Buccaneers > Christopher Myngs
Christopher Myngs was a British officer in the Royal Navy under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell who was an infamous buccaneer and responsible for employing many brigands to help him loot Spanish settlements and conquer the island of Jamaica from the Spanish. During his career he was also responsible for spawning the privateering career of Henry Morgan.
Myngs was born in Norfolk, in 1625. When he came of age, the young Myngs joined the Royal Navy as a cabin boy a year or two before the start of the English Civil War (1641-52), between King Charles I and Parliament. He chose to side the Parliamentarians, the winning the side, and rapidly rose through the ranks, rewarded by Cromwell for his loyalty. Eventually Cromwell bestowed Myngs with a promotion to flag officer rank, and was ordered to the Caribbean in 1656. He was sent to clear up the mess left by General Venables the previous year.
Cromwell, as Lord Protector of England and Her Commonwealth, used his puritan rule to make enemies with any Roman Catholic. The Catholics were to be pursued with vehemence. The Irish soon learnt what that meant, as well as the Spanish. In 1655, Cromwell ordered an amphibious army under the leadership of General Venables to attack the Spanish Empire in the Americas, specifically to capture and hold some important stronghold like Santo Domingo or Havana. Venables opted to attack the closest target, Hispaniola. Venables first action aimed at Santo Domingo was an utter disaster. Aware of Cromwell’s plans, the Spanish were too well prepared for the English forces. Venables and his army were driven back into the sea, with very heavy losses.
The tattered remnant of the army sailed west, until they reached Jamaica. Though the Spanish held the island, it was considered of less importance to the rest of Spain’s Caribbean holdings. In comparison to most of the Spanish territories, Jamaica’s defenses were weak. Venable led his 7,000-8,000- remaining troops onto the island, where they easily captured Santiago de la Vega, the island’s lone town. Santiago de le Vega was soon renamed Port Royal. Despite the ease of the taking of Jamaica, the English suffered greatly from disease, fitful Spanish retaliation, and the depredations of the Maroons. The Maroons were escaped slaves, and little reason to trust the newly arrived English any more than their former Spanish masters. (Though this mistrust didn’t prevent some from signing on with buccaneer crews later on.) Venables was recalled to England, and was thrown into the Tower of London for taking such a paltry prize, instead of a valuable local like Havana.
This, the, was the situation that Myngs inherited in January 1656. He arrived in Port Royal aboard a 44-gun navy frigate, the Marston Moor, a vessel whose mutinous crew he had previously subdues with a firm hand. Myngs quickly realized the best defense for Jamaica, which was surrounded by Spanish forces, was to take the offensive. He also concluded that the depleted English forces that remained from Venable’s army would be of little use in any forthcoming attack. So, Myngs turned to the most readily available force in Port Royal, the buccaneers. In that following May, Myngs led a raid on Santa Marta in Venezuela, which demonstrated how buccaneers could be of use in his overall strategy as a commerce raider. By the next year, he was given command of the Jamaican Squadron of buccaneer vessels, and Commonwealth ships, of which the Marston Moor became his flagship.
In October of 1658, Myngs’ squadron lay in wait off the coast near Porto Bello, but narrowly missed attacking ships from the Spanish Treasure fleet. When the Spanish galleons did arrive, most of the English fleet had departed to obtain fresh water. Only the Marston Moor, and one other ship were present as the 29 strong treasure fleet arrived. Myngs and the other captain sailed through the fleet, and hung to its rear, unsuccessfully trying to scatter the galleons.
Perhaps more in a spirit of vengeance, than a mind for compensation, the English buccaneer fleet later burnt the city of Tolu, captured two large ships in its harbor, and once again terrorised the city of Santa Marta. However, the buccaneers’ haul was slim, because the sheer size of the fleet had forewarned the Spanish residents, who fled inland once again, to protect their valuables. Myngs, disappointed with the lack of good pickings, decided to change tactics. He split the fleet, hoping to achieve surprise with less visible forces. The Marston Moor, and two other ships attacked Cumana, Puerto Cabello, and Coro on the Venezuelan coast; and with these smaller numbers, Myngs’ fleet achieved total surprise. The Englishman also taught his men to press the attack well inland, pursuing any who may have escaped the initial assault. This new tactic paid off handsomely in Coro, where a large silver shipment belonging to the Spanish Crown was seized. The entire haul from the Coro raid valued in at around a quarter of a million English Pounds, exceeding all of the buccaneers’ expectations.
Myngs now slid across the fine line between privateering and piracy. By general consent, the loot belonged to Parliament and the Commonwealth, but Myngs put forward an argument, one which Henry Morgan would use during his career, that his commission was a naval one, and the plunder was taken on land. Maintaining that the provisions in his orders were irrelevant, Myngs split the haul with his buccaneer crews, rather than keep a share for the Jamaican Governor and the English treasury.
Upon his return to Port Royal, a warrant for his arrest was waiting, and he was sent back to England to be tried on charges of embezzlement. Fortunately, political turmoil, namely the restoration of the monarchy, overshadowed any trouble Christopher Myngs may have faced. Even better for the Englishman, his earlier Parliamentary loyalties were also forgotten. In 1662, Myngs was back in Port Royal, as a Captain in the Royal Navy, and in command of the 34-gun HMS Centurion. Although Spain and England were at peace, Jamaican authorities still harassed Spanish interests and possessions.
In October 1662, Myngs and his joint naval-buccaneer command stormed Santiago de Cuba, the large island’s second city. The buccaneers captured several ships and treasure, then slighted the port’s defenses before leaving. Since he had avoided censure from the English over this theoretically unlawful action, Myngs pushed into the Gulf of Mexico.
The Spanish Crown reacted with predictable fury against the raids of Santiago and Campeche, and laid strong evidence of atrocities committed by Myngs and his buccaneer fleet, that the English Crown was forced to take notice. Charles II forbade any further naval action against the Spanish. The furore had no effect on Myngs’ career though, and he returned to England in 1665, and was promoted to the rank of vice-admiral. With this rank, Myngs went on to lead naval engagements in the Second Anglo-Dutch War. It was during the battle known as the “Four Days Battle” (June 11-14, 1666), that Myngs met his end. During the fight, one of the longest naval engagements in history, Myngs was hit with two musket balls. One hit him through the left cheek, and the second hit his shoulder. Both of these rounds were fired by a sharpshooter who posted in the rigging of the Dutch flagship. The Admiral was rushed to land, but succumbed to his wounds at the start of August.