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: April, 2014

The Legend Continues

As the semester comes to a close, it’s time to leave you all with my final post detailing my work with Dr. Donoghue. It’s been a fascinating few months delving into the world of the Captain Morgan, and his legacy that continues to interest historians hundreds of years after his death.  It seems fitting to end this semester by writing about the last years of Morgan’s life, those which proved to be the most problematic for the Captain.  In October 1683, reports began to reach London concerning a series of riots that occurred in Jamaica, known as the Point Riots.  While not explicitly stating what caused them, the State Papers detail the depositions taken directly following the riots; these depositions would condemn Morgan and lead to his so-called fall from grace with the British government and the Jamaican Assembly.  It was recorded that a Mrs. Wellin heard Morgan exclaim “God damn the Assembly” in his drunken state (Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies October 1683).  In the matter of a few days, Morgan’s character and position as a politician in Jamaica were questioned by members of the assembly, believing he was too “irregular” to continue to serve the government’s best interests.  On October 12th, 1683, Morgan was charged with “disorder, passions, and miscarriages at Port Royal on various occasions” and for “countenancing sundry men in disloyalty to the Governor” (Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies October 1683).  Morgan countered these charges, claiming he was a scapegoat taking the blame for the faults of others.  Yet, once it was proved that Mrs. Wellin’s deposition held truth, Sir Henry Morgan was swiftly removed from all commands and government offices.  Drunken and disorderly conduct was not uncommon amongst Morgan’s contemporaries in government, but in Morgan’s case it was put to the question as to “whether it be to the King’s services that he be continued in any employment, and carried in the negative”. Morgan had offended King Charles II’s pawns in the Jamaican government (individuals that already disapproved of his conduct), giving them the ammunition they required to remove him from power.


Port Royal, Jamaica

Morgan had distinctly offended Sir Thomas Lynch, one of Charles II’s Jamaican pawns; in 1684, Lynch wrote to Sir Leoline Jenkins, Secretary of State for the Colonies, regarding Morgan’s refusal to pass the recent set of Navigation Acts decreed from England.  His concern regarding their passage stemmed from the “drunken little party of Sir Henry Morgan’s” that opposed the new legislation (Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America, and West Indies March 1684).  Morgan had a history of offending Sir Thomas Lynch, exclaiming on many occasions that he had accepted bribes to support the ineffective Royal African Company in the Jamaican Assembly.  Lynch was incredibly critical of Morgan, writing that in his drink he “abuses the Government, swears, damns, and curses most extravagantly, and if you knew all of his excesses and incapacity you would rather wonder why he ever was in employment than why he was turned out” (Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America, and West Indies March 1684).  It seems that the true piratical spirit never left Morgan when he transitioned to a career of politics, seeking to benefit himself rather than present a cordial attitude towards those he disliked in government.  Lynch also claimed that Morgan continually tried to discredit his service as the Governor of Jamaica, supposedly doing so to turn Lynch out of office and become governor himself.  Lynch wrote that Henry Morgan was “so uncivil to me, and mightily elated at the prospect of governor” (Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America, and West Indies March 1684).


Secretary Leoline Jenkins

Yet, Henry Morgan was not alone in his fall from grace; his kinsman Charles Morgan, the lawyer Roger Elleston, and Colonel Robert Byndloss were all suspended from their offices in May of 1684.  Sir Henry Morgan and Colonel Byndloss were removed from the Jamaican Assembly, while Charles Morgan was dismissed from his offices as Captain of the Forts in Port Royal.  In Sir Thomas Lynch’s 1684 letter to Secretary Jenkins, he wrote that both Charles and Henry Morgan lived without “respect to the law, truth, or justice” (Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America, and West Indies March 1684).  The actions of these men reached the Lords of Trade and Plantations in London, ordering that Morgan’s petition for their case be formally heard in the council.  Although the future seemed bleak for Morgan in 1684, he would later be reinstated to the King’s favor in the last year of his life.


King Charles II

It’s been quite an incredible semester spent researching the illustrious Captain, an adventure which has spanned multiple continents and countless hours of research. While we many never discover the treasure of a simple explanation for the mysteries surrounding his career, it is certain that Captain Henry Morgan’s legacy will continue to live on in the pages of history.


Growing Fears and Frustrations

With just a few short weeks left in the semester, I find myself digging further into the rise of turmoil within the Jamaica colony.  Aggravated by privateers and inadequate communication between the central government in London and the colonial assemblies, Jamaica grew increasingly frantic.  Since the peace between England and Spain in July of 1670, relations between the two countries had grown increasingly strained.  A petition was made to the King by merchants and traders operating in Jamaica regarding the Spanish, who continued to target and torment the English in the West Indies.  An act had been passed by King Charles II to prohibit transporting goods, such as sugar and tobacco, to any dominions in the West Indies other than those under English possession; this was a direct attempt to circumvent the actions of the Spanish, including “the intolerable injuries, unheard of cruelties, innumerable depredations and bloody murders committed by the Spanish upon His Majesty’s subjects in the West Indies since the peace with Spain” (Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America, and West Indies: Volume 10, September 1678).  


(Spanish Privateers defeated by Henry Morgan at Lake Maracaibo in 1678)

In August of 1679, Henry Morgan was called upon to aid in the planning of defense for the Jamaica colony under the governorship of Lord Carlisle.  He recommended a, “strengthening of the breastwork, arming the new works, providing for fire-ships,” (Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America, and West Indies: Volume 10, August 1679) aimed at better preparing the colonies for the imminent attack of both the Spanish and uncontrollable privateers.  It seemed as though the British government had created a monster it could no longer control, legalizing privateering only to villainize the men it once lauded when the practice became too unpredictable for government benefit.  Jamaica was constantly at the ready to combat privateers, yet the colonial officials were more delicate with the Spanish considering the treaty of “peace” they shared with the English.  It was written that the Governor, “had always men-of-war with him, so you will keep him fully informed as to these privateers and their movements” (Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America, and West Indies: Volume 11, October 1683).  

Issues with the monopoly granted to the Royal African Company caused an inadequate supply of slaves to be brought to Jamaican plantations.  On October 3, 1683, a petition written by the Planters and Merchants of Jamaica reached the Lords of Trade and Plantations.  Frustrated by declining trade relations with the Royal African Company, the colonists wrote that they were not “empowered by the island to agree to any discontinuance of the contract of the Royal African Company to furnish Jamaica with negroes” (Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America, and West Indies: Volume 11, October 1683); essentially, they were requesting that the Lords of Trade and Plantations allow for colonists to acquire an adequate amount of slaves through means other than the Company.  The letter, written by our own William Beeston, remarked upon the corrupt nature of the Royal African Company; they sought to break their contract with the Jamaica colony and find the highest bidder for their slaves to gain the most profit (which would inevitably benefit the King himself).  


(Diagram of the composition of a typical Atlantic slave ship; profit was clearly valued over the respect of basic human rights)

In March of 1684, members of the Royal African Company were called to the Lords of Trade and Plantations to supply Jamaica with the promised 5,000 slaves, as outlined in their contract with the colony.  On March 4th, it was “recommended further that you signify your intention to uphold the company’s rights and that you direct the company to take care to provide the island with five thousand negroes within a year” (Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America, and West Indies: Volume 11, March 1684).  In May of the same year, it was decided that the Lords of Trade and Plantations would grant the Royal African Company their petition to be re-heard before the council regarding the supply of slaves to Jamaica; it seems highly unlikely that the King would allow the monopoly he created for his favorites to be undermined, even if the Company grew to be increasingly unpopular with the colonists in Jamaica.  Profit was of the utmost importance in the colonies, and no person understood this ideal better than the King.  


(Map of English Plantations in America and the West Indies, ~1700)

Trouble for Royalists

As the end of the semester (along with tens of pages of research papers to write) looms closer, I find myself entrenched in the study of Henry Morgan.  I’m very much so looking forward to having the opportunity to present my research again this Saturday, April 12th, at Loyola’s Undergraduate Research & Engagement Symposium as part of the 2014 Weekend of Excellence.  Entitled, “The 17th Century Enigma of Captain Henry Morgan and the Atlantic World,” this presentation delves into the ambiguous background of Morgan’s youth as detailed in the competing accounts of Alexandre Exquemelin and Philip Ayres.  I had a wonderful experience presenting my research in poster form at the Chicago Area Undergraduate Research Symposium last Saturday, and was pleasantly surprised by the amount of interest that was shown in my research.  As a student of history, I stood alone at the symposium amongst those studying biology, chemistry, and the like; I find those subjects to be a bit over my head, so perhaps its best that I stick to the humanities.

I’m also looking forward to continuing to work as Dr. Donoghue’s research assistant for my senior year; the extra time for research is a blessing in disguise, as there are always new discoveries to be made in the world of history.  I spent a bit of time this past week digging further into an idea I explored a few weeks ago, referring to the debts owed by Royalist men like Sir Nicholas Crispe.  I came across an article by historian Joan Thirsk entitled, “The Sales of Royalist Land During the Interregnum”.  During the Interregnum period, Royalist estates had been sequestered by the victorious Parliamentarians seeking to punish those who had supported, or continued to support, Charles II.  A committee had been created to deal with the Royalists who agreed to pay their debts to Cromwell’s government, known as the Committee for Compounding with Delinquents.  This committee gave Royalists an opportunity to regain their sequestered lands through further payments to the government.  The price of regaining these sequestered holdings was based upon the estate’s worth and the extent to which the individual had supported the Royalist cause.  The first sale of Royalist land occurred in 1651 under the directive of the Sequestration Committee of Oliver Cromwell’s government. The Royalists whose lands were sold were those who refused to pay composition; composition was an agreement between the debtor and creditor to accept less than was actually owed on a debt.  The Sequestration Committee authorized the sale of land belonging to those Royalists that continued to oppose Parliamentary rule.  Sales of these estates, however, were recorded in relative secrecy in the Chancery.  This act of secrecy reflected the uncertain nature of the future of these deals; there was a lingering sentiment within the English that the Royalists could rise up at any time and instate Charles II as the rightful ruler of England.


(Royalists entrenched in the English Civil War)

The ever cunning Royalists, however, found a way to circumvent the system in the event that they were considered irreparable delinquents by Cromwell’s government.  Royalists utilized agents as trustees to buy back their land and hold it in trust until they could rightfully return to their estates (in the impending event that Charles II would return to his throne).  Interestingly, London merchants purchased most of this confiscated Royalist land; they had the liquid assets necessary to buy the estates.  This factor emphasized the rise of the merchant class, where a majority of the money was held in society.  London creditors were more apt to sell the confiscated estates than their counterparts in the countryside, perhaps reacting to the greater concentration of wealth within the burgeoning metropolis.

One of these wealthy merchants, Sir Henry Johnson, utilized this newfound opportunity to purchase the lease on the Blackwall Yard in 1656.  Blackwall, located along the Thames River, was an incredibly important center of shipbuilding in England for almost four centuries.  Once owned by the East India Company, Blackwall played an important role in 17th naval warfare; as the Anglo-Dutch Wars continued to rage throughout the latter half of the 17th centuries, more and more ships needed to be commissioned to supply the growing demand.  Samuel Pepys commissioned Royal Navy ships to be built at Blackwall, as the royal dockyards could not supply the need of the government.


(18th Century depiction of the Blackwall Yard)

In an interesting twist of fate, Johnson’s son, also named Henry Johnson, became a governor of Cape Coast Castle in the early 18th century.  Cape Coast Castle was used as a stronghold in West Africa for the Royal African Company at the height of trans-Atlantic slave trade.  Hundreds of slaves were held in these “slave castles” as a last stop on their journey to the American and Caribbean colonies.  It’s more than certain that Henry Morgan would have encountered slaves journeying from Cape Coast Castle throughout his time in the Jamaica colony, a sad truth of imperial expansion into the Atlantic World, in which racial hierarchy served as the grossly ambiguous and immoral foundations for the slave trade controlled by the Royal African Company.


(1682 depiction of the layout of Cape Coast Castle)