Morgan's destination was the isle of Savona, near which a great Spanish fleet was expected to pass, and here he hoped to make some rich prizes. But when he got out to sea he met with contrary and dangerous winds, which delayed him a long time, and eventually when he arrived at Savona, after having landed at various places, where he pillaged, murdered, and burned, according to the extent of his opportunities, he found at least one-half of his men and ships had not arrived. With the small force which he now had with him he could not set out to attack a Spanish fleet, and therefore he was glad to accept the suggestion made to him by a Frenchman who happened to be in his company.
This man had been with L'Olonnois two years before when that bloody pirate had sacked the towns of Maracaibo and Gibraltar; he had made himself perfectly familiar with the fortifications and defences of these towns, and he told Morgan that it would be easy to take them. To be sure they had been thoroughly sacked before, and therefore did not offer the tempting inducements of perfectly fresh towns, such as Port-au-Prince, but still in two years the inhabitants must have gathered together some possessions desirable to pirates, and therefore, although Morgan could not go to these towns with the expectation of reaping a full harvest, he might at least gather up an aftermath which would pay him for his trouble.
So away sailed this horde of ravenous scoundrels for the lake of Maracaibo, at the outer end of which lay the town of Maracaibo, and at the other extremity the town of Gibraltar. When they had sailed near enough to the fortifications they anchored out of sight of the watch-tower and, landing in the night, marched on one of the forts. Here the career of Morgan came very near closing forever. The Spaniards had discovered the approach of the pirates, and this fort had been converted into a great trap in which the citizens hoped to capture and destroy the pirate leader and his men. Everybody had left the fort, the gates were open, and a slow-match, communicating with the magazine, had been lighted just before the last Spaniard had left.
But the oldest and most sagacious of rats would be no more difficult to entrap than was the wily pirate Morgan. When he entered the open gates of the fort and found everything in perfect order, he suspected a trick, and looking about him he soon saw the smouldering match. Instantly he made a dash at it, seized it and extinguished the fire. Had he been delayed in this discovery a quarter of an hour longer, he and his men would have been blown to pieces along with the fort.
Now the pirates pressed on toward the town, but they met with no resistance. The Spaniards, having failed to blow up their dreaded enemies, had retreated into the surrounding country and had left the town. The triumphant pirates spread themselves everywhere. They searched the abandoned town for people and valuables, and every man who cared to do so took one of the empty houses for his private residence. They made the church the common meeting-place where they might all gather together when it was necessary, and when they had spent the night in eating and drinking all the good things they could find, they set out the next day to hunt for the fugitive citizens.
For three weeks Morgan and his men held a devil's carnival in Maracaibo. To tell of the abominable tortures and cruelties which they inflicted upon the poor people, whom they dragged from their hiding-places in the surrounding country, would make our flesh creep and our blood run cold. When they could do no more evil they sailed away up the lake for Gibraltar.
It is not necessary to tell the story of the taking of this town. When Morgan arrived there he found it also entirely deserted. The awful dread of the human beasts who were coming upon them had forced the inhabitants to fly. In the whole town only one man was left, and he was an idiot who had not sense enough to run away. This poor fellow was tortured to tell where his treasures were hid, and when he consented to take them to the place where he had concealed his possessions, they found a few broken earthen dishes, and a little bit of money, about as much as a poor imbecile might be supposed to possess. Thereupon the disappointed fiends cruelly killed him.
For five weeks the country surrounding Gibraltar was the scene of a series of diabolical horrors. The pirates undertook the most hazardous and difficult expeditions in order to find the people who had hidden themselves on islands and in the mountains, and although they obtained a great deal of booty, they met with a good many misfortunes. Some of them were drowned in swollen streams, and others lost much of their pillage by rains and storms.
At last, after having closed his vile proceedings in the ordinary pirate fashion, by threatening to burn the town if he were not paid a ransom, Morgan thought it time for him to depart, for if the Spaniards should collect a sufficient force at Maracaibo to keep him from getting out of the lake, he would indeed be caught in a trap. The ransom was partly paid and partly promised, and Morgan and his men departed, carrying with them some hostages for the rest of the ransom due.
When Morgan and his fleet arrived at Maracaibo, they found the town still deserted, but they also discovered that they were caught in the trap which they had feared, out of which they saw no way of escaping. News had been sent the Spanish forces of the capture and sacking of Maracaibo, and three large men-of-war now lay in the channel below the town which led from the lake into the sea. And more than this, the castle which defended the entrance to the lake, and which the pirates had found empty when they arrived, was now well manned and supplied with a great many cannon, so that for once in their lives these wicked buccaneers were almost discouraged. Their little ships could not stand against the men-of-war; and in any case they could not pass the castle, which was now prepared to blow them to pieces if they should come near enough.
But in the midst of these disheartening circumstances, the pirate leader showed what an arrogant, blustering dare-devil he was, for, instead of admitting his discomfiture and trying to make terms with the Spaniards, he sent a letter to the admiral of the ships, in which he stated that if he did not allow him a free passage out to sea he would burn every house in Maracaibo. To this insolent threat, the Spanish admiral replied in a long letter, in which he told Morgan that if he attempted to leave the lake he would fire upon his ships, and, if necessary, follow them out to sea, until not a stick of one of them should be left. But in the great magnanimity of his soul he declared that he would allow Morgan to sail away freely, provided he would deliver all the booty he had captured, together with the prisoners and slaves, and promise to go home and abandon buccaneering forever. In case he declined these terms, the admiral declared he would come up the channel in boats filled with his soldiers and put every pirate to the sword.
When Morgan received this letter, he called his men together in the public square of the town, and asked them what they would do, and when these fellows heard that they were asked to give up all their booty, they unanimously voted that they would perish rather than do such an unmanly thing as that. So it was agreed that they would fight themselves out of the lake of Maracaibo, or stay there, dead or alive, as the case might be.