Jamaica Port Royal

Most Economically Significant English Settlement in the Americas

The Earthquake of 1692

On the morning of June 7, 1692, the ground first began to tremble. From historical eyewitness accounts, never actually shhook, but began to move like waves on the ocean. According to some accounts, the ground turned to water right under their feet, and people sank into the water. Others say the ground opened up into vast pools of water. Most likely the sand had become so saturated with ocean water that it could no longer support any kind of weight and people and objects did actually sink into the water. Just as quickly, the water rushed out and what was left were people half buried in the ground.

The entire Western end of the town then slid into the ocean.

Giddy House, 1907 Earthquake
What has been speculated is the solid limestone foundation was pushed upwards by the earthquake. This caused the loose sand which had been saturated with ocean water, to slide to the sides rather that just break open. The wooden structures built by the Spaniards faired better against the quake than the newer ones built with stone and brick.

Rebuilding Efforts

Some attempts were made to rebuild the city, starting with the one third of the city that was not submerged, but these met with mixed success and numerous disasters. An initial attempt at rebuilding was again destroyed in 1703, this time by fire. Subsequent rebuilding was hampered by several hurricanes in the first half of the 18th century, and soon Kingston eclipsed Port Royal in importance.

In 1735 a naval base was established once more at Port Royal for the British West Indies Squadron in its struggle against the French.

A final devastating earthquake on January 14, 1907 again liquefied the sand spit, destroying nearly all of the rebuilt city and submerging additional portions.

Today the area is a shadow of its former self with a population of less than 2,000. It's is a quiet little town, with only a few relics of its romantic past: Fort Charles at the entrance to the harbour once under the command of Horatio Nelson, St. Peter's Church, and a museum displaying some treasures resurrected from the sea.

Tidal Wave

The town was hit by a tidal wave shortly after the earthquake ended and many people who had been half buried by the quake were drowned. Over two thousand people died in a matter of minutes. The cemetery located outside of town on the Palisadoes peninsula was opened up by the quake and most of it slid into the sea. For the next several weeks, there bodies were being recovered from the town and the cemetery. Looters ran free throughout the town.

Several ships had also been lost or damaged in the harbor. But the biggest problem was that the ocean had separated the city from the mainland by reclaiming parts of the penisula making it difficult for the rest of Jamaica to assist.