If you’ve happened to catch just one of the bazillion Captain Morgan ads that are out there, then you know that there’s a dashing and fun-loving pirate who is trying to bring the world together, one stiff rum drink at a time.
In fact, the rum giant’s mascot is so charismatic and enticing, he gives Johnny Depp’s “Captain Sparrow” character a good run for his money (which, in this case, would be gold coins). While most rum drinkers may only be familiar with the corporate version of Captain Morgan, the reality is that the brand is based on a real Buccaneer, who wasn’t always about peace, love, and happiness.
History buffs aside, when most people hear the name “Captain Morgan”, they naturally think of the liquor company and its famous line of rums. Of course, depending on your experiences drinking a “Captain and cola” or two, your first thought could be something rather pleasant or horrific.
Since it was created in 1944 by the Seagram’s Company, Captain Morgan has gone on to become one of the world’s top-selling rum and spirits producers. According to the company’s website, after former Seagram’s President Sam Bronfman visited the Caribbean in the 1940s, he was quickly taken in by the flavors of spiced rum.
Bronfman proceeded to buy a distillery in Jamaica, as well as a rum recipe from two local pharmacists, the Levy Brothers. The recipe featured the flavors that would eventually inspire Captain Morgan Spiced Rum, which, by 1993, had shipped one million cases. That’s some serious drinking! In 2001, the liquor and alcohol beverage giant Diageo purchased Captain Morgan from Seagram’s.
The Captain Morgan Brand
While the company is still best known for its original spiced rum, Captain Morgan produces several different types of the alcohol, including Captain Morgan White, Captain Morgan Private Stock (sounds glamorous), and Captain Morgan Gold.
The version of Captain Morgan that most people are familiar with is the red-frock-wearing, cape-donning figure that graces every bottle of rum the company makes. Thanks to extensive ad campaigns drawing special attention to it, you’re probably extremely familiar with the pose the Captain strikes on the bottle. That’s right; the whole stepping on a barrel thing.
In fact, you may have seen some dude wearing a Captain Morgan outfit at a company-sponsored event. You may have even met the corporate version of Captain Morgan at a nightclub or bar. If you’re lucky, maybe the Captain or one of his scantily clad assistants handed you a rum-filled drink, just like in the ads. So in a sense, this version of Captain Morgan is real…
Ads from the company have also featured actors performing clever tricks to ensure that the good times roll. Then they ask you, the consumer, if you’ve “got a little Captain in you?” Of course, the question is asking whether you’re up for a rum-inspired party, not whether you feel like raiding a Spanish settlement on behalf of the British Empire.
The Real Captain: Henry Morgan
Yes, there was indeed a real man named Captain Henry Morgan, and the modern-day company has appropriated him as their brand. The real Captain Morgan, however, didn’t make rum, and he isn’t historically remembered for encouraging people to forget their worries by chugging back a few rum and cokes.
Morgan was, in fact, a Welsh privateer who was born in 1635 and died in 1688. Morgan’s biggest claim to fame is the work he did on behalf of the British, in raising fleets of ships to attack Spanish outposts and ships.
What exactly is a privateer? It’s essentially someone who does the same thing that pirates do; however, in this case, a government hires them to do so to make it legal (depending on what side of the plank you’re on, of course). Morgan was so successful at making life miserable for the Spanish Empire, in fact, that he became an Admiral in the British Royal Navy.
Morgan and his privateers were hired by the British to help protect their interests in Jamaica, and more importantly, to fight the Spanish throughout the Caribbean during times of war. Morgan’s most famous expeditions were his attack on Panama in 1671, a raid of the city Portobello in 1667, and the sacking the towns of Gibraltar and Maracaibo in 1668.
Morgan’s accomplishments worked out well for the British, and he was knighted by King Charles and died an extremely rich man. But he was also a pretty ruthless individual. In other words, if you were living in a Spanish settlement during the 17th century, Captain Morgan wasn’t the kind of guy you would invite to your housewarming bash.
The Hunt for Morgan’s Treasure
In 2011, archaeologists discovered the wreckage of one of Captain Morgan’s ships off the coast of Panama. When funding for the excavation began to dry up, Captain Morgan–the company, that is–stepped in with some financing to make sure the project proceeded. The real Captain Morgan would be oh-so-proud.