Henry Morgan and the Pirates Who Rule the Caribbean Waves is a non-fiction book describing the life and times of Henry Morgan.


Other products


  1. Cordingley, David (1995). Life Among the Pirates. London: Abacus. ISBN 0-349-11314-9
  2. ODNB: "Sir Henry Morgan"; mentions a third undocumented conjecture that he came as one of Oliver Cromwell's soldiers. Exquemelin from p.62, online reproduction of 1984 English edition.
  3. Mansfield was disguised as "Mansvelt" in Exquemelin's account, according to Clarence Henry Haring, The Buccaneers in the West Indies in the XVII Century, (London: Methuen, 1910), note 242, noting Beeston's journal.
  4. Michener, James A., "Caribbean" (1989), p. 211 ff
  • Campbell, Russ. "Sir Henry Morgan". 2003. [15468]

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