Sir Henry Morgan (Harri Morgan in Welsh; ca. 1635 – 25 August 1688) was a Welsh privateer, pirate and admiral of the English Royal Navy who made a name for himself during activities in the Caribbean, primarily raiding Spanish settlements. He earned a reputation as one of the most notorious and successful privateers in history, and one of the most ruthless among those active along the Spanish Main.
Henry Morgan was the eldest son of Robert Morgan, a farmer living in the locality of Caerau, Cardiff, Wales, near what is now known as Ely, Cardiff, Wales, situated on the Ely River, in south-east Wales, within the historic boundaries of Monmouthshire. Robert Morgan (born c.1615) was a descendant from a cadet branch of the ‘Tredegar Morgans’ and had two brothers, Thomas and Edward.
Major-General Sir Thomas Morgan (1st Baronet 1604-79) served in the Commonwealth forces during English civil war from 1642-9, was Governor of Gloucester 1645, fought in Flanders, wounded, and in 1661 retired to his estate in Kynnersley, Herts. He was married on 10 September 1632, and had nine sons, of whom the eldest, Sir John Morgan followed in his father's profession.He also had a sister Catherine. An entry in the Bristol Apprentice Books showing "Servants to Foreign Plantations" 9 February 1655, included "Henry Morgan of Abergavenny, Labourer, Bound to Timothy Tounsend of Bristol, Cutler, for three years, to serve in Barbados on the like Condiciouns." Thomas was recalled in 1665 to become Governor of Jersey, and died in St. Helier in April 1679. Colonel Edward Morgan (c. 1616- after 1665) was a Royalist during English Civil War 1642-9, Captain General of the Kings forces in South Wales, escaped to the continent, and married Anna Petronilla the daughter of Baron von Pöllnitz, Westphalia, (governor of Lippstadt, a city 20 miles east of Dortmund Germany). They had six children, two sons, and four daughters (including Anna Petronilla and Johanna). He was appointed Lt-Gov. Jamaica 1664-65.
There was no record of Morgan before 1655. He later said that he left school early, and was "more used to the pike than the book." Alexandre Exquemelin, Morgan's surgeon at Panama, says that he was indentured in Barbados. After Morgan sued the publishers for libel and was awarded £200, Exquemelin was forced to retract his statement. Subsequent editions of his book were amended.
Exquemelin said that Morgan came to Jamaica 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 Hispaniola. His first battle at Santo Domingo ended in a failed attempt to take the island. The fleet moved on to Jamaica, 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 Jackmann when they took the Spanish settlements at Vildemos (on the Tabasco river); Trujillo, (Honduras) and Granada.
In late 1665 Morgan commanded a ship in the old privateer Edward Mansfield's expedition sent by Sir Thomas Modyford, the governor of Jamaica. 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.
By 1661 Commodore Christopher Mings appointed Morgan captain of his first vessel. He plundered the Mexican coast under Lord 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 expeditions 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 Royalists' 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, Sir Henry Morgan included, either refused to return or did not receive the message that there was a recall.
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 manned by roughly 500 to 600 men. Having just returned from a successful expedition off the Mexican Coast, where he captured several ships off the coast of Campeche, Morgan was appointed vice admiral of the fleet. Mansvelt was given orders to attack the Dutch 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 defence, 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 Rica. 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 rumour 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.
In order to cover their debts, Morgan and his men decided to aim for a city that harbored vast treasure. Porto Bello in modern-day Panama was the third most important Spanish city in the New World, making it an obvious choice for the buccaneers. Furthermore, Porto Bello was considered the center of Spanish trade in the Americas, as its warehouses contained the goods and valuables of many wealthy merchants. With 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.
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 1669 after supplementing his loss with that of another great ship (a French vessel [Le Cerf Volant] of 36 guns; 24 iron, 12 brass), which coincidentally he’d already designed to acquire on the night of the explosion.
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 (About the Buccaneers of America). Morgan took steps to discredit the book and successfully brought a libel suit against the book's publishers William Crooke and Thomas Malthus, securing a retraction and damages of two hundred English pounds. The book nonetheless contributed much to Morgan's reputed fame as a bloodthirsty pirate during the time he was in Newport.
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 London, and died on 25 August 1688. He is buried in Palisadoes cemetery, which sank beneath the sea after the 1692 earthquake.
Morgan had lived in an opportune time for privateers. He was able to successfully 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.
Henry had married his cousin, Mary Elizabeth Morgan in 1666, there was no issue and she died in 1696. In his will signed 17 June 1688, he left his Jamaican property to his godsons Charles Byndloss (b.1668) and Henry Archbold on condition they adopted the surname of Morgan. These were the children of his two cousins Anna Petronilla Byndloss (née Morgan), and Johanna Archbold (née Morgan). Their father Colonel Edward Morgan (Lt-Gov. Jamaica 1664-65) was Robert Morgan's younger brother (see early life). To his sister Catherine Loyd (née Morgan) he awarded £60 per annum from his estate ‘paid into the hands of my ever honest cozen (sic) Thomas Morgan of Tredegar’.
On 4 August 2011 archaeologists from Texas State University reported having found what may be one of Morgan's ships off the coast of Panama. The dive was conducted off the Lajas Reef; some sources are stating it was at the mouth of Panama's Chagres River, where a 52-by-22-foot (16 by 7 m) section from the starboard side of a wooden ship's hull was found. The find may be Morgan's flagship, Satisfaction.
Unopened cargo boxes and chests encrusted in coral were found, in addition to the section of hull.
The dives are being led by Texas State University underwater archaeologist Frederick Hanselmann and assisted by the U.S. National Park Service Submerged Resources Center and volunteer divers from Aquarius Reef Base, a joint operation of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and University of North Carolina Wilmington - and in cooperation with Panamanian authorities and colleagues. The finds will stay in Panama.
This work released through CC 3.0 BY-SA - Creative Commons