Sir Henry Morgan

(c. 1635—1688) privateer and colonial governor

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Welsh privateer whose early life was obscure until he emerged as the leader of a band of buccaneers at Jamaica in 1662. In 1671 he captured Porto Bello and Panama, after leading a band of buccaneers, which included Bartholomew Sharp, in the first land crossing of the Isthmus of Panama in force. From Morgan's point of view he was acting legitimately, as he had been given a commission to act as a privateer by the governor of Jamaica. However, as the commission antedated the 1670 peace treaty with Spain, the governor's action was illegal and, in an attempt to placate the Spaniards, both he and Morgan were arrested, and returned to England. But neither was punished and, with war against Spain threatening once more, Morgan was knighted by King Charles II and sent out to Jamaica as deputy governor. In this capacity he proved a scourge to the buccaneers and an embarrassment to successive governors of the island. He died a rich landowner at Lawrencefield, Jamaica.

Morgan's character has been traduced ever since the publication of The Bucaniers of America, though Morgan won a libel action against its printers. The book, first printed in Dutch in 1678, was written by a French surgeon, John Esquemeling (c.1660–1700), who served with the buccaneers from 1666 to 1674. It was then translated into many languages, but the English version, which first appeared in 1684, was taken from the Spanish version, which accounts for the libellous account of Morgan. He was, in fact, a fine leader of men, no more cruel or rapacious than others, and a good tactician.

Earle, P., The Sack of Panama (1981).

Subjects: Maritime History.

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