The underwater city of pirate: Port Royal, Jamaica

The words in the letter seemed too fantastic to be true, but there they were, staring back at me as clear as daylight.

“The earth opened and swallowed many people, before my face, and the sea I saw came mounting in over the wall, upon which I concluded it impossible to escape.”

Those were the words of Edmund Heath, who eventually did survive (which is how he wrote that letter) in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake that rocked Port Royal, Jamaica, in 1692. He penned those thoughts from the safety of a ship that was anchored in the harbor of his city and he wrote it as the city crumbled around him. Port Royal was, at one time, described as the “most wicked and sinful city” all over the world. It was known for the darkness of its heart and the magnificence of it all; the booze (most notable of which was the blackout inducing Kill Devil Rum), the pirates it was overrun by and the prostitutes that wooed these pirates (or “wenches”, if we be talking Pirate, matey). So when the city crumbled and was very nearly destroyed in totality, many saw it as a punishment from the heavens and a fitting repayment and cleansing of all the lust, crime, sin and sex that flowed through the streets of Port Royal.

Jamaica was a Spanish haven from much before Columbus said that it was a sight to behold and a thing of rare and bountiful beauty. The Spanish armada had landed in 1494 and never looked back. There was nothing much to mine there in the form of gold or minerals or valuables of any sort. It was only when the English stormed Hispaniola in 1655 (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic) and failed to do so in spectacular fashion that they turned to Jamaica as a secondary option, a consolation prize of sorts since returning with something was better than returning with nothing.

Over time, it became a vibrant hub of English life and a home to all sorts of unsocial elements too. They even had a pirate named Henry Morgan become their lieutenant governor once but he at least had the decency to crack down on pirate activities that he had helped give birth to. The earthquake that almost destroyed the island was estimated to measure 7.5 on the Richter scale.

Port Royal Jamaica underwater

The city of Port Royal, built largely over sand, never stood a chance; it was almost instantly liquefied. 33 acres of the city disappeared underwater, forts were destroyed or submerged and some 2000 people lost their lives that day on June 7, 1692. The city’s destruction was taken as a sign of divine retribution. Port Royal was the original sin city, and it has paid for its sins by being hit by fires earthquakes and hurricanes on multiple occasions. In 1951, Hurricane Charlie destroyed almost everything, leaving very few of the original buildings. It had stripped Port Royal of its dignity, and a lot of the 17th century city lies under a watery grave 40 feet deep and today’s city is almost floating on rooftops. Because of its state of non-decay, the city is an archaeological wonder (a bit like Pompeii) except that it’s not that well known. That’s all the more excuse to go for a round of scuba diving to check out sunken cities that few have ever visited.

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  1. Alec Savalas says:

    During my recent trip I had the pleasure of visiting Port Royal..It can be aptly labeled as the most sinful and wicked city in the world..It was home to plundering pirates such as Henry Morgan and Black Beard..
    Today this place is a sleeping town of fishermen full of wonderful historic artifacts.
    There are two very old churches here.. Its a very quiet and beautiful spot away from the hussle-bustle of the capital city Kingston..A quiet walk down the streets of Port Royal is the best experience I’ve ever had my whole life..
    Keep posting!

  2. Qert Curtis says:

    I visited this place to on one of my recent trips to Jamaica..Lots of historic stuff you’ll find here.. There is a structure that was the medical lab of the Naval hospital.It is the sole surviving example of 18th century construction in timber.The Cholera outbreak of 1850 took many lives..The engineers’ Arch was constructed in the memory of Royal Engineers who lost their lives in the epidemic, around 40,000 of them..This structure was damaged in the 1907 earthquake but repaired in 1911..Original barracks which housed the military are still here..


  3. Kurt Sang says:

    I ‘ve been to Port Royal a few years back,and with a lot of delight I would like to share the places of historic importance I learnt about..The Fort Charles, the oldest Port in Jamaica was built in 1605.. Originally, it was named Fort Cromwell, and was renamed in 1662 to honor Charles III. When built, the fort was almost completely surrounded by water, but the area around it eventually silted up. The Fort, one of six in PR, served to guard the entrance to Kingston Harbor. It was the one and only Fort to survive the earthquake of 1692. Damaged it was reconstructed in 1699.

    A place I truly appreciate for the rich and glorious history.

  4. Rosie Jones says:

    Port Royal has really a lot of history..
    Thanks for putting it out..
    Enjoyed it thoroughly..:-)

  5. Anne Cullen says:

    Port Royal is an amazing place..Rich history
    Keep posting!

  6. Ekeope Queus says:

    A nice story you’ve narrated there about the history of underwater city of pirate: Port Royal!

    Enjoyed it really!

  7. Gatsby Thompson says:

    A great narration there..

    Keep posting!

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