On this day in history : 25th August 1688 – The death of Welsh pirate and privateer Sir Henry Morgan – who raided Spanish settlements and shipping in the Caribbean….

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Sir Henry Morgan, from a 17th Century woodcut – Public domain

Morgan, his image known to us as the face used on the Captain Morgan brand of rum, was born in South Wales around 1635…. Little is known about his early life, or indeed how he came to travel to the West Indies…. One theory is that he was kidnapped and taken to Barbados where he was forced to work as a servant…. Another more plausible explanation is that he may have been part of the Caribbean expedition against the Spanish in 1654 ordered by Oliver Cromwell…. However, it is likely that in the early 1660s he became involved with a group of privateers attacking Spanish settlements in the Caribbean and Central America…. At the time privateering was a good opportunity for young men to make their fortunes….as privateers were permitted to keep some of their plunder for themselves – a kind of legalised piracy….

Morgan led successful attacks on many major settlements, including Puerto Principe and Port Bello – and made raids on Maracaibo and Gibraltar – and with his prize money was able to buy sugar plantations….

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Attack on Puerto Principe – Public domain

In early 1666 he married his cousin, Mary Morgan – the daughter of his uncle, who was Jamaica’s Deputy Governor…. With these connections Morgan himself was later to become Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica….

In 1671 Morgan led what was to become a disastrous attack on Panama City – the capital of Spanish America and thought of as one of the wealthiest cities in the world…. Despite his men being vastly outnumbered such was Morgan’s reputation that the Spaniards fled – but not before burning the city to the ground and taking all their riches with them…. Also, unbeknown to Morgan, a treaty had been signed between England and Spain – to add to the debacle Morgan had actually attacked during peace time….

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Morgan attacking Panama – Public domain

Morgan was arrested and taken before the Governor of Jamaica – from there he was transported to London, where he was held on a charge of piracy…. However, it was not long before England was at war again, this time with the Dutch – putting England’s sugar trade at risk…. King Charles II enlisted Morgan’s help – he knighted him and sent him back to Jamaica….

Morgan ended his days in the West Indies – drinking rum, involving himself in politics and running his plantations….by the time of his death he owned 109 slaves…. The cause of his death is unknown – my bet would be it had something to do with all that rum….

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Captain Morgan Black Label from the 1970s – A product of Jamaica, Guyana and Barbados produced by the Seagram Company – Image credit : Rssutor CC BY-SA 4.0

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