When you hear the name "Captain Morgan," images of bros posing with a handle of spiced rum with one foot danging precariously in the air probably come to mind. While there were plenty of pirates whose reputations were built on boozin' it up with bar wenches à la modern rum-guzzling frat bros, the real Captain Morgan is not one of them.
Sir Henry Morgan doesn't sound like the name one of the most terrifying pirates in the Caribbean - but the ruthless Captain Henry Morgan propelled himself to fame and riches by terrorizing his enemies and seizing a fortune in gold from the Spanish. The history of piracy is full of surprises, and these Henry Morgan facts are no exception.
Morgan was the son of a Welsh farmer, but he wasn't destined for a life on the farm. Instead, Captain Morgan crossed the Atlantic and became the most famous privateer of the 1600s. He became the leader of a powerful group of pirates called the Brethren of the Coast. He led an army of pirates against the Spanish, eventually capturing the second largest city in the Western Hemisphere. And Captain Morgan didn't waste (all) his gold on booze and wenches - he used his money to buy up huge amounts of land in Jamaica.
Once he became rich, Captain Morgan retired from piracy to become the Governor of Jamaica. After years of terrorizing the Spanish, Captain Morgan became a pirate hero and one of England's most famous men. And he did it all by looting and pillaging.
Was Captain Morgan real? Definitely. And his buccaneering earns him a spot on the list of history's greatest pirates and an unlicensed mascot deal for one of college freshmen's choice liquors.
Morgan wasn't exactly a pirate - he was a privateer, licensed by the British government to attack the Spanish any time the two countries were at war... which was pretty much all the time in the 1600s. So technically, when Captain Morgan raided the fortified Spanish town of Porto Bello in 1668, it was completely legal.
In spite of the numerous guards, Captain Morgan was able to use a clever tactic to take the town: he used the Spaniards' Catholic faith against them. The captain anchored his ships far away to conceal his attack and struck at night by canoe. Two of the three forts quickly fell. To take the third, Morgan used captured nuns as human shields, taking the city and a handsome pile of gold for his trouble.
Capturing Porto Bello was only the first step. Captain Morgan knew the Spanish would pay dearly to get the port back, as all the gold and silver from Peru passed through Porto Bello on the way to Spain. Captain Morgan sent a ransom note for the entire city to the governor of Panama. He demanded 100,000 pieces of eight (the Spanish coin-based currency of the time) for the return of the port and its inhabitants, or else he'd burn the entire town to the ground.
And to show he was confident, Morgan also sent the governor a pistol, declaring that it was so easy to take Porto Bello that he was already planning to return in a year to get his pistol back. The frightened governor paid the entire ransom. And Captain Morgan's success in Porto Bello helped him recruit even more followers.
Morgan always promised to reward his men for their service. And he was often more generous than the Royal Navy. In 1670, as he planned the assault on Panama, Morgan drew up self-governing articles, essentially a contract with his followers. The captains of each ship would receive a hefty share of the treasure, while every man was covered by disability compensation in case they were harmed during the raid. The pirates could even get a bonus of 50 pieces of eight for bravery. Morgan only claimed one percent of the profits for himself, sharing generously with his men.
But that generosity ended when it came to prisoners. Captain Morgan wasn't shy about using violence. If he needed information out of a prisoner, Captain Morgan would strap a leather cord around the person's head and tighten it with a metal bar until his eyeballs popped out.
Captain Morgan's enemies always underestimated him. In 1669, he sailed seven ships to the Venezuelan port of Maracaibo. Although they outnumbered the Spaniards, the Spanish flagship had more firepower than Morgan's entire fleet. But Captain Morgan still sent a demand for surrender to the Don Alonso del Campo y Espinosa, who led the Spaniards. Espinosa would soon regret his choice to refuse.
Morgan ordered his pirates to turn one of their seven ships into a fire ship. It was packed with explosives and aimed toward the Spaniards. Espinosa learned of the plan but dismissed it, saying the pirates "lacked the wit" for the advanced tactic. But Morgan was willing to sacrifice one of his ships to take the port. He sent 12 men on the fire ship, disguised with wooden guns and packed with explosives. At the last minute, they lit their own ship on fire and grappled directly to the Spanish flagship. Fire quickly spread in the Spanish ships, and the pirates easily took Maracaibo, earning 250,000 pieces of eight in ransom money.