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Henry Morgan was born around 1635, in either Llanrhymny or Abergavenny, Wales, the son of Robert Morgan. Almost nothing is known about his early life, including exactly how he ended up in Jamaica. One story says that Morgan was sent to Barbados as an indentured servant as a boy and later joined the expedition of General Robert Venables and Admiral William Penn in 1655 to escape his service, while another says that he willingly joined the Venables-Penn expedition at Plymouth in 1654. However he joined the expedition, it is generally agreed that he took part in the failed attempt to conquer Hispaniola and the subsequent invasion of Jamaica. Once Jamaica had been captured, Morgan elected to stay on the island, where he was joined by his uncle, Edward Morgan, who was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of the island after the restoration of King Charles II in 1660. He married his uncle's eldest daughter, Mary Elizabeth, later that same year.
Early Sea "Career"
Sometime after his marriage, Morgan began sailing in the buccaneer fleets that were employed by the English to attack Spanish settlements. In late 1663, with Captain Jack Morris and three other ships, he looted Villahermosa, capital of the Mexican province of Tabasco. Returning from their raid, the buccaneers found that their ships had been captured by Spanish patrols. In what would become typical Morgan fashion, the buccaneers captured two Spanish ships and continued their cruise, sacking Trujillo and Granada before returning to Jamaica.
In late 1665, Morgan was commanding a ship in Edward Mansfield's expedition against Providence and Santa Catalina islands when Mansfield was captured and killed by the Spanish. The buccaneers subsequently elected Morgan their Admiral and the expedition was successfully completed. Upon his return to Jamaica, Morgan was issued a formal privateer's commission by Governor Thomas Modyford.
In 1667, Modyford dispatched Morgan with ten ships and 500 men to free a number of English prisoners being held in Puerto Principe, Cuba. After sacking the city and freeing the prisoners, Morgan and his men sailed south to Panama. Landing near Puerto Bello, the buccaneers overwhelmed the garrison and occupied the town. During the attack, Morgan forced nuns and priests to place ladders against the city walls for his force. After defeating a Spanish counterattack, Morgan agreed to leave the town in exchange for a huge ransom. Although he had far exceeded his commission, Morgan was received as a hero by Modyford and the Admiralty.
In January 1669, Morgan sailed toward the northern coast of South America with 900 men with the goal of attacking Cartagena, Colombia. Later that month, his flagship, Oxford exploded, killing 300 men. With his forces reduced, Morgan did not believe he had enough men to take Cartagena and turned toward Maracaibo, Venezuela, instead. After capturing and looting Maracaibo, he sailed south into Lake Maracaibo and took Gibraltar. He then captured three Spanish ships that had been sent specifically to capture him before re-entering the Caribbean and returning to Jamaica. Although he had once again far exceeded his commission, Modyford once again chose to reward rather than punish Morgan, by making him Commander-in-Chief of all warships in Jamaica.
Attack on Panama
On December 15, 1670, Morgan, now in command of 1,400 men, recaptured the island of Santa Catalina; twelve days later he occupied Chagres Castle in Panama. From Chagres Castle, he led 1,000 men up the Chagres River toward Panama City, which was reached on January 18, 1671. During the ensuing battle, the Spaniards turned a herd of wild bulls against Morgan, but the bulls stampeded and helped rout the Spaniards instead. The city was subsequently looted and burned; it has never been conclusively determined whether the fire that consumed the city was set by Morgan and his men or the retreating Spaniards, or even whether it was intentionally set at all.
Returning to Chagres, Morgan was stunned to learn that peace had been declared between England and Spain. Upon reaching Jamaica, he found that Modyford had been recalled and that orders had been issued for his arrest. On August 4, 1672, Morgan was taken into custody and transported to England. At his trial he was able to prove that he had no knowledge of the treaty and was acquitted. In 1674, he was knighted by King Charles and sent back to Jamaica as Lieutenant-Governor and Commander-in-Chief of all English forces there.
After returning to Jamaica, Morgan oversaw the island's defenses and developed his vast sugar plantations. He was dismissed as Lieutenant-Governor after falling out of favor with the king in 1681, and from the Jamaican Council in 1683, but stayed in Jamaica. A heavy drinker much of his life, he died of cirrhosis of the liver on August 25, 1688. He was buried in Port Royal, but the graveyard in which he was interred and much of the city was lost to the sea as the result of an earthquake four years after his death.
This page was last updated on 03/06/2017.