Cartagena was an important port city in the Spanish new world (called Spanish Main) located at the beginning of Spanish trade routes.
Within a few years of the their arrival, Spanish officials commissioned the construction of a massive military fortification to prevent plundering from English, French, and Dutch pirates. Nevertheless, Cartagena was a popular target of pirate raids. In 1551, the French pirate Roberto Baal was successful in plundering the town and escaped after receiving a heavy ransom of silver and gold. In 1559, the port was again attacked by French pirates under the command of Martín Cote. Although Spanish military forces attempted to defend the port, Cote escaped with a great treasure.
In 1572, the renowned English pirate Sir Francis Drake attacked Cartagena. Drake and his men plundered the town and captured an enormous amount of treasure, and as many as 80 artillery pieces. This act of piracy by Drake was one of several that eventually prompted a major war between Spain and England that would result in the destruction of the vaunted Spanish Armada. Even after the destruction of their navy, Spain quickly improved the city’s defenses and built several more fortifications, some of which remain intact today.
Sir Henry Morgan’s Attack on Cartagena
In the next hundred of so years, Cartagena would continuosuly come under attack. One unsuccessful attack, staged by the infamous English pirate Sir Henry Morgan, resulted in the deaths of as many as 900 of Morgan’s men when one of his ships mysteriously exploded.