Henry Morgan, the ‘greatest buccaneer,’ at one time had a whole fleet at his disposal and is credited with forcing Spain to recognize English rights in the New World. However, he lacked the ‘quality of mercy’ and murder, rape and torture were his standard routines.
Morgan headed raiding parties on Spanish held Cuba after declaring that he was no longer a pirate but a privateer even though, at this time, Spain was not at war with England. As Cuban spoils were not considered satisfactory, he proceeded to Porto Bello on the Caribbean coast of Panama, which had lived untroubled for 70 years and was taken completely by surprise by Morgan’s attack. English colours were run up after only one day whilst Morgan and his men ran amok in their typical style for two weeks. They left only after exacting a huge ransom for captured victims.
With eight ships and 500 men, Morgan went on to attack the Venezuelan port of Maracaibo where he completely devastated the town, murdering and torturing throughout the countryside. Three Spanish warships blocked the narrow entrance to the Straits of Maracaibo but Morgan and his men escaped capture.
Jamaica’s governor, Sir Thomas Modyford, was compelled to condemn Morgan’s flagrant acts of hostility and barbarism. However, he defended them at the same time and assured England that the days of violence were over and that Morgan had settled down to quiet country living. Morgan then assembled a fleet that was more an official navy than a band of outlaws and set sail for Panama itself.
He found, after taking port after port, that the enemy in Panama were so indolent that the city soon went up in flame together with any spoils that Morgan desired. He was forced to ransom prisoners to extract wealth.
The raid caused great concern in Spain and remorse from King Charles in England, and an anti-buccaneer, Sir Thomas Lynch, was sent to arrest Modyford and take over as governor of Jamaica. Morgan likewise returned to England where, as his ship docked, he found the royal rage had subsided although Modyford was confined in the dreaded Tower for a while.
Morgan was welcomed as a hero and, instead of a trial, had a ‘hearing’ before the Board of Trade where, rather than being condemned for his actions, he was knighted and appointed Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica. On eventually assuming governorship he turned on his erstwhile comrades and hypocritically declared that buccaneers were a ‘dangerous pestilence’ and ‘ravenous vermin’ and watched as they were hanged.
After the Panama venture, Morgan had become ill; he never really recovered and at the age of 53 was dying. Some blamed the climate but others felt it was the result of years of heavy drinking and high living. He was buried with full honours due to statesmen.
Four years after his death a huge earthquake destroyed much of Jamaica’s waterfront and his grave disappeared into the sea.
by Terry Took © 2015
Terry Took was born in Yorkshire but has lived in Tynemouth for over 50 years. He spent 45 years in the Merchant Navy which included 27 years as North Sea Pilot. He then spent five years as a lecturer at the Marine Department of South Tyneside College.
He is now an Elder Brother in Trinity House and Marine Director.
If you have any comments or would like to contact Terry then please e-mail him at email@example.com.