by Bob Curley
With all proper deference to Capt. Jack Sparrow and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, there’s a far richer (and bloodier) vein of real pirate history and lore running through the islands of the Caribbean. And while some of it has literally sunk into the sea, there’s still plenty of opportunity for swashbuckling travelers to walk in the boots of some of the Caribbean’s most infamous buccaneers.
In all the world there was no more notorious pirate town than Port Royal, which once stood on the thin stretch of land known as the Palisadoes at the outer edge of Kingston Harbour. At one time the largest and richest city in the Caribbean, Port Royal was a favorite hideout for pirates thanks to its close proximity to the trade routes where they found merchant ships and the Spanish Main to prey upon.
By the mid-1600s, the swelling population of pirates and privateers based here made Port Royal — dubbed the “Sodom of the New World” — the de-facto capital of seagoing pillage in the Caribbean. However, a devastating earthquake and tsunami in 1692 destroyed two thirds of the city, with much of it falling into the sea. After a series of subsequent fires and hurricanes, Port Royal was largely abandoned. Today, visitors to Kingston can tour Fort Charles, which dates from the 17th century and includes some relics retrieved from Port Royal, and snorkel over the ruins of the sunken city, which is under consideration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In its pirate heyday, Nassau was nearly as notorious as Port Royal. Once home to more than 1,000 pirates, including the infamous Edward Teach, a.k.a. Blackbeard. New Providence Island became known as the capital of the Pirate’s Republic in the 17th and early 18th century, until the British Royal Navy attacked the island and chased off or rounded up the resident pirates. The end of Nassau’s pirate reign was marked in 1718 by a mass execution of pirates in the town square.