Spanish Empire > Portobello


Golden Age of Piracy - Chapter Decoration


Portobello also spelled Porto Bello, Portobelo, Puerto Bello and Puerto Belo was a Spanish settlement that was built in Panama and was a major important shipping point for the transfer for silver and other riches to the New World. Portobello was a valuable target for buccaneers during the Buccaneering Era because it was the end of the Spanish Silver Train, a massive mule caravan that carried the riches of the Viceroyalty of Peru and Potosi to the shores of the Caribbean Sea in order to be transported back through the annual Spanish Treasure Fleets. The presence of these stockpiled riches in the warehouses of the lightly defended Spanish settlement meant the city itself was a prime target for pirate raids.

It be as a result of the buccaneers that the Spanish would have to fortify their settlements and ensure that by the end of the 17th century the capability to siege their settlements was diminished.

Henry Morgan - Portobello Map (1739)

Porto Bello Map (1739)


Some legends suggest that Christopher Columbus himself named the city "Puerto Bello" which means beautiful port in Spanish in 1502. The city of Portobello itself was initially founded in 1597 by the Spanish explorer named Francisco Velarde y Mercado following the successive raids on the previous major Spanish treasure fleet port known as Nombre de Dios in 1572 and 1595 by Francis Drake during the Privateering Era. Following his death due to dysentery in 1596 Drake was buried in lead coffin and dropped in the in Portobello Bay.

Henry Morgan - Portobello Original Plan

Porto Bello Original Plan

From its inception the port quickly replaced Nombre de Dios and from the 16th to the 18th centuries it was one of the most important and largest silver exporting settlements on the Spanish Main. The Spanish initially built fortifications at the settlement to keep privateers away but they were never expecting what was going to hit them during the 17th century and the Buccaneering Era. Due to the status of the city it was a prime target for the buccaneers who raided the Spanish ports overland by the thousands and sacked them for all they were worth; Portobello was no exception.

Henry Morgan - Portobello Original Plan

Porto Bello Fortifications - (1739)

Buccaneering Era

The first buccaneer/privateer to attack the city of Portobello was William Parker in 1601 who managed to successfully capture the city. It was also famously attacked and captured once again during the Buccaneering Era by Henry Morgan and his massive army of French, English and Dutch buccaneers. During this siege over 450 buccaneers managed to defeat upgraded fortifications and pillaged the city for two weeks, capturing and occupying the city in the process. According to first hand accounts the raped, tortured and interrogated the conquered Spanish for any sign of wealth and killed indiscriminately in the process.

Post Spanish Succession Period

The British had a disaster in the Blockade of Porto Bello under Admiral Hosier in 1726. As part of the campaigns of the War of Jenkins' Ear, the port was attacked on November 21, 1739, and captured by a British fleet of six ships, commanded by Admiral Edward Vernon. The British victory created an outburst of popular acclaim throughout the British Empire. More medals were struck for Vernon than for any other 18th-century British figure. Across the British Isles, Portobello was used in place and street names in honor of the victory, such as Portobello Road in London, the Portobello area in Edinburgh, and the Portobello Barracks in Dublin.[4] The Spanish quickly recovered the Panamanian town and defeated Admiral Vernon in the Battle of Cartagena de Indias in 1741. Vernon was forced to return to England with a decimated fleet, having suffered more than 18,000 casualties.[5] Despite the Portobelo campaign, British efforts to gain a foothold in the Spanish Main and disrupt the galleon trade were fruitless. Following the War of Jenkins' Ear, the Spanish switched from large fleets calling at few ports to small fleets trading at a wide variety of ports, developing a flexibility that made them less subject to attack. The ships also began to travel around Cape Horn to trade directly at ports on the western coast.Henry Morgan - Fort Triana at Porto Bello

Fort Triana at Porto Bello - Life of Sir Henry Morgan (1935)

Spanish Empire






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