by Arian Niwl
Drink Like A Captain!
This is the slogan from Captain Morgan Rum – the vaunted label featuring the lusty captain himself with his foot on a barrel of his presumed favorite beverage. But who is the real Morgan behind the label?
Turns out that Sir Henry Morgan was a Welshman who lived between 1635 and 1688. His birth date is unknown, but it is thought to be sometime in 1635 in Monmouth County, Wales.
Morgan decided at an early age to follow his two uncles into the military service, and he fought – or rather raided – the Spanish during the 1660s and 70s.
His career as a privateer began sometime in the 1660s when he began raiding ships along the Spanish Main, from the Caribbean down to Central America. For those unfamiliar with the term, a privateer is a pirate who sails with a license from the Crown to attack enemy ships. The English considered Morgan to be a seafaring hero. The Spanish considered Morgan to be nothing more than a common pirate along the lines of the hated Sir Francis Drake.
Morgan’s attacks were very seldom on the spur of the moment. Rather, they were well-planned, and the men who served with Morgan often said that he was as fearless as he was clever.
Morgan ranked among the greatest privateers, amassing a large fleet of ships that attacked prominent targets. Some of Morgan’s most notable exploits included the sack of Portobelo in 1668, the raid on Maracaibo a year later, and an attack on Panama two years later.
Morgan sailed with a force of several ships and some five hundred men to attack Portobelo. The attack took place when the Spanish were busy elsewhere, and his forces easily overwhelmed the wealthy town. Not only did Morgan loot Portobelo, he then turned around and ransomed the town back to the Spanish for 100,000 pesos in exchange for not burning it to the ground.
In 1669, commanding several ships with hundreds of corsairs and buccaneers, Morgan attacked the fort of La Barra, the main defense of Lake Maracaibo in colonial Venezuela. Sacking and raiding the town was easy, but Morgan stayed too long and the Spanish showed up to form a blockade. Morgan sent a fire ship into the Spanish fleet before he attacked, sinking or capturing most of the vessels. Morgan then convinced the fort, now reinforced with Spanish defenders, to turn their canons inland so that his fleet could sail past them in the night.
In 1671, Morgan planned one last assault on the Spanish. He gathered a force of over one thousand men and sailed for the rich city of Panama. After taking the fort at San Lorenzo, Morgan and his forces marched overland. The Spanish were terrified and abandoned their defenses. Later, the Spanish rallied, and both sides met in battle outside the city proper. However, the fight was largely one-sided as the Spanish fled from Morgan’s well-armed men, leaving the city open to be sacked.
The raid on Panama, along with his previous raids, made Morgan very wealthy. Though the raid on Panama occurred after a peace treaty had been signed between England and Spain, which meant that Morgan should have been punished for pursuing it, Morgan was instead wined and dined in England. King Charles II knighted him and then sent him back to Jamaica as the Lieutenant Governor.
Upon returning to Jamaica, Morgan spent the rest of his days running his estates, drinking, and telling stories. Upon his death, Morgan was given a royal send-off with guns firing into the harbor in salute while troops carried his body through the town on a gun carriage.
But wait, for Captain Henry Morgan has one extra legacy. You see, the captain standing on his barrel of rum inspired a new emergency room technique. Correcting a hip dislocation, in which a doctor shoves the hip back into its socket, is an agonizing procedure that previously used a technique called the Allis Maneuver. The patient would lay on a table or gurney and be straddled by a doctor who would force the hip back into place.
An emergency medicine professor named Gregory Hendey was watching an ad for Captain Morgan Rum, and got an idea that instead of straddling the patient, a doctor could put their own raised knee under the patient’s knee. This creates an easier and less painful way to move the hip back into the socket. Today, the Captain Morgan maneuver is the premier hip dislocation technique.
So raise a glass of rum to Captain Morgan, and drink like a captain – but raid like a Welshman.
“Captain Blood” published in 1922 by Rafael Sabatini is the story of
Dr. Peter Blood, and English Doctor who finds himself in the Carribean where he becomes a pirate.
Sabatini fashioned parts of the novel after the career of Captain Henry Morgan.