Henry Morgan and the British presence in the Caribbean (11)


A collection of documents relating to the history of Jamaica during this period has been published under the title Interesting Tracts relating to the island of Jamaica. It includes 'a letter from Mr Nevil to the Earl of Carlisle' giving him advice on the 'present state of Jamaica.' It seems to suggest a certain ambivalence in Morgan's position. The general thrust is very much in support of the position we might associate with Thomas Lynch:

'It is not to be thought that the Spaniards can quickly forget all the mischiefs continued upon them by us in those parts; mischiefs, indeed, of such a nature that, had not the particular interests of private adventurers, that carried on depredations there, made all the rumour of cruelty run against that nation, must long ago in policy have been prevented; for it may be truly said, that though it has been the Spanish navigation, yet was it the English trade, that has been disturbed by privateering in those parts; and it is not unlikely that we, instead of the Flemings, had been the convoys and sharers in their rich flotas, if we had given them no frequenter cause of enmity to us in those parts than the Dutch have done. But, my lord, to gain a trade with them, I cannot but think the likeliest way would be, first, to make some new contract with the undertakers at Madrid for supplying the Spanish West-Indies with negroes, and this I am confident would be easy to be done, if your lordship would induce his royal highness and the African company to endeavour it ...'

and he warns Carlisle not to have anything to do with the clique that has gathered round Modyford. But he ends with glowing praise for Morgan and Byndloss:

'nor would any man, I humbly conceive, in this nation find so easy as your lordship would do, whose name, by honest Sir Henry Morgan's means, is as generally mentioned with honour and good wishes in their healths as if they had found the good effects of your lordship's government there already; and, next his majesty's and his royal highnesses, no health so often drank, especially at his and his brother's in law colonel Byndloss's tables, and these are the two men indeed who have the true and most prevalent interest the country; Sir Henry from his eminent and famed exploits in those parts, together with his generous and undesigning way of conversing with them, colonel Byndloss by the same generosity and frankness of conversation, mixt with one of the most able understandings that I ever yet met with; and, were my judgments considerable to your lordship, I should not stick to own I think, considering every thing, few clearer thinkers are to be found in the world, though having a plentiful fortune, which he has acquired there by his industry, he does not bend himself to flattery and other little arts, but plainly and above-board offers counsel, which, if accepted, no man more zealous by labour to make his advice succeed ; but, if not, then his standing but by, and retiring without one word of discontent, being more jolly than envious in his temper, yet is that sufficient to influence things to go uneasy with any man that has use of those people, as my lord Vaughan to his great loss in the assembly he called, for closing with Sir Thomas Modyford and neglecting Sir Henry Morgan and his brother Byndloss, all things went heavy that concerned him there, and forced him upon little violences, which have aggravated matters against him. This I have the more enlarged upon, knowing some persons here may give a contrary character of the men, it being their interests to do.'

Glowing praise indeed, but there is something a little sinister about it. If Carlisle doesn't do what Morgan and Byndloss want, they will continue to be perfectly jolly but things will start mysteriously going wrong. It is also clear that Morgan and Modyford had fallen out with each other and that Vaughan, noted for his efforts to suppress privateering, had aligned himself too closely with Modyford. We may imagine that all the toasts jolly Sir Henry was drinking to his old friend Carlisle were so many knives thrown into the back of Vaughan.

With Carlisle's arrival there seems to have been a realignment of loyalties on the island. In opposition to Vaughan and, we assume, Modyford, Morgan seems to have had the support of the assembly. By 1680 there was a state of more or less open warfare between the assembly and Carlisle, who was now aligned with Morgan. Modyford died in 1679 but his son seems to have belonged to the Morgan-Carlisle camp.

Carlisle had come to Jamaica with instructions to introduce a new form of government whereby laws would be made 'like as they are made in Ireland.' Previously the whole body of English law applied in Jamaica and there were complaints that this had been to the advantage of Modyford, who was a lawyer. Under the new proposals there was a mechanism for passing new laws but only on heads of bills already approved, prior to the debate, by the King, in accordance with the Irish 'Poyning's Law'. Cumbersome enough in Ireland it seems ridiculous considering the distance between Jamaica and the royal court at Whitehall. The result was a ferocious contest with the assembly which was probably a continuation of the earlier disputes with Vaughan except that Morgan was now aligned with Carlisle and was passing himself off as a Tory and a King's man. 

The conflict came to a head in 1679 when Carlisle suspended the speaker, Samuel Long and one other council member and sent them to London with six members of the assembly to account for themselves. In London, rather predictably, they preferred counter-charges against Carlisle, and these included having an indulgent attitude towards the privateers. Long summed up his deposition by saying:

'This deponent hath some letters which he received from Jamaica ready to be produced, one whereof mentions in a short time five hundred men were gone off the island [as privateers]; the others give an account of twenty four vessels taken per Sawkins, Coxon and others, in the South Seas; which Coxon, Sawkins, Cooke, Sharpe, Primier, as this deponent is credibly informed, have all been in the said earl's presence and power - and this deponent verily believeth by what he hath heard and seen, if the said earl and Sir Henry Morgan had at several times shut their doors, they might have catched most of the chief pirates and privateers in their homes.'

The deposition is dated '7th Jan 1680', meaning, according to the 'New Style', with the year beginning in January, 1681. It refers to the group who had just, in 1680, sacked Portobello with fewer means than Morgan had at his disposal, crossed the isthmus and introduced piracy for the first time into the South Seas, the Pacific coastline. In crossing the isthmus they had made friends with groups of wild Indians in the area. As a long term consequence of this, in 1686, the Indians of the Mosquito Coast placed themselves under the protection of the British crown. Southey, writing in 1827, says:

'Since this time, when a vacancy happens in their sovereignty, the next of kin repairs to Jamaica to prove his consanguinity and receive his commission from the governor as his subjects will not acknowledge him without.'


In May 1680, Carlisle left with a large party to return to London. William Beeston who was among his enemies explains it by saying he had 'been persuaded by some that by going home (which was without order or leave) he might get the government settled on him for his life, and the reversion to his son, Frederick.' Beeston himself followed in July and, after eight weeks voyage, 'we overtook the Earl of Carlisle (who went from Jamaica fourteen weeks before) off Scilly, with his masts all gone and miserably wrecked, with a weary passage and no provisions.'

In the meantime Morgan was left in charge and seemed full of drive and energy. He had two new forts built - Fort Rupert and Fort Carlisle, and strengthened the already existing Fort James. He may have been inspired by a new aggressiveness among the Spaniards, who took Providence Island back, destroying the English settlement. According to Southey 'They took Mr Clark, the governor, to Cuba in irons, where they are said to have spitted and roasted him to death.' They also threw the English logwood cutters out from Laguna de Terminos. Most ominously, in Morgan's eyes perhaps, was an edict from the King of France forbidding all privateering against the Spanish and withdrawing all existing commissions. The last thing Jamaica wanted was an alliance between France and Spain.

Both Carlisle and Morgan issued warrants against the Sawkins and Sharpe group though by the time they had finished their rampage on the Pacific coast and returned (round Cape Horn, in 1682) Morgan was no longer in charge in Jamaica. Morgan did attack a Dutch privateer, Jacob Everson, who in February 1681 had moored in Cow Bay, Jamaica. Everson escaped but twenty six prisoners were taken. According to Haring, they were sentenced to death. Morgan referred the case to the King who eventually confirmed the sentence. Southey says Morgan delivered them up to the tender mercies of the governor of Cartagena but this seems unlikely.

In London, Long and Beeston were supported by Sir Thomas Lynch, and they won their case. The new constitutional arrangement was withdrawn and Lynch replaced Carlisle as governor. He seems to have returned with a determination to root out Morgan, Byndloss and their friends once and for all, though it was probably more the generally demoralising effect of the drunkenness and roistering at Port Royal rather than any specific involvement in piracy that worried him. He introduced legislation which required that for every ten black slaves plantation owners had to employ at least one white servant. While this may have been a matter of trying to keep the slave population under surveillance it may also have been a matter of finding work for the white ex-soldiers and ex-prisoners who made up the crews of the privateers. There was something perverse about the economy of Jamaica, dependent on slavery but prone to anarchy through the existence of a large pool of unemployed whites.

As in the 1670s, he had his work cut out for him. Pirates were finding new activities and new support. There was a particular problem in the Bahamas, where the English colony of New Providence (Providence Island/Santa Catalina became known as Old Povidence) was under heavy and vicious attack from the Spanish in Florida. As in Jamaica in the 1660s, the privateers appeared to be the only possible source of defence, and commissions were given to them. Similarly among the French in Tortuga and Hispaniola, it seemed they could hardly survive without the buccaneers, and commissions continued to be given despite the orders of the King. Impressive pirating ventures were undertaken, still usually against the softest target, the Spanish. In May 1683, Vera Cruz was taken by a group of one thousand freebooters. In the summer of 1685, some eleven hundred men under the leadership of the French Sieur de Grammont and the Dutch-born Laurens van der Graaf, descended on Campeche. They held it for six weeks, reduced it to ashes and blew up the fort. On St Louis's day, in honour of the French King, they had a huge bonfire of 200,000 crowns worth of logwood.

North America was becoming more alive to the investment opportunities offered by piracy, Carolina becoming a special centre. The Jamaican anti-privateering legislation was advanced by the King, unsuccessfully, as a model to be followed.

Lynch died in 1684 and was replaced by his friend and close colleague, Hender Molesworth. The exclusion of the Morgan faction continued. Morgan seems to have fallen into ever greater depths of alcoholism. He did, however, have one last moment of recognition when his old drinking companion from his days in London, Christopher Monck, second Duke of Albemarle, was appointed governor in November 1687. Monck was of course the son of George Monck, first Duke of Albemarle, the patron of Modyford. His main interest seems to have lain in the - successful - recovery of a Spanish galleon off the coast of Hispaniola. He was appointed by James II and came with a Roman Catholic priest, Father Churchill, with a mission to look after the Roman Catholic interest on the island, which was a source of great mirth to the islanders. Albemarle had asked permission from the King to reappoint Morgan to the Council but he only received it in July 1688. Morgan died in August, at the age of fifty three. Albemarle himself died a couple of months later, of jaundice and dropsy.

They died on the eve of the 'Glorious Revolution', which brought the Dutch William of Orange to the throne of England. The result really did turn the world of Henry Morgan upside down. For the next twenty years, England would be an ally of Holland and Spain against France. Instead of the straw man enemy, Spain, Jamaica found itself at war with France. In these circumstances the Jamaican planters were to have some small taste of the medicine Morgan and his predecessors had been giving the Spanish in America, relentlessly and with an amazing conviction of their own righteousness, for the previous thirty years.