ATTACK ON PUERTO BELLO.
Not discouraged by the defection of the French, Morgan at once began preparations for a new foray. Remembering the easy success of his brethren at Maracaibo and Gibraltar, he determined to make a venture on the mainland. About forty-two miles from the Gulf of Darien stood the then rich little city of Puerto Bello. It was not large, having less than one thousand population, for the coast was unhealthy, and the merchants and factors who there transacted their business seldom remained more than a few weeks at a time.
But considering its numbers, no city of its size on the continent contained greater wealth, for almost every inhabitant was a man of large means. Being the seat of a considerable commerce, it was strongly fortified by two defences, each of which was half castle and half fort, built in the curious transition style prevalent at the time when cross-bows were going out and artillery had not fairly come in. For that age, the fortifications were strong, and a garrison of three hundred Spanish soldiers was always on duty. This place Morgan determined to attack, and overcame the hesitation of his associates by the prospect of an abundant booty. Setting sail from Tortuga, the Buccaneer fleet arrived at the mouth of a river some miles away from Puerto Bello, late one afternoon.
The force was disembarked, and skirmishers were thrown out to capture all persons whom they saw, in order that the coming of the expedition might be secret. This duty was well done. The ships passed up the river a few miles, where they were left with a strong guard, while Morgan made his way across the country in the direction of the city. The movement was well planned and executed; by daybreak the Spanish pickets were in the hands of the pirates and the whole force was waiting the coming of dawn to attack the city. With daylight there came to the astonished garrison of the smaller fort a summons to surrender. Upon their refusal the castle was taken by storm, the soldiers massacred, and the officers placed in a room over the magazine which was then blown up. The city was now at the mercy of the invaders, but the garrison and population had taken refuge in the main fort, having strong hopes that the Buccaneers would give themselves up to pillage, and might be attacked and routed by a sortie when they were dispersed in sear of plunder.
A THRILLING EPISODE.
Contrary to the expectation of the Spanish, not a storehouse nor residence was molested, but instead, the Buccaneers rushed to the convents, churches and monasteries, from which they dragged out the monks, priests, and nuns who had remained, trusting that the sanctity of their profession would preserve them from insult, and the astonished garrison beheld long lines of monks and
Many of those who wore the religious habit were killed at the first discharge from the fort, but the rest, knowing that it was certain death to return and having been promised their lives in case of obedience, rushed forward and placed the ladders against the walls,
AN EXCHANGE OF COURTESIES.
In the meantime, the governor of Panama had heard the news, and hastily gathering a force rushed to the rescue. But the Buccaneers received notice of his approach in time to lay an ambuscade for his advance guard, which they cut in pieces, and when the survivors fell back on the main body the Spanish army was seized by a panic and ran away pell-mell to a safe position among the hills. Astonished that so few men should be able to accomplish such results, the Panama governor sent a polite message to Morgan, requesting to know what arms his followers carried. The bandit returned him a pistol and a handful of bullets, intimating that the governor might keep them until he should call for them. His Excellency returned the compliment by presenting the pirate with an emerald ring and intimating that he need not call. Morgan took the ring, gathered together his booty, consisting of more than three hundred thousand dollars in coin and goods of incredible value and went back to Tortuga where a division was effected, the leader as usual getting the lion's share, and then set off for Jamaica to revel in the spoils.
It seems amazing that the English government should tolerate the presence of these outlaws in Jamaica, but not only did they tolerate but even encouraged them. They brought money to the colonies, and business was very brisk for some time after a shipload of pirates came in from a successful cruise. Besides money, they brought goods, frequently of immense value, which, obtained by robbery, were sold at merely a nominal price. The profit on a cargo of merchandise purchased in this way was sometimes as much as one thousand per cent., and the merchants and dealers were glad to see a fleet of pirates come into Kingston Harbor after a successful razzia. But English assistance went further than this, for the government gave indirect aid financially to these piratical enterprises, and received a hundred-fold in return for such advances, therefore, after the money from the Puerto Bello expedition was all gone Morgan planned another raid, and an English man-of-war in the harbor was ordered to co-operate with him.
DESTRUCTIVE EXPLOSION OF A MAN-OF-WAR.
It is to the credit of the English name that the order was not carried out and that the vessel was sent on another service, but the loss of the expected assistance determined Morgan to seize a French man-of-war which was then off Kingston. A plausible pretext was found in the fact that some time before the Frenchmen on a cruise had taken a quantity of provisions from an English vessel without paying for them. An invitation was extended to the French officers to dine with Morgan on board his ship. The Frenchmen came, were politely received, but while at dinner were greatly shocked to observe a number of sturdy pirates, armed to the teeth, come in, and to be informed by Morgan that they might no longer consider themselves as his guests, but as his prisoners. The French were speedily set on shore, and a Buccaneer crew placed on board the man-of-war thus captured, which added a thirty-six gun vessel to the pirate fleet. But not for long, for during that night, while the crew on board the newly captured vessel were celebrating their victory with a grand carousal, the magazine blew up, and of three hundred and fifty Buccaneers on the ship at the time, scarcely twenty escaped.
AN ACT OF INCREDIBLE BRAVERY.
Even with his force weakened by this loss, Morgan started for the continent with eight ships and five hundred men, and disembarked his troops on the shores of Maracaibo Bay under a heavy fire from the Spanish fort. Moving up to attack the fortress, the Buccaneers found it deserted. The shouting pirates crowded into the fort, exulted over their capture and jeering at the cowardice of the Spaniards, when suddenly Morgan discovered a lighted fuse leading to the magazine. In another moment the entire band would have been blown in the air, but at great personal peril to himself the leader snatched the fuse from the barrel of powder in
All this took time; news of the Buccaneer raids spread rapidly up and down the coast, and upon Morgan's return to the bay, to his dismay he discovered that the fort had been re-captured by the Spaniards, and that a fleet of three large vessels stood off the mouth of the harbor. Twenty-five or thirty guns had been landed and placed in advantageous positions around the fort, which was thus rendered impregnable to attack. The Spanish fleet was too strong to be successfully met in open fight; the Spaniards considered the bandit trapped, and the Admiral sent word to him to surrender in two days, or expect the most direful consequences.
A MASTERLY PIECE OF STRATEGY.
With his weak force Morgan had no chances in open combat with the Spaniards, and dread necessity therefore forced him to resort to stratagem. Seizing a vessel, which he found in the harbor, he filled it with powder and all sorts of combustibles, cut port holes and placed therein the ends of logs painted black to represent guns, put a large number of coats and hats: on sticks just inside the bulwarks to convey the impression that the ship was well manned, set her sails, and with only a pilot and one sailor sent her in advance against the Spanish fleet, he with his other vessels following at some distance. The Spaniards were deceived, by the trick, and attacked the leading vessel with great fury. The pilot and the solitary sailor got into a skiff and pulled back to Morgan's fleet, while the Spanish ships closed round the deserted vessel. The combustibles on the fire-ship had been ignited before she was finally deserted, and the tricked Spaniards, approaching very close in their determination to board, were astounded by a series of tremendous explosions which threw burning brands far and wide, and set fire even to the rigging of their vessels. Confounded by this sudden and unexpected result and thrown into confusion by the cannonade which Morgan's vessels now began, they hastily retired, and left the Buccaneers master of the situation.
ESCAPE OF THE FREEBOOTERS.
The Spanish vessels fell back behind the fort, and Morgan was apparently no better off than before, for to pass the fortress would, for his fleet, be almost certain destruction. His native shrewdness, however, was again called into play. Coming to anchor in plain sight of the fort, but beyond cannon-shot, he sent out boats from all his vessels, loaded with men who stood up so as to be plainly visible while being rowed to the shore. The boats put into a point of land where they were concealed by some bushes from the view of the Spaniards in the fort. Thus, out of sight, they all lay down in the boats and were taken back to the ships, rounding the vessels to the opposite side from that seen by the Spaniards. This manúuvre was repeated a dozen times in the course of the morning, and
The fame of these two exploits soon spread throughout the world and attracted sea-faring men and desperadoes from every quarter, and in a few months the pirate leader found himself the absolute master of forty vessels and over three thousand men. At this time there were prospects of a peace between England and Spain; the negotiations indeed were actually going on and Morgan determined to forestall the treaty by some exploit greater than any the Buccaneers had previously attempted.
THE PANAMA EXPEDITION.
At this time Panama was the largest, the greatest, the richest and most famous city on the continent. One of the first Spanish settlements, located on a spacious bay, with one of the finest harbors in the world, separated from the Caribbean by an isthmus which from its mountains, forests, thickets, rocks and deadly climate was almost impassable, the city had always been deemed safe from hostile attack. There was immense plunder to be gained and the fancied security of the city added to the expectations of the Buccaneers that more would be realized by an expedition to Panama than against any other city in the western world. Morgan's attention being turned in that direction there was no time to be lost, for he must sail quickly in order that his ships might have the protection of the English flag, a guardianship which they would not enjoy should peace be declared. So leaving three ships at Tortuga, he sailed with thirty-seven vessels, manned with twenty-two hundred men, to St. Catherine's which, as already narrated, had been retaken by the Spaniards. Seeing this overwhelming force in his front the Spanish governor came to terms; he and Morgan exchanged some shots with blank cartridges, the Spanish forces marched out and the Buccaneers took possession. No sooner was St. Catherine's occupied than four hundred men were sent to take the castle at the mouth of the Chagres river that it might serve as a base of operations on the mainland.
This fortress was situated on the top of a high hill with the river at its front and an almost impassable jungle and forest to the rear. The garrison deemed themselves so secure that when the pirates approached them they reviled the freebooters in the coarsest language and opening a heavy fire drove them back. But the Spaniards did not know the character of the men with whom they had to deal. The next morning the Buccaneers landed and began to make their way through the forest.
A tropical forest, to one who has never seen it, is a revelation. Overhead are the interlacing branches of giant trees whose foliage conceals vast numbers of monkeys and parrots, whose ceaseless chattering attends the traveller at every step; underfoot a dense growth of ferns and mosses makes a pitfall to betray the incautious foot. On every hand are bushes and shrubbery, thickets and undergrowth; from every branch depends a mass of vines, which, crossing, intertwining, interlacing, renders progress almost impossible. The machete is in constant use to clear a path, and even the road thus made in a few days fills up so as to be indistinguishable from the original forest. Without skilled guides the traveller is certain to be lost, for men have been known to wander for days almost in sight of their own dwellings.
STORMING THE FORTRESS.
Into such a jungle the freebooters plunged. Starting at a point less than two miles from the castle, they were all day making their way to it, and when in sight the musketry and artillery of the Spanish force compelled them immediately again to seek its seclusion. Several assaults were in vain; night came on, and an effort was made to set the palisades of the fortification on fire. This also failed, and the discomfitted buccaneers would have been signally defeated had it not been for an incident altogether unprecedented and
A base having been thus secured, the fleet came to anchor before the fort, the whole force of Buccaneers disembarked on the beach, and Morgan was carried in the arms of his men into the Spanish fortress. Preparations were at once made to put it in a perfect state of defence, guns were landed from the fleet and mounted oh the walls, provisions were collected, the magazine was rebuilt and a garrison of five hundred men placed in the fort, now enlarged to more than double its former size, with orders at once explicit and positive, that, no matter at what cost, the place was to be defended. A guard numbering one hundred and twenty was left with the ships, which were brought to anchor under the guns of the fort, and the discontent of the Buccaneers who were thus left behind was allayed by the promise that whatever the booty; it should be shared equally by those who went to the front and by those who guarded the line of retreat.