Henry Morgan was born in Wales as the eldest son of a squire farmer. There is little record of his early life but it has been suggested that he left school early and went to Jamaica , where his uncle was the Lieutenant -Governor.He married his cousin, Mary and was soon joining fleet expeditions to capture and pillage Spanish settlements.
Only five years earlier , Jamaica was a weakly guarded Spanish island, which was seized by the English and converted into a colony. Guards defending the island were taken off the street, and as a result were thieves, murderers and cheats.
Henry had the good fortune to fall into favour with Sir Thomas Modyford- Governor of Jamaica, who, although proclaiming loyalty to the Crown, went against the king and provided Morgan with letters of marque to attack Spanish ships and settlements. Modyford was required to call in all pirates and privateers when a temporary truce between Spain and England was called, however the majority did not come in, or did not recieve the recall message. Modyford continued to issue letters of marque and in an effort to rid the Carribean of its Dutch presence , issued one to a Captain Edward Mansfelt who, with Henry as his Vice Admiral, was to assemble a fleet and attack the Dutch settlement of Curacao. Once at sea though , a vote was taken and the crew decided that the risk associated with the attack on that particular settlement outweighed the potential financial gains. In spite of losing some of their fleet , when buccaneers , unhappy with the plan to change course, returned to port, Captain Mansfelt and Vice Admiral Morgan were able to take the Spanish island of Providence. The buccaneers lived in the city and collected all of its wealth, whilst Morgan and Mansfelt returned to Jamaica to gather reinforcements. It was decided that Providence would become a pirate run settlement, and Modyford put his brother in the role of the Governor. However, the pirates did as they always did and raided the place, then left, so the island was quickly retaken by the Spanish. Modyford was again reprimanded and ordered to call the pirates back, and again, he refused.
Modyford heard a rumour that the Spanish were planning a retaliation attack for providence, and comissioned Morgan directly to gather a fleet and protect Jamaica. Morgan gathered his fleet very differently to most Admirals of the time. He sailed to the places where the most daring pirates coud be found and dressed himself in silk and fine jewels to appear successful, to draw the swashbucklers to him. Using word of mouth he gathered five hundred of the best pirates in the area.
Morgan then began his first independant command. His first expedition was to take the inland Cuban city of Puerto Principe. The fleet encountered heavy storms which forced them to land further from their planned landing point to search for food and provisions. One of their prisoners escaped and warned the citizens of Puerto Pricipe of the impending attack so that when Morgan arrived and began the raid he found that many citizens had escaped with their valuables. The buccaneers were only able to squeeze 50 000 pieces of eight out of the remaining people , which was not enough to pay the debts. They needed another raid.
Morgan announced his plan to attack the third most important Spanish city in the New World, Porto Bello. Porto Bello was considered to be the centre of the Spanish trade in the Americas, as its warehouses contained the goods and valuables of many merchants, and it was extremely well protected by three Spanish forts. Experienced sea pirates scoffed at Morgan’s plan.
When he attacked Porto Bello, he arrived on canoes, silently and under the cover of darkness. His men slipped into the harbour before anyone knew they were there. The element of surprise brought the first two forts down quickly. There are conflicting stories about how the third fell, some suggest that having seen how easily the first two went down , it surrendered, whilst another story tells of how Morgan’s men used Catholic nuns and priests as shields to enter the fort. Either way the fort fell and the city was claimed. Fending off Spanish counter attacks , Morgan and his men collected all the wealth of the city that they could find and then ransomed the Spanish for the safety of its town and citizens. Morgan came back to Jamaica with full pockets and the nickname”Morgan the terrible”.
Modyford was in trouble again and attempted to justify the attacks by emphasising the rumoured Spanish invasion of Jamaica, however he did not believe that this rumour was enough to save his Governorship so he attempted to provoke the Spanish into actually attacking by granting Morgan another comission.
The original plan was to attack Cartagena, which would provoke the Spanish and also make for a very large loot. However a series of bad luck( including a drunken member of crew lighting a fuse for an explosive on board the flagship, the HMS Oxford, and blowing it up) forced a change of plan, yet again. On the advice of a French captain, who had visited the area three years earlier, it was decided that Maracaibo was a suitable alternative. However the town was located at the mouth of an inland lake, with access only by a narrow channel which, unbeknownst to the Frenchman, was now guarded by a Spanish fort. By the time the pirates reached the town, having taken a fair amount of fire from the fort, the town’s inhabitants had escaped , with all their valuables. Again, Morgan needed a backup plan, and set off to attack Gibraltar , a town on the southeastern shore of Lake Maracaibo. Whilst Morgan was ransacking the two towns, the fort on the channel were gathering reinforcements, and when Morgan’s fleet attempted to leave via the channel, they found their path blocked by three Spanish Man’O'War ships. Morgan decided to fight his way out rather than give up, so he ordered that the “Satisfaction” , the largest of their fleet, be turned into a “fire ship” that would be sailed directly into the Spanish Flagship- the “Magdalen”. Hollowed out logs were filled with explosives and dressed to look like the crew, and twelve men that manned the ship were instructed to throw grappling hooks into the rigging of the Magdalen so that it could not pull away. The plan worked and the Magdalen was destroyed. Subseqently the other two ships were also destroyed. The pirates could not get out of the channel because of the fort, but the Spanish had no ships to attack with so Morgan led a landbased attack on the fort which convinced the governor to shift his cannons and let the pirates through. On return to Jamaica, Morgan was again reproved but not punished, and the Spaniards began to threaten Jamiaca as was intended. Morgan was promoted to Commander in Chief of all the war ships of Jamaica and was commissioned on expedition to destroy and loot Spanish ships and stores… this time as a privateer and not a pirate.
In January 16 70, Morgan set out on the largest venture of his career- to plunder the loot of Panama, the richest city in New Spain. Once he took over Fort San Lorenzo, he led his crew on a rough jungle trek to flank the Spanish , however the Spanish were prepared for them , and six hundred cavalry swooped down on the pirates. After a fierce battle in which the pirates stood their ground , the Spaniards fled in retreat. The buccaneers had won the city, however at that time a treaty had been drawn up between the Spanish and the English, and England was no longer at war with Spain. Morgan was recalled to England to stand trial as a pirate, however King Charles the II, learning of Morgan’s great deeds knighted him instead, and promoted him to Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica. He was odered to rid Jamaica of pirates.
Morgan did well to rid the seas of pirates, but fell out of Favour with King Charles over time. When he died in 1688 he had a reputation for rowdy drunkeness and is believed that he died of liver failure. He was revered as one of the most ruthless of pirates. His daring, brutality and intelligence made him the most feared and respected of baccaneers of the time: a true King of Pirates.