Kingston, Jamaica

Mapping Urbanization and Social Change

Port Royal

Port Royal is located on the Palisadoes sand spit. It is perfectly positioned to protect Kingston, which was a developing area for plantations. Port Royal was around during a time for thriving agriculture, especially sugar cane in Jamaica. Figure 1 displays Jamaica’s position and how important it was to the British in the Trans Atlantic African Slave Trade. It became the largest sugar-exporting nation with an immense amount of African slave labor. The city became the most important port to the British, but took on a bad reputation.

Figure 1: The Transatlantic Trade, Fifteen- Eighteenth Century from A Brief History of the Caribbean. 

Initially, the British invited pirates to protect the island from being taken back by the Spanish. Port Royal’s proximity to the other Spanish colonies and routes proved favorable for the British and the pirates to attack Spanish ships. Port Royal became known as the “Sodom of the New World” as it attracted pirates and prostitutes (Pawson & Buisseret, 1975, p.  143). While agriculture and trade was abundant, it was also a main port for slave trading. However, the atmosphere changes in the late 1600s. Citizens didn’t like the reputation the city had acquired due to pirate activity and in 1687 antipiracy laws were promptly passed. Soon after, many pirates met their death.

Figure 2: Port Royal before and After the Earth quake of 1692 from A Brief History of the Caribbean. 

By 1668, the city had reached 8,000 people. (Clarke, 2006, p. 12) While change was occurring in this thriving port city, much more was to come. On June 7, 1692, an earthquake hit the island. Because most of the city of Port Royal was built on sand spit the city was at great risk. The earthquake caused the sand spit to liquefy and flow out into Kingston Harbor. (Mulcahy, 2008, p. 391) Soon after houses of brick and wood fell apart, a tsunami followed the earthquake wiping out the city and killing roughly 3,000 people. (Taylor, 1955, p. 2) Figure 2 shows the original shore of Port Royal, then how the shore retracts significantly. This shows just how devastating this natural disaster was to the town. After several attempts to rebuild the city, it was soon forgotten. Now most of the city is an underwater archaeological attraction.

Map credit:

Figueredo, D. H., & Argote-Freyre, F. (2008). A brief history of the Caribbean. New York: Facts on File.



Clarke, C. G. (2006). Kingston, Jamaica: Urban development and social change, 1692- 2002. Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle.


Mulcahy, M. (October 26, 2008). The Port Royal Earthquake and the World of Wonders in Seventeenth-Century Jamaica. Early American Studies: an Interdisciplinary Journal, 6, 2, 391-421.


Pawson, M., & Buisseret, D. (1975). Port Royal, Jamaica. Oxford: Clarendon Press.


Taylor, S.A.G. (1955). “Port Royal.” The Capitals of Jamaica. Spanish Town, Kingston, Port Royal. Edited by W. A. Roberts. (By several authors.). pp. x. 112. Pioneer Press: Kingston.


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