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.
- 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.
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.