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: March, 2014

A True Contemporary

The past week has been incredibly hectic while I’ve been busy working to prepare my presentations for the upcoming CAURS and LUC symposiums.  I’m very much looking forward to being able to share with others this little piece of history I’ve dedicated my studies to for the past semester.  I’ve spent a great deal of time this semester attempting to create a contextual history of the 17th century Atlantic World in order to better understand Henry Morgan’s career.  What this contextual analysis has provided me with is a unique understanding of Morgan’s personality, as there are so few existing references to his youth or personal life.  I’ve found that many of Morgan’s contemporaries, or those who came to the West Indies to try to play their hand at its newfound potential for economic success, share a strikingly similar life story to the illustrious Captain.  While it was common for wealthy and powerful British bureaucrats at this time to keep a diary (Samuel Pepys diary is one of the greatest resources for understanding 17th century Britain), archaeologists and historians have never discovered a diary that can be personally attributed to Henry Morgan.  By delving into the personal accounts of Morgan’s contemporaries and the letters he and others wrote throughout their lifetime, we can better understand the mind behind the legend of Henry Morgan.

William Beeston’s career is strikingly similar to Henry Morgan’s; interestingly, he was only a year younger than Morgan, and came to the West Indies around the same time.  Born in 1636, Beeston entered Jamaica in 1660 at the age of 24, and began a political career that would span decades.  In 1664, Beeston was elected to represent Port Royal in Jamaica’s First House of Assembly, the governing body of the day which met in St. Jago de la Vega.  Many of the references to Jamaica’s government in the Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America, and West Indies refer directly to St. Jago, and not to the infamous town of Port Royal.  Beeston was not a man to keep his opinions silent; rather, he served his colony as an outspoken member of government, continuously commenting upon the unstable nature of the seemingly haphazard Jamaican government and the ambitious nature of those running it.  This attitude caused Beeston to make many enemies, as is common throughout history when men step forward to speak out against conventions within government.  However, this is not to say that William Beeston was an outright promoter of social justice and welfare; he was a favorite of King Charles II (a common theme that has followed me throughout this semester).  In 1667, the King silenced Captain Beeston’s opposition by restoring his naval command on the island of Jamaica.  It was written that, “his majesty requires that said Capt. Beeston with servants, goods, and necessaries be permitted freely to embark in any of his Majesty’s ports on any vessel bound for said island or any of the Caribbees” (13 February 1667, Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America, and West Indies, Volume 5: 1661-1668).  It is interesting to note that within this compilation of correspondences in the month of February 1667, there exists another directive from the King in reference to maritime issues.  In this case, the King granted a warrant to Lord Willoughby, Governor of the Caribbean, to impress ships. The warrants states, “His Lordship may have occasion for ships of strength as well to repel enemies as to execute any sudden design upon them, his Majesty hereby grants him authority to impress any such ships in any part of his Government as he shall have need of for his Majesty’s service” (February 1667, Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America, and West Indies, Volume 5: 1661-1668).  While Captain Beeston spoke out against the ambitious nature of those within the government, he was simultaneously benefitting from the patronage of King Charles II, who took away the personal liberty of countless numbers of sailors for the supposed greater good of England. 

Image (A plan for Port Royal, Jamaica)

In 1675, William Beeston was named a commissioner of the Admiralty along with Henry Morgan; it seems as though from this point forward, the careers of these two men would be interconnected.  Leading up to this accolade, Beeston had convoyed a fleet of merchantmen to England in 1672, and served as a negotiator on behalf of Governor Modyford to deal with English privateers in Cuba and Hispaniola.  By the time he was named commissioner, privateering had become a hotly debated issue within the English government.  In 1676, a reference from Peter Beckford in St. Jago de la Vega refers to Governor Vaughan’s attempts to suppress privateers, as they had begun to seize ships carrying the cargo of the Royal Company (which had been granted a monopoly on the slave trade by the King), to which many of the King’s favorites and family members belonged.  By this time, privateering had become the greatest threat to Jamaica’s success; yet, it was proving incredibly difficult for Lord Vaughan to suppress something that had once been so legal, and which continued to be incredibly lucrative.  In a letter to the Lords of Trade and Plantations, Lord Vaughan wrote that he feared the privateers had, “grown more numerous, and under the pretence of French Commissions prey upon the Spaniards to the great dishonour of this Government” (4 April 1676, Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America, and West Indies, Volume 9: 1675-1676 and Addenda 1574-1674).  While this was not only bad for British foreign relations and attempts to maintain international peace, the privateers undermined the profits the King planned to make off of English colonies in the West Indies.

Image (William Beeston’s signature)

William Beeston eventually served as governor of Jamaica from March 1693 to January 1702, replaced by General William Selwyn. When he became governor of the island, he returned to a Jamaica that had been ravaged by the earthquake of 1692 and a fever epidemic that had swept the population; Jamaica was suffering in terms of finance and population.  To leave you all with another interesting connection within the 17th century Atlantic World, William Beeston’s daughter, Jane Beeston, eventually married Sir Thomas Modyford, 5th Baronet, a descendant of the infamous governor of Jamaica.  


The Losing Side of War

It’s been a while since my last blog post, as I’m still attempting to readjust to being back in the endless, bitter winter of Chicago after my absolutely incredible trip to London.  But, never fear, I have not forgotten our Henry Morgan even amidst such a busy semester (with a never ending to-do list)!   In fact, Morgan has recently become my top priority, as I will be presenting my research on our illustrious Captain at both the Chicago Area Undergraduate Research Symposium and Loyola’s Weekend of Excellence Research Symposium.  While the presentation is a work in progress, I have continued my research into the 17th century Atlantic World and Morgan’s contemporaries; this week, I focused on learning more about Sir Nicholas Crisp and the fate of many Royalists during the English Civil War, much of which may have impacted a young Henry Morgan’s family.

sir nicholas crisp Sir Nicholas Crisp

Sir Nicholas Crisp was a royalist, pioneer of the West Africa trade, member of the Council of Trade and Foreign Plantations, and a stockholder in the East India Company; essentially, he involved himself in every lucrative and influential facet of the growing system of transatlantic trade he could find in the early 17th century.  As a member of the Company of Royal Adventurers, also known as the “Guinea Company,” Nicholas Crisp was just one of many royal favorites who received a 31-year monopoly over the transatlantic slave trade from King James I.  Along with Martin Noell and Thomas Povey, two men who have been explored extensively in my research endeavors, Crisp was a stockholder and benefactor in the Company.  Sir Crisp was granted a patent, or an exclusive right, from the King to trade slaves between Guinea and areas throughout the West Indies.  Once the powerful figures in Whitehall realized how lucrative the slave trade would be, and how seemingly necessary it was to make English colonies and plantations successful, it granted exclusive rights of the trade to the Kings family and favorites (as detailed in the post regarding Thomas Povey and Martin Noell).  In 1640, Sir Nicholas Crisp was knighted by Charles I for his service to the crown and involvement in the Company of Royal Adventures (probably a result of the amount of money he had raised for the King).  Unfortunately for Crisp, the English Civil War broke out, and he was on the wrong side.  He escaped London after being accused of “secret service” to the King, and was forced by Parliament to surrender his patent for slave trading in the West Indies.

In November 1653, Parliament passed “An Act for the Deafforestation, Sale and Improvement of the Forests and of the Honors, Manors, Lands, and Tenements and Hereditaments within the usual Limits and Perambulations of the same. Heretofore belonging to the late King, Queen, and Prince.”  With an incredibly long and rambling title, the Act essentially seized all land, properties, and money belonging to the deposed King, his family, and Royalist favorites.  These lands were to be redistributed to benefit the commonwealth; the benefit of the Commonwealth was interpreted as giving the lands and properties to Cromwell’s favorites.  It was essentially the creation of a new system of hereditary inheritance based upon loyalties to the Interregnum government, stating, “It is hereby further Enacted, That the said Trustees, their Heirs and Assigns, shall have, hold and enjoy the premises, free and discharged from the payment of and from all maner of Tithes, in as large and ample maner, as the said King, Queen, and their eldest Son, or either of them respectively held… on the said Five and twentieth day of March, One thousand six hundred and forty one” (Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, 1642-1660).

The men to which these lands were granted were all Parliamentarians actively involved in Cromwell’s Interregnum government.  Robert Aldworth, the elder, was a Bristol-born merchant who acquired a majority of his wealth through the slave trade, perhaps benefitting from the removal of a Royalist monopoly over the transatlantic slave trade held by the Company of Royal Adventurers.  Aldworth began the sugar processing business in Bristol, known as “sugar houses,” refining sugar imported from the Spanish and Portuguese colonies in Brazil.  The sugar Aldworth’s houses refined was harvested by African slaves; he was a member of the Society of Merchant Venturers, who would later successfully bring an end to the monopoly over slave trading the Royal African Company received from Charles II.  His son, also named Robert Aldworth, was a member of the House of Commons in the First Protectorate Parliament under Oliver Cromwell between 1654 and 1660.  In April of 1660, he became a member of the Convention Parliament, which held no allegiance to either the Commonwealth or the Monarchy. While this parliament was mainly Royalist, the Parliamentarian Aldworth successfully transitioned to the Restoration period of Charles II, continuing his political career.  It was the Convention Parliament that proclaimed upon the Restoration of Charles II that he had been the lawful monarch since his fathers death in 1649, essentially ignoring the existence of the Interregnum period.

IMG_2886 Modern-Day Parliament

The Royalists named in this Act of Cromwell’s Parliament in 1653 were not so lucky as the aforementioned individuals; Sir John Jacob, Sir Job Harby, Sir Nicholas Crisp, and Sir John Harrison were forced to come up with a sum of £276,146 to be paid as a “Publique-Faith Debt,” an absolutely staggering figure considering a normal family would survive on far less than £100 pounds a year.  In order to pay such a fine, which was coupled with an interest fee of £6 upon every £100 pounds still remaining in the debt, Sir Nicholas Crisp was forced to sell his lucrative share in the Company of Adventurers to pay his debts to Parliament and the Commonwealth.  Sir John Harrison was fined £10, 745 for continuing to support a restoration of the rightful King during the Interregnum, and was removed from his seat in Parliament in September of 1643.  Sir John Jacob’s lands were sequestered by Cromwell as a result of continued Royalist support.

Yet, the story does not end sadly for these men, as Charles II was gloriously restored to monarchial rule and crowned on April 23rd, 1661.  Sir Nicholas Crisp, along with countless other Royalists, had continued to support Charles II throughout the Interregnum period.  After fleeing to France following Charles I’s execution, Crisp continued to raise money for the royal cause.  Along with other Royalist supporters, he had signed a declaration supporting General George Monck’s fight to restore the Stuart Monarchy; his son Christopher Monck would become Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica in 1687, a year before Henry Morgan’s death. Sir John Harrison was restored to his seat in Parliament, and served in the Cavalier Parliament until his death in 1669.  Sir John Jacob was granted many titles and offices by the King in recognition of his Royalist support, eventually being made Baronet of Bromley.

general george monck General George Monck

Wherever Henry Morgan fits into this tumultuous and twisted story, he seems to be a man very much so like his contemporaries on both Royalist and Parliamentarian sides; he risked his life for a cause, yet the exact cause he fought for continues to be a mystery.

Finding Barbados in London: the “Povey Papers”

It always seems as though Spring Break flies by in the blink of an eye, which seems especially true when you get to spend it in London.  My surprise trip to London was an utter success and quite a surreal experience to walk in the footsteps of monarchs like Henry VIII and our infamous Charles II.  I may have been on break, but I did not forget my duties as a research assistant.  Amazingly, I got to sift through the papers compiled in Egerton MS 2395 in the British Library that I have been researching all semester, or what I refer to as the “Povey Papers”.  I felt quite official and academic at the library amongst other historians, especially when I was given a year long pass to the library.  Although I only had the chance to read through a few documents in the compilation of the Povey Papers (it weighed almost 15 pounds and I was on vacation, after all), I did find some interesting and revealing information.


(A very rainy Monday perfectly fit the mood for visiting the gloomy Tower of London, where many Royalists were imprisoned after the English Civil War)

Folio 48 of Egerton MS 2395 contains a pamphlet dated from 1653, entitled “A Brief Relation of the Beginning and ending of the Troubles of the Barbados, with the true causes thereof”.  It details yet another story of ambition in the lives Colonel Humphrey Walrond and his younger brother Edward Walrond, two Royalists of wounded pride who sought to take advantage of the seemingly relaxed system of government in the West Indies.  Like countless numbers of their contemporaries (Henry Morgan included), their ambition for monetary and political gain was encouraged by the physical distance between the West Indies and the British Parliament; they “little doubted but in a short time to gain the Government into their hands, and by that means amply to Repair their broken Fortunes” (f. 48, Egerton MS 2395).  Humprey Walrond saw an opportunity to make Barbados a continuing center of support for the Royalist cause, seeking to further its reputation as a place of asylum for those who supported Charles II as the rightful monarchial ruler of England.

The Walrond’s soon enacted a campaign of terror, preying on Royalist fears of the Cavalier faction in Barbados infiltrating and overthrowing their asylum’s government.  Humphrey Walrond eliminated the islands treasurer Guy Molesworth, falsely claiming that he was a Cavalier; the mere accusation of Cavalier loyalty was a serious offense in a Royalist asylum, where every man had been slighted by Cromwell’s government in some way.  Humprey’s claims were supported by the oratories of his brother Edward Walrond, who claimed that “there was a very formidable Malignant party in the Island which daily increased, and would in time master this island, and turn all well-affected to the King from thence” (f. 48, Egerton MS 2395).

I spent time in last weeks post detailing the political relationship between Governor Thomas Modyford and Admiral Henry Morgan in Jamaica in the 1670’s, in which Modyford entrusted Morgan with an incredible amount of power and discretion.  In the Povey Papers, I found a reference to Thomas Modyford early in his career on the island of Barbados during the Interregnum period of Cromwellian power.  General Thomas Modyford enters the saga of the Walrond brothers, attempting to circumvent the power they had gained through terror and violence, seeking instead to reason with the Cavalier faction in Barbados.  While the Walrond’s wanted to eradicate the threat Cavaliers posed to their power, Modyford instead sought to unite the two groups to create a policy of neutrality.  Modyford’s assertion of the importance of neutrality was not simply based upon a desire to avoid war (he did begin his career as a general); he recognized the importance of the Cavaliers to the success and prosperity of Barbados, as they controlled the incredibly lucrative sugar industry on the island.

While the wording of the pamphlet turns towards propagandist phrasing, much like Philip Ayres’ account of Henry Morgan, it emphasizes the important role Thomas Modyford played in ensuring the future success of the island of Barbados.  The author makes Modyford the saving grace of the island of Barbados against the tyrannical rule of the Walrond brothers; “Thus may you see that by the excellency of one mans temper and Conduct, with Gods blessings theron, this rich spot of Land, containing at least thirty thousand Souls, Reduced and United to their Native Country without Bloodshed” (f. 48, Egerton MS 2395).


Folio 48 also includes a short but revealing statement regarding the treatment of Royalists following the English Civil War as they faced the consequences of losing the fight for monarchial power in England.  Barbados was made to be an island of neutrality, a policy fundamental to the islands prosperity seeing as it housed both Royalists and Roundheads.  This policy was maintained until, “the Parliament prevailing, multitudes of the Royal Party being made Prisoners, were sent thither to be sold as Servants” in Barbados (f. 48, Egerton MS 2395).  The idea of captured Royalists being sent to the West Indies as indentured servants is one explored by Dr. Donoghue in his first book, Fire Under the Ashes; interestingly, this action directly connects to the infamous merchant Martin Noell, a man I have encountered many times this semester.  Noell was accused by members of Parliament of selling 72 captured Royalists into indentured servitude in 1655.  He claimed it was an attempt to rid London’s prisons of men that could be far more beneficial to England’s prosperity by working on plantations in the West Indies, rather than sitting idly in a prison cell.  Royalists were transported to places like Barbados along with countless men and women imprisoned during Cromwell’s attempted conquests of Scotland and Ireland.

This makes an interesting connection to Alexandre Exquemelin’s claim that Henry Morgan was sold into indentured servitude in Barbados in the 1650’s; like most families during the English Civil War, Morgan’s was divided along Roundhead and Royalist lines.  While it seems unlikely that a wealthy youth like Morgan would be “spirited away” to the West Indies, it aligns with the policies of the times.  Royalists captured and imprisoned by Roundheads often opted to serve as indentures in the West Indies if their lands had been taken by the government, and the majority of volunteers to indenture in places like Barbados were young men. Exquemelin’s tale is common of Morgan’s contemporaries, leaving another unanswered question regarding Henry Morgan’s ambiguous origins.


(While Henry Morgan evaded imprisonment in the Tower, Thomas Modyford was not so lucky-he served 2 years. It’s quite surreal to think I may have walked on the same ground as these men.)