|Fig.1: You know he's heroically propping |
his left foot on a barrel just off-sketch.
Like many pirates, details of Morgan's early life are scarce. We know he was born in Wales around 1635 to an influential family (as least as influential as the Welsh could be), which became deeply split during the English Civil War; one uncle was a major-general on the Parliamentarian side and another uncle a colonel for the Royalists. But instead of staying at home and dealing with the constant bickering over the dinner table, Henry did what any of us should do and ran away to the sandy beaches of the Caribbean! Sources are unclear as to how he got there: some say he was indentured (temporarily enslaved in return for free passage), others say he enlisted as a sailor in the navy, and a select few believe he correctly solved a "Prize Puzzle" on Wheel of Fortune (the puzzle had a lot of "arrrs" in it...ba-dum-cha). Either way, Morgan ended up on Jamaica where he befriended Governor Thomas Modyford, joined the fleets of notable pirates in the area who plundered Spanish colonial towns, and married his own cousin (he obviously lived in the "Alabama" part of Jamaica). When privateer Edward Mansvelt was captured and executed by the Spanish while he served in his crew, Morgan used his charisma and already patented pose to become the new admiral.
|Fig.2: No pirate-themed birthday party |
is complete without a blow-by-blow
reenactment of one of Henry Morgan's
This raid stimulated Port Royal's economy, as the returning pirates used their booty to score some clothes, weapons, drinks, and...well...other kinds of booty. As thanks, Modyford awarded Morgan the HMS Oxford, a warship originally given by King Charles II to protect Jamaica, as well as a new commission to attack Cartagena in present-day Colombia. Unfortunately, the Oxford's new ship smell (as well as the rest of it) was destroyed during an pre-trip celebration where a drunken sailor accidentally lit a fuse right next to a supply of gunpowder (which is why I keep my highly-flammable explosives locked in the coat-closet during my raucous parties). With his flagship gone even before his got to do the test drive, Morgan changed plans to attack Cartagena's lamer sister city of Maracaibo (in present-day Venezuela), which didn't even have a ferris wheel to overlook the whole town like most cool places do! Nonetheless, his crew had a great payday sacking Maracaibo and the nearby coastal town of Gibraltar in 1669, filling the vessels with those comically large sacks of money.
But trouble was afoot! The Spanish navy caught wind of the attack, and proceeded to block Morgan's escape with three warships strategically placed in the narrow channel separating the mainland from the Caribbean (fig.3). It looked like this was the end for Captain Henry Morgan, but the memory of his beloved Oxford brought some inspiration to him. He loaded up one of his ships with tons of gunpowder, and had a small crew sail it straight into the blockade. When it got close enough, the crew lit the fuse and jumped overboard, destroying the warships, and giving the Spanish painful memories of their failed armada. Morgan returned home once more with loads more money to pump into Jamaica's economy, and before you knew it his reputation spread like the infectious diseases that a good majority of his crew probably had.
|Fig.3: E4! You sunk my fireship!|
|Fig.4: "Dude, you totes rekt|
that boat I gave you!"
Even if Henry Morgan's home base didn't survive his absence, his legacy as a buccaneer echoed down the generations. Later, more famous pirates, such as Edward Teach ("Blackbeard"), John Rackham ("Calico Jack"), and Samuel Bellamy ("Sam Bellamy") took after Morgan's example to great success, initiating the Golden Age of Piracy in the early 18th century. But I would dare to argue that Morgan beat out these wannabes not through the amount of plunder or notoriety he gained during his swashbuckling days, but by actually being able to retire and enjoy his loot in luxury instead of dying in battle, being hanged by the authorities, or going down with the ship in some nasty weather like those other guys, respectively. Granted he had the de facto support of the English government, but it's hard to keep successful while keeping your head in such a thieving line of work nonetheless (just ask any stockbroker). It's no wonder why all of us strive to have a little bit of "Captain" in us! (Although some of us are too cheap and have to settle for some "Admiral" instead.)