Maggs Bros Ltd

LS reporting activities against pirates off Jamaica

MORGAN Sir Henry (1681)


Manuscript in ink. 4pp. Folio. Old folds, tears to left margin affecting text (though consistent with its appearance in the Gentleman's Magazine in September 1855). Housed in a navy quarter morocco clamshell box. Jamaica, 14 July,

It's difficult to imagine a more satisfying letter by Morgan in this phase of his career. This remarkable survival was written during his second stint as acting governor of Jamaica. Morgan, of all people, gives us an insight into his ongoing concerns with pirates and methods for dealing with them:

"Wee have taken the Sloop of one of Jacob Evertson, a most notorious Pyrate and make use of her to accompany the Norwich in crewsing after the many villainous Pyrates that now infest these coastes. She saves the great charge wee were att before for a Pylote, sounds places that are dangerous, and is able to pursue Pyrates where the Frigott, by reason of Shoalness of the water, cannot goe; besides, shee is usefull to give us constant information of such accidents as happen. I have lately had some Pyrates brought in, whereof one was according to his demerits executed, and one Thoms, a most famous villain, who lately took a Vessell of this Island of a considerable value, is taken and now under Tryall. I have sent the Frigott to crewse and endeavor to reduce such as are abroad, and have given Captain Haywood particular charge to look out for one Lawrence, a great and mischievous Pyrate, who commands a Ship of Twenty-Eight Gunns, and has Two hundred men on board; and, that the Fregott might bee the better able to deale with him, and freer from danger of being worsted or taken ..."

In fact, Morgan had captured Evertson back in February. In 1680, HMS Norwich was dispatched under Captain Heywood's command to disrupt the pirates in Caribbean waters. She was wrecked on return from Cartagena in 1682, and Heywood himself was later appointed governor of Jamaica. Lastly, the "great and mischievous pirate" was Laurens de Graf the Dutch pirate who was at that time serving for the French in Saint-Domingue.

In the aftermath of the Anglo-Spanish peace treaty in 1667, Morgan was appointed admiral of the privateers and was charged with reporting on Spanish designs on Jamaica. In the ensuing four years, Morgan engaged in a series of daring exploits against the Spanish - fully justifying his reputation as a courageous and decisive in battle. His fortunes took a turn for the worse, when in 1672 he was imprisoned for the very actions he carried out on Modyford's behalf. However, it was a brief decline and he was released just two years later. The following year, to the dismay of the Spanish, he was appointed lieutenant governor of Jamaica.

Morgan being Morgan, one of his first acts on arriving in Jamaica was to extend a welcome to privateers, invest in some of them and even conspire with the French governor of Tortuga to provide letters of marque in return for a percentage of prizes. He likely hadn't bargained for his superior, John Vaughan, to take against him and demand he put an end to privateering. Yet Morgan outlasted Vaughan who was recalled in 1680 and worked well with Vaughan's replacement, Charles Howard, first earl of Carlisle.

At the time of writing, Morgan had fallen out of favour with King Charles II and was seeking to shore up his reputation. "He kept his Port Royal militia and foot company in good training and used his contacts among seamen to obtain intelligence. The threat of war with the French allowed him to introduce martial law in 1678 and 1680 and secure the resources needed to improve the fortifications at Port Royal by levying financial contributions and requisitioning slave labour to build three new forts. He also increased the number of guns mounted at the forts from sixty in 1675 to over a hundred by 1680. By 1682 Port Royal was the best fortified town in English America" (ODNB). Furthermore, "Morgan arrested a number of men who were, even in his book, pirates: men who operated without commissions or seized English ships. But he had little heart for punishing even such outright scoundrels, and when they were sentenced to death Morgan sought reprieves. After orders to proceed with execution Morgan could not disguise his distaste ‘for I abhor bloodshed and I am greatly dissatisfied that in my short government I have been so often compelled to punish criminals with death’ " (ibid).

Any manuscript material regarding Henry Morgan is rare on the market. This satisfying example shows the great man under pressure, and striving to balance his obligations as governor with his obvious sympathies as probably the most famous seventeenth century pirate.

Stock Code: 223237