Henry Morgan Sacks Panama City
The 18th of January 1670 AD
For understandable reasons Hollywood movies have tended to confuse pirates and privateers – their business methods being essentially identical. But the distinction was often a matter of life and death for those concerned in the trade.
Henry Morgan, thought to have been from Cardiff though Abergavenny also claims the honour, made his way to the Caribbean by unknown means – some suggest he was shanghaied in Bristol and effectively enslaved, others that he joined the expedition mounted by Cromwell to attack Spanish possessions in the West Indies (taking Jamaica in May 1655 ). It was in similar enterprises – as a privateer licensed by the state to harass enemy shipping and colonies – that the Welshman made his name and fortune.
Morgan’s finest hour as a privateer came when he was sanctioned by Jamaica’s officialdom to get their retaliation in before an expected Spanish attack on the English colony. After some adventures on Cuba he made for Panama City, making his way across from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast to do so. Panama was the wealthiest of Spain’s settlements in the New World. Though outnumbered Morgan’s force easily defeated inexperienced defenders then sacked the city, torturing captives for information when the haul proved unexpectedly small (moved before he captured the place). The city then burned to the ground by accident or design. Violent interrogation of prisoners was one of Morgan’s trademarks, along with heavy drinking – the model for pirates in drama ever since.
As England and Spain, unbeknownst to Morgan, had been at peace when the attack took place, he was subsequently shipped to England but was quickly cleared and in 1674 even knighted by Charles II .
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