Captain Morgan Hated Being Called a Pirate Because He Hated Democracy

Someone just suggested to me that the Spanish loved pirates while the British hated them.

This isn’t even remotely true and it reminded me how a Spanish city official (Don Juan Pérez de Guzmán, a decorated veteran of wars in Flanders) once called Captain Morgan a pirate, meaning to insult him as the Spanish monarchy hated pirates.

The story then goes Morgan indeed hated the exchange and was so enraged that he planned a devastatingly brutal siege of the Spanish city Guzmán defended, torturing residents and pillaging the area for weeks.

Here’s how one historian has referred to Morgan’s style of leadership:

Behind him were smoldering ruins, pestilence, poverty, misery and death.

A first-person’s account of Morgan’s battles was written by Alexandre Exquemelin, a doctor serving him, in a book called Buccaneers of America. Exqumelin wrote that Morgan lashed together Spanish nuns and priests to use as human shields while he attacked the Spanish military, and that he regularly imprisoned and raped women.

Painting Morgan commissioned of himself while “under arrest” in London after 1672. Source: National Trust of the United Kingdom
Morgan’s argument to the Spanish was that he was a proud privateer in service of the British monarchy during war (Governor of Jamaica in 1667 gave Morgan a letter of marque to attack Spanish ships).

He ran an autocratic and ruthless mercenary operation accused by his own men of “cheating” them of promised wages and benefits as he pillaged cities, which he wasn’t even authorized to do. But hey, that’s privateer life in the immoral service to monarchy (ultimately charges against him were dismissed and instead he received a formal appointment to government, where he proudly owned hundreds of slaves to operate Jamaican sugar plantations). How dare anyone accuse him of being fair to his own people or a democratic leader? He would surely have tortured and killed them if they did.

In that sense, pirates seem almost like entrepreneurs challenging the brutality of unjust political systems of monarchy. Pirates fought against those who had expressly denied human rights and trafficked in human exploitation. They weren’t going to fight in wars that benefited only a few elites, because Pirates often used a democratic system of leadership based on votes and qualifications.

Privateers functioned almost in the opposite way to pirates; as business operators appointed by authority they served awful political systems to exploit high-risk and unregulated markets. They operated as ruthless mercenaries milking a corrupt system for some personal gain.

It’s a significant difference between an owner-operator business in undefined territory versus exploitative vigilantism. Somehow pirates have become associated with the latter when historically they seem to have operated more as the former.

This perhaps is best explained in Chapter 8 of “The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates” by Peter T. Leeson

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