Today’s installment concludes Buccaneers Sack Panama,
our selection 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.
If you have journeyed through all of the installments of this series, just one more to go and you will have completed a selection from the great works of seven thousand words. Congratulations!
Previously in Buccaneers Sack Panama.
Place: Panama City
The freebooters’ task, however, was by no means completed. They had yet to take Panama, a large and populous city, which was defended by forts and batteries, and into which the Governor had retired, together with the fugitives. The conquest of this place was the more difficult, as the pirates had dearly purchased their victory, and their remaining forces were in no respect adequate to encounter the difficulties attending such an enterprise. It was, however, determined to make an attempt. Morgan had just procured from a wounded captive Spanish officer the necessary information; but he had not a moment to lose. It would not do to allow the Spaniards time to adopt new measures of defense; the city was therefore assaulted on the same day, in defiance of a formidable artillery which wrought great havoc among the freebooters; and at the end of three hours they were in possession of Panama.
The capture of that city was followed by a general pillage. Morgan, who dreaded the consequence of excessive intoxication — especially after his men had suffered such a long abstinence — prohibited them from drinking any wine under the severest penalties. He foresaw that such a prohibition would infallibly be infringed, unless it were sanctioned by an argument far more powerful than the fear of punishment. He therefore caused it to be announced that he had received information that the Spaniards had poisoned all their wine. This dexterous falsehood produced the desired effect, and for the first time the freebooters were temperate.
The majority of the inhabitants of Panama had betaken themselves to flight. They had embarked their women, their riches, all their movables that were of any value and small in bulk, and had sent this valuable cargo to the island of Taroga. The men were dispersed over the country, but in sufficiently great numbers to appear formidable to the pirates, whose forces were much diminished, and who could not expect any assistance from abroad. They therefore continued constantly together, and for their greater security, most of them encamped without the walls.
We have now reached the time when Morgan committed a barbarous and incomprehensible action, concerning which his comrades — some of whom were his historians — have given only a very ambiguous explanation.
Notwithstanding that all the precious articles had been carried away from Panama, there still remained — as in every great European trading city — a vast number of shops, warehouses, and magazines filled with every kind of merchandise. Besides a very great quantity of wrought and manufactured articles, the productions of luxury and industry, that city contained immense stores of flour, wine, and spices; vast magazines of that metal which is justly deemed the most valuable of all because it is the most useful: extensive buildings, in which were accumulated prodigious stores of iron tools and implements, anvils and ploughs which had been received from Europe and were destined to revive the Spanish colonies. Some judgment may be formed respecting the value of the last-mentioned articles only when it is considered that a quintal (one hundredweight) of iron was sold at Panama for thirty-two piasters (about thirty-three dollars).
All these multifarious articles, so essentially necessary for furnishing colonists with the means of subsistence, were, it should seem, of no value in the estimation of the ferocious Morgan because he could not carry them away; although, by preserving them, he might have made use of them by demanding a specific ransom for them. Circumstances might also enable him to derive some further advantages from them, but, in fact, whatever was distant or uncertain presented no attraction to this barbarian, who was eager to enjoy, but more ardent to destroy.
He was struck by one consideration only. All these bulky productions of art and industry were for the moment of no use to the freebooters. Of what importance to him was the ruin of many thousand innocent families? He consulted only the ferocity of his character, and without communicating his design to any individual he secretly caused the city to be set on fire in several places. In a few hours it was almost entirely consumed. The Spaniards that had remained in Panama — as well as the pirates themselves, who were at first ignorant whence the conflagration proceeded — ran together and united their efforts in order to extinguish the flames. They brought water, and pulled down houses, with a view to prevent the further progress of that destructive element. All their exertions were fruitless. A violent wind was blowing, and, in addition to this circumstance, the principal part of the buildings in that city were constructed of wood. Its finest houses, together with their valuable furniture, among which was the magnificent palace belonging to the Genoese, the churches, convents, courthouse, shops, hospitals, pious foundations, warehouses loaded with sacks of flour, nearly two hundred other warehouses filled with merchandise — all were reduced to ashes! The fire also consumed a great number of animals, horses, mules, and many slaves who had concealed themselves and who were burned alive. A very few houses only escaped the fire, which continued burning upward of four weeks. Amid the havoc produced in every quarter by the conflagration, the freebooters did not neglect to pillage as much as they possibly could, by which means they collected a considerable booty.
Morgan seemed ashamed of his atrocious act; he carefully concealed that he had ever executed it, and gave out that the Spaniards themselves had set their city on fire.
This ends our series of passages on Buccaneers Sack Panama by Johann W. Von Archenholz from his book History of the Pirates published in 1803. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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