Thursday, October 29, 2009

Horror On The High Seas: Torture - Key To Success?

Most pirates don't come off as well as Henry Morgan in today's popular culture. The King of Rum is portrayed as a handsome swashbuckler, clad all in pristine red, his gleaming boot on the rum barrel rivaling the gleam of his scalawag grin. I would be willing to bet that is an image the historical Henry Morgan - scruffy, portly and generally mean - enjoys to no end. Whose getting the last laugh? The mustachioed Captain sitting on rather than standing over the rum barrel in Howard Pyle's depiction above.

So, while we're talking about horrific acts of violence by men at sea lets hold the microscope of reality over Henry Morgan and then see who wants to answer the question - got a little Captain in ya?

As we discussed on Tuesday, all pirates can be accused of torture unilaterally without very many being able to mount a reasonable defense. It seems, though, that at sea freebooters were more likely to get down to business and just toss you overboard if the most valuable goods on your ship weren't revealed. Time to ask the next guy. By land though, when raiding towns and cities, creativity just seemed to blossom. Maybe it was the lack of urgency, maybe it was the want of salt pork or maybe - just maybe - it was the fact that born sailors get testy by land. Whatever it was, some guys just seemed to really get into making their fellow man miserable.

Morgan surpassed most in this regard. In 1668 he led a flotilla of 700 men to the city of Portobello and, three years later stormed Panama City in Panama. Despite some setbacks in men and ships, both raids were extremely successful and brought Spain to her knees. Even though the Spanish burned Panama City to the ground, Morgan still managed to extract 750,00 pieces of eight and untold gems, gold and silver from the city. He fared even better in Portobello. By the time he returned to Port Royal in Jamaica, Henry Morgan was one of the richest men in the New World. And all this, thanks to torture.

In Portobello things were a little easier than later on in Panama. Find a guy that looked wealthy, tie him up to a rack and get him talking. No rack available? Damned inconvenient but strapado will do, of course. Bind the person's hands behind their back and throw the long end of the binding over a high, sturdy beam or the like. Now yank your victim up off his feet toward the beam. Still won't talk? Let him drop and then yank him up again suddenly before his feet touch the ground. Don't know where that booty is yet? Tie some weight to his feet and repeat until all joints in the arms are completely dislocated. This was another form of racking particularly favored by the Spanish Inquisition, so Captain Morgan loved to use it on his Spanish victims. Not surprisingly, it worked.

Morgan also had a penchant for genital torture and he could probably be called a sexual sadist. In Panama, where the people had a chance to stash their goods in the local jungles prior to his arrival, he had a field day. For the gentlemen, hanging by the genitals until your man either talked or had things ripped off was popular. Lit fuses tucked away in delicate places worked well too. The victim could watch the foot long fuse fizzle and decide which he liked better, his cash or his balls. Sometimes black powder was added at the end of the fuse. Good times.

But then there were the ladies and no one treated them to his own special brand of attention like Henry Morgan. In general, wealthy women had value because their families would pay ransom money, sometimes in huge amounts. The average girl was good for one thing and I don't think I need to explain that here. Morgan had some close pals that he liked to gang up on a particularly pretty girl with. If she cooperated, he might even pay her. If she didn't, he might rub her down with animal fat and stick her in a bread oven or, in less civilized scenery, grease just her face and hold it in an open fire.

Women held for ransom were frequently starved and, after the sack of Panama, more than one was made to march tied at the hands and barefoot (if not naked) across the isthmus of Panama back to the Atlantic. Those that did not or could not keep up were cut lose from the herd and left to die in the jungle. Many of these unfortunates, upon returning to their families after the ransom was paid, were locked away in convents against their will. Their ability to draw a wealthy and powerful suitor gone through no fault of their own, parents and guardians washed their hands of the young women and abandon them to the Church. The torture continued for them just as it would for a slave. Only death took care of their suffering.

Sure there's more but I bet your imagination can fill in the blanks. Henry Morgan never met the kind of dramatic and fitting end served up to Francois L'Olonnais. He died, most probably of cirrhosis of the liver, in his bed in Kingston with the title of Governor of Jamaica after his name. He was arguably the most successful pirate that ever lived. If nothing else, his story seems do confirm that you don't get anywhere by being nice.

Tomorrow, Horror on the High Seas presents the strange and violent story of Samuel Comstock, savage mutineer.


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! "That's obscene! Why is no one attending to MY needs?" Good times, indeed. Wow, captain Morgan really was dick, wasn't he? Who knew? You did, of course... "It's rhetorical".

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! In all fairness, most of these accounts are from Alexander Exquemelin who, though definately an eye witness, hated the heck out of Morgan. And Morgan successfully sued him for slander. But why split hairs?

Timmy! said...

Especially when you can just burn them off... Ouch! Quit it!

Anonymous said...

i am one of captain henry morgans descendants.... so naturally ive studied him rather intently.... one good book to read about some of his history is under a black flag.... its about all the more famous pirates ... i encourage all to read up on the pirate history... and after that ... maybe you can join me and together we will finish what my ancestor started..... baaaahhahahahaha

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Anony and welcome aboard! I am in awe of Morgan, and I agree that Cordingly's "Under A Black Flag" is excellent, indeed. I hope that you have read "Empire of Blue Water" by Stephan Talty, which does your illustrious ancestor even better justice.

Join the Brethren, my friend, and bring the bug spray. We're heading for Panama this summer!