Henry Morgan

So, I'd met my main character, Alexandre Exquemelin.  And from hearing just a short account of his  exploits during his time in the Caribbean, I realised that my hook into this story was Welshman, Henry Morgan.


But first, who was this Alexandre Exquemelin? Well, he’s the man who wrote the book on buccaneers.  Literally.  Exquemelin was the author of the first (and only) book written at the time about these men, by someone who shared their adventures with them.  Exquemelin’s book, called (in English)  The American Buccaneers, first published in 1678, has led to just about every other book and film about pirates – ever.

So what was this young student of medicine from France doing in brutal, lawless Tortuga as an indentured servant of the French West Indies Company?  What made him give up six years of study to become (in effect) a slave?  Was it because he was a Huguenot, persecuted by Catholic France?   How did he come to join Henry Morgan, a Welsh soldier in the service of England?   

Why did he write a book about the exploits of these people?  Why was Henry Morgan brought back to London as a prisoner, but returned three years later with a knighthood, and a commission as Deputy Governor of Jamaica?

And why did the English version of Exquemelin’s book, translated from the Spanish, cause Henry Morgan to sue the English publishers for defamation of character?   

From the court of the Inquisition to the cesspit of Tortuga, from the mangrove swamps and jungles of Panama to the royal courts of London and Madrid, with its mixture of high adventure and high politics, centred on real events and characters (who we may not know quite as well as we first thought), it seemed to me that this was a story that deserved to be told

And so to Henry Morgan.  Henry Morgan, the pirate.  Or was he?

henry morgan

Henry Morgan, the pirate.  Captain Morgan Rum.  Pirates of the Caribbean.  Johnnie Depp.  Captain Blood.  Errol Flynn.  Treasure Island.  Robinson Crusoe.  You know them all, don’t you?  Seen the films, got the tee-shirt.  Me, too.  I knew all about pirates.

Until I discovered that I didn’t know the difference between a pirate and a privateer.  Nor that the original boucaniers lived by killing and smoking wild boar over a fire pit.

I soon learned that there was a lot more to these ‘pirates’ than an undisciplined rabble of sea-borne cowboys, raping and plundering their way around the tourist spots of the Caribbean.  There was more than a hint of international high politics.


But how could I avoid the romanticism and preconceptions that come with every account of pirates we come across?  I was really lucky - I found a book, called Harry Morgan's Way, by Dudley Pope, that did just what I wanted.  It told me all I needed to know about what really happened, and who Henry Morgan really was.  I recommend it to anyone who wants to know the truth (or at least as much as we can ever know from a distance of three hundred years) of Henry Morgan's exploits.

© Katisha Limited 2013