Captain Henry Morgan & The Atlantic World

Detailing the research into the illustrious career of one of the most notorious figures of the Early Modern world

Month: February, 2014

Henry Morgan: A Self-Made Legend?

This week was one where I truly feel like I made some significant gains in this research project, and I feel as though I may have peeled back another layer of the mystery of Captain Morgan.  Aside from applying to the Chicago Area Undergraduate Research Symposium this week, with the very distinct potential of presenting my research to a room full of people, I also received the incredible surprise that I will be traveling to London for Spring Break! Time has already been set aside for trips to both the British Library and the UK National Archives, where I may finally get my hands on some of these incredible manuscripts I have only read about.


(I distinctly hope that I might find manuscripts with similarly colorful bindings like An Essay of Barbadoes fond at the Newberry Library.)

I found some incredible references in the Calendars of State Papers Colonial, America, and West Indies that span much of Morgan’s career from 1663 to 1681.  In March of 1666, Henry Morgan gave a testimony before Governor of Jamaica, Thomas Modyford, regarding his expedition to the Bay of Mexico in January of that year. This account also references two other men involved in the leadership on the expedition, Captain John Morris and Captain Jackman.  Captain John Morris was the son of a famed buccaneer in the West Indies during the 1660’s and 1670’s, operating in the same expeditions as Henry Morgan.  Even more revealing, John Morris, Sr. served under Admiral Christopher Myngs in his campaigns against the Spanish in the West Indies.


Admiral Christopher Myngs Painted by Sir Peter Lely in the Flagmen of Lowestoft Collection at the National Maritime Museum in London (another stop on the trip to London!)

Henry Morgan enlisted the aid of a group of Mosquito Indians in the Bay of Mexico; they inhabited Porto Bello, along with other groups of inhabitants that were seen as enemies of Spain, as their cruelty against minorities led groups like the Indians to rebel against the Spanish.  In later years of the Golden Age of Piracy, Captain Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy of the ship Whydah would enlist a man named John Julian, part Mosquito Indian, to be the pilot of his crew.  This example emphasizes the importance of the cosmopolitan crews of Golden Age pirates, an idea that began even in the mid-17th century, with two seemingly opposing groups uniting against a common enemy in the Spanish.

In July of 1670, Governor Thomas Modyford gave Admiral Henry Morgan an official grant as commander-in-chief for the protection of Jamaica in charge of ships, soldiers, and seaman.  He was also granted the duty of creating a fleet to be, “well manned, armed, and victualled, and by the first opportunity to put to sea for defence of this island, and to use his best endeavour to surprise, take, sink, disperse or destroy the enemy’s vessels “(CSPWI Volume 7: 1669-1674). Henry Morgan was to be the last and superior authority to his men, second only to King Charles II.  In his instructions to Morgan, Governor Modyford also gave Morgan power to make any discretionary decisions not expressly outlined in his letters.  With such an incredible wealth of power and responsibility, it seems only likely that Morgan used this to his advantage, like so many other men close to ordained power had done before him.  The most interesting instruction of Modyford was to inquire as to how English prisoners had been treated by Spanish, emphasizing that the English must endeavor to do better in their treatment of the Spanish if Morgan happened upon any prisoners;  Henry Morgan was to be the example of a gentleman of the British Empire, exceeding the Spanish “in civility and humanity, endeavouring to make all people sensible of his moderation and good nature and his inaptitude and loathness to spill the blood of man” (CSPWI Volume 7: 1669-1674).  This instruction relates to the goal of Philip Ayres in his work The Adventures of Capt. Barth. Sharp and Others in the South Sea, in which he sought to reduce the slander against Henry Morgan and express the true gentle and trustworthy nature of Henry Morgan.  Yet, it seems unlikely to me, and hopefully any other reader interested in piracy, that any pirate, sanctioned or not, would be kind and generous to those that approached him with a sword.

A later account from April 1681 leads us to a Henry Morgan that had fallen out of favor with King Charles II and the government in London.  Henry Morgan’s loyalties had been ambiguous throughout his career, and as the monarchy began to see piracy as a threat rather than an asset, Morgan fell on the losing side of that battle.  Those in power viewed him as bipartisan, helping either the Empire or pirates when it benefitted him.  Yet, in his plea to Sir Leoline Jenkins, Secretary of State for the Southern Department, Morgan claims that he had always sought to discourage piracy in the West Indies, as the King viewed it as a threat.  The Southern Department, in which Sir Jenkins was an essential member, was responsible for Southern England, Wales, Ireland, and the American colonies.  It is in this letter of Henry Morgan’s that we see the true man come forth; Morgan was a self-made man, spinning whatever story he could to make himself seem favorable, and therefore personally benefit, to the ideas and people in power.  Morgan writes that the slanderous claims made against him by men like Francis Mingham and the Earl of Carlisle, Charles Howard, were done merely to make themselves seem more favorable to King Charles II as Morgan fell from grace.  Morgan writes that he had always obliged the king in his dislike of privateers, even receiving “thanks from several Spanish Governors in the Main for exerting so much care and vigilance in the suppression of privateers” (CSPWI Volume 11).

Henry Morgan is like so many other men of his period who sought an opportunity to gain power and influence in society.  That opportunity came in the form of the expansion to the West Indies that came at great cost to the Spanish Empire.  It seems understandable that those men like Morgan, who experienced the Spanish daily in the West Indies, would find the transition to a delicate peace with Spain confusing and difficult to understand. It also seems understandable that Henry Morgan would continue to do whatever was beneficial for his ultimate concerns of wealth and power.


The Enigma of the Captain

Henry Morgan, as I expected, is proving to be quite the mysterious figure.  I headed to the Newberry Library this past week to obtain a reader’s card, and I found quite a few incredible manuscripts along the way, one of which told an entirely different tale of Morgan than those I had heard before.  


I was pleasantly surprised to be able to find an original copy of a book at the Newberry I had only seen on the internet archives; The Adventures of Capt. Barth. Sharp and Others in the South Sea by Philip Ayres, published in 1684. Philip Ayres was a successful author of many books and pamphlets in the late 17th century, eventually writing his own history of English privateers in response to Alexandre Exquemelin’s The History of the Buccaneers of America.  Ayres claims much of the story had been falsified by the Dutch author for his own benefit.  This is truly where the task of extracting truth from fiction becomes especially difficult, as there are two completely opposing contemporary views of the same story of Henry Morgan.  Alexandre Exquemelin accounts Morgan as being the son of a wealthy Welsh yeoman, who sought passage to Barbados when he was a boy by selling himself into indentured servitude, as he was completely uninterested in continuing the family’s business in Wales; “Morgan, when young, had no inclination to the calling of his father, and therefore left his country, and came towards the sea-coasts to seek some other employment more suitable to his aspiring humor” (Exquemelin, A.O. The History of the Buccaneers of America. (Boston: Benjamin B. Mussey & Co., 1853). p. 99).  

Ayres, however, has quite a different view of how Morgan’s passage to the West Indies transpired, writing instead that, “It is sufficiently known he was descended of an honourable Family in Monmouthshire, and went at first out of England with the Army commanded by General Venables for Hispaniola and Jamaica” (Ayres, Philip. The Adventures of Capt. Barth. Sharp and Others in the South Sea. (London: Printed by B.W. for R.H. and S.T. and are to be sold by Walter Davis, 1684). Preface).  Perhaps this is where Dudley Pope’s Harry Morgan’s Way sought its foundation for the recounting of Morgan’s naval career.  Ayres’ history of privateers in the West Indies is a response to the supposedly falsified claims of Exquemelin, who  stereotyped Henry Morgan and his crew to be thieves and murders in the eyes of readers.  Ayres writes his account in an attempt to counteract the defamatory claims of Exquemelin, “All those cruelties, contrary to the nature and temper of an Englishman, I have heard absolutely contradicted by persons of infallible credit; and any may be convinced of the foulness of the Scandal thrown on this Excellent Man” (Ayres, Preface). He claims that since Morgan was under the commission of Sir Thomas Modyford, he shouldn’t even be considered a pirate or a buccaneer, even if he violated the peace with Spain.  Instead, Ayres believes that Exquemelin dramatically depicted Morgan as a ruthless murderer to make himself remembered in history as the foremost historian on buccaneers in the West Indies.   Philip Ayres has an incredible amount of respect for Henry Morgan, writing that “Perchance never Man behaved himself with more true valour and resolution of mind to accomplish what he had undertaken” than the Captain (Ayres, Preface).  

By making men like Morgan resemble barbarians, Exquemelin portrays all the English in the West Indies as villains, leaving that stained reputation in the respected histories of the early modern period. What’s important to remember of this time period, however, is the wars England was involved in.  At the time Exquemelin’s account was written, the Dutch authors native homeland was the enemy of England both at home and abroad.  At the time of Morgan’s raid on Panama in 1671, the second Anglo-Dutch War had recently ended, and the third was about to begin.  Whether or not Exquemelin’s claims were true, Ayres expresses a distinct distaste for the man and his opinions.  Exquemelin’s history created much discord between himself and Henry Morgan, who had reportedly been close confidantes; records show that Exquemelin served as Morgan’s barber-surgeon in the early 1670’s.  

A significantly interesting aspect of Ayres’ history shows Henry Morgan’s connection to English merchants in the West Indies; this connects to last week’s blog post concerning the power merchants like Martin Noell and Thomas Povey gained in their time.  These merchants seem to support the good-natured character of Henry Morgan that Philip Ayres so dutifully attempts to portray; “The English Merchants of Cadiz… affirm that those very persons confessed, Sir Henry Morgan was so far from doing any such base Actions, That they highly applauded his Generosity, and the Care he took, That none of those severe things should be practised by his Men” (Ayres, Preface).  Morgan’s historic capture of the City of Panama was incredibly important for the English merchants to maintain control of the port, and therefore continue to undermine the Spanish and profit at their downfall.  The City of Panama was “the greatest Mart for Silver and Gold in the whole World: for it receives all the goods and Merchandise coming from Old Spain, in the Kings great Fleet” (Ayres, 142).  It seems, therefore, that it was well in the merchant populations interest to maintain a good relationship with Henry Morgan, the man who would secure one of the wealthiest ports in the West Indies. 


While the truth to either of these tales continues to be ambiguous, the challenge continues seeing as one cannot simply ask the author what is true and what is false.  That is where the job of the historian reveals itself, and perhaps digging further into the archives of the Newberry will reveal some further truths. 



Martin Noell & Thomas Povey: More than Mere Merchants

In the early modern period, wealth was a means to political power, and the accruement of greater levels of wealth was a goal which all men aspiring to political greatness sought. Powerful merchants like Martin Noell and Thomas Povey serve as models of the countless numbers of men who took advantage of, or attempted to take advantage of, the growing world of trade in the West Indies in the mid-17th century.  Per the suggestion of Dr. Donoghue, I spent this past week delving into the lives of Noell and Povey in an attempt to create a foundational understanding of the world of trade and English interests Henry Morgan sought to protect early in his career.  I found two very compelling sources pertaining to these distinguished men, both interpreting Martin Noell and Thomas Povey as men who successfully (success measured in monetary and political terms) transitioned from the Interregnum period to the Restoration of Charles II.  The first of these sources is a compilation, Papers Relating to the English Colonies in America and the West Indies, 1627-1699, in the British Library (Egerton Mss 2395).  Edited by Professor Kenneth Morgan at Brunel University, this source is taken from Thomas Povey’s own collection of sources relating to his involvement in the West Indies and the creation of the Royal African Company.  British Committees, Commissions, and Councils of Trade and Plantations 1622-1675 by Charles M. Andrews serves as a history of all the aforementioned organizations created and operated in the 17th century; Martin Noell and Thomas Povey were members of many of these groups, including the Company of Royal Adventurers created by Charles II, which later became the Royal African Company.  



Guinea of the Royal African Company, prominently displaying the visage of of James II.  The coin also depicts the logo of the Royal African Company, the elephant and castle. 


Martin Noell was an incredibly important figure in both English trade and politics in the mid-17th century; his merchant vessels were used during wars with the Dutch and Spanish under orders of English Letters of Marque.  In 1655, Noell acquired 20,000 acres of land in Jamaica, later serving on both the Trade Committee and Committee for Jamaica.  After enjoying the favor of Cromwell during the Interregnum period, Noell was able to successfully transition to the Restoration and gain the favor of King Charles II; he was knighted for his service to the crown in 1662. The success of Thomas Povey’s career was largely supported by the influence of Martin Noell, an already powerful figure in the English government, as shown by Povey’s appointment to the Committee for Jamaica.  Povey and Noell’s individual reputations as wealthy and powerful merchants transferred to give them a great deal of prestige in London society; their influence on the creation of mercantile policy in the West Indies and American colonies is essential to understanding the connection between London and places like Jamaica, which seemed so far outside England’s direct sphere of influence.  Their job, therefore, was to ensure that they would benefit from the early expansion of British dominion into areas like Jamaica and Barbados.

Martin Noell and Thomas Povey did just that– in the mid-1650’s, the two powerful merchants proposed the creation of a West India trade company to be formally incorporated by an act of Parliament.  This direct act would give their company, “diverse privileges and assistances, and an immunity and sole trade in any place they shall conquer or beget a trade with the Spaniard’s dominion” (Egerton Ms. 2395, f. 202).  The ultimate goal was to monopolize trade in the West Indies and extend its benefits to their close allies, believing mercantile power would lead to political influence in these newly conquered areas.  Yet, their early attempts to create such a company were thwarted by the death of Oliver Cromwell, and the ensuing chaos that led to the 1660 Restoration of King Charles II.  


The grand procession of King Charles II to his coronation on April 23rd, 1661; such grandeur reaffirmed to the English people that their long-lost monarch was truly returned to the country, and especially returned to power. 

Yet, the work of men like Povey and Noell was not completely lost upon the newly restored monarch; Charles II realized how lucrative and beneficial organized trade in the West Indies could be for the monarchy.  He therefore saw necessity in addressing issues of political security and trade protection brought forth by planters and merchants abroad.  On July 4th, 1660, Charles II appointed members of the Privy Council to a Board for Trade and Plantations.  The job of such a group was to, “review, heare, examine and deliberate upon any petitions, propositions, memorials, or other addresses, which shall be presented or brought in by any person or persons concerning the plantations, as well in the Continent as Islands of America” (Andrews 62).  Martin Noell and Thomas Povey were granted their wish- to be at the forefront of the expansion to the new frontier of the West Indies. 


The Man, the Myth, and the Rum?

The name “Captain Morgan” has become synonymous with the spiced rum company since the 1940’s, but the ties between pirates and rum stem from the very beginnings of maritime history.  The consumption of rum as a daily tradition made the tumultuous life at sea more bearable for sailors, yet it also served as a form of indulgence in the constant cycle of enjoyment Port Royal became known for.  The image of the rugged, redcoat pirate that has become so iconic distorts the person of the true man behind the rum, the Welsh privateer Sir Henry Morgan.  This week, I viewed a documentary the Captain Morgan Spiced Rum company produced in 2013 in their attempt to dispel this stereotype of Henry Morgan.  The documentary entitled The Unsinkable Henry Morgan follows the search for Morgan’s ship, The Satisfaction, which, according to legend, ran aground in the shallow reef of Panama in the 1671 attack on the island.  While the search for Morgan’s ship is ultimately unsuccessful, the most remarkable aspect of this documentary was the extent to which Henry Morgan remains an incredibly relevant subject of conversation for natives of Panama.  Each individual interviewed had a different anecdote of Morgan’s raid in Panama passed down through generations; some remembered the Captain as a ruthless warrior and others remarked upon his infamy with the women of Panama.  The trick of this research project continues to be the search to dispel truth from rumor; Sir Henry Morgan is proving to be an enigma.


Reproduction of Morgan’s long-lost flagship The Satisfaction as recreated by the archaeologists behind The Unsinkable Henry Morgan. 

Morgan’s raids throughout the West Indies made him an incredibly wealthy man and landowner, dying in 1688 with an estimated worth of £5,263 (Jamaica Archives Inventory); in a modern economy, Morgan would be worth millions of pounds. The extent of Morgan’s wealth was not uncommon in the West Indies in the 17th century, as merchants took advantage of the opportunity to buy and sell rare commodities found in places like Jamaica to the wealthy populace in London.  I spent time this week reading Nuala Zahedieh’s article The Merchants of Port Royal, Jamaica, and the Spanish Contraband Trade, 1655-1692,” which outlines the growth and development of illicit trade in the West Indies. Morgan, like so many other early privateers of his time, benefitted greatly from the unlawful and rugged environment of places like Port Royal.  Privateers comprised almost a third of Port Royal’s population, as the location gave them an incredible locational advantage for exploiting the Spanish and taking their valuable cargo.  Politicians and privateers of the mid-17th century were in the same business of profit, which was profit at the expense of Spain.  Privateering was essential to maintaining the rowdy and indulgent standard of living people in Port Royal had grown so accustomed to in the age of Henry Morgan.


Port Royal in the days of Henry Morgan.

My next step in this project is to dig into the manuscripts and archives of the Newberry Library. My goal is to find letters and documents pertaining to the relationship between Jamaica and London, specifically on the behalf of merchants.  Hopefully, this will give me some insight into the complex  economic and political relationship between the Old and New Worlds.

The Makings of a Buccaneer

With the premiere of the new Starz television series, “Black Sails,” I’ve been very intrigued in reading reviews of this series that aims to present a true and honest depiction of piracy in its Golden Age.  My annoyance at slight historical inaccuracies aside, I find the series gives a realistic depiction of the grit and absolute toughness pirates of the early 18th century sought to exude.  This toughness stems from the legacy of hundreds of men who predated the Golden Age of piracy, Henry Morgan included at the forefront.  After a great meeting with Dr. Donoghue last week, I feel as though I might be getting the hang of this research endeavor.  The primary sources I looked into last week gave me an insight into the life of Henry Morgan late in his career. Yet, it also got me thinking more about the complex socio-economic circumstances and political scheme that surrounded Morgan in the mid-to-late 17th century.  Dr. Donoghue and I discussed how in Morgan’s time, the ruthless attitude and demeanor of a pirate almost certainly prepared a man like Henry Morgan for a political career in the West Indies.  Pirates and politicians were cunning, ruthless, and always searching for another way to gain power, wealth, and influence.  

With this idea in mind, I began this week by reading half of Dudley Pope’s work, Harry Morgan’s Way: the Biography of Sir Henry Morgan, 1635-1684.  This book is an absolutely fascinating read, not only because of Pope’s writing style, but because of his method of weaving in details of the entire early modern world as relating to Henry Morgan.  Inspired by this method, I spent a great deal of my research time this week looking into other sources that may not directly mention Morgan, but give a detailed look into the world that he lived and raided in.  Morgan was raised during the English Civil War, meaning his most formative years were spent in a time of military and political turmoil.  Like many other English families of the mid-17th century, Morgan’s uncles fought on opposing sides of the war (Royalists vs. Parliamentarians or Cavaliers vs. Roundheads).  Pope does little digging into the very unsure origins of Morgan, instead beginning his study in the mid-1650’s when Henry served under the joint command of General Robert Venables and Sir William Penn to attack Spanish holdings in the West Indies and carry out Oliver Cromwell’s plan of the Western Design.  It was through their mistakes in this ill-fated raid, although perhaps the seizure of Jamaica shouldn’t be considered a complete failure, that Morgan would learn what to avoid when he became a captain. Later in his career, Morgan was able to achieve more on his attacks on Portobelo and Panama with his cosmopolitan crews of men than Cromwell’s army did in executing the Western Design.

 Image Sir William Penn 

I also spent time this week looking into The Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell with Elucidations edited by Thomas Carlyle.  The most interesting speech I have read as yet comes from September 17th, 1656, in which Cromwellian religious and political propaganda is strikingly clear in his attack on Spain as the Catholic Antichrist, and therefore immortal enemy of the English. With all this propaganda surrounding Henry Morgan in his early twenties, I wonder how these ideas influenced him as a soldier and later as a privateer. 

 Image The English Protectorate Oliver Cromwell, the mind behind the Western Design.