Jamaica Port Royal

Eye Witness Account of the 1692 Earthquake in Port Royal

The following newspaper article was published in March 1756 in four parts, over a period four weeks. It provides a first person account of the earthquake that happened on the morning of June 7, 1692 in Jamaica. Captured in two letters written on June 22, and June 28th, 1692 by an eyewitness who was caught up in the earthquake, the letters chronicle the experience and the impact of the earthquake to Port Royal and across the island of Jamaica. The account provides a vivid image of the destruction and sheer terror that those who survived, lived through. Thousands were killed in the quake, buried alive or swept away, with a large part of the town of Port Royal swallowed by the sea.

Part 1: Published March 6, 1756

An Account of EARTHQUAKES.
A Description of a dreadful Earthquake, that happend at PORT ROYAL in JAMAICA, on June the 7th, 1692; in two Letters by the Minister of that Place.
The first letter dated June 22, 1692

Dear Friend,

I Doubt not but you will, both from Gazettes, and Letters hear of the great Calamity that hath befallen this Island by a terrible Earthquake, on the 7th instant, which hath thrown down almost all the Houses, Churches, Sugar-Works, Mills and Bridges, through the whole Country. It tore the Rocks and Mountains, destroyed some whole Plantations, and threw them into the Sea, Port-Royal had much the greatest share in this terrible Judgement of God. I will therefore be more, particular in giving you an account of its proceedings in this Place, that you may know what my Danger, and how unexpected my Preservation.

On Wednesday the 7th of June I had been as Church reading Prayers, which I did every day since I was Rector of Port-Royal, to keep up some shew of Religion among a most ungodly debauched people; and was gone to a place hard by the Church, where the merchants use to meet, and where the President of the Council was, who acts now in Chief till we have a new Governor. This Gentleman came into my Company, and engaged me to take a Glass of Wormwood-wine with him as a whet before Dinner.

He being my very great friend, I staid with him. Hereupon he lighted a Pipe of Tobacco, which he was pretty long of taking; and not being willing to leave him before it was out, this detained me from going to Dinner to one Captain Ruden's, where I was to dine, whose House, upon first Convulsion sunk first into the Earth, and then into the Sea, with his Wife and Family, and some who were come to dine with him. Had I been there, I had been lost. But to return to the President, and his Pipe of Tobacco. Before that was out, I found the ground rolling and moving under my feet, upon which I said, Lord, Sir, what is that? He replied very composedly, being a very grave Man, It's an Earthquake; be not afraid, it will soon be over. But it increased, and we heard the Church and Tower fall, upon which we ran to save our selves; I quickly lost him, and made towards Morgan's Fort, which being a wide place, I thought to be there securest from the falling Houses. But as I made toward it, I saw the Earth open and swallow up a Multitude of People, and the Sea mounting in upon us over the Fortifications.

I then laid aside all thoughts of escaping, and resolved to make toward my own Lodging, and there to meet Death in as good a posture as I could. From the Place where I was, I was forced to cross, and run through two or three very narrow Streets. The Houses and Walls fell on each side of me. Some Bricks came rolling over my shoes, but none hurt me. When I came to my Lodging, I found all things in the same order I left them, not a picture, of which there were several fair ones in my Chamber, being out of its place. I went to my Balcony to view the street in which our house stood, and saw never a house down there, nor the ground so much as crack'd. The seople seeing me, cried out to me to come and pray with them. When I came into the street every one laid hold my Cloaths, and embraced me, that with their Fear and Kindness I was almost stifled. I at last persuaded them to kneel down, and make a large Ring, which they did. I pray'd with them near an hour, when I was almost spent with the heat of the sun and the exercise. They then brought me a Chair; the Earth working all the while with new motions, and tremblings, like the rollings of the Sea; insomuch that sometimes, when I was at Prayers. I could hardly keep myself upon my knees.

By that time I had been half an hour longer with them, in setting before their Sins and heinous Provocations, and seriously exhorting them to Repentance, there came some Merchants of the Place, who desired me to go on board some ship in the Harbour and refresh myself, telling me that they had a Boat to carry me off. I found the Sea had entirely swallow'd up the Wharf, with all the goodly Brick houses upon it, most of them as fine as those in Chepside, and two entire streets beyond that. From the tops of some houses which lay levelled with the surface of the Water, I got first into a Canoe, and then into a Long Boat, which put me aboard a Ship called the Siam-Merchant. There I found the President safe, who was overjoyed to see me, and continued there that night, but could not sleep for the returns of the Earthquake, almost every hour, which made all the Guns in the Ship to jar and rattle.

The next day I went from Ship to Ship to visit those that were bruised, and dying; likewise to do the last Office at the sinking of several Corps that came floating from the Point. This, indeed has been my sorrowful employment ever since I came aboard this Ship with design to come for England; we having had nothing but shakings of the Earth, with Thunder and Lightning, and foul Weather ever since. Besides the people being so desperatly wicked, it makes me afraid to stay in the place; for that every day this terrible Earthquake happen'd, as soon as night came on, a Company of lewd Rogues whom they call Privateers, fell to breaking open Warehouses, and Houses deserted, to rob and rifle their Neighbors, whilst the Earth trembled under them, and the Houses fell on some of them in the Act; and those audacious Whores that remain upon the Place, are as impudent and drunken as ever.

( To be Continued )

Part 2: Published March 13, 1756

An Account of EARTHQUAKES.
A Description of a dreadful Earthquake, that happend at PORT ROYAL in JAMAICA, on June the 7th, 1692; in two Letters by the Minister of that Place.
Continuation of The first letter dated June 22, 1692

Dear Friend,

I Have been twice on shoar to pray with the bruised and dying People, and to christen Children, where I found too many drunk and swearing. I did not spare them, nor the Magistrates neither, who have suffer'd Wickedness to grow to so great a height. I have, I bless God, to the best of my skill and power, discharged my Duty in this place, which you will hear from most persons, who come from hence, I have preached so seasonably to them, and so plain. In the last sermon I deliver'd in the Church; I set before them what would be the issue of their Impenitence and Wickedness, so clearly, that they have since acknowledged, it was more like a Prophecy than a Sermon: I had, I confess, an impulse upon me to do it; And many times I have preached in this Pulpit, things which I never premeditated at home, and could not methought, do otherwise.

The day when all this befel us was, was very clear, and afforded not the suspicion of the least evil; but in the space of three Minutes, about half an Hour after Eleven in the Morning, Port Royal, the fairest Town of all the English Plantations, the best Emporium and Mart of this part of the World, exceeding in its Riches, plentiful of all good Things, was shaken and shattered to pieces, and sunk into, and cover'd for the greatest Part, by the Sea, and will in a short time be wholly eaten up by it; for few of those houses which yet stand, are left whole, and every day we hear them fall, and the Sea daily encroaches upon it; We guess, that by the falling of the Houses, opening of the Earth, and the Inundation of the Waters, there are lost 1500 persons, and many of good note; of whom my good friend Attorney General Musgrove, is one, my Lord Secretary Reves is another. William Turner, Thomas Turner's Brother is lost. Mr. Swymer escaped, but his house-mate Mr. Watts, perished.

I came, I told you, on board this Ship in order to return home, but the People are so importunate with me to stay, that I know not what to say to them. I must undergo great hardship if I continue here, the Country being broke to pieces and dissetled. I must now live in a Hutt, eat Yams, and Plantants for Bread, which I could never endure; drink Rum-punch and Water, which were never pleasing to me. I have written to send a younger Person, who may better endure the Fatigue of it than I can: But if I should leave now, it will look very unnatural to leave them in their distress, and therefore what ever I suffer, I would not have such a blame lie at my door, so I am resolved to continue with them a year longer. They are going all in haste, to build a new Town near the Rock Linavea, the Guardian of this Island. The French from Pituguaveis, or Petitgeavias, in Hispaniola, did attack this Island on the North side; but were all defeated and destroyed, it being about the time of the Earthquake.

The Second Letter, dated June 28, 1692.

Ever since that fatal day, the most terrible that ever I saw in my life, I have lived on Board a Ship; for the shaking of the Earth return every now and then. Yesterday we had a very great one, but it seems less terrible on Ship-board than on Shore; yet I have ventur'd to Port Royal no less than three times since its desolation, among the shattered Houses to bury the Dead, pray with the Sick, and christen the Children. Sunday last I preached among them in a Tent, the Houses that remain being so shattered, I durst not venture to preach in them. The People are overjoy'd to see me among them, and wept bitterly when I preach'd. I hope by this terrible Judgement, God will make them reform their lives, for there was not a more ungodly People on the Face of the Earth.

It is a sad sight to see all this Harbour, one of the fairest and goodliest I ever saw, covered with the dead Bodies of People of all conditions, floating up and down without burial; for our great and famous Burial Place, called the Palisadoes was destroyed by the Earthquake; which dashing to pieces the Tombs, whereof there were Hundreds in that Place, Sea washed the Carcasses of those that were buried out of their Graves.

Multitudes of Rich Men are utterly ruin'd, whilst many, who were poor, by watching opportunities, and searching the wrecked and sunk Houses, (even almost while the Earthquake lasted, and terror wasupon all the considerable People), have gotten great riches.

( To be continued. )

Part 3: Published March 20, 1756

An Account of EARTHQUAKES.
A Description of a dreadful Earthquake, that happend at PORT ROYAL in JAMAICA, on June the 7th, 1692; in two Letters by the Minister of that Place.

Continuation of The Second Letter, dated June 28, 1692

We have had Accounts from several Parts of the Island, of the Mischiefs done by the Earthquake. From St Anne's we hear of 1,000 acres of Woodland changed into the Sea and carrying with it whole Plantations. But no place suffered like Port Royal; where the streets (with Inhabitants) were swallowed up by the opening of the Earth, which then shutting upon them, squeezed the People to Death. And in that manner several were buried with their heads above Ground; only some Heads the Dogs have eaten; others are covered with Dust and Earth, by the people who yet remained in the Place, to avoid the Stench.

Thus I have told you a long and sad story, and God knows what worse may happen yet. The people tell me, that they hear great Bellowings and Noises in the Mountains; which makes some very apprehensive of an Eruption of Fire; if so, it will, I fear, be more destructive than the Earthquake. I am afraid to stay, and yet I know not how in Point of Conscience, at such a juncture as this, to quit my Station.

Several Accounts of this desolating Earthquake were likewise transmitted to the Royal Society at London, from several Persons then residing in Jamaica; the Particulars of which are as follow: The earth opening swallowed up people, and they role in other Streets; some in the Middle of the Harbour, and yet were saved; tho' there were 2000 People loft, and 1000 Acres of Land sunk. All the Houses were thrown down throughout the island. One Hopkins and his Plantation remov'd half a mile from the Place. Of all Wells, from one Fathom to six or seven, the Water flew out of the Top with a vehement Motion. While the Houses, on one Side of the Street were swallow'd up, on the other there were thrown in Heaps; and the Sand in the Street rose like waves in the Sea, lifting up every Body that stood on it, and immediately dropping down into Pits; and at the same Instant a Flood of Water breaking in, rolled them over and over; some catching hold of Beams, Rafters, &c. Ships and Sloops in the Harbour were overset and loft; the Swan Figrate particularly, by the Motion of the Sea, and the sinking of the Wharf, was driven over the Tops of many Houses. It was attended with a hollow rumbling Noise, like that of Thunder. In less than a Minute three Quarter of the Houses, and the Ground they stood on, with Inhabitants, were all sunk quite under Water; and the little Part left behind, was no better than Rubbish. The shock was so violent, that it threw People down on their Knees, or their Faces, as they were running about for Shelter. The Ground heav'd and swell'd like the rolling Sea; and several Houses, still standing, were shuffled and mov'd several Yards out of their Places. A whole Street is said to be twice as broad now as it was before; and in many Places the Earth would crack and open, and shut quick and fast. Of which Openings two or three hundred might be seen at a Time; in some whereof the People were swallow'd up; others, the closing Earth caught by the Middle, and pressed to Death; in others, the Heads only appear'd. The larger Openings swallow'd up Houses; and out of some would issue whole Rivers of Waters, spouted up a great height into the Air, and threatening a Deluge to that Part the Earthquake spared. The Whole was attended with Stenches and offensive Smells, the Noise of the falling Mountains at a distance, &c. and the Sky in a Minute's Time, was turn'd dull and reddish, like a glowing oven. Yet, as great a Sufferer as Port Royal was, more Houses were left standing therein, than the whole island beside. Scare a Planting-house, or sugar-work, was left standing in all Jamaica. A great part of them were swallow'd up, Houses, People, Trees, and all at one Gape; in Lieu of which afterwards appear'd great Pools of Water, which when dried up, left nothing but Sand, without any Mark, that ever Tree, or Plant, had been thereon. Above 12 miles from the Sea, the Earth gaped, and spouted out, with a prodigious Force, vast Quantities of Water into the Air, yet the greatest Violences were among the Mountains and Rocks; and it is a general Opinion, that the nearer the Mountatins, the greater the Shake; and that the Cause thereoff lay there.

( To be continued. )

Part 4: Published March 27, 1756

An Account of EARTHQUAKES.
A Description of a dreadful Earthquake, that happend at PORT ROYAL in JAMAICA, on June the 7th, 1692; in two Letters by the Minister of that Place.

Conclusion of The Second Letter, dated June 28, 1982

Most of the Rivers were stopped up for 24 Hours, by the falling of the Mountains; till swelling up, they made themselves new Tracks and Channels; tearing up, in their Passage, Tree &c. After the great Shake, those people who escaped, got onboard ships in the Harbour, where many continued above two Months: the Shakes being all that Time so violent, and coming so thick sometimes two or three in an Hour, accompanied with frightful Noises, like the ruffling Wind, or a hollow rumbling Thunder, with Brimstone Blasts, that they durst not come ashore. The Consequences of the earhquake was a general Sickness, from the noisome vapours belched forth, which swept away above 3000 Persons.

As soon as the violent Shake was over, the Minister desired all People to join with him in Prayer; and among them were several Jews, who kneel'd and answer'd as the rest did; nay, the Author was told, that they were heard to call upon Jesus Christ; a Thing says he, worth Observation!

The two great Mountains at the Entrance of 16 Mile-walk, fell, and meeting, stopt the Rver; so it was dry, from that place to the Ferry, for a whole Day; and vast Quantities of Filth were taken up, greatly to the Relief of the distressed and terrified Inhabitants. At Yellows, a great Mountain split, and falling into the level land, cover'd several Settlements, and destroy'd 19 white People. Had the Shake happen'd in the Night, very few would have escaped.

But the Mortality which ensued the great Earthquake (for they had little ones daily) made greater Havock than the Earthquake itself. By an Account dated the 23rd of September following, almost half the People, who escap'd the Port-Royal, were since dead of a malignant Fever, from the Change of Air, want of dry Houses, warm Lodging, proper Medicines, and other Conveniences. Dr. Morley observes, that this sickness (supposed to proceed from the hurtful Vapours belched from the many Openings in the Earth) spread all over jamaica, and became so general that few escaped it. 'Tis thought it swept away, in many parts of the Island, 3000 Souls; most of them from Kingstown only.

The same Gentleman takes Notice, that he had felt several lesser Shakes, and heard the Noise often; which was very loud, and, by those not used to hear it, might be easily taken for a ruffling Wind, or hollow rumbling Thunder: But, he says, it had some puffing Blasts peculiar to itself, most like those of a Brimstone Match, when lighted, but in a much greater Degree, and such as a large-Magazine of Brimstone might be supposed to make when on Fire. He adds, that in Port-Royal, and many other Places all over the Island, much sulphurous combustible Matter had been found, supposed to have been thrown out, upon the Opening of the Earth; which, upon the first Touch, took Fire and burnt like a Candle.

We shall conclude the whole with Remarks on the Weather, both before and after the Earthquake. Dr Morley observes, that the year 1692, began very dry and hot Weather, which continued till May, when there was very blowing Weather, and much Rain till the End of the Month. From that time till the Earthquake happen'd, it was excessive hot, calm and dry. We learn, from another Hand, that the Weather was much hotter after the Earthquake than before; and that there appear'd such an innumerable Quantity of Muscatoes, as had never been seen in the island till then.