Pirate capital how the famous Port Royal died and found a second life

(ORDO NEWS) — 330 years ago, an earthquake and the resulting tsunami destroyed one of the largest British cities of the 17th century in the New World – Port Royal, located on the island of Jamaica.

According to historians, it was a unique settlement, which was the base of the British fleet and one of the largest centers of piracy in the Caribbean region. Port Royal left a deep mark not only in the history of British colonialism, but also in world popular culture.

Legends from the life of famous filibusters, as well as popular heroes of films and books, such as Captain Jack Sparrow and Peter Blood, are associated with him.

On June 7, 1692, an earthquake and the resulting tsunami destroyed the city of Port Royal on the island of Jamaica, one of the largest centers of British colonialism in the Western Hemisphere.

The city was the naval base of the United Kingdom and the famous center of piracy in the Caribbean. According to historians, attempts to restore Port Royal were unsuccessful, and its destruction was one of the reasons for the gradual decline of piracy in the New World.

City of filibusters

Before the arrival of European colonizers, Jamaica was inhabited by the Arawak Indian people. In 1494, the island was discovered by Christopher Columbus and soon became a transit base for Spanish conquests in South and Central America. Most of the indigenous population of Jamaica was destroyed by the colonialists.

“The settlement on the site of the future Port Royal was founded by the Spaniards, but initially it was nothing remarkable.

The subjects of the king of Spain sought gold on the American continent, and Jamaica was something of secondary importance for them, ”said Yegor Lidovskaya, general director of the Hugo Chavez Latin American Center, in a conversation with RT.

In 1655, the British recaptured Jamaica from the Spanish. Soon, the construction of British fortifications began on the site of the future Port Royal.

“It was an extremely convenient place for a port in the southeast of Jamaica – with a large harbor and at the intersection of the most important sea routes,” said Konstantin Strelbitsky, chairman of the Moscow Fleet History Club, in an interview with RT.

British civilians settled in the area of ​​the new fortifications: sailors, merchants, artisans and women of easy virtue. The settlement was first called Caguey.

But after the restoration of the monarchy in Britain in 1660, it was renamed Port Royal (“Royal Port”). As historians note, it has become an ideal place for loading, unloading and servicing ships, both military and civilian.

“It was the perfect naval base. In addition, large cargo ships brought here European goods and slaves from Africa, and took away colonial goods produced in Jamaica. But that’s not all. In addition to the economic and naval center, the city has become one of the pirate capitals of the New World.

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Port Royal, 19th century painting

According to him, privateers were based in Port Royal – private ships that received permission from the state (in this case, Great Britain) to act against ships of hostile countries.

“The geographical position of Port Royal made it possible to make quick raids on Spanish ports, through which looted wealth and precious metals mined on the continent were exported from America to Europe,” Lidovskoy said.

As historians note, privateering allowed the British to solve two problems at once. They filled the treasury with a share in the booty of privateers and fought the influence of the Spaniards, who at that time were one of Britain’s main rivals on the world stage.

Port Royal (along with the island of Tortuga) has become one of the largest centers of piracy in the Western Hemisphere.

According to experts, the gentlemen of fortune most often spent the stolen property immediately after they went ashore. As a result, wealth ended up in the pockets of local merchants, innkeepers and brothel keepers.

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Port Royal, 19th century

Trade and support for privateering quickly enriched Port Royal. Its population during its heyday, according to various estimates, reached from 6 thousand to 10 thousand people. The city, along with Boston, has become one of the largest British settlements in the Western Hemisphere.

In Port Royal, there were about 2 thousand buildings, and the cost of real estate here, according to historians, was comparable to some parts of London. The local population was so rich that they used silver utensils in everyday life and shoed horses with silver.

According to experts, about the same number of merchant and military ships entered the harbor of one Port Royal in a year as all the ports of North American New England, taken together, entered the same period.

According to historians, about a third of Port Royal’s buildings were taverns, brothels and liquor stores. The pirates who rested between raids indulged in a violent revelry in the city, inventing various strange entertainments for themselves, because of which Port Royal was called the “Sodom of the New World” and the “Evil City”.

The inhabitants of Port Royal, in turn, tried to invest the funds received from the service of pirates and transit trade in the development of plantations in Jamaica. This brought in a good income.

Some of the pirates, having accumulated enough money, gave up robbery and became respectable citizens – civil servants or entrepreneurs. So, the famous filibuster Henry Morgan, whose base was in Port Royal, later became the lieutenant governor of Jamaica and owned his own plantations on the island.

The death of Port Royal

On June 7, 1692, the inhabitants of Port Royal felt powerful tremors. Huge cracks in the ground swallowed up buildings and people. And then what was left of the city was hit by a tsunami caused by an earthquake.

According to Yegor Lidovsky, about two-thirds of the city’s buildings were completely destroyed, and a significant part of them were deep under water.

In just a few minutes, about 2 thousand people died. But the troubles of the inhabitants of Port Royal did not end there. The pirates who remained in the city rushed to loot and rob those who could not resist them.

And because of the huge number of decomposing corpses and unsanitary conditions, epidemics began in Port Royal. About 3,000 more residents of the newly prosperous city died in a short time from illnesses and the consequences of injuries received on the day of the disaster.

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Earthquake in Port Royal on June 7, 1692, 17th-century

British authorities tried to revive Port Royal, but these attempts were unsuccessful. In 1703, a settlement built near the former pirate capital was destroyed by fire. And in the 18th century, severe hurricanes hit these places.

“Many of the people who survived the earthquake and other misfortunes decided that God’s punishment fell on Port Royal for the sins of its inhabitants, so the idea of ​​\u200b\u200brestoring the city was completely abandoned over time. This was a strong blow to piracy in the Caribbean region,” said Yegor Lidovskoy.

According to him, now in part of the city, whose fame thundered around the world, there is a small fishing village. And there are large-scale archaeological excavations, including underwater ones.

Port Royal is valuable for scientists because life in most of its territory did not fade away gradually, but stopped instantly, as in Roman Pompeii.

Therefore, excavations make it possible to make a very informative “cut of life” of a large British colonial city of the late 17th century.

In addition, the remains of Port Royal attract many tourists. Nowadays, the city has become widely known thanks to writers and filmmakers. In particular, it became the setting for Rafael Sabatini’s novels about Captain Peter Blood and the Pirates of the Caribbean film series.

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Captain Jack Sparrow arrives in Port Royal © Still from Pirates of the Caribbean

“The image of the pirate in popular culture over the centuries has been heavily embellished and romanticized, and the pirate capital of Port Royal, despite its relatively short-lived heyday, has taken a prominent place in cinema and literature.

Moreover, the 17th century is just the heyday of piracy, the time of the legendary adventures of gentlemen of fortune. And now Port Royal, in the form in which screenwriters and writers imagine it, is the backdrop for exciting adventures.

“Feature films and books are great, but behind all this, one should not forget that Port Royal itself was a unique historical phenomenon, curiously illustrating the course of British colonialism, at the same time an important naval base and one of the largest pirate centers in the world.


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