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- The History Of Captain Morgan
The History Of Captain Morgan
12/16/2008 - By Matt Landau
Sir Henry Captain Morgan
There were lots of pirates hanging around Panama during the 17th and 18th centuries and with good reason. Panama was the richest area belonging to Spain, as almost all of the gold that was pillaged from the Inca Empire and other wealthy Indian...
There were lots of pirates hanging around Panama during the 17th and 18th centuries and with good reason. Panama was the richest area belonging to Spain, as almost all of the gold that was pillaged from the Inca Empire and other wealthy Indian nations was filtered through counting houses on Contadora in the Pearl Islands, Panama City, and Portobelo. The counting houses were where the gold and other valuables were tallied and loaded up on ships bound for Spain. There were millions of pounds of treasure in these places and the pirates knew this.
One of the most famous of these pirates was Captain Morgan. Captain Morganīs headquarters was in Port Royal in Jamaica. Although most of his early childhood is unknown, what what is clear is that he came to Barbados as young man. Most historians say that he was kidnapped from Bristol and was moved west as a slave on a plantation. This was common in these days, but unlike an African slave, Morgan probably worked as an indentured servant and had his freedom granted after seven years. In 1655, Oliver Cromwell dispatched a large force from England to capture the island of Hispaniola from Spain. The flotilla arrived at Barbados and landed on the island to try to gain volunteers. The amount of soldiers began to grow as slaves and servants abandoned their masters and joined in. Nineteen year-old Morgan may have been one of these kids as the story goes.
Still, other sources say he was drafted in England for the invasion and then sent to the West Indies, and not kidnapped. Regardless, what is known is that Morgan was one of the 8000 soldiers who fought the Spanish for control of Santo Domingo. The English were defeated and it proved to be an embarrassing blow. The contingent knew better than to return to England empty handed. So later that year the group took the sparsely inhabited island of Jamaica from the Spanish, making Port Royal itís capital.
While living in Port Royal, Morgan started his buccaneering apprenticeship under various pirates. The British government preferred to call them privateers to make them sound more professional, but lets call a spade a spade. It wasnít long before Morgan was harassing Spanish galleons with his own crew of motley soldiers. In 1663, he joined up with the fleet of Captain Christopher Mings to conduct raids on the towns of Vildemos, Trujillo, and Granada and in 1666 he had obtained control of a ship in Edward Mansfieldís expedition to take over Spanish forts. When Christopher Mings was captured and killed by the Spanish, the men lashed together their boats and held a quick meeting in order to decide who would lead. The men chose Morgan to be their new admiral.
After the raid Morgan focused mainly on working on his sugar plantation, but in 1670 he was called back into service. The Governor of Jamaica ordered counted on Morgan to plunder the city of Panama. It became the most daring and audacious raids of his career. Upon Morganís orders a multi-national group of 2000 French and English pirates assembled in 36 ships off the coast of Jamaica and set sail for Panama.
After weeks at sea, Morganís men made it to the coast of Panama and landed 3 kilometers from Fort San Lorenzo which defended the mouth of the Chagres River. As they walked through the jungle they slowly approached the fort and burnt it by sending a flaming arrow over the top which landed on a thatch roof. It still took three days of fighting and it cost them 100 men. At the town of Venta Cruces the Chagres became to shallow for their boats, so Morgan left men to stay with them. The rest, about 1600, set off on foot on the camino cruces trail that led to Panama.
Morgan thought that he could obtain food by pillaging towns along the 'camino cruces' and killing whatever animals they could find. But there were no towns and the sounds of clanking metal as they walked scared off all the animals. They were reduced to eating leather, insects, bark, and whatever plants they could find. They also encountered a jungle filled with poisonous snakes and many men fell ill with malaria. Much of the trail was covered by thick undergrowth which they had to hack through by cutlass. To make matters worse, they were harassed all the way down trail by stealthy Indians who fired volleys of arrows at their lines.
After about one week of travel, the men made it to the fields on the outskirts of town where they camped overnight and ate some of the free roaming cattle. In the morning a Spanish army of about 2000 infantry and 500 cavalry was organized by the Spanish Governor Don Guzman and made a show of force in front of the Morgan. Knowing full well that these men were untrained peasants and slaves, Morgan was unimpressed.
When Morganís volley of muskets decimated Guzmanís infantry, Guzman sent his secret weapon into work. He let loose a couple hundred head of cattle into Morganís direction hoping Morganís men would be trampled. Instead, the Cattle just scattered in the other direction. The remainder of Guzmanís men either surrendered or ran into the jungle as Morganís men came up over a hill and attacked their flank. In less than six hours Morganís men, half starved, started to cheer and plundered what was left of the town. Panama was torched, some say by the fleeing Spanish.
When news of the capture of Panama reached Madrid, the Spanish threatened to go to war. Wisely, Charles II reacted by throwing Morgan and the Governor in the tower until the hoopla died down. Henry was later knighted in 1674 and then made the Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica. He died a wealthy man in Port Royal in 1688 after possibly contracting tuberculosis.
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