If you are old enough to drink, you have most likely seen the image of Captain Morgan on the bottles of rum in your local shops. You probably assumed that this was a made-up character for their brand, like Ronald McDonald or Tony the Tiger. In reality, this image is based on Sir Henry Morgan, who sailed the Caribbean in the Seventeenth Century.
10. He Was a Privateer
Most people think that Henry Morgan was a pirate, but he was was technically a privateer, also known as a buccaneer. This means he was like a freelance pirate, but it was perfectly legal. In many ways, this was so much better than being an actual pirate, because instead of attacking boats at random, privateers were given a specific mission to accomplish, and they were almost guaranteed to get paid for their efforts. Members of the English government sometimes hired privateers who were willing to assist the royal navy with their ships and crew.
Morgan was born into an aristocratic family in Wales. He grew up spending time in his grandfather’s mansion called Tredegar House, and he became a pirate simply because he thought it was awesome. Morgan called himself a “gentleman adventurer,” and trained with a mentor named Sir Christopher Myngs, who taught him how to fight, and gave him a strong code of ethics to follow.
9. He Was Part Of A Pirate Fraternity
Morgan was part of a privateer fraternity of 1,500 men called The Brethren of the Coast. They mostly worked on commission attacking the Spanish colonies in the Caribbean on behalf of the British government. They elected a captain for each new expedition based on that person’s bravery, knowledge of sailing, and leadership skills. Each member of the Brethren got an employment contract, so their share of the treasure was already agreed upon beforehand. After working several missions, Morgan first became captain at the age of 23.
Each captain had their own code of conduct, and when Henry Morgan drew up his rules for his buccaneers, he paid each member of the crew 150 pieces of eight. In the 1600s, just one of these coins was worth roughly 50 pounds, or $66 US dollars. That is $9,900. Not bad for a single mission. If they lost a body part, they actually got a huge bonus to make up for their missing limbs. The prices ranged anywhere from an extra hundred coins for a missing eyeball, up to six hundred for losing your right arm.
8. The Sack of Panama
During the Sack of Panama, Henry Morgan was hired by the English government to help win territory from Spain. The privateers marched through the dangerous jungle and mountains to Panama City. The journey was far from easy. They ran out of food and water, and many of them died of tropical illnesses. Despite all of these setbacks, the crew kept pushing forward in the hopes of winning a treasure in battle.
When they reached Panama City, they engaged in an epic sword battle with the Spanish, and scored 250,000 pieces of eight – which, in today’s value, is more like $16,500,000. When he returned to Port Royal in Jamaica, he was met by a crowd of cheering people who were celebrating England’s victory in Panama and, of course, the financial success it would bring to the city. People started to learn about the epic stories of Henry Morgan’s bravery, and he got a fanbase from all over the world.
7. He Sued the Authors Who Lied About Him
After he became famous, stories about him started circulating, and many of them made him out to be far more evil than he actually was. In one story, the author of Buccaneers of America, a doctor named Alexandre Exquemelin, claimed that he was with Henry Morgan the entire journey, and that when he attacked Panama City, he tied monks and nuns together like a human shield to protect himself from gunfire. In other versions of the story, he tortured prisoners and forced women to sleep with him.
He also claimed that Morgan confided a secret with him that he was actually never from an aristocratic family at all, and that he sold himself as an indentured servant in order to get a free ride to the Caribbean. Exquemelin lied so many times, Henry Morgan had to sue him for libel, because it was ruining his reputation. The judge ordered him to publish a second edition that was more accurate to the truth.
6. He Was Arrested for Doing His Job
When he first showed up in Jamaica after winning England a massive amount of booty from the Spanish, everyone was celebrating his victory. However, just before he got back home, England and Spain signed a peace treaty that made them allies, and it was against the law to attack the Spanish.
Even though he was just following orders from the governor he received before the peace treaty ever existed, the politicians needed someone to blame for the bad timing. Captain Morgan was arrested for being a pirate, even though he was hired by the governor to do the job as a privateer. He was excommunicated from Jamaica, and sent to London to serve several years in jail.
5. He Became Friends With The King
When he got to London, the mix-up was all cleared up, and he was set free without actually serving any jail time. At that point, nearly everyone had heard of the story of Henry Morgan’s brave victory in Panama, and no one faulted him for the bad timing. Even though he was sent to London for a crime he did not commit, this ended up being a really great thing for his career.
Henry Morgan was so interesting and charming with all of his stories about his adventures on the open sea, he was invited to aristocratic parties, and even became friends King Charles II. He knighted him, and he officially became Sir Henry Morgan. The King gave him a gift of a diamond-encrusted snuffbox with his face on it, and appointed him as the new governor of Jamaica. Since the times were changing, the King wanted the illegal pirates to be cleared out of Caribbean waters, and he figured that there was no better man for the job than Sir Henry Morgan.
4. He Became the New Governor of Jamaica
Revenge has possibly never been as sweet as when Henry Morgan got to return to Jamaica with an order from the King to take the job of the governor who sent him off in handcuffs. He just organized missions for other privateers from the comfort of his huge estate on the island, and he was apparently very diplomatic, only making just enough arrests to make the King happy, and making sure even the illegal pirates found a way out of their life of crime. Morgan was so good at his job, Port Royal became the richest city in the Caribbean, and it was a pirate’s paradise.
Morgan used his wealth to buy multiple large sugar plantations on the island. He spent most days drinking rum and enjoying the island. By the time he turned thirty, he was married, and purchased the Llanhrymni Estate in Cardiff so he and his family could enjoy living in stately homes in both Wales and Jamaica. He died when he was just 53-years-old, but it’s undeniable that he truly did live his short life to the fullest.
3. He Had Most Epic Funeral Ever
When Henry Morgan died, he was given an epic funeral in Port Royal, Jamaica. The city placed his body for viewing in the King’s House. For one day only, pirates with bounties on their heads were allowed to show up without fear of being arrested, because it was just that important to pay their respects to Captain Morgan. All of the pirate and privateer ships were in the harbor, and fired a 22-gun salute.
By that point, the city was mostly inhabited by the privateers and pirates he helped make wealthy. Cannons were set off in his honor. Port Royal was considered to be the most sinful city in the world. There was a party every night with prostitutes, drinking, and plenty of beer, and it was all thanks to Captain Morgan and his adventures.
But four years after his death, in 1692, a massive earthquake hit Port Royal, and it was followed be a tsunami that killed 2,000 people. After that, another 3,000 people died from their injuries. The land where Captain Morgan’s body was buried crumbled, and his remains fell into the sea, and it has never been recovered. The remains of the city are still beneath the ocean to this day.
2. Almost No One Knows What He Actually Looks Like
In nearly every illustration of Henry Morgan, you will see a man with long, dark, curly hair and a mustache. The most famous picture of him came from The Buccaneers of America book, which was illustrated by someone who had never actually seen him face-to-face, and was taking a guess on how he looked based on the stories about him. In this portrait, the man appears to be in his 30s, with long black curly hair and a curly handlebar mustache. This is still the image people think of, because of the illustration on the Captain Morgan rum label.
While this was the most famous pictures of Morgan, it is not accurate to what he really looked like.
Keep in mind that he was knighted in London, he was still in his 20s. They painted a proper portrait, while he lived in England, and it is now on display in the National Trust. It shows that Sir Henry Morgan was actually a baby-faced pretty boy. While this made him incredibly popular with the ladies in London, his true portrait would not exactly strike fear into the hearts of his enemies.
Considering that Henry Morgan went so far as to take the author of The Buccaneers of America to court over misrepresenting his character, it’s interesting that he did not protest the inaccurate portrait of himself in the book. Maybe he enjoyed having people think he looked a bit older, and well… a bit more like a pirate.
1. He Was So Cool, They Put Him On A Bottle of Rum
Hundreds of years after his death, people still remembered the stories of Sir Henry Morgan and his Caribbean adventures. In 1944, the CEO of Seagrams bought a rum distillery in Jamaica, and called it the Captain Morgan Rum Company. It only made sense to put such an iconic person on the bottle. They were one of the first companies to really create a strong flavor of golden spiced rum.
Today, they make a couple dozen different varieties of rum, and it is sold around the globe as one of the most successful alcohol brands in history. Hopefully, the real Captain Morgan would be proud.