PORT ROYAL is a village located at the end of the
Palisadoes at the
mouth of the
Kingston Harbour , in southeastern
Jamaica . Founded in
1518 by the Spanish , it was once the largest city in the
functioning as the centre of shipping and commerce in the Caribbean
Sea by the latter half of the 17th century. It was destroyed by an
earthquake on June 7, 1692 , which had an accompanying tsunami .
Severe hurricanes have regularly damaged it. Another severe earthquake
occurred in 1907 .
Port Royal was once home to privateers encouraged to attack Habsburg
Spain 's vessels when smaller European powers dared not directly make
war on Spain. As a port city, it was notorious for its gaudy displays
of wealth and loose morals. It was a popular homeport for the English
and Dutch-sponsored privateers to spend their treasure during the 17th
century. When those governments abandoned the practice of issuing
letters of marque to privateers against the Spanish treasure fleets
and possessions in the later 16th century, many of the crews turned
pirate . They continued to use the city as their main base during the
Pirates from around the world congregated at Port Royal,
coming from waters as far away as
After the 1692 disaster, Port Royal's commercial role was steadily
taken over by the town (and later, city) of nearby Kingston . Plans
were developed in 1999 to redevelop the small fishing town as a
heritage tourism destination to serve cruise ships. It could
capitalize on its unique heritage, with archaeological findings from
pre-colonial and privateering years as the basis of possible
* 1 Colonization of
* 1.1 Taino
* 1.2 Spanish
* 1.3 English
* 2 Defence of the port
* 3 17th century economy
* 4 Climate
* 6 The
Royal Navy in
Earthquake of 1692 and its aftermath
* 8 Recent history
* 9 In popular culture
* 9.1 Film
* 9.2 Literature
* 10 References
* 11 External links
COLONIZATION OF PORT ROYAL
The Taino Indians occupied this area for centuries before European
encounter. They used the area, which they called Caguay or Caguaya,
during their fishing expeditions. Although it is not known whether
they ever settled at the spit, they did inhabit other parts of
The Spanish first landed in
Jamaica in 1494 under the leadership of
Christopher Columbus . Permanent settlement occurred when Juan de
Esquivel brought a group of settlers in 1509. They came in search of
new lands and valuable resources, like gold and silver. Instead they
began to cultivate and process the sugar cane. Much like the Taino
before them, the Spanish did not appear to have much use for the Port
Royal area. They did, however, retain its Taino name.
Spain kept control of
Jamaica mostly so that it could prevent other
countries from gaining access to the island, which was strategically
sited within the trade routes of the Caribbean.
control over the island for 146 years, until the English took control
following their invasion of 1655.
Main article: Invasion of
The town was captured by England in 1655 during the invasion of
Jamaica . By 1659 two hundred houses, shops and warehouses had been
built around the fort; by 1692 five forts defended the port.
The English initially called the place Cagway but soon renamed it as
Port Royal. For much of the period between the English conquest and
the 1692 earthquake,
Port Royal served as the capital of Jamaica.
After the earthquake,
Spanish Town was designated as the capital. In
1872 the government designated Kingston , the largest city, as the
DEFENCE OF THE PORT
Port Royal Fort defences
In 1657, as a solution to his defence concerns, Governor Edward
D'Oley invited the
Brethren of the Coast
Brethren of the Coast to come to
Port Royal and
make it their home port. The Brethren was made up of a group of
pirates who were descendants of cattle-hunting boucaniers (later
anglicized to buccaneers), who had turned to piracy after being robbed
by the Spanish (and subsequently thrown out of Hispaniola). These
pirates concentrated their attacks on Spanish shipping, whose
interests were considered the major threat to the town.
These pirates later became legal English privateers who were given
letters of marque by Jamaica’s governor. Around the same time that
pirates were invited to Port Royal, England launched a series of
attacks against Spanish shipping vessels and coastal towns. By sending
the newly appointed privateers after Spanish ships and settlements,
England had successfully set up a system of defence for Port Royal.
Spain was forced to continually defend their property, and did not
have the means with which to retake its land.
17TH CENTURY ECONOMY
Spain could not retake the island and, due to pirates, could no
longer regularly provide their colonies in the New World with
manufactured goods. The progressive irregularity of annual Spanish
fleets, combined with an increasing demand by colonies for
manufactured goods, stimulated the growth of Port Royal.
privateers worked together in what is now referred to as "forced
Merchants would sponsor trading endeavors with the Spanish,
while also sponsoring privateers to attack Spanish ships and rob
Spanish coastal towns. While the merchants most certainly had the
upper hand, the privateers were an integral part of the operation.
Nuala Zahedieh, a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, wrote,
“Both opponents and advocates of so-called ‘forced trade’
declared the town’s fortune had the dubious distinction of being
founded entirely on the servicing of the privateers’ needs and
highly lucrative trade in prize commodities.” She added, "A report
that the 300 men who accompanied
Henry Morgan to Portobello in 1668
returned to the town with a prize to spend of at least £60 each (two
or three times the usual annual plantation wage) leaves little doubt
that they were right.”
The forced trade became almost a way of life in Port Royal. Michael
Pawson and David Busseret wrote “...one way or the other nearly all
the propertied inhabitants of
Port Royal seem to have an interest in
privateering.” Forced trade was rapidly making
Port Royal one of
the wealthiest communities in the English territories of North
America, far surpassing any profit made from the production of sugar
cane. Zahedieh wrote, “The Portobello raid alone produced plunder
worth £75,000, more than seven times the annual value of the
island’s sugar exports, which at
Port Royal prices did not exceed
£10,000 at this time.”
Port Royal has a tropical savanna climate (Köppen climate
classification Aw) with a short dry season from January to April and a
lengthy wet season from May to October. Temperatures remain steady
throughout the year with the dry season being slightly cooler and
range from 25.5 °C (77.9 °F) in January to 27.7 °C (81.9 °F) in
May. The average annual precipitation is 1,345 millimetres (53 in).
PIRACY IN PORT ROYAL
An 18th-century pirate flag (
Calico Jack Rackham ).
Port Royal provided a safe harbour initially for privateers and
subsequently for pirates plying the shipping lanes to and from Spain
Panama . Buccaneers found
Port Royal appealing for several
reasons. Its proximity to trade routes allowed them easy access to
prey, but the most important advantage was the port's proximity to
several of the only safe passages or straits giving access to the
Spanish Main from the Atlantic. The harbour was large enough to
accommodate their ships and provided a place to careen and repair
these vessels. It was also ideally situated for launching raids on
Spanish settlements. From Port Royal,
Christopher Myngs sacked
Henry Morgan attacked Panama, Portobello , and Maracaibo
. Additionally, buccaneers
Roche Brasiliano , John Davis and Edward
Port Royal as a base of operations.
Since the English lacked sufficient troops to prevent either the
Spanish or French from seizing it, the Jamaican governors eventually
turned to the pirates to defend the city. By the 1660s the city had,
for some, become a pirate utopia and had gained a reputation as the
"Sodom of the New World", where most residents were pirates,
cutthroats, or prostitutes . When Charles Leslie wrote his history of
Jamaica, he included a description of the pirates of Port Royal:
Wine and women drained their wealth to such a degree that some of
them became reduced to beggary. They have been known to spend 2 or
3,000 pieces of eight in one night; and one gave a strumpet 500 to see
her naked. They used to buy a pipe of wine, place it in the street,
and oblige everyone that passed to drink.
The taverns of
Port Royal were known for their excessive consumption
of alcohol such that records even exist of the wild animals of the
area partaking in the debauchery. During a passing visit, famous Dutch
Jan van Riebeeck
Jan van Riebeeck is said to have described the scenes:
The parrots of
Port Royal gather to drink from the large stocks of
ale with just as much alacrity as the drunks that frequent the taverns
that serve it.
There is even speculation in pirate folklore that the infamous
Edward Thatch ) met a howler monkey, while at leisure in a
Port Royal alehouse, whom he named Jefferson and formed a strong bond
with during the expedition to the island of
New Providence . Recent
genealogical research indicates that
Blackbeard and his family moved
Jamaica where Edward Thatch, Jr. is listed as being a mariner in
Royal Navy aboard the HMS Windsor in 1706.
Port Royal benefited
from this lively, glamorous infamy and grew to be one of the two
largest towns and the most economically important port in the English
colonies . At the height of its popularity, the city had one drinking
house for every 10 residents. In July 1661 alone, 40 new licenses were
granted to taverns . During a 20-year period that ended in 1692,
nearly 6,500 people lived in Port Royal. In addition to prostitutes
and buccaneers, there were four goldsmiths , 44 tavern keepers, and a
variety of artisans and merchants who lived in 2,000 buildings crammed
into 51 acres (21 ha) of real estate. 213 ships visited the seaport in
1688. The city’s wealth was so great that coins were preferred for
payment over the more common system of bartering goods for services.
Henry Morgan ’s appointment as lieutenant governor, Port
Royal began to change.
Pirates were no longer needed to defend the
city. The selling of slaves took on greater importance. Upstanding
citizens disliked the reputation the city had acquired. In 1687,
Jamaica passed anti-piracy laws. Consequently, instead of being a safe
haven for pirates,
Port Royal became noted as their place of execution
. Gallows Point welcomed many to their death, including Charles Vane
Calico Jack , who were hanged in 1720. About five months later,
the famous woman pirate
Mary Read died in the Jamaican prison in Port
Royal. Two years later, 41 pirates met their death in one month.
THE ROYAL NAVY IN PORT ROYAL
Remains of the Naval Hospital, rebuilt 1818 by
Edward Holl .
Under British rule the
Royal Navy made use of a careening wharf at
Port Royal and rented a building on the foreshore to serve as a
storehouse. From 1675 a resident Naval Officer was appointed to
oversee these facilities; however, development was cut short by the
1692 earthquake. After the earthquake, an attempt was made to
establish a naval base at
Port Antonio instead, but the climate there
proved disagreeable. From 1735,
Port Royal once more became the focus
of the Admiralty's attention. New wharves and storehouses were built
at this time, as well as housing for the officers of the Yard. Over
the next thirty years, more facilities were added: cooperages ,
workshops, sawpits , and accommodation (including a canteen) for the
crews of ships being careened there. A
Royal Naval Hospital was also
established on land a little to the west of the Naval Yard; and by the
end of the 18th century a small
Victualling Yard had been added to the
east (prior to this ships had had to go to Kingston and other
settlements to take on supplies).
At the start of the 19th century a significant amount of rebuilding
took place in what was by now a substantial
Royal Navy Dockyard
serving the fleet in the
Caribbean . A sizeable storehouse with a
clocktower formed the centrepiece, with a covered way leading from it
to the careening wharves. The adjacent
Port Admiral 's (later
Commodore's) House included a watch tower , to counter the threat of
privateers . The Yard continued to expand to meet the new requirements
of steam-powered vessels : the victualling wharf became a coaling
depot in the 1840s, and twenty years later a small engineering complex
was built. The Yard continued to expand through to the beginning of
the 20th century, but then (with the Admiralty focusing more and more
on the situation in Europe ) the Navy withdrew from its station in
Jamaica and the Dockyard closed in 1905.
Many of the Dockyard buildings (most of which were of timber
construction) were subsequently demolished or destroyed (some in the
1907 Kingston earthquake
1907 Kingston earthquake , others by
Hurricane Charlie in 1951). A
few remain in place, however, including the Naval Hospital complex,
some of the steam engineering buildings and a set of officers' houses.
There is also a slipway, completed as late as 1904, which (with its
accompanying sheds) was designed for housing and launching torpedo
boats , stationed there for the Yard's protection. In 2014 it was
announced that some of the Historic Naval Hospital buildings would be
restored to house a museum as part of a broader
Port Royal Heritage
EARTHQUAKE OF 1692 AND ITS AFTERMATH
Main article: 1692
Jamaica earthquake Old map of Port Royal.
Light section at top and going down toward the right is the part of
the city lost in 1692 earthquake; slightly shaded middle section part
of city that was flooded; darkly shaded bottom section is part of city
that survived Shoreline changes in the
Port Royal earthquake
The town grew rapidly, reaching a population of around 6,500 people
and approximately 2,000 dwellings, by 1692. As land on which to build
diminished, it became common practice to either fill in areas of water
and build new infrastructure on top of it, or simply build buildings
taller. Additionally, buildings gradually became heavier as the
residents adopted the brick style homes of their native England. Some
urged the population to adopt the low, wooden building style of the
previous Spanish inhabitants, but many refused. In the end, all of
these separate factors contributed to the impending disaster. The
On June 7, 1692, a devastating earthquake hit the city causing most
of it's northern section to be lost - and with it many of the town’s
houses and other buildings. Many of the forts were destroyed, as well;
Fort Charles survived, but Forts James and Carlisle sank into the sea,
Fort Rupert became a large region of water, and great damage was done
to an area known as Morgan’s Line.
Although the earthquake hit the entire island of Jamaica, the
Port Royal were at a greater risk of death due to the
perilous sand, falling buildings, and the tsunami that followed.
Though the local authorities tried to remove or sink all of the
corpses from the water, they were unsuccessful; some simply got away
from them, while others were trapped in places that were inaccessible.
Improper housing, a lack of medicine or clean water, and the fact that
most of the survivors were homeless led to many people dying of
malignant fevers. The earthquake and tsunami killed between 1,000 and
3,000 people combined, nearly half the city's population. Disease ran
rampant in the next several months, claiming an estimated 2,000
Jamaica earthquake of June 7, 1692 can be dated
closely not only by date, but by time of day as well. This is
documented by recovery from the sea floor in the 1960s of a pocket
watch stopped, at 11:43 a.m., recording the time of the devastating
The earthquake caused the sand under
Port Royal to liquefy and flow
out into Kingston Harbour. The water table was generally only two feet
down before the impact, and the town was built on a layer of some 65
feet of water-saturated sand. This type of area did not provide a
solid foundation on which to build an entire town. Unlike the Spanish
before them, the English had decided to settle and develop the small
area of land, even while acknowledging that the area was nothing but
“hot loose sand”. Ships at
Port Royal c. 1820
According to Mulcahy, “ scientists and underwater archaeologists
now believe that the earthquake was a powerful one and that much of
the damage at
Port Royal resulted from a process known as
liquefaction.” Liquefaction occurs when earthquakes strike ground
that is loose, sandy, and water-saturated, increasing the water
pressure and causing the particles to separate from one another and
form a sludge resembling quicksand. Eyewitness accounts attested to
buildings sliding into the water, but it is likely some simply sank
straight down into the now unstable layer.
Underwater archeology, some of which can be seen in the National
Geographic Channel show Wicked
Pirate City, reveals the foundations of
building underwater, showing there was subsidence, as do comparisons
of post-earthquake maps and pre-earthquake maps.
Some attempts were made to rebuild the city, starting with the one
third that was not submerged, but these met with mixed success and
numerous disasters. An initial attempt at rebuilding was again
destroyed in 1703 by fire. Subsequent rebuilding was hampered by
several hurricanes in the first half of the 18th century, including
flooding from the sea in 1722, a further fire in 1750, and a major
hurricane in 1774, and soon Kingston eclipsed
Port Royal in
importance. In 1815, what repairs were being undertaken were destroyed
in another major fire, while the whole island was severely affected by
an epidemic of cholera in 1850.
Giddy House Inside the
A final devastating earthquake on January 14, 1907, again liquefied
the sand spit, destroying nearly all of the rebuilt city, submerging
additional portions, and tilting The
Giddy House , an artillery
storage room built c. 1880 that is today a minor tourist attraction.
Today, the area is a shadow of its former self with a population of
less than 2,000 that has little to no commercial or political
importance. This is in part a result of abandonment of plans begun in
the early 1960s to develop the town as a cruise ship port and
destination. The plans stimulated the archaeological explorations on
the site which, in turn, led to the suspension of development solely
as a port but now included archaeological and other attractions.
In 1981, the Nautical Archaeology Program at Texas A">
IN POPULAR CULTURE
Port Royal is the "City Beneath the Sea" in the 1953 film of that
Port Royal appears in the film
Cutthroat Island directed by Renny
Harlin, shot in Thailand and Malta
Port Royal has been featured as a location within
Pirates of the
Caribbean film series, though much of the location work
Port Royal was actually done on the island of Saint Vincent , not
* Extensive scenes in
Michael Crichton 's posthumous novel, Pirate
Latitudes (2009), take place in
Port Royal in the mid-1660s.
James Michener 's historical novel, The
Caribbean (1989), details
the history, atmosphere, and geography of
Port Royal accurately.
* ^ A B Davis, Nick (2012-07-25). "Jamaica\'s \'wickedest city\'
Port Royal banks on heritage".
BBC News . Retrieved 2016-06-08.
* ^ A B C Higman, B W; Hudson, B J (2009). Jamaican Place Names
(Softcover) (1st ed.). Kingston,
Jamaica : University of the West
Indies Press . p. 26. ISBN 9789766402174 . Retrieved April 9, 2014.
* ^ A B C Michael Pawson and David Buisseret, Port Royal, Jamaica
(London: Oxford University Press, 1975).
* ^ A B C D Donny L. Hamilton, "
Pirates and Merchants: Port Royal,
Jamaica," in X Marks the Spot: The Archaeology of Piracy, ed. Russell
K. Skowronek and Charles R. Ewen, 13–30 (Gainesville, Florida:
University Press of Florida, 2006).
* ^ A B C D Sin City Jamaica. 1998-12-26. History Channel.
* ^ A B C Nuala Zahedieh, "Trade, Plunder, and Economic Development
in Early English Jamaica, 1655–89," The Economic History Review 39,
no. 2 (1986): 205–222.
* ^ Michael Pawson and David Buisseret, Port Royal, Jamaica
(Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2000).
* ^ Climate Summary for Port Royal
* ^ Breverton, Terry (2005). Admiral Sir Henry Morgan: "king of the
Pelican Publishing . ISBN 1455600148 .
* ^ The original source of this story is
Alexandre Exquemelin 's
History of the Bouccaneers of America. The original text adds: "yes,
and many other impieties", so "see her naked" is a euphemism for sex.
* ^ Brooks, Baylus C. (2015).
Blackbeard Reconsidered – Mist's
Piracy, Thache's Genealogy. North Carolina Office of Archives and
History. pp. 20–22. ISBN 978-0-86526-479-3 .
* ^ Cindy Vallar. "Notorious
Pirate Havens Part 4: Port Royal".
Privateers – The History of Maritime Piracy. Retrieved
September 20, 2008.
* ^ "Royal Museums Greenwich research guide".
* ^ A B C Coad, Jonathan (2013). Support for the Fleet:
architecture and engineering of the Royal Navy's bases 1700–1914.
Swindon: English Heritage.
* ^ "
Jamaica National Heritage Trust".
* ^ "
Jamaica National Heritage Trust".
* ^ "
Jamaica Information Service".
* ^ Pawson, Michael & Buisseret, David (1975). Port Royal, Jamaica.
London: Oxford University Press. CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter
* ^ "Historic Earthquakes". Earthquake.usgs.gov. Retrieved April 9,
* ^ frozen hands on a retrieved watch, the first time in history
archaeologists have an (nearly) exact time for an earthquake.
* ^ History Channel. Ancient Almanac.
* ^ A B C Mulcahy, Matthew (2008). "The
the World of Wonders in Seventeenth-Century Jamaica". Early American
Studies. 6 (2): 391–422.
* ^ Cerruti, James (1967). "
Jamaica Goes It Alone". National
Geographic. 132: 843–873.
* ^ Donny L. Hamilton, "The
Port Royal Project: History of Port
Royal," Nautical Archaeology Program, June 1, 2001, . Retrieved March
* ^ A B Hamilton, Donny L. (April 2006). "Port Royal, Jamaica:
Archaeological Past and Development Potential" (PDF). Underwater
Cultural Heritage at Risk. International Council on Monuments and
* ^ "
Port Royal Heritage Master Plan". The Jerde Partnership.
2000-01-01. Retrieved September 20, 2008.
* ^ Nancy Lanthier (March 24, 2007). "
Talk tells story of Jamaican
Vancouver Sun . Retrieved August 20, 2007.
* ^ Debra Miller, ed. (2005).
Caribbean Islands (4 ed.). Footscray,
Lonely Planet . p. 610. ISBN 978-1-74104-055-5 .
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