1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Morgan, Sir Henry

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[ 833 ]

MORGAN, SIR HENRY (c. 1635-1688), Welsh buccaneer, and lieutenant-governor of Jamaica, was the eldest son of Robert Morgan of Llanrhymny in Glamorganshire. He is said to have been kidnapped as a boy at Bristol and sold as a slave at Barbadoes, thence making his way to Jamaica, and is possibly to be identified with the Captain Morgan who accompanied the expedition of John Morris and Jackman when Vildemos, Trujillo and Granada were taken. In 1666 he commanded a ship in Edward Mansfield's expedition which seized the island of Providence or Santa Catalina, and when Mansfield was captured and killed by the Spaniards shortly afterwards Morgan was chosen by the buccaneers as their “admiral.” In 1668 he was commissioned by Sir Thomas Modyford, the governor of Jamaica, to capture some Spanish prisoners, in order to discover details of the threatened attack on Jamaica; and collecting ten ships with 500 men south of Cuba, he landed and marched to Puerto Principe, which he took and pillaged; and afterwards accomplished the extraordinary feat of taking by storm the fortified and well-garrisoned town of Porto Bello on the mainland. The governor of Panama, astonished at this daring adventure, in vain attempted to drive out the invaders, and finally Morgan consented to evacuate the place on the payment of a large ransom. These exploits had considerably exceeded the terms of Morgan's commission and had been accompanied by frightful cruelties and excesses; but the governor endeavoured to cover the whole under the necessity of allowing the English a free hand to attack the Spaniards whenever possible. Morgan was almost immediately entrusted with another expedition by Modyford against the Spaniards, and proceeded to ravage the coast of Cuba. In January 1669 the largest of his ships was blown up accidentally in the course of a carousal on board, Morgan and his officers narrowly escaping destruction. In March he sacked Maracaibo, and afterwards Gibraltar. Returning to Maracaibo, he found three Spanish ships waiting to intercept him; but these he destroyed or captured, recovered a considerable amount of treasure from one which had sunk, exacted a heavy ransom as the price of his evacuating the place, and finally by an ingenious stratagem eluded the enemy's guns altogether and escaped in safety. On his return to Jamaica he was again reproved, but not punished by Modyford. The Spaniards on their side were moreover acting in the same way, and a new commission was given to Morgan, as Commander-in-chief of all the ships of war in Jamaica, to levy war on the Spaniards and destroy their ships and stores, the booty gained in the expedition being the only pay. Accordingly, after ravaging the coast of Cuba and the mainland, Morgan determined on an expedition to Panama. He recaptured the island of Santa Catalina on the 15th of December 1670, and on the 27th gained possession of the castle of Chagres, killing 300 of the garrison. Then with 1400 men he ascended the Chagres river, and after overcoming perils and obstacles of all kinds he appeared before Panama on the 18th of January 1671, defeated a much larger force than his own, and took the city. The fame of this brilliant exploit was, however, again obscured by abominable scenes of cruelty and debauchery, during which a galleon containing a considerable part of the booty escaped. Moreover, on returning to Chagres the members of the expedition found themselves cheated of their fair share of the spoil,[1] while Morgan escaped with a [ 834 ] few ships to Jamaica, leaving the rest to get home as best they could. On his return he received the thanks of the governor and council; but meanwhile on the 8th of July, 1670, a treaty had been signed between Spain and England, and both Modyford and Morgan were ordered home under arrest to answer for their conduct. Morgan, however, soon succeeded in gaining the king's favour, and in the autumn of 1674 he was appointed lieutenant-governor of Jamaica and was knighted, leaving England in December. After such a career as his it is not surprising that Morgan's conduct as a responsible official of the government was not very creditable. He was charged by Lord Vaughan, afterwards earl of Carbery, the governor, soon after his appointment, of persisting in encouraging privateering; he intrigued against his colleagues and successive governors of Jamaica, with the hope of superseding them; raised factious dissensions; and supported the outrageous conduct of his brother, Captain Charles Morgan, a terrible ruffian, and his kinsman, Colonel Byndlos, taking part in their brawls and drunken orgies. He was finally, on the 12th of October 1683, suspended in Jamaica from all his employments; a decision which was confirmed by the government at home after hearing Morgan's defence; but he was restored to his place in the council on the 18th of July 1688, shortly before his death, which took place in August.

See A. O. Exquemelin (one of Morgan's buccaneers), Buccaneers of America (1684, reprinted in 1891); A. Morgan, History of the Family of Morgan (1901).


  1. Cal. of St Pap. America & West Indies 1669-1674, Nos. 580 and 798; Exquemelin (ed. 1898), 237.