The Port Royal wiki last edited by fesak on 03/01/14 05:06AM
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Jamaica was initially colonized by the Spanish, led by Christopher Columbus in 1494. In 1655, it passed to British control as part of the expansionist campaigns of Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector. Port Royal soon emerged as the main settlement of the island and its de facto capital.
Due to trouble defending the city from the Spanish, the early governors invited the "Brethen of the Coast" to use it as their homeport. The Brethen were a loose confederation of pirates who mainly targeted Spanish shipping. Providing them with a safe harbour helped undermine Spanish activities in the area. The governors of Jamaica were able to issue letters of the marque, recruiting pirates as privateers. Soon added to the mix were British privateers from Europe and other colonies.
The strategy involved was simple, privateers could be directed against Spanish ships and settlements across and beyond the Caribbean Sea. Constantly having to defend its colonies against attacks on numerous fronts, Spain did not have enough resources to launch campaigns against Port Royal. Attack was thus the best defense. Meanwhile the pirates and privateers were involved in the lucrative trade of manufactured goods and prize commodities. There were always traders willing to buy their loot at a handsome price. A captain skilled at this trade was guaranteed to attract more crew members for his next endeavor. For example a 1668 raid of Henry Morgan left his average crew member with a prize of c. 60 pound sterlings. That was equivalent to what a plantation worker would earn in wages of two or three years.
The presence of relatively affluent pirates and privateers also led to prosperity for the taverns and brothels of the city. Contemporary reports have it that some of the men would spend all their wealth in drink and whores, reduced to beggary when their last coin was gone. Close relation between the British and the Dutch also made Port Royal a safe harbour for Dutch privateers. But the status of the city as a pirate capital would start to end in 1687. By then the British military forces could afford a better defense for Jamaica and the services of pirates were no longer needed. Spain was in decline and provided no common threat. Caribbean traders had found a more lucrative endeavor in the rising Atlantic slave trade. The pirates had outlived their usefulness for both the state and the merchants that offered them protection before.
In 1687, Jamaica passed harsh anti-piracy laws. Previous safe harbours such as Port Royale became renowned for their gallows. The city was starting to become more respectable. But it was not to last. On June 7, 1692 a major earthquake affected Jamaica and was followed by a tsunami. Half the city was submerged under the Sea and about 3000 citizens ended in watery graves. The decomposing corpses spread disease which would kill an additional 2000 residents over the following months. Within a year Port Royale had lost 5/6ths of its population. Several preachers of the time, notably Cotton Mather, wrote propaganda pieces concerning the wrath of God striking the "Sodom of the New World". That the city housed many churches and that not all residents were pirates was overlooked.
Realistically the problem was the entire location of the city's establishment. While an ideal location for a port, the terrain was "loose, sandy, and water-saturated". The earthquake liquefied the very ground on which the city stood. Attempts to rebuild the city started almost immediately but the 18th century included many incidents of bad luck which led to its further decline. A large fire in 1703, a sea flood in 1722, another fire in 1750 and a major hurricane in 1774. Meanwhile nearby Kingston replaced Port Royale first as the trade center and then the de facto capital of Jamaica.
The 19th century continued the decline of the senior city. Another major fire in 1815 and a cholera epidemic in 1850 further depopulated it. On January 14, 1907, a new major earthquake submerged the rest of the city under the Sea. By the beginning of the 21st century Port Royale no longer existed and its coast was populated by less than 2,000 people. On the other hand, since the 1960s the sunken city has become a major location for archeological expeditions.