Henry Morgan

From New World Encyclopedia

Sir Henry Morgan
c. 1635 - August 25, 1688
Sir Henry Morgan, in a popular woodcut, 18th century
Type: Privateer
Place of birth: Flag of WalesLlanrhymny, Glamorgan
Place of death: Flag of EnglandLawrencefield, Jamaica ?
Allegiance: Flag of EnglandEngland
Years of service: 1663 - 1674
Later work: Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica

Sir Henry Morgan (Hari Morgan in Welsh), (ca. 1635 – August 25, 1688) was a Welsh privateer, who made a name in the Caribbean as a leader of buccaneers. He considered himself a patriot to his home country, England. His actions changed the face of history in the Americas. He was among England's most notorious and successful privateers. His exploits, which had the unofficial support of the British authorities, were sanctioned to help persuade Spain to limit her activities to the South, leaving most of the Caribbean and North America, where Britain had established her first overseas colonies, to the British. Spain suffered both a loss of prestige, and of income, as less gold and silver reached home. Britain, as had the Dutch, was developing a trading empire, which by definition involves the exchange of goods, not only a process of plundering. Trade has a two way benefit, even if the benefit is not equal. Britain's pioneer settler colonies in North America were intended to grow crops needed at home, which also represents a type of development of the land, not only its exploitation. Morgan, who finished his career as a knight and deputy-governor of Jamaica, pirate or not, was an important player in the Battle of the Empires.

Early life

Henry Morgan was the eldest son of Robert Morgan, a squire of Llanrhymny in Glamorgan, Wales; there is no record of Morgan himself before 1665. He said later that he left school early, and was "more used to the pike than the book." Exquemelin says that he was indentured in Barbados, but he was forced to retract and subsequent editions were amended after Morgan sued the publishers for libel and was awarded £200 against the publishers.[1] Richard Browne, his surgeon at Panama, said that Morgan came to Jamaica in 1658, as a young man, and raised himself to "fame and fortune by his valor". Jamaica had been conquered by the English Commonwealth in May, 1655.

In the autumn of 1665, Morgan commanded a ship in the old privateer Edward Mansfield's[2] expedition sent by Sir Thomas Modyford, the governor of Jamaica, which seized the islands of Providence and Santa Catalina. When Mansfield was captured and killed by the Spanish shortly afterwards, Morgan was chosen by the buccaneers as their admiral. He was an incredible leader of men (and on one occasion a woman). He managed to hold together typically very loose and uncontrollable groups of pirates. Often in incredible circumstances, he held together groups of people who under any other leader would have split and probably been captured or killed.

England had no navy in the region and so it was the privateers, Morgan prominently, who distressed the Spanish. It was also Morgan who attacked huge cities that were not normally attacked by pirates. It was essentially he who forced the Spanish into finally surrendering.

Pirates and privateers
Flag of Edward England.svg

Pirates • Privateers
Buccaneers • Corsairs
Barbary pirates • Wokou

Jolly Roger
Golden Age of Piracy
Timeline of piracy
List of pirate films

Piracy in the Caribbean
Piracy in the Strait of Malacca
Port Royal • Tortuga • Saint-Malo
Libertatia • Barbary Coast

Famous Pirates and Privateers:

Sir Francis DrakeSir Henry Morgan
Bartholomew Roberts • Grace O'Malley
Blackbeard • Redbeard
Anne Bonny • Mary Read
Robert Surcouf • René Duguay-Trouin
Stede Bonnet • Jean Bart
François l'Ollonais • William Kidd
Calico Jack Rackham • Henry Every
List of pirates

Naval officers:

Robert Maynard • Captain Ogle
William Rhett

Governor's commission, privateering career

In 1667, he was commissioned by Modyford to capture some Spanish prisoners in Cuba, in order to discover details of the threatened attack on Jamaica. Collecting ten ships with five hundred men, Morgan landed on the island and captured and sacked Puerto Principe, then went on to take the fortified and well-garrisoned town of Portobelo, Panama. It is said that Morgan's men used captured Jesuits as human shields in taking the third, most difficult fortress.

The governor of Panama, astonished at this daring adventure, attempted in vain to drive out the invaders, and finally Morgan consented to evacuate the place on the payment of a large ransom. These exploits had considerably exceeded the terms of Morgan's commission and had been accompanied by frightful cruelties and excesses, but the governor of Jamaica endeavored to cover the whole under the necessity of allowing the English a free hand to attack the Spanish whenever possible. In London the Admiralty publicly claimed ignorance about this, whilst Morgan and his crew returned to their base at Port Royal, Jamaica, to celebrate.

Modyford almost immediately entrusted Morgan with another expedition against the Spaniards, and he proceeded to ravage the coast of Cuba. In January 1669, the largest of his ships was blown up accidentally in the course of a carousal on board, with Morgan and his officers narrowly escaping death. In March, he sacked Maracaibo, Venezuela, which had emptied out when his fleet was first spied, and afterwards spent a few weeks at the Venezuelan settlement of Gibraltar on Lake Maracaibo, torturing the wealthy residents to discover hidden treasure.

Returning to Maracaibo, Morgan found three Spanish ships waiting at the inlet to the Caribbean; these he destroyed or captured, recovered a considerable amount of treasure from one which had run aground and exacted a heavy ransom as the price of his evacuating the place. Finally, by an ingenious stratagem, he faked a landward attack on the fort, which convinced the governor to shift his cannon. In doing so, he eluded the enemy's guns altogether and escaped in safety. On his return to Jamaica he was again reproved, but not punished, by Modyford.

The Spaniards on their side were moreover acting in the same way, and 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 privateers, not pirates. Accordingly, after ravaging the coasts of Cuba and the mainland, Morgan determined on an expedition to Panama.

He recaptured the island of Santa Catalina on December 15, 1670, and on December 27, he gained possession of the castle of Chagres, killing three hundred of the garrison. Then with one thousand four hundred men he ascended the Chagres River, some of the worst swampland in the area. When his force finally appeared outside of Panama they were very weakened and tired.

Burning of Panama and loss of English support

On January 18, 1671, Morgan discovered that Panama had roughly fifteen hundred 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. After looting and taking booty that exceeded a hundred thousand pounds, Morgan had his men burn the city and massacre all its inhabitants, an action considered, to this date, the most barbarous atrocity ever perpetrated by a British pirate against Spanish colonies in America.

However, because the sack of Panama violated a peace treaty between England and Spain, Morgan was arrested and remanded to England in 1672. He was able to prove he had no knowledge of the treaty, and in 1674, Morgan was knighted before returning to Jamaica the following year to take up the post of Lieutenant Governor.

By 1681, then acting governor Morgan had fallen out of favor with the British king, who was intent on weakening the semi-autonomous Jamaican Council, and was replaced by long-time political rival Thomas Lynch.

Later life and legacy

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 Bouccaneers 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 ill-reputed fame as a bloodthirsty pirate.

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 August 25, 1688. It is also possible that he may have had liver failure due to his heavy drinking. He is buried in Palisadoes cemetery.

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 that would follow would also use this same ploy, but with less successful results. He also was one of the few pirates who was able to retire from his piracy, having had great success, and with little legal retribution.


  1. David Cordingly, Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates (New York: Random House 1996). ISBN 9780679425601
  2. Clarence Henry Haring, The Buccaneers in the West Indies in the XVII Century (Hamden, Conn: Archon Books 1966).

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Allen, Hubert Raymond. Buccaneer Admiral Sir Henry Morgan. London: Barker 1976. ISBN 9780213165697
  • Pope, Dudley. The Buccaneer King: The Biography of Sir Henry Morgan, 1635-1688. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1978. ISBN 9780396075660
  • Steinbeck, John. Cup of Gold: A Life of Sir Henry Morgan, Buccaneer, with Occasional Reference to History. New York: Penguin Books, 1995. ISBN 9780140187434

External links

All links retrieved December 18, 2017.


New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopedia standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit is due under the terms of this license that can reference both the New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list of acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions by wikipedians is accessible to researchers here:

The history of this article since it was imported to New World Encyclopedia:

Note: Some restrictions may apply to use of individual images which are separately licensed.