The Lost Fleet of Captain Morgan?

Captain Henry Morgan was one of the most successful privateers of all time. In 1671, while conducting a shocking raid on Panama City, he lost five ships to the raging waters of the Caribbean.  Now, divers believe that they have located this lost fleet. Just who was Captain Morgan? And how did his raid single-handedly change the world?

Captain Henry Morgan

Captain Henry Morgan at Porto Bello
Drawn by Howard Pyle (1887)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Who was Captain Henry Morgan?

Henry Morgan was born in Wales in 1635. While early accounts of his life are conflicting, we do know that he was commanding his own ship by the age of 30. Soon after, he took on the role of privateer, or a government-sanctioned pirate, similar to the infamous Captain Kidd. Outfitted with letters of marque from Britain, he began a series of daring raids that rocked Spain’s tenuous grip on the New World.

Captain Henry Morgan invades Panama?

In late 1670, Captain Henry Morgan assembled a mighty fleet of thirty-six ships and some 2,000 men and turned his sights towards Panama City. At that time, Panama City was the richest city in the Americas, thanks to seemingly endless loads of Inca gold appropriated by the Spanish conquistadors. It was also considered invincible, thanks to heavy fortifications facing the Pacific Ocean and miles of thick jungle separating it from the Caribbean Sea. Undeterred, Henry Morgan sailed to the Chagres River and captured Castillo de San Lorenzo. In the process, he lost five vessels, including his flagship, which underwater archaeologists believe they have now located.

Afterwards, Captain Morgan divided his 1,400 remaining men and marched through the Panama Isthmus. He caught the Spanish defenders by surprise, outflanked their counterattack, and seized the city. He spent several weeks in Panama and eventually left with 175 mules loaded with gold, silver, and jewelry. The haul was relatively light due to the fact that a few treasure-laden Spanish vessels managed to flee the harbor. However, since Henry Morgan paid his men just ten pounds apiece for their help in the raid, many researchers speculate that he took the rest of the treasure for himself and hid it before returning to Jamaica.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

According to Stephan Talty’s excellent book, Empire of Blue Water: Captain Morgan’s Great Pirate Army, the Epic Battle for the Americas, and the Catastrophe That Ended the Outlaws’ Bloody Reign, Captain Henry Morgan’s raid on Panama City led to more than a possible lost treasure. It also changed the course of history, helping to bring about the end of the Spanish Empire and the “Old World”, which had been driven by religion, laws, and birthrights. The British Empire and a “New World”, driven by money, free trade, and democracy, would rise in its wake. In that respect, Captain Morgan remains one of the least known, yet most influential people in modern history.

“Morgan had helped, in his own way, point a path toward the future. Some historians have even argued that without Morgan the Spanish would have been able to settle and defend Florida more vigorously and even extend their control along the Gulf Coast, creating an impregnable empire stretching to Texas. Without him, who knows what the map of the Caribbean and even of the United States might look like. He battled a divine empire on behalf of men interested in trade and gold and rational society (but certainly not freedom for every member, as the pirates had insisted on). The next great world empire, the British, would be a mercantile, not a religious, one. The world had turned Morgan’s way, and he’d nudged it along.” ~ Stephan Talty, Empire of Blue Water

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