Second in a Series:
Long before it was the land of reggae, Jamaica was pirate central, and Port Royal was its capital.
Edward Teach (Blackbeard), Calico Jack and Henry Morgan all liked to prowl the brothels and taverns here when they weren’t out scourging the high seas.
Dubbed “the wickedest city in the world” before being swallowed up by an earthquake in 1692 — much of the old town lies beneath the water now — Port Royal today is a small, pleasant fishing village a few miles from Kingston on Jamaica’s southeastern shores. But enough remains that you can still relive the days of its vile past, when some of the most infamous characters of the age stalked its streets.
When the English captured Jamaica from Spain in 1655, the new colony’s governor invited the Caribbean pirates of the day to pillage on behalf of the Crown. This legalized piracy was called privateering. Among the many who made Port Royal their base was the ruthless Henry Morgan, who proceeded to sack Spanish ships and settlements from Venezuela to Panama. It paid off. His rewards included a knighthood and the title of Jamaica’s lieutenant governor.
In Port Royal’s historic St. Peter’s Church, you can view the communion silver that Sir Henry bequeathed to the parish — after stealing it from the Spanish. At nearby Fort Charles, built in 1655 and perhaps Jamaica’s oldest building, the Port Royal Museum displays artifacts from Morgan’s era that were lost in the 1692 earthquake and since recovered from Kingston Harbor.
Another Port Royal pirate, Calico Jack Rackham, was renowned as a ladies’ man and had two famous female pirates among his crew. After capturing one rich prize, Rackham and his men got drunk, leaving them in no condition to fend off attack by a British warship in Negril Bay on Jamaica’s west coast.
Only the two women pirates, Mary Read and Anne Bonny, were sober enough to fight back. Rackham met the noose at Gallows Point off Port Royal in 1720, but not before Anne Bonny taunted him, “If you’d fought like a man you wouldn’t now be hung like a dog!”
On what’s now called Rackham’s Cay, an islet near Port Royal, the pirate’s body was displayed in a cage as a lesson to other would-be brigands. After checking out the Port Royal sights, head for Negril Bay — now a laid-back resort area with a seven-mile beach, a good place to maroon yourself on a cold winter’s day.
Up Next: British Virgin Islands
Previously in this series: Relive Your Inner Pirate in Puerto Rico
An earlier version of this piece appeared in EnCompass Magazine.
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