Cover image for Mad Morgan
Mad Morgan
Newcomb, Kerry.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, 2000.
Physical Description:
276 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



A riveting and action-packed novel of the life and times of Henry Morgan, MAD MORGAN is the legendary pirate's story told with swashbuckling romance, derring-do, and an edge as sharp as Spanish steel.

Born in the Welsh countryside in 1655, Henry Morgan is captured as a youth by Spanish raiders and carried off to Santiago de Cuba to a life of cruel servitude. Grown to manhood and unbowed by the slaver's whip, Morgan eventually escapes, stealing a prison ship and rescuing a crew of hardened freebooters in the process. With vengeance in his heart, Morgan sets out to harry the Dons. Before long, the turquoise waters of the Spanish Main run red with blood. No Spanish treasure ship or guarded port is safe--he is Captain Henry Morgan, "El Tigre de Caribe", the most feared buccaneer alive and an imposing figure of dread throughout the Caribbean.

In a rousing adventure that culminates in Morgan's infamous and bloody conquest of the supposedly impregnable Spanish port of Panama City, Mad Morgan unfolds at a breathtaking pace. Rich with stunning detail, violence, passion and revenge this is a pirate tale that will captivate every armchair adventurer until the last, thrilling page is turned.

Author Notes

Kerry Newcomb was born in Milford, Connecticut but had the good fortune to be raised in Texas. He has served in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and taught at the St. Labre Mission School on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana. Mr. Newcomb has written plays, film scripts, commercials, liturgical dramas and over thirty novels under both his own name and a variety of pseudonyms, including The Red Ripper and the Texas Anthem series. He lives with his family in Ft.Worth, Texas.

Reviews 1

Booklist Review

This colorful, old-fashioned adventure tale is based on the audacious experiences of seventeenth-century buccaneer captain Mad Morgan. Seized and enslaved by the Spaniards at an early age, the Welsh-born Henry Morgan vows revenge against his captors. After orchestrating a cunning escape from Santiago de Cuba and absconding with a prison ship, Morgan and his motley crew of freed convicts become the terror of the Caribbean. Awash with treachery and romance, this well-spun yarn fairly crackles with danger and suspense. Vigorous historical fiction. --Margaret Flanagan



Kerry Newcomb 1. The last night of peace. B lack sky. Black bay. Black rage in the water. Muscles strained as the swimmer sliced through the stygian sea, sweet smooth, with an economy of effort. Gauging the distance, he saved his strength, a talent learned in the fields where he'd cut cane, slick clean with one swipe of the hooked steel blade. After years of toil, the wicked tool had become an extension of his powerful arm. The plantations took their toll; bone and blood was the price of a hurried harvest. Still, he had refused to die. Years of harsh servitude that broke the spirits of lesser men tempered him. He was lean but powerful, his iron strength had been forged by slavery in the furnace of the Caribbean sun. Ridges of lurid white scar tissue marked his back and shoulders in the pale glare as he broke the sheltering sea, gulped air then dove again, sleek as a watersnake, fanged and deadly on its course. His captors had been liberal in their punishment over the years. A taste of "the cat" was every slave's lot from time to time. How far now? Not very. Head for the stern. See there, the Jacob's ladder. And the bark is well lit. No doubt the men aboard will be celebrating the birthday of their king, just like the others. He paused and treaded water and glanced back across the bay to the shore, aglow with lanterns--the streets of Santiago were crowded with a happily inebriated populace. The birthday of the Spanish monarch was cause for celebration. The sounds of music and laughter drifted across the incoming tide, echoed to a lesser degree fromthe prison ship anchored offshore. He was one man alone, unnoticed, lost in the dark. No alarm preceded him. The carnival had masked his escape. And the watchmen who might have noticed his absence and raised an alert were beyond speaking.     Abelardo Montoya paced the poop deck, his back to the sea and his eyes on the harlots his compadres had brought from shore. The women were willing, obviously, and though plain as planks and broad in the beam, there wasn't one he wouldn't climb if given half a chance. Unfortunately, he had been assigned first watch by Sergeant Salas. Fate had decreed Salas and the other guards would play while Abelardo endured his lonely vigil, with naught but a heavy-bore Spanish musket to clutch in his grudging embrace. The guard stamped his feet and shook his head and tried to look away from the bark's gaily-illuminated quarterdeck. Lanterns hung from the shrouds and along the ship's rail. Rum kegs had been tapped, tankards had been raised to toast the health of Carlos II, and now a solitary piper coaxed a merry tune to dispel the gloom. Abelardo knew he was only punishing himself by watching but he couldn't bring himself to turn his back on the revel below. He sighed, removed his tricorn hat and mopped the perspiration from his forehead and grizzled cheeks upon the sleeve of his faded pea-green coat. The Dolorosa wasn't a bad ship, just a prison ship, stripped of its armaments to make room belowdecks for the murderous sea scum they had captured on the island. Guarding prisoners was a boring, tedious job but one that had to be done by someone. "Hang the lot and be done with it," the Spaniard muttered, his hungry gaze sweeping the quarterdeck below. The ship's company had been raiding the rum stocks for several hours now. Sergeant Salas was roaring drunk and the rest of the crew weren't in any better shape. There wasn't a steady hand aboard, save his own. Curse the sergeant. Salas and the others intended to have their fun till the morning hours. And why not? Captain Gomez would not bring the rest of the crew aboard until tomorrow afternoon, plenty of time to load the whores back into a longboat and point them toward shore. "Not before I sample their wares, I swear," Abelardo scowled. "Short straws," he muttered. "Always choose the damn short straw. That's my luck." In the middle of his self-pity he heard the Jacob's ladder behind him at the ship's stern rattle against the rail, then something thumpedthe deck behind him. Abelardo turned, took a step back and stared slack-jawed at the ragged, half-naked apparition that had swung over the side and landed on the poop deck. " Madre de Dios ... what has the sea coughed up? A slave from the cane fields?" Abelardo cocked his weapon. "You had a long swim to hell, amigo." The Spaniard centered the musket on the slave's brow, just below his sodden brown mane. The slave lunged forward as the guard squeezed the trigger and batted the priming powder from the pan. The flintlock misfired and failed to discharge. Abelardo cursed and clubbed the slave with the gun butt, opening a gash on his cheek. The slave staggered back and dropped his own weapon, a cane-cutter. Abelardo kicked the curved blade out of the way, stepped in close and swung the musket a second time. The slave recovered and dodged the blow, rammed his head into the Spaniard's groin, and forced him back against the rail. Abelardo gasped, dropped the musket, and called out to his compadres in a hoarse voice. The slave wrapped his arms around the guard's legs and dragged him down. On the quarterdeck, the revel continued, its participants heedless of the struggle. Abelardo slipped a dagger loose from his belt sheath and sliced his opponent's shoulder. The slave ignored the pain, caught the guard's wrist and twisted the weapon in the man's hand, forcing the lethal blade down toward its owner's chest. Abelardo twisted and fought but the slave would not let go. Overhead through a forest of masts, trimmed sails, and rigging, a single star appeared through a rent in the clouds and tried to cast its feeble reflection upon the bay. On the ship below, two men struggled soundlessly for their lives, muscles straining. Abelardo watched in horror as the knife he held inexorably lowered to his own breast. He once again tried to shout to his companions. Even now they might save him. But the slave covered the Spaniard's mouth with his forearm, then with a violent and overpowering effort thrust the blade deep into the guard's torso. The blade glanced off a rib and sank home. Abelardo twisted and thrashed in one last effort to break loose. But his strength failed him. His killer's gray eyes searched the dying man's features, made a connection; the slave from the sea and his victim bound in silent communion for one last moment. Gray eyes without mercy, bleak as a thunderhead. Look away ... . look to the star in the rigging. See how it sparkles briefly, oh, briefly, then fades ... to black. The slave rolled onto his side, then lay on his back, gulping air, shoulder to shoulder with the dead man. After a short breather, he crawled across the deck and retrieved his cane-cutter, then, peering over the edge of the poop deck, counted six more guards. Though he ached from his exertions and was near exhausted, thoughts of surrender never entered his mind. His gaze shifted from the blade in his hand to the Spaniards below. Six to one? Fair enough. Loose havoc, harry mercy. Be it now ... or never . There was blood on the moon tonight, and no turning back.     Welcome the living dead: these men without hope, existing in filth, dying in misery below the quarterdeck of the Spanish bark Dolorosa . The prison ship rode at anchor a couple hundred yards off the port of Santiago de Cuba. The imprisoned freebooters crowded in the gun deck were human cargo for the slave pens of Panama. These brethren of the Black Flag would have preferred a cleaner, quicker death. A firing squad, even dancing a jig at the end of a hangman's rope, had to be a better fate than what the Spaniards had in store for them. For men born to the sea, imprisonment and brutal servitude deep in the silver mines south of Panama would be a hellish ordeal. On this humid, stifling night in the year 1660, the weary denizens belowdecks listened with a mixture of remorse and envy as their captors passed about flagons of rum and lifted their coarse voices in songs of celebration. Someone piped a tune for his drunken comrades. Half a dozen guards, unsteady on their feet, danced to the melody, swilled rum, sang and laughed and good-naturedly vied with one another for the jaded favors of the whores who had been brought across the bay at no small expense to these soldiers. Sir William Jolly licked his parched lips. His nostrils flared. He could smell the rum despite the stench of unwashed bodies surrounding him. Jolly was a squat, solid-built man. Stringy red hair hung to his shoulders, beads of sweat rolled along his grizzled jaw and brooding brow. At a glance he seemed almost a dullard, a thickskulled seaman affecting the ragged attire of a gentleman. But even Jolly's captors had noted the deference accorded the disgraced aristocrat by his fellow prisoners. Jolly's past was a mix of conjecture and rumor. It was said the physician had fallen victim to a libertine existence. Drunkenness and gambling may have cost him his heritage, but the forty-year-old physician had found a true calling among the thieves and cutthroats of the Spanish Main. "Doc?" muttered Israel Goodenough, emerging from the shadows. The tall, rail-thin gunner had to walk stoop-shouldered as he approached. His forehead showed a bruise where he'd recently forgotten his height and clipped the crossbeams with his skull. Israel raised a bony hand and gestured aft where the worse of their number lay in misery upon makeshift pallets of empty grain sacks. Goodenough dry-swallowed, hoping to coax a little moisture up into his throat. The round knob of his Adam's apple bobbed in the leathery trough of his long neck. "It's Hiram James. The fever's on him again." "And if he's lucky it will kill him this time," said Jolly, glancing in the direction as a pitiful, almost animalistic wail rose from the shadowy recesses of the ship's stern. The poor soul sounded like some wounded cur left to die in an alley. In contrast, coarse laughter drifted down through the barred grating in the quarterdeck that permitted the only fresh air to reach below. "There's nothing I can do. Without my herbs and tinctures ..." Jolly shrugged and held up his hands in a gesture of uselessness. Droplets of sweat formed on the bulbous tip of his pocked, pinkish nose. Listen to the revelry. The bloody curs ... Jolly turned his sad brown eyes upward as if he could pierce the oaken beams and observe his captors indulging their debauchery in the lantern light. "They've left but a skeleton crew, I wager," the physician muttered. "Sacre bleu . It might as well be an army for all the good it does us," another of the brethren drily observed. Pierre Voisin was a bastard by birth and a thief by choice. His narrow features were seamed from his perpetual squint and burned dark from a life lived before the mast. "I once was prisoner of the Marathas, south of Bombay. The vizier, old Kanhojii Angria, boiled half our crew in oil. On my honor, he did; then threw 'em to the sharks. I tell you, mes amis, be glad these sons of bitches above us at least are Christian." "Shackles are shackles," said Israel Goodenough. He took no comfort in Voisin's story. "Christians ain't got no lock on mercy. Thomas LeBishop carries the Savior's cross into battle and I never seen such a bloodletter as the Black Cleric." Stooping forward, the gunner kept pace with the physician as Jolly maneuvered his way among his miserable companions. The buccaneers outnumbered the Spaniards. But the iron chains clamped about their ankles and the stout oak door with its heavy iron bolt kept the prisoners from forcing their way topside and commandeering the vessel. "LeBishop's a hard one," Jolly agreed, shadows and firelight flickering on his coarse features. "Tell us again, Voisin. How did you escape the heathens of Islam?" "I didn't," the Frenchman replied, flashing a gap-toothed grin. "I got killed!" Weak laughter filtered through the crowded confines of the gundeck. Bellies growled. The thirst was intolerable. But the last time the freebooters had cried out for water the guards had responded by urinating through the iron grate overhead. A few crusts of mealy bread and a bucket of slops that passed for gruel came infrequently at best. With any luck the men below would starve to death in their shackles before ever setting foot in a silver mine. "I ain't eaten in so long my gut thinks my throat's been cut," muttered Israel Goodenough. "That's the only way you'll escape this cursed boat," another man replied, limbs trembling, eyes gaunt, ribs showing through his flesh. "What say you, sawbones?" William Jolly shook his head and began to pace in a tight circle, his chains rattling with every step. His companions close by growled in discomfort as they moved their shackled limbs out of his path. Jolly stopped and stared at the steps leading up to the bolted door. He raised his clenched fists and shook them at their unseen guards. "Listen to them, dancing on our graves. By heaven ... if we only had them in our gunsights ..." "Heaven?" said Israel. "Your shadow won't ever fall there, William Jolly. It's a mite late to be calling on the angels." The gunner spoke with a sense of grim resolve. He hadn't lost hope quite yet, but the light was dimming fast. Jolly continued to shake his fists, his mouth drew back in a grimace. This was his fault. Their schooner, Red Warrant , had run aground on the coast of Hispaniola, leaving them at the mercy of the Spanish forces. They had avoided capture for several days, but at last, starving and with their captain dead, Jolly had led the men in surrender, hoping to appeal to the mercy of the Spanish authorities. Alas, mercy was in short supply these days. Maybe they should have fought to the death. But he had a daughter in Port Royal. A nine-year-old girl who expected to see him again. He was the only family she had. He must get back to her, somehow, some way. "Nell," he softly whispered to himself. "I swear I shall never leave you again." He slumped back amid his brethren. In the darkness back toward the stern, poor delirious Hiram James cried out for his sister. The hallucinationsshifted: he called out for men to join him at the topgallants, he shouted for his comrades to cut away the sailcloth. "Watch yourselves, lads, they're using chain." His breathing grew more labored then rattled deep in his throat and ceased altogether. "It's all over," someone called out. "Good for him," Pierre Voisin disconsolately replied. "Should we grieve? Je ne sais pas . Why? At least he's free. Hell can be no worse." In the silence that followed the Frenchman's benediction, the buccaneers gloomily pondered the fate that awaited them all. In sharp contrast to their mood, the revel above continued unabated. The guards were celebrating as if there were no tomorrow. A scar-faced Spanish sergeant knelt upon the grate overhead, his bulk blocking out the pale moonlight appearing through the tattered clouds. Manuel Salas dragged his pewter tankard across the iron screen, taking care to spill some of the rum. Why not? There was plenty. He enjoyed taunting the prisoners. Animals like these were a constant threat to Spain's colonies in the New World. They deserved to suffer. "What say you, thieves, murderers, you sons of bitches? The rum is sweet as mother's milk. Are you thirsty, my pretties?" One of the whores joined the sergeant and began to pull on his coat. She was a round, heavyset mulatto, wide-eyed and unsteady on her feet. Salas whispered in her ear. The mulatto nodded and laughed, raised her skirt and presented herself to the prisoners. "Feast your eyes," roared Salas. "For you'll never again enjoy a woman's favor." The sergeant grabbed her ample derriere, turned her about and buried his scarred face beneath the woman's rumpled skirts. The mulatto squealed in delight and rose up on her toes. A few moments later the guard freed himself from her coffee-colored thighs and struggled to his feet. The curses rising from below amused him. He emptied the contents of the tankard onto the upturned faces. "Here you soulless scum, you boucaniers. Drink. Drink." Beneath the grate, several of the freebooters surged forward, struggling to place themselves beneath the trickle of rum. William Jolly bullied his way through the men, with Israel Goodenough and the Frenchman, Voisin, at his side. Sir William put an end to the altercation before it spread throughout the gundeck. "What is this? Shall we give this jackal the satisfaction of watching us kill one another for a few drops of grog?!" The prisoners surrounding Jolly grudgingly retreated, chains rattling as they shuffled back to their places. Salas hurled the tankard against the iron grate, cursed the physician in the darkness below and, grabbing the whore in his rough embrace, dragged her out of sight.Jolly and the others could hear him laughing above the din of his companions. Elsewhere on the deck a pistol shot rang out, followed by another. In celebration ... ? A few moments later the whore began to scream. The prisoners assumed she was being brutally taken by her paramour. Indeed, there wasn't a guard who seemed to be anything less than mean and dangerous. Suddenly Sergeant Salas landed facedown and covered the grate with his body. "Has this bastard no shame?" said Israel Goodenough. "Will he go a'romping in bushy park right above us?" Droplets of moisture spattered into the hold. "More rum," Israel muttered, catching a few droplets on his fingertips. Then he sniffed his fingers and stepped back from the spreading stain. "Blood?" The mulatto continued to scream as she ran across the deck and vaulted over the side of the ship. A mouthful of salt water stilled her cries. William Jolly dipped his fingers in the moisture and nodded in confirmation. Now one and all recognized the unmistakable clatter of steel on steel. Bootheels drummed across the deck. A door slammed back on its hinges. A musket discharged. The commotion on deck intensified as the guards scrambled about. Someone cried out, "Quien viené?!" There were growls and groans, a cry of pain and a litany of curses, all in Spanish. Someone cried out in agony, his voice trailed off. The other prostitutes attempted to raise the alarm but the women were obviously frightened and desperate to be off the prison ship. This far out in the bay there was no one to hear them scream. Even a pistol shot failed to rouse the garrison ashore. "Sacre bleu. What is happening?" Voisin muttered, echoing the concern of every man. He blessed himself. Jolly shrugged. "Sounds like hell's come to the dance." He shook his head, stroked his broad rough chin, and moved to the steps leading up to the quarterdeck. The melee raged on. Another guard collapsed, moaning and writhing on the deck until he gagged and died. His companions lost heart and followed the prostitutes over the side of the boat. Their voices grew distant as they splashed and pawed the water, exhorting one another to swim for shore. Then silence. The seconds crept past. They heard the pad of bare feet upon the quarterdeck as someone made their way past the grate. Upturned eyes followed the sound as it passed overhead then leveled toward the door at the head of the steps leading up from the gundeck.The iron bolt on the outside of the door shrieked like a banshee as it slid back. Next, the iron hinges offered protest as the door swung open and crashed against the deck. A wiry-looking figure outlined in silvery light appeared on the top step, then started down into the foul chamber. The slave moved with catlike grace; as if stalking prey, watchful ... dangerous and ready to lash out. William Jolly squinted and rubbed his eyes. The stranger on the top steps brandished a wicked-looking cane-cutter in one hand, a ring of iron keys in the other. He was clad in torn breeches, damp and clinging to his powerful thighs from the long swim from shore. His torso was burned dark, his belly lean and corded with muscle. The collective gaze of the prisoners focused on the ring of iron keys dangling from the stranger's fingers. "I intend to steal this ship," said the man on the steps. He looked to be no more than twenty, young and untried but resolute; he spoke softly, but with conviction, saying exactly what he meant. His gray eyes, tempered like the raw steel of the cruel blade in his fist, cast a spell over this collection of sea rogues. "I shall need a crew." "Where are the guards?" Israel called out, voicing a question on everyone's mind. "Some took their chances in the bay. The others ..." The man on the steps raised his cane-cutter, its hooked blade spattered crimson. "Who's with you?" another of the freebooters asked suspiciously. "You expect us to believe a jackanapes like yourself captured the Dolorosa on your lonesome?" "Believe what you see," the stranger on the steps replied. Without further explanation, he tossed the keys into the hold. William Jolly made a perfect catch and with trembling hands began to fumble at the padlocks chaining the men to the deck underfoot. At last the ankle clamps fell away and he kicked free of the shackles and passed the keys to the outstretched hands of his companions. Jolly advanced on their benefactor, his great bulk looming over the younger man. This escaped slave was a sight, standing there half-naked, bleeding from several nasty-looking cuts, his shaggy shoulder-length brown hair framing his careworn features--for it was in the hard-edged lines of his face that slavery had marked him the most. But the young man had single-handedly vanquished the Spaniards, taken the prison ship for his prize, and freed Jolly and his shipmates, one and all. The physician felt the breath of fate tickle his ear. Sir William was standing at the crossroads of all that had gone before,aware that his next decision determined the rest of his life, for better or ill. One thing he suspected: there would be no lack of adventure with this young man. "By heaven, I'll serve with you. Never let it be said William Jolly forgets a good deed done his way." "Aye, we're with you," Israel Goodenough exclaimed, rubbing his chafed limbs. He was grateful for a second chance. The newly freed buccaneers surged toward the steps. Jolly halted them with a wave of his hand. "Lads, here be your captain. What say you?" "Mais oui. I will follow the devil himself if he leads to freedom!" shouted Voisin. And the rough lot joined in with one accord, accepting the physician's decision to give their young benefactor a chance. He had proved a match for the Spaniards, whether he could fly the Black Flag and survive this unruly lot, only time would tell. The stranger nodded and led the way up into the night air. William Jolly fell into step alongside the younger man. "Tell me, uh, Cap'n, what do you know of sailing a leaky bucket like this?" "Not a damn thing," the escaped slave retorted. "That's why I need you." A wicked grin split his features. Once on deck, Jolly noted the dead Spaniards sprawled about the ship. Even a jaded old sea dog like himself was impressed. It was as if some terrible force of nature had swept down upon the guards and slayed them where they stood. "Just who are you?" Sir William quietly asked, a note of unease in his tone. Their benefactor showed no regret for his actions, though he knelt and wiped his blade clean on the baggy coatsleeve of one of his victims. "Henry Morgan." Jolly shrugged. The name meant nothing. "You come from plantations ashore?" asked the physician, lighting a lantern. He held up the lamp and quietly appraised his new captain by the lamp's sallow glow. Morgan nodded. "I was taken from my village in Wales and brought here, a long ... long time ago." Music and laughter and the sounds of revelry drifted across the black bay. The port was draped in lantern light and the Spanish populace danced in the streets. "Listen to them," Jolly said. "No one can hold a candle to a Spaniard for celebrating. And when it comes to religion, them's the saintliest sons of bitches I know, that is, when they aren't starving our poor families to death or hanging our kinsmen. Do you be a Godfearin' man, Henry Morgan?" And for the first time Morgan smiled. But his humor was carved in ice and his storm-gray eyes narrowed and flashed. "I shall follow only two commandments," said Morgan. "'Get mad.'" His fierce gaze flared like a lit fuse. "'Get even.'" Jolly shivered in the warm, humid sea breeze ruffling the square-rigged sails overhead. Morgan experienced a flash of memory, his thoughts reached back seven years to Swansea, a settlement on the coast of Wales, a quiet little port engulfed in flames and at the mercy of Spanish raiders. In his mind's eye he watched Welsh men and boys shackled and led away to be chained in the hold of a Spanish raider and carried off to the Caribbean. The rest was a blur of servitude and grueling toil. But Henry Morgan was free now, free to seek his fortune, to roam the Spanish Main. He'd leave Santiago de Cuba far richer than he came, with a ship and a crew. And an unquenchable thirst for retribution. "What are they celebrating?" Israel asked in a deep voice. He approached from amidships, the tall man folding his arms across his bony chest as he paused to stare off toward shore. Morgan's ominous reply cut quick as a cutlass, unsheathed from some secret place where the hurt ran deep. "It is the last night of peace." W e are Brethren of Blood, we are sons of the sea. We are children of havoc and born to be free. Young Morgan was captured and carried away To far Hispaniola, to slave night and day. Though he bent to the lash, his heart would not break, And Morgan swore vengeance, dark vengeance to take. MAD MORGAN. Copyright (c) 2000 by Kerry Newcomb. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010. Excerpted from Mad Morgan by Kerry Newcomb All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.