77. Henry Morgan
Groundbreakers (71 votes)
1635 – 1688
“Privateer” who outdid Sir Francis Drake with his swashbuckling exploits in the Caribbean.
In the great buccaneering free-for-all that was the 17th century Caribbean, Henry Morgan ruled the waves and a good deal of the land as well.
Despite his raffish and bloodthirsty image, perpetuated by countless works of fiction and a well-known brand of rum, Henry Morgan was highly respectable and would sue anyone who suggested otherwise.
Unlike pirates- who were liable to be hung as outlaws- “privateers” like Morgan enjoyed the official support of their governments, while also profiting personally from the spoils of their adventures.
The aim was to break the Spanish stranglehold on the colonies, rich in both gold and silver, which they had opened up in the region. At this, nobody was more successful than Morgan.
He was born to born to family of minor gentry at Llanrumney, now part of Cardiff but then included within the county of Monmouthshire. In 1655 he travelled to Barbados and began several relatively quiet years as a middle-ranking army officer.
Taking part in a successful and profitable raid on Cuba seems to have whetted his appetite for plunder. In 1663 he led his own expedition to Mexico
where he took the town of Granada.
Five years later he attacked Portobello in modern-day Panama, a daring raid which as well as netting the usual booty also retrieved a number of British prisoners from brutal captivity.
Portobello did more than anything to establish Morgan’s reputation and the episode is commemorated in the name of the famous London street. He followed it up with a raid on Haiti.
Morgan became richer and more famous still when, having narrowly escaped from the clutches of the Spanish fleet, he took the towns of Maracaibo and Gibraltar in the Gulf of Venezuela.
In 1770 he succeeded where Drake himself had earlier failed when he led nearly two thousand men in an assault on the major Spanish settlement at Panama City. According to contemporary accounts it netted enough treasure to make even the humblest seaman a wealthy man.
By then Morgan himself was among the very wealthiest on earth.