Monday, April 22, 2013

Captain Morgan, Pirate or Hero?

Henry Morgan, or Captain Morgan as he was later known, was born in Wales, in about 1635.  Though from a minor noble family, Morgan later said that his education leaned “more the pike than the book.” Someone named Henry Morgen was sent to Barbados as a bond servant in 1655. But Captain Morgan won a lawsuit when a publisher claimed that he was that person.

History agrees that Morgan went to the Caribbean as part of Oliver Cromwell’s “Western Design,” a plan to invade the Spanish-held Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic). The invasion was a failure, but Morgan apparently impressed his commanders with his valor. The invading English fleet, unable to fulfill their original mission, invaded Jamaica instead.

Henry’s uncle, Edward Morgan, was named Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica, and brought his family with him, including his daughter Mary. Whether for politics or love, Henry married her. He did not, however, stay on shore long.

The English were determined to take as much land from the Spanish as possible, and Morgan joined a privateering expedition which successfully captured the settlements of Vildemos, Truijillo, and Granada. He then commanded a ship under privateer admirable Edward Mansfield, which seized even more settlements. When the Spanish counter-attacked, captured Mansfield and executed him, Morgan was elected admiral by the privateers.

Morgan went on plundering Spanish colonies, even after Spain and England formally ceased hostilities.
It was the sort of political nightmare that came up when colonies were far away from their central governments and money was on the table. Two Governors of Jamaica, one after the other, gave Morgan license to attack the Spanish, in spite of direct orders from the Crown to cease hostilities. The governors received a share of the plunder, and Morgan brought back quite a lot.

Appointed vice-admiral of an illegal attack on a Dutch settlement, Morgan went out with Admiral Mansvelt to attack Curacao. But the Dutch didn’t have enough plunder to please the privateers, so they went back to attacking their old enemies, the Spanish.

Since they thought there would be good plunder there, (they seem to have had no other motivation) they attacked the Spanish-held settlement of Providence, on Nassau in the Bahamas.

The Spanish were unprepared, and Morgan and his men sacked the town. Mansvelt seems to have had the brilliant idea of holding the settlement as a pirate community (being so far out of bounds that he and Morgan were, in fact if not quite in name, pirates.) However, they were not ready to attempt to hold ground. When the Spanish counter-attacked, they were driven off.

Once again, the Governor of Jamaica wanted a fleet assembled to “protect the Crown’s interest in Jamaica.” This time, Morgan was in charge. He dressed himself in red silk, lace and jewels, and went to the hideouts of the most notorious pirates in the area.

Impressed with his obvious success, the pirates flocked to his banner. In a short time, he had recruited five hundred cutthroats, and ten ships. Since their excuse for attacking Spain this time was a rumor of a Spanish attack against Jamaica, Morgen led his forces against Havana, supposedly to gather information. But when one of his captives escaped and warned the Cubans, Morgen attacked a deserted city. The residents had taken their valuables and fled into the jungle.

Though he tortured the remaining residents, Morgan could not find enough money to pay his expenses, let alone pay his men. With bloodthirsty pirates in his employ, he decided to attack the richest city in the Spanish New World, Porto Bello, the Treasure City.

First sight of the impressively defended town made the pirates nervous, but Morgan gave a rousing speech, mostly about money, and his forces attacked in the dead of night.

Two of the three Spanish forts were taken when the soldiers were still in their beds, and the third surrendered. Morgan and his crew inhabited the town for two months, collecting all the wealth they could find, and gaining ransoms from the families of captured citizens. All in all, they accumulated over 200,000 pieces of eight.

While occupying the town, Morgan received a message from the Governor of Panama, along with a huge emerald ring intended as a bribe. The letter requested to know how Morgan had captured Porto Bello with such a small force, and requested that he not attack Panama.

Morgen sent back his own message, a pistol as an example of how he had taken the forts, and a letter stating that he intended to come to Panama to get the pistol back.
To be continued….

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