When we last left Captain Morgan, he had just performed an incredibly successful plundering of Puerto Bello. This attack had garnered Captain Morgan and his forces over 250,000 pieces of eight, which was a considerable fortune, especially compared to the take from the previously awful attack on Puerto Principe. Captain Morgan had been told by the president of Panama that he should probably not attack Panama, as he would not fare as well as he had at Puerto Bello. However, as we said last week, Captain Morgan was not to be underestimated.
Before we follow Captain Morgan to Panama, however, there are a couple of other attacks that we should cover first.
Following the attack on Puerto Bello, Captain Morgan and his crew returned to Jamaica to celebrate their victories. According to Esquemeling’s book, the pirates didn’t take long to spend their entire fortune, so they would soon need to find a new enterprise. If you’ll remember, Colonel Modyford was the current Governor of Jamaica at the time, and he had given Captain Morgan his letter of marque against Spanish ships. However, after hearing about the attack on Puerto Bello, Modyford became worried. His number one privateer at the time had just committed an outright act of piracy.
Now, before we go into Modyford’s next actions, let’s discuss a bit of who Thomas Modyford was, as we hadn’t in our previous episode. Modyford had actually fought for the king during the English Civil War. The English Civil War was a part of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms which we will cover in a future episode. Suffice to say it is an incredibly confusing bit of history. In essence, the English Civil War had two sides: those that supported a parliamentary-style government (sometimes referred to as Parliamentarians) and those that believed the monarchy had a divine right to rule (sometimes referred to as Royalists).
Initially, Modyford was a staunch Royalist and he fully supported the monarchy. After his service in the military against the Parliamentarians, Modyford made his way to Barbados where he owned a plantation and became a very influential man of the island. At this time he was also a colonel of a regiment in Barbados. He must have chosen the wrong island to make his home, because the parliamentary forces soon began to demand the surrender of Barbados. But, as I said, Modyford was a Royalist and fought for the island to not surrender. However, after Charles I had his head chopped off in 1649 and after the Royalist defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, Modyford’s loyalties began to wane. He actually went into secret negotiations with the Parliamentarians, and eventually turned coat and took his regiment with him. He was made Governor of Barbados sometime afterwards, although he was hated by everyone on the island at this point, likely due to his treacherous actions.
Once the monarchy was later restored by the parliamentary government in Britain, another governor was chosen for Barbados and Modyford was ousted. But it was soon after this that he was made governor of Jamaica, replacing Captain Morgan's uncle and being first introduced to Captain Morgan. Now, I say all of that information to say this: Modyford seems to have been a bit of a snake.
Like I said a moment ago, Modyford was worried because arguably one of his best privateers had just committed an open act of piracy against the Spanish with the attack on Puerto Bello. But it wasn’t just a small act like a ship plundering, Captain Morgan had taken a great city, and this news was very likely to reach England at some point. So, to get ahead of this news, Modyford decided to write to England and explain the attack himself. In his correspondence, he wrote that he had never sanctioned the attack on land with his letters of marque, but only on ships at sea. He also tried to paint a dark picture of the Caribbean where the Spanish had a great intention of attacking Jamaica in the near future. He may or may not have been correct to assume this. Either way, he felt it was necessary for the British forces to attack first.
Modyford then spoke to Captain Morgan, who agreed that a Spanish attack was looming on Jamaica. Captain Morgan also agreed that a preemptive strike was the best course of action. In other words, they wanted to move away from a defensive strategy to an offensive one, although the Spanish were not necessarily showing signs of outright war at this point. However, to save his reputation, Modyford felt that provoking the Spanish was a better course of action than looking like a man who had sanctioned piracy against the Spanish.
The chosen target was to be Cartagena, the chiefest harbour along the Spanish Main. To assist with this mission, Morgan was given a new and very large flagship for his fleet that was named The Oxford. This ship dwarfed many of the other ships in the Caribbean and would assist greatly in the capture of larger cities.
To plan for the attack on Cartagena, Captain Morgan was to set up a base of operations outside Port Royal and he soon chose the small island of Isla Vaca, or Cow Island. Once they arrived at this island, they noticed a vessel controlled by French pirates docked there as well. It was a large vessel, although still smaller than The Oxford. Captain Morgan approached these pirates asking if they would join their large ship to his fleet. Unfortunately, these pirates disagreed as they did not fully trust the English. This may well have stemmed from the literal back-stabbing argument between the English and French in the previous episode.
However, it came to be known that this group of French pirates had taken provisions from an English vessel just prior to their arrival at Cow Island. They had not necessarily stolen the provisions, but they had not paid for them outright. Instead, the French pirates had given the English vessel bills of exchange to use to be paid in Jamaica and Tortuga. In this, Captain Morgan saw an opportunity. He pretended that he was fine with the fact that the French didn’t want to accompany his fleet on his mission. But he decided that he would like to break bread with these pirates, so he invited the ship’s commander and some of his men to dine with him aboard The Oxford. Once aboard, these men were instantly taken prisoner. Likely very confused as to why this was happening, they asked Morgan to explain. Captain Morgan explained that they were being taken prisoner because they had not paid for the English provisions they had previously received, so they had committed piracy against the British. Following this, Captain Morgan’s forces took control of the great French ship.
Now this likely seems really unfair to you, I would personally think it was. However, it almost seems like the gods thought it was as well, because divine justice was about to strike Captain Morgan right in the face. After taking the French ship, Morgan and his men set to partying like it was 1999. They drank, shot off canons, and did other pirate-y things. However, in all of the celebrations, the stockpile of gunpowder aboard The Oxford was lit, causing it to explode, completely destroying the ship. Captain Morgan was reportedly aboard at the time and was supposedly blown out the window of his chambers into the sea. He survived the explosion, but nearly 300 of his men did not. The Oxford, the great and powerful ship that Captain Morgan had been given for his attack, was lost. However, this ship was also tied to two other ships. So, as it sank, it pulled these ships down in the process. This was definitely a bit of karma in action.
After the explosion and sinking of the ships, Captain Morgan supposedly instructed his men to gather all of the floating bodies of his dead crew. However, this was not to give them a Christian burial. Instead, Morgan instructed his remaining crew to search the bodies for any valuables in their possession. Some were found to be wearing gold rings, and their fingers were cut off to retrieve them. The bodies were then dumped back into the ocean to be devoured by the “monsters of the sea.”
Following this little snafu, Captain Morgan was again in a situation where he had lost a large majority of his men, much like before the attack on Puerto Bello. However, this time he did not feel as confident as he had before the attack on Puerto Bello. So, he instead decided to find a somewhat smaller target for his attack. The fleet went about searching for a suitable destination, but while doing so some of the ships were separated due to a storm. Morgan would not find these ships for some time, so he was to complete his next attack with an even smaller number of men and ships. Which was said to be around five hundred men and eight ships.
Eventually, a member of Morgan’s crew gave the idea that they should attack a town called Maracaibo. This crew member had attacked this place previously with another pirate, and he was very well versed in the layout of the area. So, it was settled. The small fleet was to attack the town of Maracaibo and, by conjunction, the town of Gibraltar. For these attacks we will be going off of Esquemeling’s book (The Pirates of Panama), but remember that this information is difficult to authenticate.
Soon, the fleet arrived at the entrance to the Sea of Maracaibo, and this sea was somewhat described as a big lake in the northern part of Venezuela. The Sea of Maracaibo has one small entrance from the ocean and then it expands into a very large body of water which is lined with different cities. It’s basically a very large bay with a single, small entrance. Just past this entrance to the sea is the city of Maracaibo. Once they found the entrance, Morgan’s fleet found that they would not be able to bring all of their ships through it due to the shallow water. So, they had to place themselves into canoes and small ships, while hiding the main ships safely away from the entrance.
Once they entered the sea, they went straight for Maracaibo and it’s defending fort, Fort De la Barra. However, they found this fort deserted, as well as the town of Maracaibo. The citizens of the town had seen the pirates coming and had fled the town to safety. The pirates made themselves comfortable in the town choosing whatever houses they wished, likely knowing they would be there awhile. They then sent a group of 100 men out into the woods to seek the town’s inhabitants and their goods. This group soon returned with 30 of the town’s people and instantly took to torturing them. They demanded to be told where the other inhabitants were, and when someone did not confess, or had nothing to confess, they were tortured until their death.
Tactics used by the pirates were quite barbaric. One of the most used torture techniques was the use of a rack. The people would have all limbs tied to cords and they would then be stretched. While they were stretched, the pirates would beat them with sticks and other instruments. Another form of torture included lighting matches between the victim’s fingers and toes. Arguably one of the most barbaric ways the pirates tortured these people was by tightening cords around the victim’s head until their eyes burst from their sockets. The torturing of the people of Maracaibo lasted for three weeks, with the pirates finding new victims in the woods every single day. By the end of the three weeks, Captain Morgan had captured around 100 families from Maracaibo that he was to take prisoner along with their goods. The pirates then turned their sights towards Gibraltar.
Now, this town should not be confused with Gibraltar in Spain. This Gibraltar is a small town on the southern end of the Sea of Maracaibo, somewhat opposite from the town of Maracaibo. Once the pirates reached this town, they also found it deserted. The inhabitants, like those of Maracaibo, had also fled to the surrounding woods. All except one man. This man seemed very poor, wearing very tattered clothing. The pirates asked him where the other people of the town had gone. This man was described as being someone mentally challenged, and with every question he answered, “I know nothing, I know nothing.” Not satisfied with his answers, the pirates put him to the rack, stretching his legs and neck with heavy weights until the man cried out that he would take them to his treasure.
The pirates followed the man to a small shack near the town. Inside the shack were dishes and other things of no value, as well as 3 pieces of eight. The pirates asked the man who he was, and he told them that he was the brother of the governor of Maracaibo. When given this answer, the pirates placed the man back on the rack and stretched him further. Finally, the man was killed when the pirates placed burning palm tree leaves on his face, burning him alive.
After this, the pirates set out to do what they had done in Maracaibo: they sent a group of men out into the woods to find the inhabitants. On their first search, they found a man with his two daughters. They were all threatened with torture if they did not give up the locations of the other townspeople. With this threat of torture, the man confessed and said that he did know the location of some of the other people. He led the pirates out of Gibraltar into the woods. However, unknown to the man, the other citizens had already moved deeper into the woods at this point. When the man could not find any other townspeople, the pirates claimed that he had deceived them, and instantly hanged him on a nearby tree.
The pirates continued searching and eventually found a black man who was the slave of one of the townsmen. He was promised gold and his freedom if he helped the pirates find the other people of Gibraltar. This man then led the pirates to a group of townspeople hidden in the woods. The pirates instructed the man to kill some of them then and there before the other townspeople’s eyes, which the man did.
After days of searching, the pirates had found around 250 people hiding in the woods. One of these people was a Portuguese man who was mistakenly identified as someone very rich. The pirates questioned this man, but he denied having any riches except for 100 pieces of eight. Obviously, the pirates were not satisfied with this information and began to drag him to the rack. The man pleaded with the pirates to not torture him, but the pirates ignored his pleas. They placed this man, a man of 60 years of age, on the rack and stretched him so hard that the bones in his arms broke free from his shoulders. They then tied cords to his thumbs and big toes and stretched him so that his body was lifted into the air. Finally, the pirates placed a 200 pound boulder on top of the man while he was suspended. They then placed burning palm tree leaves on his face.
After all of this torture, the man still claimed to not have any riches. The pirates took him down and brought him into the town, where they tied him to a column. He was left here for days until he finally begged for his freedom by saying he would pay 500 pieces of eight to the pirates. They denied this saying that he would need 500,000 pieces of eight or he would die, and they beat him for the trouble of having to say that. The man then finally settled with the pirates that he would pay them 1,000 pieces of eight and the pirates agreed. The man actually was able to gather the money and paid the pirates. It only really cost him two broken arms, burns to the face, and unimaginable pain and mangling to last a lifetime.
From their time in Gibraltar, the pirates had gained a large amount of treasure and had also found a number of ships that they then put under their command. At this point, they had been gone from Maracaibo for quite some time. Captain Morgan was aware that the remaining citizens of the town could have regrouped at this point and may try to keep the pirates from escaping the late. Because of this, Morgan took prisoners with him to ensure he had something to trade for their freedom out of the Sea of Maracaibo.
Once the pirates arrived back in Maracaibo they were given news that three large Spanish ships had arrived at the entrance to the sea, and were waiting for the pirates to try to escape. These ships were said to have many guns, much more than the pirates had. However, Captain Morgan, like he tends to do in moments of being outmatched, said, “Fuck it.” and sent one of the Spanish to consult with these ships.
When the man returned, he carried a letter from the Admiral of the Spanish fleet, Don Alonso del Campo y Espinosa. Don Alonso told Captain Morgan that he was a little dick for doing what he had done in the Sea of Maracaibo, and he had been chasing Morgan’s fleet for some time. He told Morgan that if he surrendered all of the prisoners and treasure he had, he would be allowed to leave the Sea of Maracaibo without attack. If he did not, then they would all be killed.
Captain Morgan gathered his men and asked their opinion on the matter. All of them said they would rather die than give up all of the treasure they had accumulated. So, Captain Morgan sent back a letter to Don Alonso saying that he would release only half of his prisoners without ransom and he would not give up his treasure. Don Alonso obviously denied these offers, but Captain Morgan didn’t really care. Because this letter to Don Alonso was really only used to waste a bit of time.
One of Captain Morgan’s crew had the idea that they should use a fire-ship against Don Alonso’s ships. Now, apparently, and I know this is hard to grasp, a fire-ship is a ship that’s on fire. They would pack the ship full of flammable material, and then they would dress logs in men's clothing to make it look as though it was a fully manned ship. However, it was only crewed by a group of 12 men who would set it on fire and abandon ship.
With this plan in motion, the pirates set out to meet the Spanish ships. When they caught sight of them, Captain Morgan sent the fire-ship ahead of the fleet. Before they were able to react to what was happening, the fire-ship collided directly with Don Alonso’s ship, causing it to burst into flames and sink. Don Alonso and a group of his men were able to escape the sinking ship alive.
One of the other ships, fearing that it would be taken by the pirates, sailed to the previously mentioned nearby Fort De la Barra, which was now manned by a large number of Spanish soldiers and large guns. Once they arrived they sank the Spanish ship themselves, in hopes that the pirates would not be able to take and plunder it. However, the third Spanish ship was taken by the pirates quite easily.
Now, the pirates had beaten the Spanish back, but they were not completely in the clear. With Fort De la Barra now heavily fortified, they would not be able to escape the Sea of Maracaibo without sustaining heavy losses, if not a complete destruction of their fleet. It was a pretty sticky situation. However, Captain Morgan developed an idea. Before he put this plan into action, he had his men meet up at a nearby location so that all of the plunder from Maracaibo and Gibraltar could be counted and divided equally amongst the men. The total taken from these towns was said to be close to the same amount of the attack on Puerto Bello.
Following this, Captain Morgan put his plan into action. He began to have his men sneak ashore in a single boat, about ten at a time. They did this from early in the day until late in the evening. Unfortunately, one of the Don Alonso’s men inside the fort saw this and reported it to Don Alonso. They readied for an attack from the pirates, making a land attack against the fort pretty much a death sentence. However, the pirates were trying to take the fort by land. You see, when Captain Morgan’s men were going ashore, there were ten at a time, with two men rowing. However, the men never actually left the boat. The two men would row the ten men to the shore, then the ten men would lay down while the two men rowed back to the ship. None of Captain Morgan’s crew had actually left the ship.
Since the Spanish had completely fortified the Fort on the land side, this left the ocean side free of all canons. So, the pirates set sail and passed through the entrance to the sea, escaping without sustaining any further casualties. Thus, completing the pretty successful plundering of Maracaibo and Gibraltar.
While Captain Morgan was committing his pirating atrocities against Marcaribo and Gibraltar, the Spanish government was in communication with the British. The Spanish were growing very tired of these privateers attacking their towns and ships with no just cause. The Spanish were not attacking British-held land like the privateers were, so it was getting to a dangerous point, politically. And who should be stuck in the middle of this disagreement but Thomas Modyford.
Throughout all of these disagreements, Modyford asserted to England that the use of privateers were necessary. He also reiterated that he had never once told privateers to attack towns, he only told them to attack ships. So, he can’t really be held accountable for what they get up to in their down time.
This situation came to a head with the raids on Maracaibo and Gibraltar. Once the then Queen Regent of Spain heard of this attack, she declared war on all English in the Caribbean. She ordered her governors to dispossess the English of their "ships, islands, places, and ports.” To assist the governors in this, she also allowed them to issue letters of marque against any English ships.
Because of this, Modyford began to get terrified. Obviously, the governments were the ones discussing the issue, but Modyford was the one in Jamaica. So, he was at much more risk than any of the government back in England. Because of this, he begged for permission to attack the Spanish in retaliation. However, the English did not want to provoke the Spanish into further action, because they were at this time negotiating a treaty that would end any form of violence. Things were made worse when a Spanish ship captained by Manuel Ribeiro Pardal attacked a northern part of Jamaica. After he had attacked a small town, Pardal supposedly nailed a note to a tree. This note was a challenge to Captain Morgan to come out and face him in battle.
Because of this, Modyford decided that he was in too much danger to await orders from the government. He made Captain Morgan commander-in-chief of all Port Royal ships, and gave him full authority to attack any Spanish ships, and, if need be, any Spanish ports that may be used as a tactical location for any forces planning to attack Jamaica. So, basically, anything Spanish.
However, as Morgan was made commander-in-chief, word came from England to NOT attack the Spanish. Modyford passed this information to Morgan and told him to be as modest as possible when carrying out any attacks in the war. Morgan responded saying that he would try, but if he believed there to be a threat in a certain port, he would have to take it. Morgan then left Jamaica and went to his previous meeting point, the Isla Vaca (Cow Island).
By all accounts, the aggression during this war came from everyone but the Spanish. Captain Pardal had attacked Jamaica a little bit, but most other attacks were committed by Captain Morgan and his privateers. Further, Pardal was actually killed soon after the beginning of the way by one of Captain Morgan’s lieutenants and his ship was taken as a prize. Captain Morgan oversaw the sacking of many Spanish ports, not heeding a word about what Modyford had told him.
After some time at Isla Vaca, Captain Morgan had amassed a force of 1,500 men. He then convened a war council with his captains on the island to discuss the war. They all unanimously agreed that it was best for them to attack a large Spanish city. I’m not sure why they thought this, because they were the ones doing all of the attacking. They basically just decided, “We’re attacking the Spanish so much that they’ll likely attack us back, so we should attack them more but harder.” Now, you listeners will remember from our previous episode that Morgan had sent a challenge to the president of Panama. It seems that Morgan hadn’t forgotten his challenge, and his war cancelled decided that this would be the best city for the privateers to take.
Now, this attack on Panama was huge. It also didn’t just involve Panama. It involved so many further locations. So, I’ll try to tell the story of the attack and be a bit more brief.
If you were to look on a map, you would see that the landmass that is Panama (or the Isthmus of Panama) is on the south western part of the Carribean Sea. However, Panama City, the target of Captain Morgan’s attack, was not on the Caribbean side. It was on the Pacific side. Because of this, Captain Morgan and his fleet would need to sail down the Chagres River. This river was also guarded by the Chagres Castle. They would need to travel around 50 miles down the river to reach Panama City. This would also involve walking when they arrived closer to Panama City. Obviously, this was all a very intense task.
The first attack point for the force was the island of Providence, which was guarded by 300 Spaniards. These men surrendered the day after the siege on the island began. Morgan then sent 400 or 500 men to take Chagres Castle. Even this small force captured the castle quickly, although they lost about 150 men in the process. A week later Morgan joined his men and took around 1,200 of his men up the Chagres River. They travelled half the distance by boat but were then forced to march the other half. These men would have very likely been exhausted by this point. Likely in no shape to take a giant city like Panama.
Once they arrived outside the city, they were men by a Spanish force of about 2,500 men. Over double the number of men Morgan had in his command. A force that could easily have destroyed these buccaneers. The giant Spanish force raised their weapons, fired a single shot, then they all ran away. It’s said that Captain Morgan’s reputation was just too great and had caused these men to flee in sight of him.
After this odd occurrence, the pirates entered the city to find almost all of the buildings burning. It’d debated how these fires started. Some claim that the president of Panama had stated he would rather burn the city to the ground than let it be taken by pirates and so he had it lit before leaving the city. Less people claim it was Captain Morgan who started the fires. I’m not sure which I believe, but I’m inclined to lean towards the president starting the fires because Morgan would have wanted to pillage the entire town first and then ransom it off.
Either way, the pirates had taken the incredible city of Panama. However, when the men pillaged the town, the taking was said to have been very disappointing. The amounts are disputed, but it’s said that it was considerably low. Apparently, the citizens had taken the riches from the city weeks earlier before the pirates had arrived.
This was a pretty unfortunate failure, but even further to this on their journey back the fleet was decimated by storms. They also ran out of provisions. It’s claimed that 4/5ths of the force that had left from Jamaica were lost on the voyage. Nevertheless, upon his return, Captain Morgan was seen as a hero of the English people. They celebrated his attacks and saw him as a champion for Jamaica. However, not all of the British liked him at this point. I told you the listeners in the last episode to remember that letters of marque did not allow for attacks on land. Well, here’s why.
If you’ll remember, I mentioned a moment ago that Britain and Spain were in the middle of negotiating a treaty in the Caribbean. That’s they the British had told Modyford to tell Captain Morgan to cool it with the attacks on the Spanish. Instead of cooling it, he went absolutely berserk. However, the negotiations were successful and the treaty was signed, ending the war in the Caribbean. Which means that Morgan’s attack on Panama had occurred during a time of peace, thus, he had completely broken the law. Spain wanted revenge for the attack. But they didn’t ask for revenge against Captain Morgan, but instead against his boss: Modyford.
Modyford was taken prisoner by the British and sent to England to defend why he had not waited before giving Captain Morgan the power to attack the Spanish. He was held in the Tower of London as a prisoner for three years, then returned to Jamaica, because why not?
Captain Morgan was also called to England to defend his raids on the Spanish. However, he told the court that he was given the power to do the raids by Modyford, which was enough to allow him to go free. Further to that, while in the presence of King Charles II, for some reason the king took a liking to Morgan. So, even though he had ordered Captain Morgan’s arrest, he decided to knight him right then and there. Eventually, the king also requested some assistance with how to deal with a battle the country was currently facing. Morgan gave advice on how he would handle the issue, which apparently impressed the kind greatly. So, soon afterwards, Captain Morgan returned to Jamaica after he was made lieutenant-governor of the island and commander-in-chief of its forces.
In his later life, Captain Morgan left his privateering ways behind. Choosing instead to put most of his energy into politics and the building of Jamaica. He lived a relatively calm life in the aftermath of his brutal privateering ways. His work on the island brought it to its greatest point up to that moment in history. Morgan died quickly peacefully on the island he had made his home on 25 August 1688.
However, there is actually an unfortunate ending to this story. In an odd turn of events, four years after his death a terrible earthquake hit Port Royal. This earthquake reportedly caused two-thirds of the town to instantly fall into the harbour. This two-thirds of the town also, coincidentally, included the cemetery where Captain Morgan was buried. His body was lost to the sea, and never subsequently recovered, which I would say is quite unfortunate.
And that’s the story of Captain Henry Morgan!
By clicking subscribe, you agree to be contacted by Unfortunate History by email. We will only share your information with our email marketing platform Mailchimp. You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails.
By clicking subscribe, you agree to be contacted by Unfortunate History by email. We will only share your information with our email marketing platform Mailchimp. You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails.