Jamaica and Port Royal


Jamaica is an island of the Greater Antilles, 150 miles in length and as much as 50 miles in width situated in the Caribbean Sea. It is 391 miles east of the Central American mainland, 93 miles south of Cuba, and 112 miles west of the island of Hispaniola, Its indigenous Arawakan-speaking Taíno inhabitants named the island Xaymaca, meaning either the "Land of Springs," or the "Land of Wood and Water." Formerly a Spanish possession known as Santiago, it later became the British West Indies Crown colony of Jamaica.

In December 1654, Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England, sent an invasion force under the commands of Admiral Penn and General Venables to capture Hispaniola. The Spanish were forewarned of the attack and soundly defeated the English forces attempting to capture the city of Santo Domingo. Failing miserably and fearing to return to England empty handed, Penn and Venables sailed south to Jamaica, and in May 1655, captured the poorly defended island with relatively little resistance. In short, Jamaica became a consolation prize to appease Cromwell.

Jamaica, 1747

Port Royal (follow this link for more details on Port Royal)

Construction of Passage Fort, also known as Fort Cromwell, began in a matter of weeks following the conquest. Situated at the tip of the sand spit separating Kingston Harbor from the Caribbean, the fort could control all access to the harbor through the narrow entrance. A small community, known as The Point or Point Cagway, consisting of mariners, merchants, craftsmen, and prostitutes, built up around the fort. After the restoration of Charles II and the monarchy in England in 1660, The Point was renamed Port Royal, and the fort, was renamed Fort Charles.

Although Port Royal was designed to serve as a defensive fortification, guarding the entrance to the harbor, it has assumed much greater importance. As a result of its location within a well-protected harbor, its flat topography, and deep water close to shore, large ships can easily be serviced, loaded, and unloaded. Ships' captains, merchants, and craftsmen have established themselves in Port Royal to take advantage of of the trading and outfitting opportunities. As Jamaica's economy grew and changed between 1655 and 1692, Port Royal grew faster than any town founded by the English in the New World, and it has become the most economically important English port in the Americas.

Until 1692, Port Royal was Jamaica's only legal port of entry, and its merchants controlled the economic affairs of the island. Shortly before noon on 7 June 1692, 33 acres (66 percent) of the "storehouse and treasury of the West Indies" sank into Kingston Harbor in a disastrous earthquake. Two thousand people were killed in an instant. An additional threee thousand died of injuries and disease in the following days. Salvage and outright looting began almost immediately and continued off and on for years.

Following the earthquake, Port Royal underwent a dramatic revival that has largely restored it to its glory.

Port Royal, Jamaica

The Town of Port Royal, Jamaica

Spanish Town

Spanish Town is the former Spanish and current English capital of Jamaica.

The Spanish settlement of Villa de la Vega was founded by governor Francisco de Garay in 1534 as the capital of the colony. Later, it was also called Santiago de la Vega or St. Jago de la Vega. This was the first European habitation on the south of the island. When the English conquered Jamaica in 1655, they renamed the capital Spanish Town. Since the town was badly damaged during the conquest, Port Royal took on many administrative roles and functioned as an unofficial capital during the beginning of the English reign. By the time Port Royal was decimated by an earthquake in 1692, Spanish Town had been rebuilt and was again functioning as the capital.

Spanish Town
Spanishtown Jamaica


Jamaica's new Governor is Nicholas Lawes. Governor Lawes arrived with Frigates, Marines, warrants and pardon and the King's commission to suppress piracy in the Caribbean and in particular, Port Royal.

Governor Lawes

There was considerable initial success. Many pirates either accepted the pardon or disappeared from Port Royal. The negative side to this success was an economic slump and a jump in prices as merchants lost easy access to cheap cargoes and the local economy was forced to pay legitimate prices for their accustomed goods.
The power of the merchants, who are also major land owners, is being felt by Governor Lawes.  Unhappy with the new regime and their financial losses, the merchants have persuaded the Governor to generally turn a blind eye towards the presence of dodgy cargos, questionable ships and disreputable individuals.  This does not mean that the pirates are free to swagger and brawl through the streets as in days past, but if they keep a low profile, and the more notorious ones stay out of sight (or better yet, away from the island) the Government people will look the other way.
Though this is a satisfactory state of affairs to the merchants, it is not a happy time for the pirates.

Port Royal

Port Royal

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