You’ve surely seen one of those numerous Captain Morgan ads on TV. Or if you’re an avid drinker, it’s not a stretch to say that you’ve given that pirate more than a glance. But have you ever wondered who this captain is, and whether he’s a real person or not.
The real Captain Morgan was a Welsh privateer who lived from 1635 to 1688. A privateer is like a pirate who was authorized by a government to attack enemy vessels during wartime. The only difference between a pirate and privateer is that unlike the former, the latter has the authorization from a government to raid an enemy vessel.
Captain Morgan’s real name was Henry Morgan and his biggest claim to fame (apart from being named after the popular rum, obviously), was raising ships on behalf of the British and using these to attack Spanish outposts and vessels.
Captain Morgan was born in 1635 in Monmouth County, Wales. He was born to a family who had a rich history of serving the military, so Henry decided to continue the tradition. He joined General Venables and Admiral Penn when the British seized control of Jamaica from the Spanish in 1654. But he soon took a different route, becoming a privateer and setting up attacks in Central America.
As mentioned earlier, a privateer was like a pirate although his operations were sanctioned or legal. They were like mercenaries who were authorized by their governments to attack ships and outposts of their enemies. As a reward, privateers kept most of the loot although they did share some of the treasures with their governments.
During Captain Morgan’s time, England and Spain fought off and on. During times of peace, privateers like Captain Morgan would go into fishing or logging, or simply go into outright privacy.
The English colony in Jamaica was weak that the British needed a privateer to provide its navy with additional support during times of war. It was not surprising that Captain Morgan excelled in this region, because he was clever and fearless. By 1688, he had become the top dog of the Brethren of the Coast, a group of privateers and pirates in the region.
It was also during that year when he attacked the wealthy town of Portobello in the Spanish Main, situated in the northeastern part of South America and Panama. His group had grown significantly in numbers after he captured prisoners in Cuba, and added more than 500 men.
The attack on Portobello was quick and easy because of the town’s meager defenses. Morgan and his men looted the town, and even held it for ransom. They demanded and received P100,000 for not burning the town to the ground.
The next year, Morgan conducted another raid at the Spanish Main this time on Maracaibo. His group raided the La Barra fort at Lake Macaraibo. They then looted the towns of Macaraibo and Gibraltar. Although they were trapped by Spanish warships, Morgan was devious enough to trick the Spanish commanders at the post to turn their guns inland which allowed his ships to sail past them at night.
After sacking Panama in 1671, Morgan would retire from privateering. Spain and England would eventually sign a peace agreement and as a result, Morgan was sent back to England from Jamaica. There, he became a huge celebrity because of his exploits. He was never punished and was even knighted.
Death and Legacy
When he returned to Jamaica, Captain Morgan spent his days drinking with his troops and fondly sharing war stories. He also lent his hand in improving the defenses of Jamaica. There were times when he administered the colony especially when the governor was away but he never went back to sea. He died in 1688.
Even after his death, Captain Morgan’s exploits remained the stuff legends are made of. His life was the inspiration of films like Swashbuckler Captain Blood shown in 1935, and he is also said to have inspired the character Jack Sparrow in the very popular Hollywood blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean.
In 1945, Captain Morgan was chosen as the name of a rum owned by Samuel Bronfman. During that year, Bronfman acquired the Long Pond Distillery from the Jamaican government, which would eventually become the Captain Morgan Run Company.
The iconic Captain Morgan’s Original Spiced Rum was concocted by two local Jamaican pharmacists. It is the best-selling spiced rum in the world. In 2001, Captain Morgan was bought from Seagram’s by liquor and alcohol beverage firm Diageo.
Recently, his name again hugged the headlines when a U.S.-based team found the remains of one of his ships. It had unopened cargo boxes and large coral encrusted chests, although there were no treasures hidden.