Henry Morgan and the British presence in the Caribbean (5)


Beeston's journal also records the preparations that were being made at the same time for an assault on the Dutch possessions in the region. 

The Jamaican economy had been badly hit by the policy of refusing commissions and seizing prizes. Already late in 1664 Modyford had secured Bennet's approval for a policy of allowing the sale of prizes on condition that they would be returned in the unlikely event of the Spanish owners turning up to reclaim their property. As England headed towards a war with the Dutch, a major power in the region, it was obvious that without the support of  the privateers Jamaica could not defend itself. It was also obvious that the privateers were not interested in mere defense - only a policy of aggression offered the possibility of plunder. An expedition was therefore organised with a very ambitious programme of capturing the Dutch properties of St Eustatia, Saba and Curaçao and then, on the return journey, the French stations at Tortuga and Hispaniola. The expedition left about the same time that the Dutch fleet under Admiral de Ruyters attacked Barbados. De Ruyters was repulsed with difficulty but went on to take the English properties of Montserrat and Nevis before sailing North towards Virginia. 

The Jamaican expedition was composed of around 500 men, mostly 'reformed prisoners'. They included the crew of the Captain Munro who had been hanged for attacking English merchantnmen. They were led by Modyford's deputy, Col Edward Morgan. They took St Eustatia and Saba with embarrassing ease - the Dutch put up no resistance - but Morgan, an old man, died in the heat. This expedition of privateers led by an army officer with targets specified by the council was on the same pattern as the exploits of Captain Myngs but it hardly had Myngs's charismatic leadership. It broke up in disputes over the division of the spoil (some 900 negroes with livestock and cotton) and returned to Jamaica with a clear sense of failure.

Richard Searle, with another pirate called Stedman, were then sent against the Dutch island of Tobago and were in the process of destroying everything on the island when Lord Willoughby, governor of Barbados, arrived and persuaded them to spare the fort and the governor's house.


Modyford's policy of trying to suppress the privateers was now in disarray, and the policy of trying to organise privateers in a military campaign against the Dutch was not looking much better. It was at this point, on 20th August 1665, that, as Beeston records in his journal: 'Captain Fackman and others arrived from taking the towns of Tobascoe and Villa  de Moos in the bay of Mexico and although there had been peace with the Spaniards not long since, yet the privateers went out and in, as if there had been an actual war, without commission.' 'Captain Fackman' - the French historian Raynald Laprise calls him 'Jacob Fackman' but the English accounts usually call him Captain Jackman - had been away from Jamaica for some time. According to Terry Breverton's account they had left in December 1663 and thus had missed the whole period of the attempted rapprochement with the Spaniards. They still had commissions issued by Lord Windsor.

Fackman travelled with a Captain Morris and a Captain Morgan and it is generally assumed that these were the Welshmen, John Morris and Henry Morgan. 

They arrived with a tale of derring-do starting (in January 1665, leaving us wondering what they had been up to throughout 1664) with an ascent up the river Tabasco in the Campeche province guided by Indians to the (largely Indian populated) town of Villa de Moos - Villahermosa - which they took and plundered. On their return to the mouth of the Tabasco they found that their ships had been seized by the Spanish. With 100 men they fought off 300 Spanish but failed to regain the ships. Using two barques and four canoes they crossed the Gulf of Honduras then traversed the Mosquito coast 'like a devouring flame, consuming all in their path', to quote one admiring account, until they reached Monkey Bay. They ascended the San Juan river in canoes for one hundred miles to Lake Nicaragua and then, accompanied by 1,000 Indians, they took and plundered the city of Granada.

It was all stirring stuff and arrived at a quite propitious moment. Modyford had abandoned the policy of trying to organise the privateers under the command of army officers and turned instead for leaders to the buccaneers themselves. A reunion was held at Bluefields Bay in Jamaica (named for the veteran Dutch buccaneer, Abraham Blauveldt, who had been particularly active in the 1630s and 40s but was recorded as being in Jamaica  in 1663) which elected Edward Mansfield as their head for an expedition supposedly against the Dutch at Curaçao. But it was really rather fanciful to expect that this pirate band, led by a Dutchman, would be interested in attacking the Dutch when there were so many very much easier Spanish targets to attack.

Exquemelin, not bothering with any political complications, says that after Morgan's return to Jamaica, 'he found at the same time an old Pirate named Mansvelt ... who was then busied in equipping a considerable fleet of ships with design to land upon the Continent and pillage whatever came in his way. Mansvelt, seeing Captain Morgan return with so many prizes, judged him, from his actions, to be of undaunted courage; and hereupon was moved to choose him for his Vice-Admiral in that expedition. Thus having fitted out fifteen ships, between great and small, they set sail from Jamaica with five hundred men, both Walloons and French.'

Other accounts do not mention Morgan but he could have been present and the  account of his exploits on the Tabasco river and Lake Nicaragua could have given him the prestige he needed to take over the leadership role when Mansfield was killed, executed in 1667 by the governor of Havana (who is reputed to have executed over 300 pirates in the course of two years - it should be kept in mind that though these events were undoubtedly important in the history of Jamaica, they are only a small part of the overall history of piracy in the region at that time).


The expedition was in the event a failure. It never came anywhere near Curaçao. It started by raiding Santo Spirito in Cuba on the rather feeble pretext that the Cubans, North of Jamaica, had refused to supply them with victuals they needed for a journey which was supposed to be directed well south of Jamaica. They then went on to Boca del Toro, on the borderline between Panamá and Costa Rica, well to the North of Curaçao, which is off the coast of Venezuela. Then they launched another raid on Granada, the victim of Fackman's exploits the previous year, and harried Costa Rica, 'burning plantations, breaking the images in the churches, hamstringing cows and mules, cutting down the fruit trees and in general destroying everything they found', to quote Haring.

On his way back, Mansfield, probably trying to think of something that could be construed as a service to the King of England, attacked Santa Catalina, a small island strategically positioned in the middle of the ocean off the Nicaraguan (or 'Mosquito') coast. This had been 'Providence Island', the island originally occupied by the Providence Island Company, which had also for a time possessed Tortuga and had been active in persuading Cromwell to adopt the Western Design. It could be represented as a matter of reclaiming British territory and after Mansfield returned to Jamaica in June 1666, Modyford was indeed interested. He sent an army officer, Major Samuel Smith, to strengthen it while in England Modyford's brother, Sir James Modyford, was  appointed governor. But in August, showing an energy that was unusual among Spanish governors, the President of the Audiencia of Panamá, Governor and Captain-General of the province of Tierra Firme, Don Juan Perez de Guzmán, sent José Sanchez Ximenez, Sergeant Major of the garrison at Portobello, to take it back again. The English prisoners included, in addition to Smith, the rather intriguing figure of Sir Thomas Whetstone, a privateer who was also nephew to Oliver Cromwell and a supporter of the Royalist cause. The treatment of these prisoners was to provide some colour of justification for the subsequent depredations of Henry Morgan.