Kingston, the capital of Jamaica, is located on the southeastern coast of the island

There are two major sections to this city: ‘downtown’ and ‘uptown,’ also referred to as ‘New Kingston.’ Kingston was for some time Jamaica’s only city and is still the commercial and cultural capital.

Port Royal was a city located at the end of the Palisadoes at the mouth of the Kingston Harbour, in southeastern Jamaica. Founded in 1518, it was the centre of shipping commerce in the Caribbean Sea during the latter half of the 17th century.

Port Royal was once home to privateers employed to nip at superpower Spain’s empire when smaller European powers dared not directly make war on Spain. As a port city, it was notorious for its gaudy displays of wealth and loose morals and was a popular homeport for the English and Dutch sponsored privateers to spend their treasure during the 17th century. When those governments abandoned the practice of issuing letters of marque against the Spanish treasure fleets and possessions in the later 16th century, many privateers turned pirate and used the city as their main base during the heyday of the Caribbean pirates in the 17th century. Pirates from around the world congregated at Port Royal coming from waters as far away as Madagascar.

Port Royal provided a safe harbour initially for privateers and subsequently for pirates plying the shipping lanes to and from Spain and Panama. From Port Royal, Henry Morgan attacked Panama, Portobello, and Maracaibo. Roche Brasiliano, John Davis (buccaneer), and Edward Mansveldt (Mansfield) also came to Port Royal. Since the English lacked sufficient troops to prevent either the Spanish or French from seizing it, the Jamaican governors eventually turned to the pirates to defend the city. By the 1660s, the city had gained a reputation as the Sodom of the New World where most residents were pirates, cutthroats, or prostitutes. After the 1692 disaster, Port Royal’s commercial role was steadily taken over by the town (and later, city) of Kingston. Current plans for Port Royal will redevelop the small fishing town into a tourist destination serviced by cruise ships with archaeological findings at the heart of the attractions.

Today, Port Royal is known to post-medieval archaeologists as the “City that Sank”. It is considered the most important underwater archaeological site in the western hemisphere by Robert Marx, yielding 16th–and-17th-century artifacts and many important treasures from indigenous peoples predating the 1588 founding. Several 17th and early 18th century pirate ships sank within Kingston Harbour and are being carefully harvested under controlled conditions by different teams of archaeologists. Other “digs” are staked out along various quarters and streets by different teams.

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Pirates of the Caribbean   •  Locations & Activities


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