Many people don't realise that Captain Henry Morgan was a real person. Not only that but before he became associated with the famous rum baring his name, he was a Privateer working throughout the Caribbean. One of the great mysteries around Captain Morgan is the location of his sunken fleet of five ships that disappeared off the Coast of Panama in 1671. However, for the third year in a row, with the help of the Captain Morgan brand, a team of leading U.S. archaeologists have been scouring the mouth of the Chagres River in Panama in search of this lost fleet.
“Morgan was one of the most infamous privateers of all time, so for me, this is a chance to use archaeological research to bridge the gap between science and pop culture. Most people associate Morgan with the image on a bottle, but in reality, he was an iconic historical figure who accomplished incredible feats throughout the Caribbean,” said Frederick “Fritz” H. Hanselmann, underwater archaeologist and Research Faculty with the River Systems Institute and the Center for Archaeological Studies at Texas State University who has been leading the team in an effort to locate, excavate and preserve the remains of Morgan’s lost ships.
Hanselmann continued, “Locating his lost ships and being able to properly preserve and share it with the public is our ultimate goal with this project. We’re really close – and at the end of the day, his ships are down there and we’re going to find them.”
The story of the search for the lost fleet began back in September 2010 when the archeological team discovered six iron cannons off the coast of Panama belonging to Captain Morgan. The next breakthrough then came last summer with the discovery of a 17th century wooden shipwreck, which is believed to be one of the five ships Morgan lost in 1671 on the shallow Lajas Reef. The fleet included his flagship Satisfaction.
Returning to Panama this summer, the team excavated a host of historic artifacts from the shipwreck in hopes of confirming its origin. During this work, the team recovered a sword, chests, wooden barrels and multiple cargo seals. The artifacts, which are currently housed at Patronato Panamá Viejo (Old Panama Trust) in Panama City, will undergo the preservation process before being studied further and verified by London-based experts in English artillery.
“For us, there’s no better way to communicate the values and unwavering spirit of our brand than by unearthing the real-life history of its inspiration,” said Tom Herbst, Brand Director, Captain Morgan USA. “This adventure that we’ve embarked on truly embodies the character of Morgan himself and the free-spirited nature of rum. In our case, we don’t have to make up a brand story – ours is real and it’s waiting to be discovered at the bottom of the ocean floor.”
Captain Henry Morgan was one of the few men to survive the treacherous life on the high seas long enough to enjoy his successes. From 1664 to 1671, Morgan led daring raids throughout the Spanish Main, resulting in riches for him and his men far beyond what they ever expected.
In 1670, Morgan amassed the largest fleet in the history of the Caribbean and set his sights on Panama City, the richest city in the western hemisphere. While en route, his flagship and four additional ships ran aground on the Lajas Reef at the base of Fort San Lorenzo, the military base that guarded the mouth of the Chagres River – the only water passageway leading toward Panama City. Despite the setback, Morgan and his men prevailed, securing Fort San Lorenzo, sailing up the Chagres and ultimately making their way by foot through the dense rainforest to take Panama City.
All artifacts excavated through the project will remain the property of the Panamanian government and will be preserved and displayed by the Patronato Panamá Viejo in Panama City.