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Port Royal

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Port Royal

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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.

Old Port Royal - On the Spanish Main (1902)

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 & Jamaica Map - Richard & Mynde (1756)

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.

The city would famously be destroyed in the 1692 Port Royal Earthquake 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

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.

1692 Port Royal Earthquake

See 1692 Port Royal Earthquake

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.

Port Royal - Earthquake Port Royal

Earthquake Port Royal Engraving (17th Century)

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 1692 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.

War of the Spanish Succession

See War of the Spanish Succession


See Kingston

Port Royal - Port Royal Map (Life of Sir Henry Morgan - 1935)

Port Royal Map - Life of Sir Henry Morgan (1935)

Post Spanish Succession Period

See Post Spanish Succession Period


Pirate Havens





Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

Haring, C. H. (1910). The Buccaneers in the West Indies in the XVII century. Hamden, Conn: Archon Books.

Cruikshank, E. A. (1935). The Life of Sir Henry Morgan: With an Account of the English settlement of the Island of Jamaica. Toronto: Macmillan.

Texas A and M University: The Port Royal Project

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