British Empire > Kingston


Golden Age of Piracy - Chapter Decoration


Before the 1692 Port Royal Earthquake the city of Kingston did not really exist as a city at all. The territory that would become Kingston was inhabited by planters attempting to build plantations. Most of the urban construction was done at nearby Port Royal which was one of the most popular blackmarket ports during the Buccaneering Era. However, when the catastrophic earthquake in 1692 destroyed Port Royal and killed most of the inhabitants the British realized the faults with building such a city on a strip of sand on the coast.

Kingston - Kingston Harbor, Jamaica

Kingston Harbor, Jamaica - The English in the West Indies (1888)

The surviving colonists of Port Royal would set up a refugee camp on the beach of Kingston. However, the dead bodies floating in the harbor and mosquitos contributed to an outbreak of disease that killed even more afterwards. Following the destruction of Port Royal the British would plan the development of Kingston. It would soon grow to become the principle port for Jamaica and by 1716 was one of the most important slaving centers in the New World.

Due to being constructed at the end of the Buccaneering Era the city of Kingston would never really be favorable to black markets and piracy. In fact, following the earthquake at Port Royal the city would be rebuilt but it would become more famous for where pirates went to be tried and hung than where they went to spend their loot. Instead, after the famous period of Port Royal the British based the colonies economy around plantations and slavery.

Kingston - Kingston City Plan

Kingston City Plan (17th Century)

The city of Kingston was first drawn up by a British surveyor named John Goffe who created a planned city that had streets named North Street, East Street, West Street and South Street along with a Harbour street. Due to the disaster of Port Royal the city of Kingston was the largest in all Jamaica and the main port for the island. The government helped populate the city by selling land to citizens on the condition that they owned no more land than they originally had previously in Port Royal.

The colonial authorities also only allowed colonists to settle on the bay in order to restore a seaport to the island of Jamaica. This did not last long as soon wealthy merchants and others moved their private residences away from their businesses to the plains of Liganea to the north of the city. The first public school known as Walmer's was established in 1729 and soon a theatre was built to help entertain residents. This was all an attempt by the British Crown to bring some sense of normalcy to the residents of the West Indies who were distantly connected from civilization in the 18th century. The still exists, it was first located on Harbour Street but moved to North Parade in 1774.

Governor Charles Knowles moved the colonial governmental offices from nearby Spanish Town in 1755 reflecting the rapid growth and status of Kingston during the early and mid 18th century. However, despite this it would not become the capital of Jamaica until 1872 when it was officially moved from Spanish Town. Following his term the capital was moved back to Spanish Town because the British thought it unwise to keep the government so easily on the coast.

Kingston - Valley in Jamaica

Valley in Jamaica - The English in the West Indies (1888)

By 1780 the population of Kingston was known to be 11,000 and by the end of the 18th century there was over 3,000 brick buildings around the bay of Kingston. At this time merchants were also attempting to use their wealth and influence to relocate the capital back to Kingston so they could have a shorter distance to spread more wealth and influence. The harbor of Kington was extremely influential in wars throughout the 18th century and within one hundred years the city was larger and more populous than the capital.

Kingston was not really a favorable place for pirates. It was a key slaving port throughout the 18th century and was a major agricultural and plantation economy in the Caribbean. There was also significant maritime trade so the potential existed for some blackmarket piracy but for the most part Kingston and Spanish Town were where pirates of the Post Spanish Succession Period came to be tried and executed.

Kingston - Rackhams and Gun Key Map

Rackhams and Gun Key Map -

In fact, one of the small island cays outside of the rebuilt Port Royal is known as Rackham's Key because it was where the infamous pirate of the Flying Gang named 'Calico' Jack Rackham was gibbeted after his death. Other members of the Flying Gang including Charles Vane, Mary Read and many, many others were tried, convicted and died around Kingston during the final stage of the golden age of piracy. Infamous female pirate Anne Bonny was caught and tried on the island but mysteriously disappeared likely her freedom was bought by her wealthy father.

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