Little Bits of History

Port Royal Destroyed

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 7, 2015
Port Royal, Jamaica map with changing coastlines

Port Royal, Jamaica map with changing coastlines

June 7, 1692: Port Royal, Jamaica is nearly destroyed by an earthquake. Jamaica, located in the Caribbean Sea, is the third largest island in the Greater Antilles and covers about 4,240 square miles. It is south of Cuba and west of Hispaniola. At the time, it was a Spanish possession called Santiago. Port Royal was the unofficial capital and one of the busiest and wealthiest ports in the West Indies. The city was said to be both the “storehouse and treasure of the West Indies” and “one of the wickedest places on earth”. Privateers and pirates used the port as their home base as they robbed the seafaring ships in the Caribbean Sea. The location of the island is on a boundary between two tectonic plates, the Caribbean Plate and the Gonâve Microplate.

Port Royal was founded in 1518 as the center of shipping in the Caribbean. The Taino lived there prior to the Spanish arriving with Christopher Columbus in 1494. Permanent European settlement was begun in 1509 when Juan de Esquevil discovered enslaving Taino to harvest sugar cane was better than trying to find silver or gold. On this day, with the earthquake and plate shifting, two-thirds of the town or 33 acres sank into the sea when the third and main shockwave struck. A stopped watch found in the harbor in 1969 indicated the time was 11.43. There were about 6,500 people living in Port Royal at the time and about 2,000 buildings existed. Most were built of brick and many were more than one story high but they were built on a base of sand.

The shaking sand liquefied and the buildings and their occupants were swept into the sea. All the wharves sunk at once and more than 20 ships capsized in the harbor. Fissures in the sand opened and closed repeatedly which crushed those who were not swept away. Other towns were also affected. Liguanea (now Kingston) and St. Jago were also destroyed. There were landslides across the island. Like many major earthquakes, this one brought a tsunami and the water further damaged surviving buildings with uppermost rooms in the few remaining buildings being flooded. A frigate from the harbor, Swan, was carried over the housetops by the tsunami.

Accounts listed the deaths at about 2000 people from the immediate effects of the earthquake and tsunami. Many more were injured and in the following days, another 3000 died from injuries and disease. Even before the ground settled down, looting began with homes and businesses broken into and anything of value taken. Some of the corpses had their fingers cut off so that could be removed. The town was partially rebuilt but civic leaders relocated to Spanish Town. Most of the sea trade moved to Kingston. Fire devastated the city in 1703 and a hurricane struck in 1722. By the end of the 18th century, Port Royal was mostly abandoned. Another major earthquake hit in 1907 and there is some reason to believe tectonic motions will bring about another of these catastrophic events soon.

War prosperity is like the prosperity that an earthquake or a plague brings. – Ludwig von Mises

Which would you rather have, a bursting planet or an earthquake here and there? – John Joseph Lynch

Blizzards, floods, volcanoes, hurricanes, earthquakes: They fascinate because they nakedly reveal that Mother Nature, afflicted with bipolar disorder, is as likely to snuff us as she is to succor us. – Dean Koontz

It is always interesting to see people in dead earnest, from whatever cause, and earthquakes make everybody earnest. – John Muir

Also on this day: A Man, A Plan, A Canal – Panama – In 1914, the Panama Canal was found to work.
It’s My Body – In 1965, Griswold v. Connecticut was decided.
Treaty of Tordesillas – In 1494, this treaty was signed, parceling out the New World.
Lee, but not Robert E. – In 1776, the Lee Resolution was presented to the Second Continental Congress.
Carrie Nation – In 1899, the temperance devotee entered a saloon.

Free, But …

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 11, 2013
Paul Bogle

Paul Bogle

October 11, 1865: The courthouse in Morant Bay, Jamaica is the site of a confrontation. Slavery was abolished in all British colonies in 1833. Jamaica did not gain independence from the Crown until 1962. The 6th or Warwickshire Regiment was first stationed on the island in 1703. In the intervening years their presence ebbed and waned. Their most recent return to Jamaica came on March 4, 1864. Their mission had been to support slave colonies in the West Indies and slavery was abolished, the mistreatment of blacks was still rampant and white rulers still needed support.

Four days earlier, a black man was put on trial for trespassing on an abandoned plantation. He was jailed. A group of black men came to rescue him from false imprisonment. On October 10 they met and repelled a police force from Stony Gut. On this day, Paul Bogle led 200-300 men and women into Morant Bay to burn down the courthouse. They were disaffected and dissatisfied. Slavery had ended but their oppression had not. They were still being abused by the “White Man’s Law.” There was also a fear of white planters trying to reinstate slavery.

Paul Bogle’s people met a small force of militia who opened fired and killed seven blacks. They were quickly overwhelmed. The rebels took control and by nightfall had killed 18 people (officials and militia) and seized control of the town. In the next few days, 2,000 rebels swarmed the countryside. Two planters were killed. Governor Edward Eyre quickly and forcefully stopped the rebellion. Jamaican slaves had a history of revolting beginning in 1673. Authorities were familiar with way to stop the uprisings.

Troops were dispersed to hunt the rebels. By the time they arrived, the rebels had fled. Soldiers still burned over 1,000 houses and killed 439 blacks. They arrested another 354 who were executed. Hundreds more were flogged and others were imprisoned. Bogle was executed after his capture on October 24. Britain’s honor was tarnished and the Rebellion became a turning point in Jamaican history. Today, Bogle is a national hero and his image is on the ten-cent coin. The population of the island is about 3 million and 91.2% of her citizens are black and another 6.2% are mixed race. All of them are free.

“People are pretty much alike. It’s only that our differences are more susceptible to definition than our similarities.” – Linda Ellerbee

“In the democracy of the dead all men at last are equal. There is neither rank nor station nor prerogative in the republic of the grave.” – John James Ingalls

“We didn’t all come over on the same ship, but we’re all in the same boat.” – Bernard M. Baruch

“The tears of the red, yellow, black, brown and white man are all the same.” – Martin H. Fischer

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Paul Bogle was born a slave in 1820. He was fourteen when slavery was abolished. He was a friend to landowner and politician, George William Gordon. Gordon, the son of a Scotsman and mulatto, was also a Baptist as well as advocating for the better treatment of the freed slaves. With Gordon’s help, Bogle was made a deacon in his church. Both men helped the poor and downtrodden; they addressed social injustices as they arose. Gordon, in his role as politician, was a critic of Governor Edward Eyre. Both Bogle and Gordon were executed after this uprising. At the time, Gordon’s death was seen as reprehensible in England and much was done to try to have Eyre charged with murder, but it was not to be. One hundred years after their deaths, both men were declared National Heroes of Jamaica.

Also on this day: Raising the Mary Rose – In 1982, the Mary Rose, a sixteenth century warship, was raised from the sea.
Shop Til You Drop – In 1929, J.C. Penney oped store #1252.
Land Dispute – In 1767, the Mason-Dixon survey was completed.