Sir Henry Morgan

Ch. 11: Henry Morgan
London, England

Our Story:

Already hailed throughout the Caribbean as king of the buccaneers, privateer Henry Morgan finds himself on a ship borne for London, where he is to account for his ruthless exploits before King Charles II himself. Convinced he faces execution in the Tower, Morgan pays a final visit to his Welsh home, bearing a fortune in small stones that are easily hidden, but not so easily found.

The Real Story Behind Henry Morgan

Known as the King Buccaneer of the Caribbean, the hard-drinking Sir Henry Morgan of Wales considered himself to be a privateer, hired by the English governor of Jamaica, rather than an outright pirate — but the line was thin, and he gained a reputation for brutality that would put many notorious pirates to shame. In his twenties, Morgan traveled to the West Indies and rose quickly through the naval ranks, first taking command of a ship in 1661 and becoming vice-admiral of the privateer fleet in 1665. With letters of marque from Jamaican Governor Modyford, who was selective in his observance of the commands of King Charles II, Morgan made raids along the Mexican coast and controversially took the Spanish settlement on the island of Providence.

Modyford rewarded Morgan with a commission to quash any Spanish retaliation against Jamaica, against the wishes of the Crown. Morgan first tried to get information from some Cuban Spaniards, but the settlement of Puerto Principe had been warned of his arrival, and he found little booty to make the expedition worth his while. So he turned the fleet toward the mainland and spectacularly outmaneuvered Spanish forces at both Porto Bello, Panama, and Maracaibo, Venezuela, taking huge sums from the first and three large warships from the second. He was said to have tortured wealthy captives from all the Spanish settlements to learn the whereabouts of even more hidden riches, and he was able to return to Port Royal a rich man.

By then Jamaica had so roiled the Spanish settlements of the Caribbean that Modyford was able to continue to look the other way as Morgan prepared to take the richest prize of New Spain: Panama City. Once again, Morgan outflanked the Spanish guard and entered the city, only to find that most of its gold had already sailed out — and, unfortunately for Morgan, even torturing the residents didn’t produce much more booty. A fire consumed the rest of the old city, and Morgan returned to Port Royal, to find that the king had replaced the disobedient Modyford with a new governor.

Admiral Morgan, no longer under the protection of his old patron, was arrested and sent to England in 1672 so that he could account for his activities. He appears to have proved to the king’s satisfaction that he was not aware that his commissions had been illegal, and instead of suffering punishment, Morgan was knighted and returned to Jamaica as its lieutenant governor two years later. By 1681, however, the Crown had decided to remove Morgan from his post. His health began to decline; the new administration of Jamaica eventually forced him from his position in the Jamaican Council; and in 1688, he died of “dropsie,” tuberculosis, or perhaps liver disease from years of imbibing.

Sir Henry Morgan was a rare breed: a privateer who successfully avoided any penalties for piracy and who managed to retire, however briefly, in peace and with his fortune fairly intact. While there is no direct evidence that he hid any of the vast treasure that he took from cities like Porto Bello and Panama, he certainly would have had the means, motive, and opportunity to stash away his own retirement fund.

The Chapters: 12 Lost Treasures

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