From the Quaker Oats Man to Ronald McDonald, characters used to advertise a food, drink, or restaurant are a staple of the marketing world. (Here’s some trivia you never knew about your favorite food characters.) You probably just assume that these munchie mascots, even the human ones, are completely made-up characters. But as a matter of fact, Sam Adams isn’t the only alcohol-advertising guy inspired by a real person. The swashbuckling namesake of Captain Morgan Rum has a real-life counterpart, too.
That’s right, the red-clad Captain Hook-lookalike who appears on bottles of this popular rum is actually based on a real person. And if historical records are any indication, he was not the greatest of people. (Turns out Trader Joe is a real person, too—and a much nicer one at that.)
His full name was Sir Henry Morgan, and he was born in Wales in 1635 and was an admiral in the British Royal Navy while England was at war with Spain. Perhaps most surprising of all, he wasn’t even a pirate… technically. He was what’s known as a privateer, which essentially means that he did all the things a pirate does, but his robbing and pillaging escapades were sanctioned by the government. And a pirate with the law on his side is pretty much a recipe for disaster. The British government hired Morgan to protect British colonial interests in the Caribbean from the Spanish, at any cost. He spent much of the 1660s and 1670s sacking Spanish ships, raiding cities, and furthering Britain’s war efforts in other equally unpleasant ways. We can’t exactly say we want to drink to that.
Fast-forward to 1944, when the Seagrams company needed a way to make their new rum brand stand out. They hired an artist to create a cartoon likeness of this famous pirate, and the rest is history. Maybe it’s for the best that the name “Captain Morgan” calls to mind a cheerful, mischievous rum-drinker rather than an actual murdering pirate.
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