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Admiral Henry Morgan is one of the most famous sea-heroes of Wales, and is known for his privateering exploits in the 17th century. While the majority of his career was conducted in the service of the British government, his reputation as a scoundrel often landed him in hot water with the gentry. Unlike most privateers of his era, Morgan had the luxury of retiring from the sea to enjoy his wealth, although habitual alcohol use soon led to his death.
Henry Morgan was raised in Wales as the son of a local squire, before coming to the Caribbean isles around 1658. When his uncle became the lieutenant-governor of Jamaica in 1660, Henry cemented the relationship by marrying his own cousin, Mary. He is believed to have risen quickly in the navy, taking part in the sacking and capture of several Spanish ports.
The constant war between England and France allowed Morgan considerable opportunities to plunder in the name of the English government. By 1665, Henry Morgan was serving under a famous privateer, Edward Mansfield. Despite several successful captures of Spanish towns, Mansfield was kidnapped by the enemy and killed. By vote of the crew, Henry Morgan became admiral at the young age of thirty.
Known for his daring and willingness to try risky maneuvers, Henry Morgan became invaluable to the English government as a privateer. In an attempt to ascertain information on a planned Spanish attack of Jamaica, Morgan not only captured the prisoners requested by his government, but also carried out brutal sacking raids on the ports of Puerto Principe and Portobello. In addition to the government money he was paid for taking prisoners, Admiral Henry Morgan could also bleed the local leaders for a payment to leave their towns. Possibly too desperately in need of his abilities, the British government turned a blind eye on reports of the excessive cruelty and tactics of Morgan’s crew.
Soon after their successful Panama campaign, Morgan’s crew was again dispatched to conduct a pre-emptive strike against the Spanish before they could attack Jamaica. His raids continued to be successful and beneficial to the government, and they granted him a magnificent ship as thanks. Yet the viciousness of Henry Morgan would soon become too much for even the war-hungry government to stomach.
In 1671, Morgan sacked the city of Panama without clear orders to do so. Once destroying the city’s army, he proceeded to allow an enormous massacre of the inhabitants and burned the city to ashes. The sack violated a new English-Spanish peace treaty, which earned Morgan a trip to England to explain his foolish actions. Morgan managed to weasel his way out of any criminal charges, and was knighted by the government before returning to the islands to take over his uncle’s post as lieutenant-governor.
As power shifted within the British hierarchy, Morgan found himself at the mercy of political enemies who despised his tactics and his uncouth manners. He was eventually ousted from his position and fell into ill health. At the age of 53, Admiral Sir Morgan died, probably of liver failure or tuberculosis.
Today, Morgan is remembered alternately as a barbarian and a romantic pirate figure. He has appeared as a character in several films, books and video games. Most people are familiar with the Admiral from the popular brand of rum named for him. Like most figures of the Golden Age of Sail, Henry Morgan has been turned into a dashing roguish character, and portrayals often ignore his brutal habits of war and destruction.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who was Henry Morgan and why is he significant in history?
Henry Morgan was a Welsh privateer, pirate, and admiral of the English Royal Navy who lived during the 17th century. He is significant for his exploits in the Caribbean, particularly his raids on Spanish settlements. Morgan's most famous attack was the capture of Panama City in 1671, which was a wealthy center of Spanish trade. His actions contributed to the decline of Spanish dominance in the Caribbean and are often romanticized in pirate lore. According to the National Library of Wales, Morgan's privateering ventures were conducted with the tacit approval of the English government, blurring the lines between piracy and state-sanctioned naval warfare.
What were some of Henry Morgan's most notable achievements?
Henry Morgan's most notable achievements include the capture of the city of Portobelo in 1668, which was a significant victory as the city was one of Spain's most fortified in the New World. Additionally, his sack of Maracaibo in 1669 and his daring raid across the Isthmus of Panama to capture Panama City in 1671 stand out. These actions not only amassed great wealth for Morgan and his crew but also demonstrated his strategic prowess and audacity. His success led to his appointment as Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica, as noted by the Jamaica Information Service.
How did Henry Morgan impact the relationship between England and Spain?
Henry Morgan's actions had a significant impact on Anglo-Spanish relations. His privateering expeditions were part of a broader conflict between England and Spain over trade and territory in the Caribbean. While his raids were often celebrated in England as patriotic defenses of English economic interests, they were seen by the Spanish as acts of piracy and caused diplomatic tensions. After the sack of Panama, England was forced to arrest Morgan to appease the Spanish, but he was later released and knighted, reflecting the complex interplay between privateering, piracy, and national interests.
What is the legacy of Henry Morgan in modern culture?
Henry Morgan's legacy in modern culture is largely romanticized. He is often portrayed as a quintessential swashbuckling pirate in literature, films, and other media. Morgan has been the subject of numerous books and movies, which depict his adventurous life on the high seas. His name has also been used commercially, most notably by the Captain Morgan brand of rum, which plays on his image as a legendary pirate figure. This cultural portrayal, however, often glosses over the more brutal aspects of his privateering activities.
Are there any reliable historical sources where I can learn more about Henry Morgan?
For those interested in learning more about Henry Morgan, reliable historical sources include academic journals, historical biographies, and records from the period. The National Library of Wales and the Jamaica Information Service offer resources and historical documents related to Morgan's life and times. Additionally, "Empire of Blue Water" by Stephan Talty provides a well-researched account of Morgan's adventures and impact on the Caribbean. For primary sources, the "Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies" contains contemporary documents that reference Morgan and his exploits.