Immortalized by Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum, produced today in Puerto Rico, Henry Morgan was no ordinary pirate. In his heyday he was a privateer empowered by the British government to fight against Spain, and most accounts describe him as a politician. Most notably, King Charles II made him a Knight of the Realm in 1673 and Lt. Governor of Jamaica.
Born Henry Morgan in 1835 to a well-connected and prosperous old farming family in Wales, like most pirates his early life is little known and how he reached Jamaica is disputed. In one version Morgan was kidnapped and worked as an indentured servant until joining Cromwell's forces. In the other, Morgan joined Cromwell upon the British arrival in Jamaica after the island was won from Spain.
As a privateer, Morgan battled through jungles and in major sea battles for the spoils of war. By 1663 he was captain of a privateer ship. In 1666 Morgan became Admiral by the popular acclaim of buccaneers and the weight of the Crown. Later he had charge of fifteen ships and by 1670, he held thirty six ships and eighteen hundred men.
Henry Morgan was a man's man - a warrior, a sailor, and a politician. Noted for his charisma, he was also ruthless. When the buccaneers took Panama's Puerto Bello under his command, Jesuit priests and nuns were used as human shields.
Morgan was already wealthy when he wed his cousin, Mary Elizabeth Morgan, by 1665 but had no children. He could have settled for life as a prosperous planter on his estate in Jamaica, but he preferred the glory and gold of battle.
In 1670 Morgan's forces attacked Panama unaware that a treaty had been signed between Spain and England. For the attack, Morgan was imprisoned in England and charged as a pirate. He never served time in prison, instead his family connections combined with the interest of King Charles II saved Morgan before trial. Charles sought his advice about the Jamaica colony and knighted Morgan in 1673 or 1674. He then appointed Morgan Lt. Governor of the colony.
Morgan spent the remainder of his life in the harbor city of Port Royal, a city infamous as the capital of piracy, where he divided his time between his official duties and drinking rum with his old companions.
Henry Morgan died August 25, 1688 at the age of 53, and was buried at Port Royal. His death has been attributed to tuberculosis, to acute alcoholism, and to unknown causes. At the time of his death his sugar plantations were large and he owned 109 black slaves. The massive earthquake that destroyed Port Royal in 1696 also destroyed Morgan's grave forever.
His fame lives on in legend and in more than a few songs that celebrate his exploits. Henry Morgan is lesser known than other infamous pirates but among those who salute the Jolly Roger, he ranks tall over other buccaneers and played an important role in Jamaican history.