Captain Morgan made his name as a pirate before becoming associated with rum. Inset: Woodcut of the real Admiral Sir Henry Morgan (Photo Credits: CC BY-SA/Mark Scott/Flickr; Inset: Public Domain/Wikipedia)

Thanks to the Johnny Depp film franchise “Pirates of the Caribbean” and international incidents involving Somalian maritime bandits, the image of the privateer has recaptured the public’s imagination. However, 17th-century relics from the golden age of piracy on the Spanish Main that have historians buzzing with excitement. According to National Geographic, cannons believed to come from the fleet of Welsh privateer Capt. Henry Morgan have been discovered on the sea floor at the mouth of Panama’s Chagres River.

First a captain, then an admiral, always a privateer

Admiral Sir Henry Morgan (Harri Morgan in Welsh) is believed to have lived from 1635 to 1688. He was arguably the most notorious and successful privateer to work the Spanish Main, from the Caribbean Sea coastlines straddling “the ports of Porto Bello on the Isthmus of Darien, through Cartagena de Indias in New Granada, and Maracaibo to the Orinoco delta,” per Wikipedia. Captain (later Admiral) Morgan’s primary targets were Spanish settlements that were rich in gold.

As a privateer, Capt. Morgan was licensed by the English crown via a Letter of Marque and Reprisal to hunt down and capture enemy vessels, then bring still-seaworthy vessels before the British admiralty courts for condemnation and sale. After his days of piracy, Morgan served out the remainder of his days as Britain’s Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica. His reputation for rowdy drunkenness allegedly inspired alcohol conglomerate Diageo to produce Captain Morgan Jamaican rum.

Historians get some Satisfaction

Historians and other experts working for the Panamanian government, the Waitt Institute for Discovery, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Texas State University and the National Geographic Society believe that the 17th-century cannons came from Admiral Morgan’s one-time flagship, Satisfaction. Historical record suggests that the three-masted galley struck a rocky reef and sank at the mouth of the Chagres River while en route to sacking Panama City (then Panamá Viejo) in 1671.

Three additional ships in Morgan’s fleet are believed to have hit the same reef or other ships at that time, yet Morgan’s raid of Panama City went off without a hitch. The ferocity of his Panama City onslaught did strain his relations with the English crown, however, as England and Spain had recently forged a peace treaty.

Archaeologists will treat the recovered cannons to remove organic buildup so that they can be studied at greater length. Ultimately, the 17th-century firepower will be displayed in Panama. For a detailed account of the career of Admiral Sir Henry Morgan, his Wikipedia page is a good place to begin the voyage.

Sources

Sir Henry Morgan wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Morgan

National Geographic: http://bit.ly/jBzAaM

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: http://www.noaa.gov/

Waitt Institute: http://wid.waittinstitute.org/

Admiral Sir Henry Morgan, Pirate King (Contains simulated pirate violence)

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