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Golden Age of Piracy

Port Royal, Jamaica

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Locations > Port Royal

Port Royal, Jamaica


Port Royal - Edward Barlow's Journal (1659-1703)

Port Royal - Edward Barlow's Journal (1659-1703)

Port Royal was a famous pirate having during the Buccaneering Era that is located on the end of the Palisadoes in the mouth of Kingston Harbor on the island of British Jamaica.

It grew to become one of the most prosperous and populated settlements in the British West Indies under the defense of the Brethren of the Coast and was one of the staging grounds for buccaneer assaults against the Spanish Main. Despite its status as a famed pirate haven it was the capital of Jamaica at the time.

It was initially founded in 1518 by the Spanish who named the island the Colony of Santiago otherwise known as Spanish Jamaica. It was not defended or even settled really but due its strategic location as one of the Greater Antilles the Spanish claimed it.

However, the British Royal Navy took over the island on 10 May 1655 under Oliver Cromwell and managed to capture the capital at Santiago de la Veda. This prompted the fortification of Port Royal. The British quickly built Fort Cromwell for defense and built Fort Charles in 1660 to augment the defenses of the city.

Port Royal grew in popularity because the buccaneers like at Tortuga were offered commissions and letters of marque to harass the Spanish and steal their wealth. In exchange for royal protection the pirates were required to pay a percentage to the Crown and the governor and help defend the settlement if the Spanish tried to invade, which they did regularly. Due to governmental complicity throughout the Buccaneering Era the city would grow at an exponential rate and even more fortifications would be constructed.

Harbours of Port Royal & Kingston - Richard Jones (1756)

The city would famously be destroyed in the Port Royal Earthquake (1692) which saw the demise of Port Royal as a pirate haven. The capital would be relocated to Kington and buccaneering would be outlawed and discouraged following the signing of the Treaty of Madrid.

The town would be rebuilt and after a brief resurgence under governor Archibald Hamilton, the city would become known more as a place where pirates were tried and met their fate at the hangman's noose.

Buccaneering Era

See Port Royal in the Buccaneering Era

Kingston & Port Royal - A Picturesque Tour of Jamaica (1825)

Port Royal Economy

See Port Royal Economy

Life in Port Royal

See Life in Port Royal

As a pirate haven the island was home to all sorts of gambling, drinking and every other vice imaginable. The city was governed and protected by the Brethren of the Coast. Port Royal boomed economically from this reputation of being a outlaw and buccaneering haven and grew to be one of the largest colonies in the Caribbean.

At a time when Boston and New York City were getting their starts Port Royal was in full swing and the most populated British settlement in the New World. At the pinnacle, Port Royal had one bar for every ten people and in July of 1661 alone there was forty new taverns were granted licenses.

Earthquake at Port Royal in Jamaica (1692)

Port Royal Earthquake (1692)

See Port Royal Earthquake (1692)

Port Royal had grown extremely rapidly in terms of population and size between 1657 and 1692. By 1692 the pirate haven had a population of around 6,500 living in approximately 2,000 buildings.

As the pirates began to run out of land on which to build, they simply built up or filled areas of water with sand and built buildings on top of it.

The English colonists also began building their homes and shops out of brick and disregarded warnings to build lower homes. All of these factors contributed to the massive destruction that was to ensue Port Royal in the years to come.

At 11:43 on 7 June 1692 a massive underwater earthquake catastrophically destroyed the city of Port Royal and thousands of buccaneers and regular citizens perished in the natural disaster. The Port Royal Earthquake was one of the worst natural disasters of all time in terms of human impact and completely destroyed entire sections of the town causing it to fall into the sea. With Port Royal destroyed the capital of Jamaica was moved to Spanish Town and later moved to Kingston on 1872.

Port Royal became noted as their place of execution. Gallows Point welcomed many to their death, including Charles Vane and 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.

Exact Plan of Port Royal - Popular Science (1892)

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 so 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).

Port Royal



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