Articles/History/Other/Port Royal: The Pirate Capital of the World

In the 17th century, piracy in the Caribbean Sea was quite common. Roving gangs of bandit sailors took over ships, then attacked ships and towns to seize precious booty ranging from gold and jewels to kegs of whiskey. At one point, there were so many pirates, that an entire town became their home and base of operations. That town was known as Port Royal: The Pirate Capital of the World.

Port Royal began as a town that was established in by the Spanish on the island of Jamaica. It was located on the south coast, towards the eastern side of the island, on the western end of the Palisadoes beach. In 1655, the city was claimed by England and it quickly grew in size. By 1659, it consisted of a large fort surrounded by two hundred houses and numerous shops and warehouses. It was also established as the capital of Jamaica itself.

The city was located along shipping lanes between Spain and Panama, providing plenty of tempting targets for pirates. The city's natural harbor provided an ideal place for pirates to stop and have their ships repaired and refitted, while they experienced the ample nightlife that the city had to offer. Additionally, it was located near a lot of Spanish cities, which provided prime targets for pirate fleets.

The city gradually left the control of the English government after they realized that they did not have the manpower to defend it with British troops. Instead, the Jamaican governor turned to the pirates to defend their beloved port from French and Spanish invaders. By the early 1660s, the city was essentially filled with pirates and other criminals, leading some to call it the "Sodom of the New World". The British also began paying these pirates to attack Spanish and French ships that passed by, aiding them in the war effort.

Drinking, prostitution, and gambling were everyday activities for citizens of Port Royal. At one point, there was a tavern for every 10 residents in the city. In July of 1661 alone, the city awarded over forty liquor licenses to new taverns. By 1692, nearly seven thousand people lived in the town. The city's wealth grew immensely from all of the vice, attracting plenty of well known pirates like Henry Morgan, John Davis, and Roche Brasiliano.

However, once Henry Morgan took over as lieutenant governor of Jamaica, the city began to reform. Pirates were no longer recruited to defend the city and slavery became the primary industry of the city. In 1687, Jamaica passed a number of anti-piracy laws, further excluding the pirates from their former haven.

The city was irreversibly changed on June 7, 1692, when a massive earthquake struck the city and the sand bar on which the city was built eroded into the sea. Afterward, the main part of the city was underwater and the number killed was estimated at 2,000, approximately half of the city's population. Some called the earthquake a sign of God's displeasure with the sins being committed in the town.

The city was partially rebuilt several times over the next century, but it never regained its original state. Ironically, the city become known as a place for pirates to be executed. Gallows Point was constructed, allowing for the quick public execution of all sorts of villains, including Charles Vane and Calico Jack. Today, the city is now part of Kingston Harbour and Kingston has become the capital of Jamaica.