Colonialism and slavery don’t really make for a “fun” fact, but it is worth knowing that the man portrayed in those Captain Morgan rum ads was a real man. He was a “privateer” for the English in the mid-to-late 1600s when they fought the Spanish for control of the Caribbean island of Jamaica.
Who was the real Captain Morgan?
Before you go dressing up as Captain Morgan for Halloween, you might want to know precisely what his privateering accomplished – namely the continued and increasingly brutal enslavement of Caribbean and African peoples who were forced to harvest sugarcane so the English could build the “British Empire” and gain riches. There’s really no other good way to put it.
But we do tend to romanticize pirates. They sailed the high seas, thwarted societal norms, and lived a life of relative freedom (though typically at the great expense of others). Even Disney romanticized the life of pirates by selectively telling the story of Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
How did Captain Morgan become famous?
Sir Henry Morgan (1635-1688) was Welsh. Wales had been conquered by the British hundreds of years earlier but continued to fight for its independence. Nevertheless, Henry Morgan was willing to work for the highest bidder. Becoming a privateer (being given papers to fight and loot on behalf of a country) was a lucrative gig.
Morgan was such a successful privateer for the British that he was knighted by King Charles II of England. Sir Henry Morgan fought for them throughout the 1660s and 1670s. He helped the English army defeat the Spanish in decisive battles for control of Jamaica. According to Thought Co. (cited below) “his three most famous exploits were the 1668 sack of Portobello, the 1669 raid on Maracaibo, and the 1671 attack on Panama.”
The fate of Sir Henry Morgan
While we somehow still valorize Captain Morgan, his riches were made during a particularly brutal time in Jamaican history. He was also known for torturing his Spanish prisoners.
But he became rich and famous, held lavish parties for other colonists on the island, and basically retired there, dying in 1688.
The rum Morgan became the face of was originally made by Seagrams after their CEO, Sam Bronfman, visited Jamaica. He was inspired to create the Captain Morgan Rum Company in 1945. Bronfman bought a spiced rum recipe from two brothers in Kingston, and that served as inspiration for the final flavor. Today, Captain Morgan rum is all manufactured in the U.S. Virgin Islands. — WTF fun facts