The True & Complete Memoirs of the Pyrate Captain Extraordinaire!
The Illustrious Captain, John ‘Bartholomew’ Roberts
The Most Successful Pyrate of ALL Time!
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born 1635---died 1688
A Welshman born, some say near Newport, Gwent & others say Llanrhymmy in Monmouthshire. The son of a gentleman farmer, Robert Morgan. Henry was an energetic youth, ambitious & high-spirited. The quiet country lifestyle of his younger years held no excitement for him. He yearned for adventure, fame & fortune. He took to seafaring at an early age. His journey began when he went to Bristol, then the chief western port of England. He worked in the sugar plantations for seven years, learning the 'artful ways of the pirates' which frequented the islands. In 1662 Henry had enough of cutting cane & listening to other men's adventures & set out for Jamaica, which became his home for life. He signed aboard a ship which set sail with a mixed crew of seasoned & novice sailing men on May 3rd, 1655, bound for the West Indies. Morgan served his apprenticeship with Sir Christopher Myngs, an intrepid seaman who had commanded a ship during the invasion of Jamaica. Mings ravaged the Spanish Main & in an incredible stroke of good fortune stumbled upon a store of Spanish silver containing 1.5 million pieces of eight, an astronomical sum. (The first document that mentions Morgan by name refers to Captain Henry Morgan as commander of one of ten ships sailing under letters of marque in Mings's admiralty). Henry Morgan immediately made himself a name as a swashbuckler. He and his cohorts were so successful that Morgan's share of the booty bought him a ship of his own.
At the age of 29 he was captain of his own vessel. Morgan & his crew of privateers continued to harry the Spaniards on the mainland of America. Once, the governor of Jamaica sent him word that the Spanish were attacking British ships off Cuba.
Still laden with plunder from his last venture in the Americas, Morgan set sail immediately to wreak revenge. Morgan's courage, ability & reputation won him a promotion from the governor, who made him admiral of the Jamaican fleet, with ten ships & five hundred men under his command.
Returning to Jamaica, Morgan entered into partnership with the buccancers Jackman & Morris, successfully plundered the coast of present day Central America, & returned once more a wealthy and highly regarded man. While he was away his uncle, Edward Morgan, had been named lieutenant governor of Jamaica, a post Henry Morgan later held. In the spring of 1665 Edward Morgan assumed command of an attack on the Dutch island of St. Eustatius. The exertion proved too much for him he died of 'surfeit' (obesity) while pursuing the enemy. Henry asked for the hand of his late uncle's daughter, Mary Elizabeth, and was married the following year. Morgan now found himself in a uniquely favorable position. Married to one of the belles of island society & on friendly terms with the government, he was at the same time well-known and respected by the buccaneers who frequented the West Indies in search of booty.
In 1668, at 33 years of age, Morgan was commissioned by the Jamaican government to gather together a force of privateers. Spain & England were again at war, & Morgan was made admiral of the fleet. His first sortie was an attack on the Cuban city of Puerto Principe. Unfortunately, the Spanish got wind of his plans & managed to hide most of their treasure. The attack netted him the negligible sum of 50,000 pieces of eight. His next move proved more rewarding. He sailed for Portobelo, a collection point for Spanish treasure on the Caribbean coast of Panama. With a combination of guile and courage he & his men took the city and spent 31 days in unrestrained looting. Warned by the local Indians, who hated the Spaniards, he was able to set an ambush for an expeditionary force that was sent overland to retake the town. He then set sail for the Spanish mainland. After plundering his enemy's richest cities he left for open water with the Spanish in hot pursuit. Morgan turned to fight. In a fierce & bloody battle which nearly destroyed the Spanish fleet. During this expedition Morgan lost only 18 of his crew. The total count of the treasure, from the Spanish, was 250 million pieces of gold and silver coin, quantities of jewels, casks of ale & rum, precious spices, silks and velvets, weapons & ammunition, gun powder, cutlasses & daggers (enough for an army), together with a large number of slaves.
He returned to Jamaica with spoils valued at more than 1,000,000 and was met with general rejoicing. Although Morgan was becoming rich, his buccaneer companions were not faring nearly so well & at their urging he put to sea again with a motley fleet of twelve vessels. His flagship was a handsome frigate called the Oxford. One evening when Morgan was hosting a banquet for all the captains in his fleet when a sudden explosion gutted the ship. Practically the entire crew was killed. But Morgan (who always had the devils own luck) along with a few of his dinner guests survived. Apparently unruffled by his close escape from death, Morgan seized a fine ship, the Cour Volant, from a French pirate, which he made his own flagship, and christened the Satisfaction. He then set off to raid the port of Maracaibo on the Gulf of Venezuela. Unknown to him, the Spanish had recently fortified the area. Once again his ability to rethink his strategy according to conditions at hand served him well. He attacked by land, took the fort, & over the next two months succeeded in divesting the inhabitants of almost 50,000 worth of silver and jewels. But now the Spanish fleet was out to get him. Three warships lay at the mouth of the only passage out of the gulf. Decisively out-gunned, Morgan sent a ship right at the Spanish flagship, the Magdalen. The admiral, confident in his superiority, let it approach & prepared to board it, when it exploded. The flames spread quickly to the Magdalen & Morgan made his way into the channel & from there to a triumphant return to Jamaica.
A vengeful Spaniard, Capitan Pardal, (to his own demise) did not fear Morgan. Pardal was determined to have the opportunity to cross swords with Henry Morgan. In a successful effort to goad Morgan into a fight, Pardal made a clumsy raid on the coast of Jamaica, set fire to a small village & destroyed the crops. He left the following challenge nailed to a tree near the ruins of the village meeting hall, which said: "I, Capitan Manuel Pardal, to the Chief of the Privateers in Jamaica. I come to seek General Henry Morgan, with two ships and twenty-one guns. When he has seen this Challenge, I beg that he will come out and seek me, that he may see the Valour of the Spaniards". Morgan saw the note and immediately set sail to hunt down the vain Spaniard. When Morgan found him he chased Pardal ashore on the eastern coast of Cuba. With only a handfull of men & a few muskets they set off in hot pursuit. With the first volley from Morgan's sharpshooters, the Spaniards retreated in terror. Pardal was shot through the neck & killed with a musket ball from Morgan's own pistol.
When Morgan returned to port he was, again, was rewarded for his courage & was now in command of the largest fleet ever to set sail from Jamaica, which consisted of thirty five ships & two thousand men. With such a large force behind him, Morgan vowed to destroy, the power of the Spanish in the West Indies, once & for all. He sailed for Panama, the largest & richest town in the Spanish American colonies. Unknown to Morgan, however, negotiations in London had resulted in peace between Britain and Spain. Urgent orders were dispatched to Jamaica, instructing Morgan not to attack the Spanish colonies. Morgan chose to ignore these orders when they arrived, & carried on with his plan of attack. His first action in the raid was to land a party to take the Castle of San Lorenzo at the mouth of the Chagres River. Morgan left about twenty-five percent of his men behind to hold the castle as he & the rest of his crew, on January 9, 1671, pushed on up the river with 1,400 men in a fleet of canoes. He reached the mainland & marched covertly across the Isthmus of Panama, upriver towards the city. Days & nights of trudging through swamps & vine choked forests exhausted his men. The journey across the isthmus, through the tropical jungle, was very hard. Expecting to find provisions to supply their needs along the way, had carried no food with them. They trapped every dog, cat & mule they could find & ate them raw. They practically starved until the sixth day, when they stumbled across a barn full of maize that the fleeing Spanish had neglected to destroy. Towards the end of their march they ate their leather powder satchels to stave off the pangs of hunger. At one point they came across a stash of wine casks, but Morgan was suspicious & refused to allow even a drop to be tasted in fear it had been poisoned by the Spanish & left as a trap. The men grumbled & swore oaths of protest, but they went doggedly on. Half the party died through disease & starvation. On January 18, 1671, on the evening of the ninth day a scout reported seeing the steeple of a church in Panama. The crew, foot-sore & near exhaustion, wanted rest before engaging the enemy but Morgan insisted they go forward, attacking an enemy 10 times their size. Morgan with his cunning shrewness, that so often brought him success, attacked the city from a direction the Spanish had not thought possible, consequently the placement of their guns was useless. They were compelled to do just what the buccaneer leader wanted them to do, namely, to come out of their fortifications & fight him in the open. The battle raged fiercely for two hours between the brave Spanish defenders & the equally brave but nearly exhausted buccaneers. When at last the Spanish fled. The buccaneers were too tired to immediately follow up their success. But after a brief rest they advanced, & at the end of three hours of street fighting the city was theirs.
The first thing Morgan now did was to assemble all his men & forbid them to drink any wine, telling them he had secret information that the wine had been poisoned by the Spanish before they fled the city. This was, of course, a scheme of Morgan's to stop his men from becoming sloshed & being at the mercy of the enemy should they return to attempt to retake the city. Morgan & his crew set about plundering the city, a large part of which was burnt to the ground, though whether this was done on his orders or by the fleeing Spanish governor has never been established. After three weeks the buccaneers started back on their journey to San Lorenzo, with a troop of 150-200 pack mules laden with gold, silver & goods of all sorts, together with a large number of prisoners. The rear guard of the march was under the command of a relative of the admiral, Colonel Bledry Morgan. On their arrival at Chagres the spoils were divided, amidst a great deal of fighting, & in March 1671, Morgan sailed for Port Royal, Jamaica, with a few friends & the greater part of the plunder, leaving his followers behind without ships or provisions, & with only Rio per person as their share of the spoils.
On May 31, 1671, the Jamaican legislature passed a vote of thanks to Morgan for his successful expedition, & this in spite of the fact that in July of the preceding year a treaty had been concluded at Madrid between Spain & England for ‘restraining depredations & establishing peace’ in the New World. The political winds were changing & with them Morgan's fortunes. His friend, the governor, was removed from power. In order to appease the Spanish court, Morgan was placed under arrest. In April 1672 Morgan was taken to England as a prisoner on board the frigate Welcome. But because of his enormous popularity he was never incarcerated or convicted. In fact, he passed much of his time in London consulting with high government officials. In 1674 he was knighted by Charles II & returned to Jamaica, this time as lieutenant governor. Morgan was a man of action and a ‘normal’ life ashore proved tiresome to him. In 1674 a report sent home by the governor, Lord Vaughan, stated that Morgan ‘frequented the taverns of Port Royal, drinking & gambling in unseemly fashion.’ But nevertheless the Jamaica assembly voted the lieutenant governor a sum of 600oe, as a special salary, hardly a sign of disfavor. In 1676 Vaughan brought definite charges against Morgan & another member of the government, Robert Byndloss, for giving aid to certain Jamaican pirates. Morgan made a spirited defense & no doubt owing largely to his popularity, got off & in 1678 was granted a commission as captain of a company of 100 men. The governor who succeeded Vaughan was Lord Carlisle. Carlisle seems to have had a soft spot for Morgan, in spite of his jovial ‘goings on’ with his old buccaneer friends in the taverns of Port Royal. Carlisle speaks in his letters of Morgan's ‘generous manner,’ & hints that despite whatever allowances are settled on him ‘he will be a beggar.’ In 1681 Sir Thomas Lynch was appointed governor & trouble at once began between him & his deputy. Among the charges the former brought against Morgan was one of having been overheard to say, ‘God damn the Assembly!’ for which he was suspended from that body. In April 1688 the king, at the urgent request of the Duke of Albemarle, ordered Morgan to be reinstated to the Assembly, but Morgan did not live long to enjoy his restored honors. On August 25, 1688, at about noon Sir Henry Morgan died of Alcoholism.
An extract from the journal of Captain Lawrence Wright, commander of H.M.S. Assistance, dated August 1688, describes the burial ceremonies for Morgan held at Port Royal that show how important & popular a man he was. It states: "Saturday 25. This day at about noon Sir Henry Morgan died, & the 26th was brought over from Passage fort to the King's house at Port Royal, from thence to the Church, & after a sermon was carried to the Pallisades & there buried. All the forts fired an equal number of guns, wee fired two & twenty & after wee & the Drake had fired, all the merchantmen had fired. Morgan's will, which was filed in the Record Office at Spanish Town, apparently made provisions for his wife and near relatives. He was given a hero's burial".
The most thorough and colorful contemporary account of piracy, "The Buccaneers of America", was written by Henri Esquemelin, who sailed with Morgan as a surgeon. The book deals at great length with Morgan's exploits & was originally written in Dutch, which was an immediate success was translated into English it went through numerous editions. The portrait of Morgan that emerges from the book is, that of a man of terrific energy & one possessed of great powers of persuasion. Esquemelin's depiction of Morgan's cruelty was probably exaggerated, though there is no doubt that he could be absolutely unscrupulous when it suited his ends. Morgan actually sued William Crooke, the English publisher of the book, for libel. He made it clear, however, that he was more offended by the author's claiming that he had been kidnapped in Wales & sold, as a boy, into slavery, & sent to Barbados, than by any allegations of barbarism. As as result of this trial Crooke paid 200 francs for damages to Morgan and published a long & groveling apology. Later editions of the book tone down the general character of the pirate. Clearly Morgan saw himself as a patriot, out to defend the English Crown against the depredations of its most deadly enemy, Spain. He sailed as a privateer. But his behavior was, at times indistinguishable from that of the most mercenary pirate. For example, when returning from his successful assault on the city of Panama in 1671, he left most of his faithful followers behind in Chagres, without ships or food, while he slipped off in the night with most of the booty to Jamaica.
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