Henry Morgan

Admiral Sir Henry Morgan (Hari Morgan in Welsh), (ca. 1635 – August 25, 1688) was a Welsh privateer, who made a name in the Caribbean as a leader of privateers. He was one of the most notorious and successful privateers from Wales, and one of the most dangerous pirates that lurked in the Spanish Main.

Early life

Henry Morgan was supposedly the oldest son of Robert Morgan, a squire of Llanrumney in Monmouthshire, however it has also been postulated that he was from Abergavenny in the same county, there being a record of an entry in the 'Bristol Apprentice Books' showing 'Servants to Foreign Plantations' : February 9th 1655; 'Henry Morgan of Abergavenny, Labourer, Bound to Timothy Tounsend of Bristol, Cutler, for three years, to serve in Barbadoes on the like Condiciouns' ; there is no record of Morgan himself before 1665. He said later that he left school early, and was "more used to the pike than the book." Exquemelin says that he was indentured in Barbados but he was forced to retract and subsequent editions were amended after Morgan sued the publishers for libel and was awarded £200 against the publishers ; Richard Browne, his surgeon at Panama, said that Morgan came to Jamaica in 1658, as a young man, and raised himself to "fame and fortune by his valour". Jamaica had been conquered by the English Commonwealth in May, 1655.

His uncle Edward Morgan was Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica after the Restoration of Charles II of England in 1660, and Henry Morgan married his uncle's daughter Mary. Therefore it is more likely that he was the "Captain Morgan" who joined the fleet of Christopher Myngs in 1663 and accompanied the expedition of John Morris and Jackman when the Spanish settlements at Vildemos (on the Tabasco river), Trujillo, (Honduras) and Granada (in Coahuila, Mexico) were taken.

In late 1665, Morgan commanded a ship in the old privateer Edward Mansfield's expedition sent by Sir Thomas Modyford, the governor of Jamaica, which seized the islands of Providence and Santa Catalina. When Mansfield was captured and killed by the Spanish shortly afterwards, Morgan was chosen by the privateers as their admiral.

Governor's commission, privateering career

In 1667, he was commissioned by Modyford to capture some Spanish prisoners in Cuba in order to discover details of the threatened attack on Jamaica. Collecting ten ships with five hundred men, Morgan landed on the island and captured and sacked Puerto Principe, then went on to take the fortified and well-garrisoned town of Portobelo, Panama.

The governor of Panama, astonished at this daring adventure, attempted in vain to drive out the invaders, and finally Morgan consented to evacuate the place on the payment of a large ransom. These exploits had considerably exceeded the terms of Morgan's commission and had been accompanied by frightful cruelties and excesses, but the governor of Jamaica endeavoured to cover the whole under the necessity of allowing the English a free hand to attack the Spanish whenever possible. In London the Admiralty publicly claimed ignorance about this, whilst Morgan and his crew returned to their base at Port Royal, Jamaica, to celebrate.

Modyford almost immediately entrusted Morgan with another expedition against the Spaniards, and he proceeded to ravage the coast of Cuba. Soon after, England sent Port Royal HMS Oxford (as a gift meant to protect Port Royal); Port Royal gave it to Morgan to help his career. On January 1669, HMS Oxford was blown up accidentally when the ammunitions depot was lit during a party, with Morgan and his officers narrowly escaping death. In March he sacked Maracaibo, Venezuela which had emptied out when his fleet was first spied, and afterwards spent a few weeks at the Venezuelan settlement of Gibraltar on Lake Maracaibo, torturing the wealthy residents to discover hidden treasure.

Returning to Maracaibo, Morgan found three Spanish ships, the Magdalena, the San Luis, and the Soledad, waiting at the inlet to the Caribbean; he destroyed the Magdalena, and captured the Soledad, while the San Luis's crew burned down their ship to stop the pirates from having it. Finally, by an ingenious stratagem, he faked a landward attack on the fort which convinced the governor to shift his cannon. In doing so, he eluded the enemy's guns altogether and escaped in safety. On his return to Jamaica he was again reproved, but not punished by Modyford.

The Spaniards for their part started to react and threaten Jamaica. A new commission was given to Morgan as commander-in-chief of all the ships of war in Jamaica, to levy war on the Spaniards and destroy their ships and stores - the booty gained in the expedition being the only pay. Thus Morgan and his crew were on this occasion privateers, not pirates. After ravaging the coasts of Cuba and the mainland, Morgan determined on an expedition to Panama.

He recaptured the island of Santa Catalina on December 15, 1670, and, on December 27, he gained possession of the fortress of San Lorenzo in the Caribbean coast of Panama, killing three hundred men of the garrison and leaving 23 alive. Then with one thousand four hundred men he ascended the Chagres River towards the Pacific coast and Panama City.

Burning of Panama and loss of English support

On January 18, 1671, Morgan discovered that Panama had roughly fifteen hundred infantry and cavalry. He split his forces in two, using one to march through the forest and flank the enemy. The Spaniards were untrained and rushed Morgan's line where he cut them down with gunfire, only to have his flankers emerge and finish off the rest of the Spanish soldiers. Although Panama was at the time the richest city in New Spain, Morgan and his men obtained far less plunder than they had expected. Much of the city's wealth had been removed onto a Spanish ship that then stood out into the Gulf of Panama, beyond the looters' reach. Most of the inhabitants' remaining goods were destroyed in a fire of unclear cause. Morgan's men tortured those residents of Panama they could catch, but very little gold was forthcoming from the victims. After Morgan's attack, the Panama city had to be rebuilt in a new site a few kilometres to the west (the current site). The former site is called Panama Viejo and still contains the remaining parts of the old Panama City.

Because the sack of Panama violated a peace treaty between England and Spain, Morgan was arrested and conducted to England in 1672. He proved he had no knowledge of the treaty. Instead of punishment, Morgan was knighted in 1674 before returning to Jamaica the following year to take up the post of Lieutenant Governor.

By 1681, then–acting governor Morgan had fallen out of favour with the English king, who was intent on weakening the semi-autonomous Jamaican Council, and was replaced by long-time political rival Thomas Lynch. He gained considerable weight and a reputation for rowdy drunkenness.


In 1683, Morgan was suspended from the Jamaican Council by the machinations of Governor Lynch. Also during this time, an account of Morgan's disreputable exploits was published by Alexandre Exquemelin, who once had been his confidante, probably as a barber-surgeon, in a Dutch volume entitled De Americaensche Zee-Roovers (History of the Buccaneers of America). Morgan took steps to discredit the book and successfully brought a libel suit against the book's publisher, securing a retraction and damages of two hundred English pounds (Campbell, 2003). The book nonetheless contributed much to Morgan's reputed fame as a bloodthirsty pirate over time.

When Thomas Lynch died in 1684, his friend Christopher Monck was appointed to the governorship and arranged the dismissal of Morgan's suspension from the Jamaican Council in 1688. Morgan's health had steadily declined since 1681. He was diagnosed with "dropsie", but may have contracted tuberculosis in London, and died August 25, 1688. It is also possible that he may have had liver failure due to his heavy drinking. He is buried in Palisadoes cemetery, which sank beneath the sea after the 1692 earthquake.

Morgan had lived in an opportune time for pirates. He was successfully able to use the conflicts between England and her enemies both to support England and to enrich himself and his crews. With his death, the pirates who would follow would also use this same ploy, but with less successful results. He was also one of the few pirates who were able to retire from his piracy, having had great success, and with little legal retribution.

Appearances in popular culture


  • The 1935 film Captain Blood, starring Errol Flynn, based on Sabatini's novel (see below), is loosely based on Morgan's life. This film was Flynn's star-making role.
  • The 1942 film, The Black Swan, based on the novel of the same name by Rafael Sabatini, contains a fictionalized account of Henry Morgan after becoming the governor of Jamaica. Morgan is portrayed by Laird Cregar in the film.
  • In the 1961 British puppet TV series, Supercar, in the episode, "Pirate Plunder", a fictional descendant of Henry Morgan continued his ancestor's notorious legacy in a modern seaship called the Cuttlefish, which houses a machine gun and homing torpedoes.
  • The pirate code from the movie trilogy Pirates of the Caribbean was said to be created by the pirates Morgan and Bartholomew. "Morgan" clearly refers to Henry Morgan. However, Morgan's actual articles as reported by Exquemelin bear not the slightest resemblance to this code.
  • In 2006, The History Channel premiered the documentary True Caribbean Pirates, which retells the known facts of Henry Morgan's life and death through re-enactments. The Morgan segment takes place in the first half hour of this two hour special that highlights the true exploits of the most famous pirates from the golden age of piracy. Morgan is portrayed by Lance J. Holt.
  • The 1961 film Morgan the Pirate, starring Steve Reeves, gives the account of how he became a pirate and was then courted by the British to work for them.
  • In another 1961 film, Pirates of Tortuga, Robert Stephens portrays Morgan as having set up an independent pirate kingdom on Tortuga instead of answering Charles II's summons to England.


  • John Steinbeck's first novel, Cup of Gold, written in 1926, is about Henry Morgan's life. It is a historical fiction with Henry Morgan as the main character.
  • In the third episode of Book 1 of Nicholas Monsarrat's The Master Mariner, anti-hero Matthew Lawe sails with Morgan as Mate.
  • Captain Blood, a novel about piracy by Rafael Sabatini, features a character, Peter Blood, whose adventures are reportedly based on the piratical exploits of Henry Morgan. Blood's attack on Maracaibo duplicates Morgan's in all essentials.
  • In the manga/anime One Piece, there is a villain called Axe-Hand Morgan, who Eiichiro Oda admitted was based on a real-life pirate. Although Axe-Hand Morgan was never a pirate and was originally a Captain from the Navy, now that he is an outlaw he may become a pirate.
  • F. van Wyck Mason's 1949 novel "Cutlass Empire" romanticizes Morgan's life, loves and battles.
  • Josephine Tey's 1952 novel The Privateer dramatizes Morgan's life.
  • Ian Fleming's 1954 novel Live and Let Die centres round events which follow from the discovery of treasure hidden by Morgan.
  • Kerry Newcomb's swashbuckler Mad Morgan, written in 2000, is based on Morgan's life and times.
  • Kage Baker's short novel "The Maid on the Shore," published in the short story collection Dark Mondays, features Henry Morgan during his expedition to Panama.
  • Berton Braley's 1934 poem:

This is the ballad of Henry Morgan / Who troubled the sleep of the King of Spain / With a frowsy, blowsy, lousy pack / Of the water rats of the Spanish Main, / Rakes and rogues and mad rapscallions / Broken gentlemen, tattermedallions / Scum and scourge of the hemisphere, / Who looted the loot of the stately galleons, / Led by Morgan, the Buccaneer.

  • Albert Marrin's explanatory history for children, Terror of the Spanish Main 1999. ISBN 0-525-45942-1
  • Dudley Pope's Harry Morgan's Way: The Biography of Sir Henry Morgan combines firsthand sailor's knowledge of the Caribbean and use of primary documents; noted in the bibliography of James Stuart Olson and Robert Shadle Historical Dictionary of the British Empire 1996
  • Stephan Talty's Empire of Blue Water, written in 2007, is a biography of Morgan and partial history of the conflict between the buccaneers and the Spanish Empire.
  • James A. Michener's novel Caribbean, written in 1989, portrays Henry Morgan in the chapter entitled Buccaneers.


  • Peter Tosh mentions "The pirate Morgan" in his songs "Can't Blame The Youth" and "Here Comes The Judge"
  • Jimmy Cliff mentioned "Henry Morgan" in his song "Oh, Jamaica"
  • Capleton references "Henry Morgan" in his song "Raggy Road"
  • Bankie Banx mentions "Sir Morgan" in his song, "Big Chief"
  • Amadan, an Oregon-based Irish music band, told of the night of Sir Henry Morgan's death in a song titled "August 24th, 1688" on their album "Hell-Bent 4 Victory."
  • Celtic rock band Tempest immortalized Henry Morgan in their song "Captain Morgan" which is featured on their albums Bootleg, The 10th Anniversary Compilation and 15th Anniversary Collection.
  • The song "Kingston Market" by Harry Belafonte contains the line Have you seen the ghost of Morgan?
  • The song "El Capitan" on OPM's album Menace to Sobriety mentions Captain Morgan
  • The album Good 'N' Cheap by Eggs Over Easy featured a song titled "Henry Morgan" written and performed by Brien Bohn Hopkins and inspired by the novel Cup of Gold by John Steinbeck.
  • The Mighty Diamonds recorded a song named "Morgan the Pirate"
  • Scottish heavy metal band Alestorm named their first album Captain Morgan's Revenge and there is a track on that album with the same name.
  • Peter Warlock's amusing and memorable song 'Captain Straton's Fancy' describes the love of rum attributed to 'the old bold mate of Henry Morgan.'

Other products

  • Sir Henry is immortalised now by Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum, though it is produced in both Puerto Rico and Jamaica, and he is also preserved as a World Stars action figure.
  • In the video game Sid Meier's Pirates!, Henry Morgan is the most notorious pirate with whom the player competes.
  • Morgan's Revenge is the name of a popular game of chance manufactured in the USA by Channel Craft based on Sir Henry Morgan's travels and exploits.
  • The Hotel Henry Morgan, located in Roatan, the largest of Honduras' Bay Islands, and the Port Morgan resort located in Haiti; on the offshore island of Ile a Vache both bear the name of the notorious pirate.
  • The pirate-themed television show Survivor: Pearl Islands featured teams named Morgan and Drake (the latter after Sir Francis Drake).


  • Campbell, Russ. "Sir Henry Morgan". 2003.

External links


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