Sir Henry Morgan (c. 1635 � August 25, 1688) was a privateer of Welsh birth, who made a name in the Caribbean as a leader of buccaneers and roughnecks.
The eldest son of Robert Morgan, a squire of Llanrhymny in Glamorgan, the details of Morgan's early life are sketchy. He was said to have been kidnapped as a boy in Bristol and sold as a slave in Barbados, making his way to Jamaica. However his uncle Edward Morgan was Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica after the Restoration of Charles II of England, and Henry Morgan married this uncle's daughter, his cousin, Mary. Therefore it is more likely that he was the "Captain Morgan" who joined the fleet of Christopher Myngs in 1663 and accompanied the expedition of John Morris and Jackman when the Spanish settlements at Vildemos, Trujillo and Granada were taken. In 1666 Morgan commanded a ship in Edward Mansfield's expedition which seized the island of Old Providence (Santa Catalina), and when Mansfield was captured and killed by the Spanish 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 Cuba, in order to discover details of the threatened attack on Jamaica. Collecting ten ships with 500 men, Morgan landed on the island and captured and sacked Puerto Principe, then went on to take the fortified and well-garrisoned town of Portobelo, Panama. It is said that Morgan's men used captured Jesuits as human shields in taking the third, most difficult fortress. The governor of Panama, astonished at this daring adventure, attempted in vain 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 of Jamaica endeavoured to cover the whole under the necessity of allowing the English a free hand to attack the Spanish whenever possible. In London the Admiralty publicly claimed ignorance about this, whilst Morgan and his crew returned to their base at Port Royal, Jamaica, to celebrate.
Modyford almost immediately entrusted Morgan with another expedition against the Spaniards, and he 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 escaped death. In March he sacked Maracaibo, Venezuela which had emptied out when his fleet was first spied, and afterwards spent a few weeks at the Venezuelan settlement of Gibraltar on Lake Maracaibo, torturing the wealthy residents to discover hidden booty. Returning to Maracaibo, Morgan found three Spanish ships waiting at the inlet to the Caribbean; but these he destroyed or captured, recovered a considerable amount of treasure from one which had run aground, exacted a heavy ransom as the price of his evacuating the place, and finally by an ingenious stratagem faking a landward attack on the fort, which convinced the governor to shift his cannon, 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 now 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. Thus Morgan and his crew were privateers, not pirates. Accordingly, after ravaging the coasts of Cuba and the mainland, Morgan determined on an expedition to Panama. He recaptured the island of Santa Catalina on December 15, 1670, and on the December 27 gained possession of the castle of Chagres, killing 300 of the garrison. Then with 1400 men he ascended the Chagres River, and appearing before the city of Panama on January 18, 1671, defeated a much larger force than his own and took the city. The booty was said to have exceeded 100,000 pounds. The fame of this brilliant exploit was tarnished by the habitual cruelty of Morgan's crews.
The politics of the time were complex, however, and despite having previously received royal support for his actions against Spanish holdings, Morgan was arrested and conducted to England in 1672. His fortunes turned again, and in 1674 Morgan was knighted before returning to Jamaica the following year to take up the post of Lieutenant Governor. His health was ruined by continued bouts of drinking and debauchery which eventually cost him his life.
Morgan died rich but childless, leaving all to his widow Mary. Sir Henry is immortalized now by Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum, though this is produced in Puerto Rico, not Jamaica.