Henry Morgan and the British presence in the Caribbean (4)


In June 1661, then, D'Oyley's commission was renewed even though, in Myngs's absence, D'Oyley had been giving a more or less free hand to the buccaneers. Port Caguaya become Port Royal and its fort, Fort Cromwell, became Fort Charles but otherwise life continued much as before. The distinction  between the military interest and the buccaneering interest had become very blurred, to the annoyance of those who were trying to develop Jamaica as a centre for the production of crops for export. But this section of the population was still weak. The rough crowd of ex-Cromwellian soldiers, pressganged beggars and transported convicts that constituted so much of the white population did not lend itself easily to agriculture. The market for the easiest produce - tobacco - was already crowded and there still weren't sufficient slaves to develop it on a large scale.

The following year, a new governor, Lord Windsor, arrived with instructions 'to endeavour to obtain and preserve a good correspondence and  free commerce with the plantations belonging to the King of Spain.' To this end he was empowered, if necessary, to use force. He claimed to have written to the governors of Puerto Rico and San Domigo, and the Minutes of the Council of Jamaica for the 20th August 1662 record:

'Resolved that the letters from the Governors of Porto Rico and San Domingo are an absolute denial of trade and that, according to His Majesty's instructions a trade by force or otherwise be endeavoured.' (Haring, p.58)

As if to have it all spelled out in letters of gold, Windsor arrived accompanied by Christopher Myngs, with a forty six gun frigate, The Centurion. The following month Myngs sailed out with some 1,300 men and eleven ships to raid the nearest Spanish port, Santiago, after Havana the most important port in Cuba. As Bridges comments: 'the soldiery, poor and destitute of the necessary means of settling, joyfully embraced the opportunity of pillage.' There was some justification for the raid since the Spanish army that had tried to recover Jamaica in 1658 had come from Santiago and it was a likely staging post for any future such attempt. The fortress was razed to the ground and Myngs returned to a hero's welcome.  

The following January, 1663 (if we start the year in January. 1662 according to the seventeenth century reckoning which started the year on 25th March), under the governorship of Sir James Lyttleton and following a further resolution of the Council, Myngs set out again, this time to San Francisco de Campeche, in the Gulf of Mexico, near Yucatan. The area was known for its 'logwood' - a hard wood that yields a dye that was highly prized in Europe. A group of pirates who had done a good trade raiding ships carrying logwood, had settled in the dense forest near Campeche and turned to logging it themselves. It was a good means of making large amounts of money in a short period of very intense, uncomfortable and dangerous work. Only shortly beforehand, in 1661, the English Parliament had lifted restrictions imposed to protect the older methods of the dyeing industry in England. It seems unlikely that the raid on Campeche was not related to this, that it was not part of an effort to 'force a trade.' It certainly created difficulties for Spain since the Mexican treasure fleet which was due to sail was delayed for two months until a more adequate protection could be organised for it. Fourteen vessels found in the harbour and, according to Spanish sources, some 150,000 'pieces of eight' were taken. 

Myngs was badly wounded during the raid and the command was briefly taken by the buccaneer, Edward Mansfield, or Mansveldt. As a result of his wounds Myngs returned to England in July with The Centurion. He would be active in the Anglo-Dutch war in 1664, promoted to Vice-Admiral and knighted for his involvement in the battle of Lowestoft in June 1665.


Myngs was an officer in the British navy and his targets had been agreed by the Council in Jamaica. As such he was not a 'privateer' - although  he was leading a band of privateers and D'Oyley had earlier accused him of behaving like a privateer. Privateers were effectively pirates operating under license. They were private individuals pursuing their own interest and gaining only what they made themselves, usually a share in the spoils according to principles agreed in advance with their collaborators. From the government's point of view, their services were free of charge even when - as in the raids on Santiago and Campeche - they were operating under government command. 

The advantage to the privateer of having a commission was that he would then have a defense under the law of the country that had given the commission and would have a safe market in which to dispose of the spoils. The advantage from the point of view of the government giving the commission - apart from what could be done under direct government command - was that it was a protection against raids on their own shipping or property, and that their own markets received large quantities of very cheap goods, as well as large amounts of currency, since pirates spent freely. The government was also able to impose a tax - fifteen per cent for the King, ten per cent for the Duke of York, the future James II who, as Lord High Admiral, was responsible for the 'admiralty courts' which organised the distribution of the loot. The disadvantage was that they could be considered responsible for the actions of large numbers of vicious and desperate men who were quite out of their control, and these commissions could only be withdrawn when the privateers were in port. The pirate could continue raiding 'enemy' property on a valid commission long after the government's policy had changed to one of peace.

There was also the disadvantage that the roistering style of life the system encouraged skewed the economic life of the island in a way that many people felt was undesirable.

After the raid on Campeche, the governor, Sir James Lyttleton, received a stern letter from Charles prohibiting any further adventures of the same kind and  early in 1664, with Lyttleton still in charge, the Jamaican assembly passed a resolution forbidding anyone from leaving the island on 'designs' without permission from the governor, council and assembly. But in March 1664, a ship came in with plunder from Santo Tomas on the Orinoco, and in October another with two Spanish prize ships, 100 quintels of quicksilver destined for the mines in Mexico, and seventy prisoners. Lyttleton - by this time in England - explained that the captains had been operating on the basis of old commissions granted by Lord Windsor and that he had had no power to recall them.

In a memo dated August 1664 Lyttleton argued that the privateering system was indispensable because it maintained maritime skills without the expense of a regular navy. If it was suppressed, the King would lose the services of innumerable men whose knowledge of the sea was incomparable; the privateers were able to keep Jamaica informed of Spanish strength; few merchants would be interested in coming to Jamaica without the riches gained by the prize money; Jamaica simply didn't have the resources to suppress them and if it tried they would turn to other islands controlled by the French or Dutch and perhaps prey on English commerce. 

As against this, the privateering system, which was increasingly directed against the ordinary citizens of Spain - the very people most willing to trade with the English - was hardly helpful to a policy of opening commercial relations. Thomas Lynch, who had been elected President of the Assembly and was briefly in charge of the island in 1664, declared in May of that year: 'It is not in the power of the governor to have or to suffer a commerce, nor will any necessity or advantage bring private Spaniards to Jamaica, for we and they have used too many barbarisms to have a sudden correspondence. When the king was restored, the Spaniards thought the manners of the English nations changed too and adventured twenty or thirty vessels to Jamaica for blacks, but the surprises and irruptiuons by C. Myngs, for whom the governor of San Domingo has upbraided the commissioners, made the Spaniards redouble their malice, and nothing but an order from Spain can give us admittance or trade.'


Lynch was writing during a brief period when there was an attempt to change policy. In January 1664, Thomas Modyford in Barbados was appointed to succeed Lyttleton (he - Modyford - was knighted in February). His instructions forbade him from issuing letters of marque (commissions) and urged him to encourage trade with the Spanish. His deputy, Col Edward Morgan, arrived in May and he himself arrived in June, accompanied by some six hundred planters from Barbados. Southey's Chronological History claims that he introduced the planting of sugar, already well established in Barbados, and he also encouraged the planting of cacao. Undoubtedly his arrival signified a strengthening of the agricultural side of Jamaica's activities. 

He seems to have started with a real determination to suppress privateering. In August, for example, the buccaneer John Davis, also known as Robert Searle, who had accompanied Myngs in his raids on Santa Marta, Tolú and Santiago de Cuba, arrived with two Spanish vessels. They were confiscated to be returned to their Spanish owners. A cargo of logwood, indigo and silver brought in in November by Captain Morris Williams, was seized and sold for the benefit of its Spanish owner. Many commissions were revoked. In December Captain Munro, who had attacked English merchant ships, was condemned and hanged (his crew, also condemned, were later pardoned).

As a further sign of what might be called the development of a normal, legal trade and better relations with Spain, the recently formed Company of Royal Adventurers to Africa arrived in February 1665 'to settle their negro trade there', and the islander William Beeston records in his Journal that 'At this time came the ships from Cartagena for negroes, and were furnished upon a contract made in Spain which Sir Thomas Modyford not liking, soon after broke.  These ships were the Santa Cruz, Captain Nicholas Redwigon, and the St Fortunato, captain Pedro D'Orioste, both of which carried about 800 negroes.'

The sugar plantations in Modyford's Barbados had, by 1653, some 20,000 slaves as against 8,000 indentured servants, 5,000 freeholders, and 5,000 freemen (servants whose indentures had come to their end). Jamaica had around 500 slaves in 1661, which,as we shall see, rose to nearly 10,000 by 1673.