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Everyone knows the story of the infamous Port Royal, ruled by pirates and swashbucklers, a town where gold and rum flowed like water from a mountain spring. But of course it was not this way. The pirates that lived there usually were farmers or shop keepers who would sign on with a pirate ship every now and again to earn some extra money and have a bit of fun in the process. They did not attack battle fleets or private Man-O-Wars for this would have been foolhardy because many worked for the English or the Dutch as privateers.
The gold did not stay in the pirates hands for long either, the pirate had to repair his ship, pay his crew, and whatever was left over was squandered on whiskey, gambling and prostitutes. Most of the famous pirates went up on Spanish yard arms or to the bottom of Davy Jones Locker. Pirate ships were fast but Spanish galleons were often faster. Up until the demise of Spanish power in the Caribbean, the pirates made very few people 'walk the plank'.
The story of Port Royal may lose some of its thrill because of these facts but it is in truth still a great tale. The truth can in some ways be more interesting than the fiction.
The port sank June 7, l692 when an earthquake and three successive tidal waves swallowed up 90% of the town in a matter of minutes. Out of the 7,000 inhabitants, 2,000 died. The harbor was filled with the bloated, decaying bodies of local townsfolk for weeks. Many more died in the following days from wounds suffered in the quake or of disease caused by lack of sanitation.
The earth quake destroyed many buildings and caused the sand to liquefy and pull the buildings under like quicksand. Some of these buildings were two, even four stories in height and constructed of brick, many were owned by wealthy pirates and merchants, they're coffers filled with unimaginable treasure . Although it may sound a tad morbid, the liquefied sand was a blessing for researchers since some buildings submerged whole and undamaged, with most of their contents intact. For a nautical archeologist this is a God send because buildings that are relatively undamaged allow them to look at what daily life was like at the port. They are able to see what kind of food the townsfolk ate, what kind of clothing they wore and many other details of daily life.
In addition to the town, dozens of rich, bullion laden ships also succumbed to the monstrous waves. None of these ships have ever been recovered. A few months after the disaster the surviving citizens relocated across the harbor and founded the town of Kingston. Many residents tried to salvage their personal belonging and merchants attempted to reclaim they're commercial goods. However, few were successful at these do-it-yourself salvage attempts. Today all that remains of the once infamous Port Royal is a run down, hard scrabble fishing village.