Port Royal – Reviving the Lost City

Port Royal – Reviving the Lost City


What happened to the wickedest and richest city in the world? Where did all its riches go? Did the ‘life of the party’ die with all the Pirates? What made this ‘lost city’ so important?

I can only imagine what Port Royal was like. Have you ever watched pirates of the Caribbean? It was probably a combination of both Coronation Market and Downtown Parade in the Christmas season. Pirates from all over the world must have swarmed this little town just as how bees swarm their hives. Imagine the never-ending ruckus of war, the rum-stained air and the bounties of gold passing daily through this military base.

Charles Leslie, in his account of Jamaica’s history, included a description on the city’s Mateys. “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.’ Records also showed that even the animals were, according to Jamaican dialect, ‘Rum heads.

Port Royal’s History

We recently travelled to Port Royal to learn more about the town’s history. Before the arrival of the Spanish in 1494, the town was called Caguay or Caguaya and was used as a fishing village by the Tainos. Despite the frequent visits to the Caribbean and Jamaica, permanent settlements did not occur until 1509. These settlers came in search of new lands and valuable resources such as gold and silver. After their search became futile, they settled to cultivating and processing sugar cane. Just like the Tainos, the Spanish had little use for the Port Royal area.

Spain kept control of Jamaica for almost a century and a half. Mostly so that it could prevent other countries from gaining access to the island, which was strategically situated within the trade routes of the Caribbean. Following a deadly invasion in 1655, England gained control of the island. By 1659, houses, shops and warehouses were erected. By 1659, five forts defended the port.


The town was renamed to Port Royal, but referred to as the ‘Sodom of the New World’ was infamous for its debauchery and pirates.


By 1692, the town grew rapidly, as more people settled and traded, more structures were erected. The town quickly became overcrowded. On 7 June 1692, a devastating earthquake hit the city and most of the town’s northern section as well as lives were lost. Forts James and Carlisle sank into the sea while Fort Rupert became a large region of water. Following the earthquake, many people died due to plagues. This tragedy can be dated closely not only by date but by the time of day as well. A pocket watch which stopped at 11:43 a.m. was recovered from the seafloor in the 1960s is said to have stopped working when the earthquake struck.

Fort Charles

The trade centre was quickly rebuilt, but in 1703, a fire destroyed the town. Hurricanes in 1712, 1722 and 1726 caused further damage and many wondered if the disasters were punishment for all the wickedness which took place. The final straw came on January 14, 1907, when a devastating earthquake liquefied the sand spit. Almost all the rebuilt city was once again destroyed, additional portions were submerged and the Giddy House was titled.

The Giddy House, an artillery storage room built c. 1880

Reclaiming the Lost City

Following the numerous disasters, Port Royal became a quiet fishing village. However, in recent times, the Government has been working to transform the historic town into a tourist attraction. On January 20, 2020, the first cruise line arrived. Not only will Port Royal offer a historical treat to tourists, boost the economy and tourism sector, but it will also provide endless opportunities for the residents.

Information retrieved from tour guides and http://www.jnht.com/site_port_royal.php

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