An extract on #pirit
In 1669 Mariana, the Queen Regent of Spain, ordered attacks on English shipping in the Caribbean. The first action took place in March 1670 when Spanish privateers attacked English trade ships. In response Modyford commissioned Morgan "to do and perform all manner of exploits, which may tend to the preservation and quiet of this island". By December Morgan was sailing toward the Spanish Main with a fleet of over 30 English and French ships carrying a large number of privateers. Zahedieh observes that the army of privateers was the largest that had gathered in the Caribbean at the time, which was "a mark of Morgan's renown".
Morgan's first action was to take the connected islands of Old Providence and Santa Catalina in December 1670. From there his fleet sailed to Chagres, the port from which ships were loaded with goods to transport back to Spain. Morgan took the town and occupied Fort San Lorenzo, which he garrisoned to protect his line of retreat. On 9 January 1671, with his remaining men, he ascended the Chagres River and headed for Old Panama City, on the Pacific Coast. Much of the journey was on foot, through dense rainforests and swamps. The governor of Panama had been forewarned of a potential attack, and had sent Spanish troops to attack Morgan and his men along the route. The privateers transferred to canoes to complete part of the journey, but were still able to beat off the ambushes with ease. After three days, with the river difficult to navigate in places, and with the jungle thinning out, Morgan landed his men and travelled overland across the remaining part of the isthmus.
The privateers arrived at Old Panama City on 27 January 1671; they camped overnight before attacking the following day. They were opposed by approximately 1,200 Spanish infantry and 400 cavalry; most were inexperienced. Morgan sent a 300-strong party of men down a ravine that led to the foot of a small hill on the Spanish right flank. As they disappeared from view, the Spanish front line thought the privateers were retreating, and the left wing broke rank and chased, followed by the remainder of the defending infantry. They were met with well-organised firing from Morgan's main force of troops. When the party came into view at the end of the ravine, they were charged by the Spanish cavalry, but organised fire destroyed the cavalry and the party attacked the flank of the main Spanish force. In an effort to disorganise Morgan's forces, the governor of Panama released two herds of oxen and bulls onto the battlefield; scared by the noise of the gunfire, they turned and stampeded over their keepers and some of the remaining Spanish troops. The battle was a rout: the Spanish lost between 400 and 500 men, against 15 privateers killed.
Panama's governor had sworn to burn down the city if his troops lost to the privateers, and he had placed barrels of gunpowder around the largely wooden buildings. These were detonated by the captain of artillery after Morgan's victory; the resultant fires lasted until the following day. Only a few stone buildings remained standing afterwards. Much of Panama's wealth was destroyed in the conflagration, although some had been removed by ships, before the privateers arrived. The privateers spent three weeks in Panama and plundered what they could from the ruins. Morgan's second-in-command, Captain Edward Collier, supervised the torture of some of the city's residents; Morgan's fleet surgeon, Richard Browne, later wrote that at Panama, Morgan "was noble enough to the vanquished enemy".
The value of treasure Morgan collected during his expedition is disputed. Talty writes that the figures range from 140,000 to 400,000 pesos, and that owing to the large army Morgan assembled, the prize-per-man was relatively low, causing discontent. There were accusations, particularly in Exquemelin's memoirs, that Morgan left away with the majority of the plunder. He arrived back in Port Royal on 12 March to a positive welcome from the town's inhabitants. The following month he made his official report to the governing Council of Jamaica, and received their formal thanks and congratulations.