Port Royal, Jamaica was once called the "richest and wickedest city in the world.” Founded in the 1650’s by British Settlers who came to Jamaica, it soon became the center of shipping commerce because of its strategic location at the mouth of the Kingston Harbour.
Well, to be honest with you, it wasn’t really founded by the British Settlers. Its first visitors were the Tainos (Arawak Indians). Then came the Spaniards, who were really sent to capture Hispaniola (now Haiti and Dominican Republic), but they got a serious whipping and were forced to console themselves with Jamaica. This sea front city was later occupied by the English in 1655.
But let's get back to our story.
By 1960, there were about 8,000 - 10,000 occupants and Port Royal had become one of the biggest English cities this side of the world.
Wealth and Decadence
Like every densely populated city, craftsmen, tradesmen, entrepreneurs and ‘professionals’ of every kind soon made their way to Port Royal. The city was notorious for its extravagant wealth and was a popular port for the English and Dutch sponsored privateers who later became pirates using the city as their main base. The deep water near the shore also made it ideal for ships to unload and reload cargo.
The city was dubbed ‘wicked’ because of the pirates, prostitutes and other shady characters that were well known for their loose morals.
The city was enjoying immense wealth and prosperity (the opposite of Haiti) when at 11:43 am (according to a pocket watch recovered from the seabed) an earthquake struck. Two thirds of the city sank and disappeared into the Caribbean Sea. Over 2000 people were immediately killed and many more would follow as a result of injuries and diseases.(According to the Port Royal Project).
The story of Lewis Galdy who was swallowed alive by the earth in one shock and then thrown into the sea by another is often told by Jamaican historians. In fact, the tomb of Galdy who lived 47 years after his escape can be visited today at St. Peter’s Anglican church in the city.
A New Beginning
After this major disaster, many of the survivors settled into the neighbouring town called Kingston (now our capital city). While many residents stayed behind to rebuild their beloved city, a major fire in 1703 and a devastating hurricane in 1722 all but destroyed their efforts of reconstructing the city.
Today, what you will find is a small but resilient fishing village. Known by archaeologist as the “City that Sank”, Port Royal remains one of the most important underwater archaeological sites in the western hemisphere.