Buccaneering Era > Sack of Maracaibo (1669)

Sack of Maracaibo (1669)

Golden Age of Piracy - Chapter Decoration

Background

In October of 1668, Morgan set out on yet another raid of the Spanish Main as he joined forces with buccaneers from Tortuga for a dual attack on Cartagena de Indias. Sailing with 900 men and eleven ships, Morgan wanted to attack Cartagena due to the massive wealth of riches within the city. Cartagena was one of Spain's most important cities as it held all the gold in transit from Viceroyalty of Peru going back to Europe. Modyford lent Morgan's fleet a massive English Man-o-War named the HMS Oxford to assist in the attack, which became his flagship.

The night that the raid was going to commence, there was a huge celebration aboard the ships. A few drunk soldiers during this accidentally destroyed the HMS Oxford due to lighting a fuse which caused a gunpowder explosion that killed nearly 200 men, a third of his total force. Some deserted as well, fearing the explosion was a bad omen for the buccaneers. This greatly reduced his chances of taking the impregnable Cartagena, however Morgan had other plans in mind.

In March of 1669, Morgan continued his expedition by adding another French warship named Le Cerf Volant which had 36 cannons. Morgan had already planned to acquire this ship, however with the destruction of the HMS Oxford this only increased his necessity.

Using an underhanded technique, Morgan reported the French aboard Le Cerf Volant for committing acts of piracy against English merchants and seized their ship. Morgan invited the French aboard his ship the same night the Oxford exploded under the intentions of having dinner, however he planned to have his crew take them prisoner. However, now that his other warship was blown up, Morgan used this as even more evidence of the French plotting against him and blamed the explosion on the French retaliating due to their imprisonment.

After Morgan accused the French of piracy, his crew searched their ship and came up with a Letter of Marque given by the Governor of Baracoa, the evidence they needed to cement their claims. The Letter of Marque stated the French were permitted to trade in Spanish ports, however they were also allowed to engage English pirates.

Morgan twisted the words and spun the story and eventually the French found themselves without a ship and headed to Jamaica to be detained in prison and threatened with hanging. The French were unable to clear themselves of all this and lost their ship and cargo in the process.

After the setbacks he initially incurred, Morgan now set sail for Cartagena. The voyage however turned out to be much more difficult than anticipated as they were forced to sail into the wind for most of it. This caused immense stress on both the sailors and the boats themselves and the original crew of over nine hundred had been reduced to five hundred just along the trip.

This number was too little to siege the well guarded city of Cartagena, however a French captain named Pierre Le Picard came up with an idea to sack the city of Maracaibo. Le Picard knew all about the nature of the town as he had been there three years ago in 1666 to sack the city under Francois L’Ollonais.

Pierre Picard - Pirates of the Spanish Main (1888)

Pierre Picard - Pirates of the Spanish Main (1888)

Getting to Maracaibo was not going to be easy however. The town itself was located on Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela, however there was narrow and shallow channel that was the only way into the lake. This small channel was treacherous for ships as it contained many sandbars and islands that could force a ship aground.

The Spanish had also built another fortress called San Carlos de La Barra at the most narrow point on the channel as an upgrade since Francois L’Ollonais had last raided the settlements. Morgan and his crew found this out the hard way as they tried to navigate a 12 foot shallow channel coupled with cannon and musket fire.

Morgan decided to land his buccaneer army on the beach in order to try and take the Spanish fort. Once night fell the buccaneers began their assault and tried to breach the fortress. However once they got there they did not find a single Spanish soldiers. However the Spanish did leave something, a slow burning explosive trap that Morgan himself discovered within fifteen minutes of entering the fort. Morgan himself snatched the match from the powder, saving himself and his entire crew. After succeeding in taking San Carlos de La Barra, Morgan took all of the supplies from the fort and ordered his buccaneers to bury all of the cannons so the Spanish could not use them upon their exit.

At this point Morgan knew that the Spanish knew he was going to attack Maracaibo so instead of trying to traverse the lake with his larger vessels the buccaneers simply resorted to their tried and true technique of using canoes and smaller ships to stealthy approach the Spanish. However the residents of Maracaibo still managed to flee with most of their valuables into the jungle before the buccaneers even arrived.

After capturing Maracaibo with relative ease, Morgan and his crew spent three weeks torturing residents to give up their valuables. After they realized they had plundered all there was to plunder the buccaneers packed up the ships with their loot and prisoners and set sail for Gibraltar on the southeastern shore of Lake Maracaibo.

After raiding Gibraltar just like L'Ollonais had done a few years previous, Morgan collected all of the wealth of the town and ransomed its citizens back to the Spanish crown. With the raids successful Morgan loaded his crew and valuables onto the large ships and set sail for home.

However, at the mouth of Lake Maracaibo the Spanish had set a trap. While Morgan and his crews were plundering the towns of Maracaibo and Gibraltar, the Spanish had begun rebuilding and reinforcing the San Carlos fortress and augmented it with a naval defense. Using three ships, the Magdalena, the San Luis, and the La Marquesa the Spanish tried to halt Morgans advance and reclaim their treasures. The Spanish gave Morgan and his buccaneers the option to either surrender and be arrested, or fight and die. Being a buccaneer they chose the latter.

Being outnumbered and outgunned by the Spanish they decided to quickly act. Morgan ordered that his flagship the Satisfaction be converted into a fireship, a technique that Charles Vane would use once again during the 1718 blockade of Nassau by Woodes Rogers.

Morgan and his crew loaded the Satisfaction with hollowed out logs filled with explosives designed to have the appearance of a fully armed crew. The twelve men that decided to sail with the fireship towards the Magdalena throw grabbling hooks into the rigging of the ship in order to ensure it could not escape.

The fireship plan worked and the Magdalena was utterly destroyed. The second largest ship the San Luis was run aground by Morgans fleet and the final sheep the La Marquesa was overtaken by the buccaneers shortly after when the rigging and ropes got tangled. However despite having a small victory over the fleet, Morgan still had to tangle with the rebuilt fortress that could easily bombard his ships as he left Lake Maracaibo.

Next Henry Morgan faked another land assault on the fortress which convinced the soldiers to shift their focus, allowing Morgan and his fleet to slip away using only the movement of the current and the tide. Morgan used canoes to "drop" soldiers off, who would simply duck down on the return journey in order to give the appearance that Morgan was landing considerable numbers of troops. In reality not a single one really landed on the beach.

After escaping successfully to Port Royal in Jamaica, the Spanish retaliated by threatened assaults against the island of Jamaica. Morgan for his success was given commander-in-chief status of all the ships of war in Jamaica. This was in an effort to destroy the Spanish and their ships, with Morgan getting paid more or less as a privateer out of the goods plundered.

Shortly after his successes at Maracaibo, Morgan and crew began raiding the coasts and mainland of Cuba before long Morgan set his eyes on the rich settlement of Panama Viejo on the mainland of Panama. This was to be one of the most defining moments of his privateering and pirating career.

Buccaneer Raids

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