Tea Party winners: Roseanna M. White's winner is Debbie Wilder, Denise Weimer's print copy of Widow goes to Andrea Stephens, Debra E. Marvin's winners for Ebook collection are Cheryl Baranski and Rachel Koppendrayer, Carrie Fancett Pagels' ebook collection goes to Joan Arning and paperback to Connie, Gina Welborn's winner is Regina Fujitani, Gabrielle Meyer's paperback copy of A Mother in the Making is Teri Geist DiVincenzo

Friday, August 10, 2012

Port Royal Earthquake - judgement or random disaster?

You may remember Port Royal as a city in Jamaica that is mentioned in several pirate tales (my books included!)  You also may remember it from the movie, Pirates of the Caribbean!  But did you know that Port Royal suffered a devastating earthquake in 1692?  An earthquake from which it never recovered?  Most of us don't think of the Caribbean as a hotspot for earthquakes.

Founded in 1518, Port Royal was located on the southeastern coast of Jamaica. The Spaniards first came upon the beautiful bay in search of gold and silver, but upon finding none, enslaved the local Indians, the Arawaks, into farming sugar cane. They maintained control of the area until the English invaded in 1655, staking British claim to the island. By 1659, they had turned the city into a strategic military and naval base with over two hundred houses, shops, and warehouses surrounding the fort. It soon became the most important commercial center in the English colonies.

However it's safe harbor and easy access to Spanish shipping lanes, also drew pirates and the city soon became a haven for such nefarious figures as Henry Morgan and three-fingered Jack Rackham. The Governor, however, welcomed these "Brethren of the Coast" because they helped defend the city against the Spanish who were always trying to recapture it. Hence, by the 1660s, the city had gained a reputation as the Sodom of the New World and was deemed by some as the "wickedest city in the word". Most of the residents were pirates, cutthroats, and prostitutes. Charles Leslie, in his history of Jamaica described the pirates of Port Royal:
Wine and women drained their wealth to such a degree that... some of them became reduced to beggary. They have been known to spend 2 or 3,000 pieces of eight in one night; and one gave a strumpet 500 to see her naked. They used to buy a pipe of wine, place it in the street, and oblige everyone that passed to drink.
At it's peak, Port Royal had one drinking house for every 10 residents. By 1692, there were 6500 residents of every profession, all of whom lived in multi-story homes crammed into 51 acres of land all built entirely on sand.

On June 7th, 1692, somewhere around 11:00 AM, an earthquake struck Jamaica, causing the sand on which Port Royal was built to liquify and flow out into Kingston Harbor. Eye witnesses said they saw buildings slide into the water and others sink straight down.  Resultant aftershocks as well as a massive tsunami completely wiped out the town, killing an estimated 3000 people. The diseases that ran rampant afterward claimed another 2000 lives.

Dr. Emmanuel Heath, the Anglican rector in Port Royal, who was a survivor of the earthquake, believed this was a judgement from God and hoped it would stand as a warning that God would make these people of ill repute reform their lives. The Boston-based Puritan minister, Cotton Mather, believed God intended it as a warning to Christians everywhere.  "There never happens an earthquake, than that God speaks to men on earth."

Although attempts were made to rebuild the city, a fire and several hurricanes and flooding kept it from resurrecting as a prominent city ever again.


  1. So that means the Pirates of the Caribbean movies portraying Port Royal as a bustling pirate town is a historical inaccuracy since the movies are set in the mid 1700's--well after the 1692 earthquake. Interesting!

  2. Yes.. that's right! Although I was never sure what time period the Pirates of the Caribbean movies were supposed to be set in...was it the 1700's ?

  3. Fascinating article, MaryLu. Have they had any other earthquakes since then? And a tsunami, too, oh my. How amazing that there were any survivors at all.

  4. Thanks Carrie, Yes, Jamaica has had plenty of other earthquakes.. mostly moderate. They share a fault line with Haiti and you saw what happened there. :-)

  5. Thank you for that great Article, I don't know very much about Jamaica, now I have to read up on it. Thank you MaryLu for doing all the Research.
    Many Blessings

  6. I think the screenwriters said somewhere that the first few Pirates of the Caribbean movies are supposed to be set between 1720-1750. They look pretty 18th century all right. :)

  7. You're welcome, Ingrid. Thanks for coming by. And Anonymous.. yes. .the clothing did look more 18th century than 17th.. but I'd have to check. If the movies are set in the 18th century.. then they really messed up with the research.

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  9. I enjoyed your "Veil of Pearls" book a lot. It was a good read.


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