Conjure up the image of a pirate and you’ll probably imagine a bloody-thirsty, rum-swinging buccaneer sailing across the high seas in search of treasure, wenches and lands to plunder. So you may be forgiven for believing Captain Morgan himself for being just such a swashbuckling marauder if popular myth is to be believed.
However history tells a slightly different story. Captain Morgan, otherwise known as Admiral Sir Henry Morgan, is believed to have been a privateer who served in a fleet authorised by the government to attack foreign ships during wartime.
Little is known of the young Henry Morgan, and there is no record of the Welshman prior to 1655, although it is believed he hails from the capital of Wales, Cardiff – a connection the city is proud to recognise.
Life on the high seas
In 1658 Morgan’s existence first came to light when he was part of a British fleet involved in the invasion of Jamaica. He was authorised by English Letter of Marque to fight the Spanish on behalf of England and soon started to make a name for himself. He married his cousin, the daughter of his Uncle Edward Morgan who was Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica and whose fleet he joined to take the Spanish settlements in Vildemos, Honduras and Granada.
Morgan earned himself a firm place as leader in further battles with the Dutch and then again with the Spanish, this time over Cuba. When old privateer Edward Mansfield was captured and executed after seizing islands off the coast of Columbia, Morgan was elected to become admiral.
Once made admiral, Morgan’s swashbuckling adventures truly began and he plundered Spanish cities across the Americas, taking treasure, fighting blood thirsty battles and sailing the high seas. Rumour has it Morgan was a huge fan of rum too, which is perhaps where the connection today comes from.
Whether he was a little tipsy from a bit too much grog when he lost his entire five ship fleet at sea in 1671, remains to be seen. The misfortune followed an attack on a fort near Panama City, which also saw the city looted and burned to the ground – a direct violation of the then peace treaty between the Spanish and the English. Morgan returned to London to face the music, but luckily for him, relations between the two countries quickly deteriorated and he was close friends with King Charles II who soon forgave him.
Morgan was promoted to deputy governor of Jamaica, and before his death rose to acting governor. In August 1688 Morgan succumbed to dropsie – otherwise known as oedema – although some sources believe his heavy drinking also had a part to play in his demise (drink in moderation, folks!).
While Morgan’s life was over, his myth had only just begun. Morgan will undoubtedly go down in history as one of Wale’s most famous pirates (or should that be, privateer) and his effigy can be seen on bottles of rum behind bars across the land.
Visit Captain Morgan’s Cardiff
While the image of Captain Morgan adorning each bottle of the world’s second highest selling rum may simply be a clever marketing ploy, after a dram or two you’ll undoubtedly feel a little of the pirate in you emerge…even if you are staying at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Cardiff just up the road. Luckily Cardiff has plenty on offer to make a pirate feel at home.
Embark on a walking tour around the city and take in the sights of Cardiff’s old dock, where pirates once found a (relatively) safe haven, and then journey on to Llanrumney Hall, Captain Morgan’s birthplace. Later you can tuck into some hearty grub at The Sir Henry Morgan Pub and even treat yourself to a glass of the famous rum itself.
Have you visited any Captain Morgan attractions in Cardiff?
This article was written by Darren Cheapside, who is a fan of local history, pirates and rum!