Thursday, June 28, 2012

Port Royal Earthquake - judgement or random disaster?
You may remember Port Royal as a city in Jamaica that is mentioned in several of my books. In fact, I believe I have many scenes set in that city.  You also may remember it from the movie, Pirates of the Caribbean!  But did you know that Port Royal suffered a devastating earthquake in 1692?  An earthquake from which it never recovered?  Most of us don't think of the Caribbean as a hotspot for earthquakes.

Founded in 1518, Port Royal was located on the southeastern coast of Jamaica. The Spaniards first came upon the beautiful bay in search of gold and silver, but upon finding none, enslaved the local Indians, the Arawaks, into farming sugar cane. They maintained control of the area until the English invaded in 1655, staking British claim to the island. By 1659, they had turned the city into a strategic military and naval base with over two hundred houses, shops, and warehouses surrounding the fort. It soon became the most important commercial center in the English colonies.
However it's safe harbor and easy access to Spanish shipping lanes, also drew pirates and the city soon became a haven for such nefarious figures as Henry Morgan and three-fingered Jack Rackham. The Governor, however, welcomed these "Brethren of the Coast" because they helped defend the city against the Spanish who were always trying to recapture it. Hence, by the 1660s, the city had gained a reputation as the Sodom of the New World and was deemed by some as the "wickedest city in the word". Most of the residents were pirates, cutthroats, and prostitutes. Charles Leslie, in his history of Jamaica described the pirates of Port Royal:
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.
At it's peak, Port Royal had one drinking house for every 10 residents. By 1692, there were 6500 residents of every profession, all of whom lived in multi-story homes crammed into 51 acres of land all built entirely on sand.
On June 7th, 1692, somewhere around 11:00 AM, an earthquake struck Jamaica, causing the sand on which Port Royal was built to liquify and flow out into Kingston Harbor. Eye witnesses said they saw buildings slide into the water and others sink straight down.  Resultant aftershocks as well as a massive tsunami completely wiped out the town, killing an estimated 3000 people. The diseases that ran rampant afterward claimed another 2000 lives.

Dr. Emmanuel Heath, the Anglican rector in Port Royal, who was a survivor of the earthquake, believed this was a judgement from God and hoped it would stand as a warning that God would make these people of ill repute reform their lives. The Boston-based Puritan minister, Cotton Mather, believed God intended it as a warning to Christians everywhere.  "There never happens an earthquake, than that God speaks to men on earth."

Although attempts were made to rebuild the city, a fire and several hurricanes and flooding kept it from resurrecting as a prominent city ever again.


  1. Thurs June 28th,
    "Morning, MaryLu."
    Hey ... this was really interesting and cool ! More history, brought-to-life !
    Our God is NEVER fooled or mocked ... "Vengence is Mine", saith the Lord, "I will repay" -- that is the verse that came to mind after reading this about Port Royal. Unfortunately, a fate of destruction they likely deserved, brought on by themselves.
    Truly, interesting and captivating.
    Thanks again, for sharing.
    Take care, and, God Bless,
    In Him, Brenda Hurley

  2. P.S. .... Just "wondering" why my comments are coming up now beginning with: "Anonymous said" .... ??? My name "used to" appear before my comment ... wonder what I did (or what button I pressed to make that happen) ???
    Any computer wizards out there ....
    feel free to offer your comments.
    In Him, Brenda Hurley

  3. Wow, MaryLu, I didn't know any of that. I truly believe it was the judgement of God. Wickedness can only have the spotlight for so long. Our Saviour is long-suffering but He will not always strive with man. His grace has limits and I believe it was His Sovereign grace that allowed this port to be destroyed before it could lure in and damn more souls. I'm sure many of the survivors repented and turned to God through this, and I'm sure, like Sodom and Gomorrah of old, the tragedies that befell this port served as an example. "Accept the Lamb or face the Lion" you know? Our God is good, but He is also just. Thank you for sharing this.


  4. I really like the quote by Cotton Mather. Thanks for sharing this bit of history with us, MaryLu! This all new information to me!

  5. Hey ... still here trying to open or set up a google account ! Oh, to be a computer wizard !!!
    Brenda Hurley

  6. This was pretty cool to read. My first hearing of the name "Port Royal" was on the Pirates of the Carribean movies. Facinating history - yet it's sad. Just like Sodom and Gomorrah (sp?). Sad that these people continued to live in such a way ... and were wiped off the earth just like that. Wow. Sobering. It reminded me of the scripture where Jesus is telling people to build their 'houses' on the Rock, and not on shifting sand... Case in point.

    And Brenda, I see you got your name back! :) Aren't computers fun?

  7. Carolyn ... oh indeed ! Computers are: "oh joy, oh bliss" !!! Not ! You're still funny.

  8. Wow! God's judgment is swift and true! I never knew all of that about Port Royal. I knew there was 'some' debauchery going on, but man oh man, that town was wicked! Thanks for sharing this, MaryLu, I am going to share it with others. :)

  9. Isn't this an interesting piece of history? I was absolutely shocked when I came across it! So glad you all enjoyed it.. And yes.. Brenda.. God is never mocked!

    Amanda, I imagine God warned the people many times before this even. :-(

    I loved Mather's quote too, Emma!

    Caroline.. definitely! Don't build on shifting sand.. but on the rock! The rock that is Jesus. :-)

    Thanks Debbie.. a warning to all!

  10. Wow I never knew that. That is very interesting! Thanks for sharing!

  11. I did! :D

    I have a historical fiction in the works called Billows and Burdens that is based around this very earthquake. It's a fascinating time! Thank you for this post, it gave me some more great info to use!

  12. That's awesome, Lauri!! A while back, I also proposed a story set around this event but it was never accepted. I'm looking forward to reading yours!!

  13. This was very interesting and new to me! I guess the 2010 quake in Haiti wasn't such a fluke after all.