On this day in Caribbean history, January 13, 1959, The Jamaican government granted permission to the Smithsonian Institute of Washington, DC, for submarine exploration of a section of the old city of Port Royal which sank under the sea in the earthquake of June 1692. The project was under the direction of E.A. Link, an experienced, internationally famous underwater explorer.
In the 17th Century, Port Royal was home to the real pirates of the Caribbean – it was a buccaneers’ paradise with one in every four building said to be a bar or a brothel.
On the morning of June 7, 1692, a massive earthquake estimated at a 7.5 magnitude hit the island. The city, largely built over sand, suffered instantly from liquifaction, with buildings, roads, and citizens sucked into the ground. Geysers erupted from the earth, buildings collapsed, then finally the city was hit by tsunami waves, dragging what had not been destroyed out to sea. In the end, some 33 acres of the city disappeared under water, four of the five forts were destroyed or submerged, and 2000 people were killed. The cemetery where Captain Morgan was buried slipped into the sea, its bodies floating up to mix with the freshly dead.
More than 100 years later, Charles Leslie wrote of Port Royal in the 1660s: “Wine and women drained [pirates of their] wealth to such a degree that… some of them became reduced to beggary. They have been known to spend 2 or 3,000 pieces of eight in one night.”