Captain Henry Morgan and the Maracaibo Raid
English Pirate: A Hired Privateer
Captain Henry Morgan was a rogue Welsh privateer. Although privateers are generally hired by a government, this privateer had his own motives, which is why many argue that should actually be considered a pirate. Morgan was hired during the 1600's by the English government which allowed him to fight against the Spaniards on England's behalf. They allowed him to keep anything he stole from Spain during his endeavors. His plunder was essentially his pay for a hard day's work. During his battles he became infamous and those who heard his name wanted to join his ranks.
Sir Henry Morgan
Captain Morgan: Pirate
The defining characteristics between a pirate and a privateer are often blurred, since both used scare tactics and brute force to attain their goals. Although one was legal and the other was not. Morgan's history is mostly unknown aside from some of his more infamous battles. He was born around 1635 either in Monmouth, England or Glamorgan, Wales. Although he spent most of his childhood in Wales, he was Welsh in heritage. His family before him were also very involved in the government, his uncle being a Major-General in the army and another being a Colonel for the Royalist cause.
Although his family had a military history, he is believed to have chosen his career path in order to escape his indentured servitude status in 1655. He did not instantly become captain, he first served under Captain Venerables. Unfortunately, Venerables did not have great success as a privateer and was locked in the Tower of London when he arrived back in England sharing his tales. Also during this time, many people that were aboard his ship died due to yellow fever, malaria, and dysentery. Morgan was one of the few to survive. People began to notice his leadership abilities. Then in 1662, Henry Morgan acted as captain and had great success in raiding Castillo Del Morro at the entrance to the Bay of Santiago. They completely destroyed the port.
In 1663, during the early years of his privateering, he built a name for himself as he attacked San Fracisco de Campeche, Villa Hermosa, Trujillo, and Granada. His success as a pirate was so great that King Philip IV of Spain knew his name well.
In 1666, he became Colonel of the Royal Militia. He was well respected by his men and promoted him as "Admiral." Then he led them to Puerto Del Principe in Cuba, and then to the harbor off of Puerto Bello. The first was a success, but with little bounty, the second proved more profitable and quite the small fortune. The attack on the harbor of Puerto Bello was quite devastating for the citizens, since Morgan and his men beat off 3,000 troops along with harming many of the townsfolk.
In October of 1668, he and his men found hard times when one of their ships exploded killing a third of his men, 300 in total, during an attack upon Jamaica. It was then Morgan realized he needed a different plan and began to plan another raid, involving dozens of ships and hundreds of pirates. They set sail off the south coast of Hispaniola toward Isla Vaca. It was this raid that led their attention to Maracaibo. The one thing blocking them was Fuerte de La Barra, a fort built by the Spaniards.
On March 9, 1669, Morgan overtook the fort, since it was sparsely protected by less than a dozen men. This allowed them to sail past into Lake Maracaibo.
He had one of his sneakiest plans that he set forth on April 27, 1669. He then took his best ship and made it seem as if it was fully staffed by hiding logs behind the cannons. Instead his men actually boarded a boat and paddled away. Once the Spaniards got on the boat, they realized they had been duped, but not in time to save themselves. Morgan actually turned his best ship into a bomb, that went off killing the men that climbed aboard.
Battle at Gibraltar
Prior to Morgan's arrival in Maracaibo, men went ahead of them and warned the residents of their plan to defeat the town. The residents packed up their goods, and carried what they could as they hid in the nearby woods. Since the land was vacant when Morgan arrived, they spent several days trying to find people who would tell them where the treasure was hidden.
They did find a slave who was willing to give them some information in exchange for freedom, money, and a return to Jamaica. He led them to some of the Spaniard's hiding places, where Morgan and his men captured prisoners and took the riches that they could. They captured around 250 men.
Since they were mostly unsuccessful, they decided to head towards a smaller town, Gibraltar, which was on the other side of Maracaibo Lake. There they found a slave that was willing to lead them to where the governor was. Unfortunately for the privateer, they did not capture him, but they did seize 350 of his men. They took many of these men back to Maracaibo, where they ransomed them for 5,000 pesos.
Captain Henry and the Maracaibo Raid
When he arrived in Maracaibo, the Spanish men were prepared. They had rebuilt the fort and staffed it with soldiers and artillery. They even blocked the only outlet to the open sea. Morgan sent one of his men to demand a ransom for the city, but Admiral Don Alonzo de Campo y Espinosa stood his ground saying:
If you surrender with humility all which you have taken, including all the slaves and other prisoners, I will have the clemency to let you pass and return to your own country.
When Morgan refused the admiral promised to utterly destroy every one of his men with a sword. Morgan was not a man to be idle towards such a bold threat. He read the letter to his men in both English and French and let the men decide. They decided to fight.
This was an epic fight. Morgan controlled all the ships and the city of Maracaibo, but Don Alonso controlled the only exit the buccaneers had. Don Alonso went against what the citizens wanted. The citizens wanted to get rid of the pirates and pay a ransom of 20,000 pesos. Alonso felt he could overcome the pirates.
In true Morgan fashion, he faked a night attack by sending his ships towards Alonso full of men, then when the ships headed back, the men lay flat so Alonso would believe they had gotten off. They would arrive with "more" men while the pirates stood, then head back with the pirates laying down. Don Alonso believed that he was going to be attacked on land, since he believed the men had gotten off the ship. Alonso sent all his men to protect the fort along the land side. This allowed Morgan to set sail and slip out of the channel, because it was no longer guarded.
On May 27, 1669, Morgan returned to a hero's welcome. All Englanders of different classes admired Morgan's cunning and brave pursuits along with his great success. Morgan only briefly retired and returned to privateering off an on, until he eventually died on the 25th of August 1688 .
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© 2013 Angela Michelle Schultz