The city of gambling and debauchery, but also of pirates – Port Royal -, sunk by a tsunami, at this week’s Sunday Readings.
On June 7, 1692, the Jamaican city of Port Royal, the “lair” of pirates that turned it into “the most lewd place on Earth,” was swallowed by a tsunami.
It was a city so “crushed” by violence, gambling, lewdness, slave trade, and prostitution that one of the four buildings in Port Royal was either a bar or a brothel.
The city of gambling and debauchery, sunk by a tsunami
On that fateful day, the earth beneath the city began to shake. Pubs and brothels collapsed, and the city was submerged by a huge wave. Thousands of people died and their bodies were left in the water, slowly decomposing.
However, in the eyes of many, the destruction of Port Royal was not a tragedy, but a divine punishment: God’s wrath unleashed on the modern version of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Port Royal, a peninsula located at the end of a sandy tongue, 24 kilometers from the Jamaican capital, Kingston, has not always been a refuge for those who committed crimes.
Between 1494 and 1655, Port Royal was a very underdeveloped Spanish port, but located on the road of the Spanish galleons between Panama and Spain.
The English took control of the settlement in 1655 and, realising that the port was surrounded by the Spanish fleet, invited a group of pirates and corsairs to protect the port.
In the name of the King of England, the pirates harassed and plundered Spanish ships as much as they wanted, and the port became a refuge for those who earned their living in this way.
Thus, Port Royal became a refuge for the most feared pirates of the time, including Captain Henry Morgan, Anne Bonny, Mary Read, Calico Jack and the famous Blackbeard.
From that moment, Port Royal was the property of the English only in deeds. In reality, the city belonged to the pirates.
Gambling, violence, debauchery and iniquity.
In one night, some pirates spent more money on drinks, gambling, and women than a worker earns on the plantation in a full year.
After becoming Governor of Jamaica, pirate Henry Morgan tried to bring order to the city, but without success.
The favorite of the people on the island was Kill Devil rum, a drink so strong that many died of alcohol intoxication after consuming it.
When they drank, pirates became even more dangerous.
Here is what Alexander Olivier Exquemelin, a pirate in the New World expert, wrote about the Roche Brasiliano privateer:
“When he was drunk, he walked around the city like crazy. The first person who came in his way cut off a hand or a leg and no one dared to intervene. Some were tied to wooden poles and “fried” alive between two fires, like pigs.”
Divine intervention: the earthquake.
On June 7, 1692, a magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck the island. The houses in Port Royal had been built on sand and had extremely poor support systems.
Entire buildings, roads and people were literally swallowed up by the earth.
Then a tsunami destroyed the docks and “swept” the city, destroying everything that was left standing.
13 hectares of the city’s surface sank in a few hours. Four of the five forts were destroyed. 2,000 people – nearly a quarter of Port Royal’s population – died in a single day.
In the following days, rotting corpses were devoured by animals and insects, and the disease spread and killed another 3,000 people in just a few weeks.
Desperate, the survivors began to rob everything, and the city went through an unprecedented wave of violence.
The “revenge” against Port Royal did not end with this earthquake. In 1703, the city was engulfed in flames.
A series of hurricanes followed (in 1712, 1722, 1726 and 1744) that devastated the city.
Meanwhile, the British decided to move the Caribbean trading port to Kingston.
Port Royal was a city in decline.
The last blow came in 1951, when Hurricane Charlie destroyed almost everything left of the city.
Today, Port Royal is an unimportant fishing village, with about 2,000 souls, but not at all like the debauched city of a few centuries ago.
Much of Port Royal is still under water, being considered a “Pompeii of the Seas” today.