port royal research bits
when i write a novel, half of the work is research. this one is no different. and in fact, in being historical, it’s a whole lot more difficult. here is what i gleaned from one book.
Pirate Port: The Story of the Sunken City of Port Royal, by Robert F. Marx, The World Publishing Company, 1967.
because spain had never troubled to colonize the smaller west indian islands, they were open territory to anybody who wanted them, and by the middle of the seventeenth century french, english, and dutch settlements were scattered among the leeward and windward islands. p29
in 1595 sir anthony shirley captured villa de la vega after a struggle that did not amount to much and held it for a ransom that did not amount to much either. in 1603 captain christopher newport attacked the island; he probably would have captured it too, had his men not first captured a warehouse full of spanish wine and brandy in puerto de caguaya and rendered themselves unfit for fighting. in 1643 a force led by captain william jackson landed well to the south of any spirits that might be stored at puerto de cahuaya, and he was as successful as shirley had been. none of these raids was an attempt to take permanent possession of jamaica. the word had spread that the place had little of value, and no one wanted it. p29-30
early in the seventeenth century drifters from all nations had gravitated to tortuga. some were ships’ deserters, others political or religious dissenters forced to flee their homelands, still others adventurers seeking a life free from the restrictions of organized society. p48
one of the earliest pirates to achieve notoriety was a portuguese known as bartholomew, who scored many successes against the spaniards and kept port royal’s merchants and tavern owners happy. on his last voyage he encountered a large galleon of twenty guns bound from cartagena to havana with a cargo whose value was estimated at 250,000 pieces of eight. though greatly overmatched (his small sloop had only four small guns and a crew of thirty), he attacked the galleon off cape corrientes on the southwestern tip of cuba. the first attempt to board failed, but he tried again and succeded. heading back to port royal, his treasure-laden sloop was captured by three large spanish galleons and taken to campeche which was still smarting from myngs’s recent attack. the spanish governer, in no mood to be merciful with pirates, ordered them all hanged. bartholomew managed to escape in a small boat and was picked up by a privateer sloop. but luck was not with him on this voyage: the sloop, on its way back to port royal with plunder, wrecked on a reef off the south coast of cuba and all aboard were drowned. p54-55
another celebrated pirate was the dutchman known as roche brasilano. a former planter who had been expelled from brazil by the portuguese, he made his way to port royal with a band of followers and started his pirate career as a common seaman on one of the vessels operating out of there. soon he was elected captain, no doubt as a result of some feat of daring, and on his first voyage of command he captured near havana a homeward-bound spanish galleon carrying a great quantity of silver. the carousing and debauchery that followed his riumphant return to port royal set something of a record even for that town. brasilano probably contributed more heavily than any other pirate or privateer to port royal’s reputation for lewdness. claiming he owed no allegiance to any government, he returned from each successful venture more arrogant and unruly than before. a large band followed this particular leader, and there was little the jamaican authorities could do to curb his outrages. these included striking, slashing, or throwing beer at people he encountered in the street when he was in a bad mood, and when he was feeling more sociable, buying a huge barrel of wine, setting it out in the street, and inviting passersby to drink with him – few refused, since he usually issued the invitation with pistol in hand. everyone in town was afraid of him. it can be no coincidence that during the years brasilano frequented port royal the governor made plans to move to spanish town (this he did in 1667 after a proper residence had been built there). if brasilano terrified the english, he terrified the spaniards even more, for he submitted all spaniards he captured to the most cruel and excruciating tortures. fortunately for everybody, his career lasted only a few years – he departed on a voyage and was never heard from again. p55-56
it (port royal) was also the center of a new and thriving industry in the caribbean – treasure hunting, or ‘the wracking trade,’ as it was then called. the treasure sought lay at the bottom of the sea on wrecked vessels, and to recover it divers were necessary. port royal served as a base for divers, most of them escaped negro slaves who had worked in spanish pearl fisheries around several islands near venezuela. vessels in pursuit of treasure would put into port royal, pick up divers, and depart. in 1682 william phips, an american from boston, left from port royal on an expedition that culminated in the recovery of treasure worth three million dollars from a spanish galleon sunk on a reef off the north coast of hispaniola. it was the greatest sum recovered from a single wreck until the present century, and we can safely assume that a fair share of the profits went into the pockets of port royal’s tavern owners. p72
in the three decades following the 1692 upheaval port royal was destined to face three more disasters, spaced at ten-year intervals. in 1702, when the cay had filled out to about twenty-five acres, a fire broke out and spread so swiftly that almost all the town was consumed by the flames. the governor of jamaica ordered the evacuation of the town and forbade further resettlement, but king william iii rescinded the order. nevertheless more than half the survivors of the fire moved to kingston. port royal, rebuilt slowly, was beginning to look like a town again when it was leveled in 1712 by a hurricane that also caused considerable damage to kingston. the few resolute souls who elected to remain and rebuild saw the place collapse in ruins around them again as the result of a worse hurricane in 1722. while the cay, once the hub of jamaica took a constant beating, matters were different on the island itself: as early as 1695, only three yeas after the great quake, the planttions and sugar mills were prospering again. p79
to complicate matters further, an earthquake in 1907, jamaica’s worst since 1692, caused the majority of the buildings still standing under water to topple over, and they were soon covered by sediment: my own excavations have turned up items from the first decade of the twentieth century under walls dating from the 1692 upheaval. p87