Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Rum, Piracy and Panama!

Rum Daquiri
Pedro Mandinga Rum Bar
Panama City, Panama

Rum is notoriously known as the "Devil's drink".  Rum is a distilled beverage made with molasses or sugar cane juice.  Its production is centered mostly in the Caribbean and Central America.  It comes in different flavors ranging from light to dark, from plain to spiced and so on.  Light rums are often used in cocktail making.  Aged dark rums are usually drunk neat or on ice.

Rum was a principal component in the "triangular trade" that brought slaves from Africa to the Americas, Sugar to North America and exported Rum to Europe and the rest of the world.  This trading pattern shaped the economies of much of the world from the 16th through 19th centuries.

Rum was, of course, the traditional drink of the Royal Navy for many years.  Rum was mixed with water and lime juice to make grog.  The Royal Navy issued many a gill of grog for its sailors which was an all-purpose pain-killer and and also useful in preventing scurvy.  After his death at Trafalgar, Lord Nelson's body was stored in a barrel of rum (or perhaps brandy) and pickled during the voyage home prior to his triumphant funeral at St. Paul's Cathedral.

In the Columbia chapter of America Invades we noted that "during the War of Jenkins’ Ear in 1741, the Royal Navy Admiral Edward Vernon, known as “Old Grog,” landed a party of British and about thirty-six hundred American colonial troops in an assault on Cartagena, Colombia. They failed to take the city and suffered heavy losses from disease. Lawrence Washington, George’s older half-brother, participated in the Colombia expedition. George Washington’s Virginia home, Mount Vernon, was later named after the British admiral."   (Source: www.americainvades.com)

Teddy Roosevelt
Panama Canal Museum
Panama City, Panama

In 1898, during the Spanish-American War, Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders landed on the Cuban town of Daquiri.  the origin of the daquiri cocktail comes from Roosevelt’s commanding officer in the Spanish-American War, General William Shafter, who combined Cuban rum, fresh lime juice, sugar, and ice. (Source: Wayne Curtis, And A Bottle of Rum (New York: Broadway Books, 2006), 203-7, www.amzn.com/0525575022).  For much more on Teddy Roosevelt and the Panama Canal see...https://americanconservativeinlondon.blogspot.com/2020/02/the-panama-canal.html.
Coming soon...
But Rum's most notorious association remains with pirates.  "Yo, Ho Ho and a bottle of Rum!"  And the most notorious pirate in history was the Celtic Fighter...Sir Henry Morgan.  Please enjoy this excerpt from our forthcoming work 101 Fighting Celts: From Boudicca to MacArthur...
Sir Henry Morgan

Privateer, he caused
many tears, himself shed few.
Slaughter, plunder, flame. 
- Stuart Laycock

"To say that Henry Morgan’s violent career was controversial would be something of an understatement, but he certainly fits firmly into the “fighting” category.

The details of Henry Morgan’s early life are slim, but he may have been the son of Robert Morgan of Llanrumney in Glamorgan in Wales. His will certainly refers to “my ever honourable cousin, Mr. Thomas Morgan of Tredegar,” a location not that far from Llanrumney.

Henry Morgan would make his fame and fortune as a privateer, officially licensed by the English crown to prey upon the shipping of England’s enemies in return for a slice of the booty. In 1655, the English took Jamaica from the Spanish. Jamaica would then become a major base for privateers, among them Morgan. By 1665, he was already deeply involved in privateering; and soon after that, he married the daughter of Jamaica's deputy governor, helping secure his position within Jamaican society.

Despite some official periods of “peace,” the time was one of long-term rivalry and suspicion between England and Spain as the two European powers competed for control in the Caribbean. Morgan was determined to exploit the opportunities this situation presented for maximum personal gain.

He was supposed to conduct his privateering operations at sea, but when there were rich pickings to be had on land, he went after them. In 1668, in alliance with some French privateers, he attacked and sacked Puerto de Principe on Cuba. And that was just the start. He followed that attack with a raid on the rich Spanish city of Portobello in what is now Panama. In a clever surprise attack, Morgan took the Spanish defenders unawares and, despite its strong defenses, seized the city.

Pirate Attacks
Fort San Lorenzo, Panama

Morgan held the town for thirty-one days and systematically stripped it of as much of its wealth as could be carried off. Quite a lot of brutality was no doubt involved, although exactly how much is a matter of some speculation. After a Spanish attempt to recapture the city was repulsed, Morgan agreed to accept a Spanish ransom of 100,000 pesos for the city. With the booty seized and the spectacular ransom as well, Morgan left Portobello with colossal riches and a reputation for having humbled the Spanish. He became instantly popular both in Jamaica and Britain, and few worried about the legality of his actions.

Spanish Cannon
Fort San Lorenzo
And if what he had achieved so far had given Morgan a reputation for cunning and audacity, what was to come next would cast that reputation in stone. In 1669, Morgan led an attack on Maracaibo in what is currently Venezuela. Once again, he took the city with some ease and set about plundering it. He then pushed farther on, across Lake Maracaibo, in search of more spoils. However, when he set off to leave the area, he found that the Spanish had a superior naval force—the Armada de Barlovento—waiting for him; and that Spain had also manned fortifications guarding the channel from Lake Maracaibo to the Caribbean. Morgan and his men seemed to be trapped.

However, instead of refusing the Spanish’s offer that he hand over his booty in order to pass freely, Morgan and their men decided to fight. They used a fire ship to set fire to the Spanish flagship Magdalen, causing chaos and devastation in the Spanish squadron; and then used another ruse to distract the garrison of the fortifications while Morgan's ships crept stealthily past. Morgan escaped, once more a hero to many.

Commander K.
Mouth of the River Chagres
After a time when it seemed serious peace might break out between England and Spain, the war was on again. In late 1670, with a powerful privateer fleet that included thousands of men and almost forty ships, Morgan launched another ambitious campaign.

Fort San Lorenzo
Captured by Henry Morgan
He captured the islands of Old Providence and Santa Catalina, the port of Chagres, and, after heavy fighting,  Fort San Lorenzo at the mouth of the River Chagres. Then he set off up the river, heading for Panama City on the Pacific Coast. The journey was difficult and dangerous. When Morgan and his men finally reached the city, they smashed a hastily assembled Spanish force and seized their target. The Spanish, however, set light to the city even as Morgan captured it. The final haul was also less than Morgan had hoped, because the inhabitants had had time to escape. When Morgan and his men arrived home in Jamaica, many believed Morgan had seized an unfair share of what had been looted.

Commander K. with Carlos V
Panama City, Panama
Even worse news was to come for Morgan. It turned out Morgan had managed to sack Panama City after a peace deal had finally been agreed upon between England and Spain. To appease Spanish anger, the English arrested Morgan in 1672 and imprisoned him in the Tower of London. However, he was not there long. He still had a heroic reputation among many in England. He was freed in 1674, and, not only that, he was made Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica and was knighted, becoming Sir Henry Morgan.
Jamaican Rum

Morgan’s main fighting days were finished. He continued to have links to privateers and to invest in their expeditions, but the intricacies and complexities of Jamaican politics kept him busy, even after he lost his post as lieutenant-governor. He finally died in August 1688, and at his funeral he received a twenty-two-gun salute from ships in Port Royal harbor.

Fighting Celt
Captain Morgan Rum, inspired by the Welsh pirate, was launched by the Seagram Company in 1944. Now owned by Diageo, over ten million cases of the rum are sold each year."  (Source: 101 Fighting Celts: From Boudicca to MacArthur, Kelly / Laycock, coming soon).

Tourist Notes:
The Panama Rail Company offers a pleasant journey across the Isthmus from Balboa (near Panama City) to Colon that overlooks much of the Canal (http://www.panamarailroad.org/).

The friendly folks at Barefoot Panama offers excellent guided tours of Panama at good values (https://www.barefootpanama.com/).  A Barefoot Panama Tour took me to Fort San Lorenzo on the river Chagres.

I enjoyed my stay at the comfortable Hard Rock Hotel in Panama City (https://es.hrhpanamamegapolis.com/).

Pedro Mandiga Rum Bar
Panama City
The Pedro Mandinga rum bar in Panama City is an excellent place to restore the tissues with rum cocktails and delicious snacks (http://pedromandinga.com/en/home/).  Try the empanadas and shrimp ceviche with a rum daquiri!

You can find signed copies of our books at 
these web sites...


1 comment:

Anita said...

Wow, that is one interesting piece and so informative. I like really it!