Henry Morgan and the British presence in the Caribbean (10)


The decision to replace Sir Thomas Modyford had already been made in December 1670, before the news of the rape of Panamá had arrived. His successor was Thomas Lynch, knighted for the occasion. Lynch was himself a Jamaica planter, one of the largest, appointed Provost-Marshall of the country at the time of the Restoration. He had been a member of the council and of the assembly at the time of Sir Charles Lyttleton and, as President of the Assembly, had briefly stood in as governor between Lyttleton's departure and the arrival of Modyford. We have already seen him at that time regretting that mutual grievances made a trade between the colony and the Spanish impossible. Peter Earle in The Pirate Wars, calls him a 'hispanophile', but this is probably an exaggeration. Given the atmosphere of the time, merely to wish to have amicable relations with Spain would be enough to qualify as a hispanophile. He had left Jamaica in 1665, after Modyford had removed him from the council and from his office of chief justice, probably about the time Modyford was committing himself to a policy of encouraging the privateers. It may have been after this that he went to Spain and learned to speak Spanish.

He was now sent to Jamaica with clear instructions to suppress privateering and encourage agriculture. The time was ripe for such a change. Lynch reported in 1673 that the main economic products of the island were cacao, indigo and hides but that sugar was beginning to succeed. Modyford may have introduced sugar from Barbados. He had certainly encouraged cacao though this had not succeeded very well. The strengthening of the agricultural interest can perhaps most easily be measured in the number of slaves  - 9,504 in 1673, according to Lynch. A  clear division of interest between the agricultural interest and the privateers was emerging if only at the most elementary level that the items robbed from the Spanish and dumped on the market in Jamaica included the items, notably indigo and cacao, that the Jamaican planters were trying to produce themselves.

Lynch was to approach the problem of the privateers cautiously. All commissions 'to the prejudice of the King of Spain  or any of his subjects' were withdrawn but privateers who submitted were offered land, money and freedom from prosecution for earlier crimes. They could keep the 'prizes' they had already got and sell them in Jamaica without having to pay the tenths of fifteenths to the King or the Duke of York. Those who refused to accept these terms were to be pursued as pirates. William Beeston, a leading figure in the agricultural and trading interest, was sent to Cartagena to proclaim the terms of the peace and secure the release of thirty two prisoners.


Lynch also had the delicate task of arresting Modyford and Morgan, the two most popular men on the island, whose policies had brought in so much easily obtained wealth. Modyford was kept for some months imprisoned on a ship before being sent to London where he was put in the Tower of London. He was still there in 1674 though he was back in Jamaica by 1676. Morgan was not arrested until 1672, perhaps because he was ill, presumably with the fever he had brought back with him from Panamá. His state of health cannot have been improved by a directive from Lynch allowing those who felt they had been cheated by him at Panamá to seek redress in the courts. 

When Morgan did go to London, however, his reception was very different from Modyford's. He was in fact lionised, everyone wanting to bask in the glory of the conqueror of Panamá and enjoy the excitement of associating with such a dashing rogue. His main problem was that being lionised in such circles was an expensive business and he was quickly running through his means, but he was making connections which would be useful to him, including two future governors of Jamaica - the Earl of Carlisle (a new creation not related to the Earl of Carlisle who had played an important role in the early days of Barbados) and the Duke of Albemarle, son of the Duke who had supported the privateering policy of Modyford.

Morgan was tried in 1673, defending himself on the absurd grounds that his attack on Panamá had been a war to end war, necessary to prevent a Spanish aggression. Soon after being acquitted he was knighted and appointed to return to Jamaica as lieutenant-governor together with Carlisle as governor. Carlisle's departure, however, was postponed and he was replaced by the very different figure of Sir John Vaughan.

This was something of a slap in the face for Lynch, who seems to have done a remarkable job under difficult circumstances. In January 1672 he complained of the privateers that 'this cursed trade has been so long followed, and there is so many of it, that like weeds or hydras, they spring up as fast as we cut them down.' The predictions of the supporters of privateering - that the privateers would resort to the French commissions that were still being handed out in Tortuga and that they would not defend Jamaica and might even start attacking it - proved largely true. And Lynch still encountered a great deal of opposition within Jamaica from the friends and associates of Modyford. There was, for example the case of Peter Johnson (or Pieter Jansen) who, with a group of around one hundred buccaneers, had been raiding round the coast of Havanna after seizing a Spanish ship of fourteen guns and killing its crew. He had been blown on to the Jamaican coast in a storm and tried by Modyford's son, who acquitted him. Shortly afterwards they were seen drinking together (Johnson claimed that he had been coming in to submit). Lynch had the younger Modyford removed from the council, tried Johnson himself and had him executed. This serious breach of legal procedure may help to explain his dismissal as governor.

He was not helped by the Spaniards: 'Ever since 1972' Haring comments 'the Spaniards, moved by some strange infatuation, had persisted in a course of active hostility to the English in the West Indies.'

It surely isn't difficult in the light of Modyford's and Morgan's activities to understand this 'strange infatuation' though once Lynch had started trying to address the problem the Spanish attitude was certainly regrettable. The governor of the Campeche region was particularly hostile, perhaps because that was one of the centres of the logwood trade, very closely associated with piracy and seen by the Spanish as the theft of a natural resource. Modyford in 1670 had noted twelve vessels exclusively devoted to this trade swollen to thirty-two six months later (Haring p.120). The Queen Regent in Spain had sent orders allowing commissions to privateers to pursue ships that were carrying logwood illegally. An old Dutch privateer called Yallahs, who had refused to submit to Lynch, began to work instead for the Spanish. An Irish Roman Catholic, Philip Fitzgerald, and a Spanish privateer, Don Francisco, with a commission from the governor of Campeche, made a special virtue of capturing English vessels and mistreating the crew. In the first flush of rage at the capture of Panamá, the Spanish had thought of sending a fleet to the area and though this came to nothing the rumour of it necessitated a strengthening of Jamaica's defences.


Morgan and Carlisle should have sailed in 1674 but Carlisle was in the end unable to go and in 1675, Morgan and Carlisle's replacement, John Vaughan, departed in two separate ships. Morgan's ship, to Vaughan's annoyance, raced ahead. It was blown on to the Isla Vaca, losing much of its stores, but Morgan still reached Jamaica before Vaughan. It is not clear why Morgan was so anxious to arrive first. The loss of the stores - which included a great deal of military equipment - on the island that had been and still was the great meeting place of the privateers arouses feelings of suspicion.

Vaughan continued Lynch's policy of trying to suppress the privateers but soon found that he had a deadly enemy in Morgan. The two men were temperamentally unsuited to each other, despite their common Welsh origins - Vaughan was the member of Parliament for the borough of Camarthen and the Vaughan estates were counted as among the largest in Wales. He may have had the eminent Anglican theologian, Jeremy Taylor as a tutor and he was one of the first patrons of the poet John Dryden, writing prefatory verses to his play The Conquest of Granada. Dryden himself, in the preface to his play Limberham, or The Kind Keeper (the "keeper' being a brothel-keeper) says of Vaughan:

'You are so generally known to be above the meanness of my praises, that you have spared my evidence, and spoiled my compliment: Should I take for my common places, your knowledge both of the old and the new philosophy; should I add to these your skill in mathematics and history; and yet farther, your being conversant with all the ancient authors of the Greek and Latin tongues, as well as with the modern, I should tell nothing new to mankind; for when I have once but named you, the world will anticipate all my commendations, and go faster before me than I can follow.'

Haring comments on 'Morgan's open or secret sympathy with the privateers, a race with whom Vaughan had nothing in common.' Vaughan complained that while he was condemning privateers who had refused to accept the terms of submission as pirates, Morgan would encourage them to take French commissions, would fit them out to go to sea, and even had authority from the French governor of Tortuga  to collect the fee on his behalf for goods that had been seized using his commissions but which had been sold in Jamaica. Vaughan's period in office was a continual confrontation with Morgan which came to a climax when Vaughan cited Morgan and his brother in law, Robert Byndloss, to appear before the Council on charges of collaborating with the privateers and with the French; and in the trial of a Scotsman, James Browne, who had taken a Dutch slave ship, killing the captain and several of its crew and landing around one hundred and fifty slaves in Jamaica. Vaughan suspended the assembly when they voted for a reprieve.

As an example of the sort of problems Vaughan had to deal with, in July 1677 a group of English buccaneers, including the very interesting John Coxon, arrived with the Spanish Bishop of Santa Marta (though Beeston's journal calls him the Bishop of Panamá). They had been part of a joint French/English expedition to Santa Marta which they had held against an army of five hundred men sent out from Cartagena. They had taken the governor with the Bishop and other prisoners for ransom, but the English decided to submit and gave the Bishop to Vaughan, who entertained him - one imagines their conversations may have been interesting - before returning him to Santa Marta. Vaughan tried to secure the release of the governor and other prisoners but they were in the hands of the French who refused to give them up without a ransom. 

Vaughan dissolved the assembly in September, which left the government of the island without a revenue since the assembly had not voted it. News had come through in July 1677 that Carlisle would be arriving in January but he still had not arrived when Vaughan, worn out and ill, left in March. Carlisle arrived in July 1678 and in the interim Morgan ruled as lieutnant governor. It was a very nervous time since war was expected with France and a great French fleet had arrived in the area under the Comte d'Estree, sailing against the Dutch at Curaçao. The island was put in a military posture and every tenth negro slave in the island - every fourth in Port Royal - was assigned to working on the fortifications. Perhaps as a result there was a slave mutiny with several people killed in April. The scare passed in June when d'Estree's fleet was shipwrecked with the loss of four hundred men and three hundred and fifty brass guns.