This series has seven easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Plan of Attack.
The pirates of the Caribbean prospered most during the seventeenth century. The line blurred between buccaneer (serving a country) and pirate.
The nucleus of this association of pirates is traced to bands of smugglers — English, French, and Dutch — who carried on a secret trade with the island of Santo Domingo. Later they settled there and on other islands, and after a while began to prey upon Spanish commerce. In 1630 they made their chief head-quarters on the island of Tortuga; in 1655 they aided in the English conquest of Jamaica, and ten years later settled the Bahamas. All these islands became centers of their activities.
Most renowned among the leaders of the buccaneers was Sir Henry Morgan, a Welshman, who died in Jamaica in 1688. For years he carried stolen riches to England, and Charles II rewarded him with knighthood. Having pillaged parts of Cuba, he took and ransomed Puerto Bello, in Colombia (1668), and Maracaibo, in Venezuela (1669). In 1670 Morgan gathered a fleet of nearly forty vessels, and a force of over two thousand men, for the greatest of the exploits of the buccaneers, the capture and plunder of the wealthy city of Panama.
This selection is from History of the Pirates by Johann W. Von Archenholz published in 1803. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Johann W. Von Archenholz (1741-1812) was a Prussian professor of history.
Place: Panama City
Morgan’s plan of capturing Panama was apparently attended with innumerable difficulties. The chief obstacle was the position of that city on the Pacific coast at such a great distance from the Caribbean Sea; and not an individual on board the fleet was acquainted with the road that led to the goal. To remedy this inconvenience, Morgan determined, in the first instance, to go to the island of St. Catharine, where the Spaniards confined their criminals, and thence to supply himself with guides.
The passage was rapid. Morgan landed in that island one thousand men, who, by threatening to put to death everyone that hesitated for a moment to surrender, so terrified the Spaniards that they speedily capitulated. It was stipulated that, to save at least the honor of the garrison, there should be a sham fight. In consequence of this, a very sharp fire ensued, from the forts on one side, and on the other from the ships; but on both sides the cannons discharged only powder. Further, to give a serious appearance to this military comedy, the governor suffered himself to be taken, while attempting to pass from Fort Jerome to another fort. At the beginning the crafty Morgan did not rely too implicitly on this feint; and to provide for every event, he secretly ordered his soldiers to load their fusees with bullets, but to discharge them in the air, unless they perceived some treachery on the part of the Spaniards. But his enemies adhered most faithfully to their capitulation; and this mock engagement, in which neither party was sparing of powder, was followed for some time with all the circumstances which could give it the semblance of reality. Ten forts surrendered, one after another, after sustaining a kind of siege or assault; and this series of successes did not cost the life of a single man, nor even a scratch, on the part either of the victors or of the conquered.
All the inhabitants of the island were shut up in the great fort of Santa Teresa, which was built on a steep rock; and the conquerors, who had not taken any sustenance for twenty-four hours, declared a most serious war against the horned cattle and game of the district.
In the isle of St. Constantine Morgan found four hundred fifty-nine persons of both sexes; one hundred ninety of whom were soldiers, forty-two criminals, eighty-five children, and sixty-six negroes. There were ten forts, containing sixty-eight cannons, which were so defended in other respects by nature that very small garrisons were deemed amply sufficient to protect them. Besides an immense quantity of fusees and grenades — which were at that time much used — upward of three hundred quintals of gunpowder were found in the arsenal. The whole of this ammunition was carried on board the pirate’s ships; the cannon, which could be of no service to them, were spiked; their carriages were burned, and all the forts demolished excepting one, which the freebooters themselves garrisoned. Morgan selected three of the criminals to serve him as guides to Panama. These he afterward, on his return to Jamaica, set at liberty, even giving them a share in the booty.
The plan, conceived by this intrepid chieftain, inspired all his companions in arms with genuine enthusiasm; it had a character of grandeur and audacity that inflamed their courage; how capable they were of executing it the subsequent pages will demonstrate.
Panama, which stood on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, in the ninth degree of northern latitude, was at that time one of the greatest, as well as most opulent cities in America. It contained two thousand large houses, the greater number of which were very fine piles of building, and five thousand smaller dwellings, each mostly three stories in height. Of these, a pretty considerable number were erected of stone, all the rest of cedar-wood, very elegantly constructed and magnificently furnished. That city was defended by a rampart and was surrounded with walls. It was the emporium for the silver of Mexico and the gold of Peru, whence those valuable metals were brought on the backs of mules — two thousand of which animals were kept for this purpose only — across the isthmus toward the northern coast of the Pacific. A great commerce was also carried on at Panama in negroes; which trade was at that time almost exclusively confined to the English, Dutch, French, and Danes. With this branch of commerce the Italians were intimately acquainted. They gave lessons in it to all the rest of Europe; and, as two things were necessary, in which the Genoese were by no means deficient — money and address — they were chiefly occupied in the slave trade, and supplied the provinces of Peru and Chile with negroes.
At the period now referred to, the President of Panama was the principal intendant or overseer of the civil department, and captain-general of all the troops in the viceroyalty of Peru. He had in his dependency Puerto Bello and Nata, two cities inhabited by the Spaniards, together with the towns of Cruces, Panama, Capira, and Veragua. The city of Panama had also a bishop, who was a suffragan of the Archbishop of Lima.
The merchants lived in great opulence; and their churches were decorated with uncommon magnificence. The cathedral was erected in the Italian style, surmounted with a large cupola, and enriched with gold and silver ornaments; as also were the eight convents which this city comprised. At a small distance from its walls there were some small islands, alike embellished by art and by nature, where the richest inhabitants had their country houses; from which circumstance they were called the “gardens of Panama.” In short, everything concurred to render this place important and agreeable. Here several of the European nations had palaces for carrying on their commerce; and among these were the Genoese, who were held in great credit, and who had vast warehouses for receiving the articles of their immense trade, as also a most magnificent edifice. The principal houses were filled with beautiful paintings and the masterpieces of the arts, which had here been accumulated — more from an intense desire of being surrounded with all the splendor of luxury — since they possessed the means of procuring it — than from a refined taste. Their superabundance of gold and silver had been employed in obtaining these splendid superfluities, which were of no value but to gratify the vanity of their possessors.
Such was Panama in 1670, when the freebooters selected it as the object of their bold attempt, and as the victim of their extravagancies, and immortalized their name by reducing it to a heap of ruins.
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