A Beginner's Guide to the Port Royal Privateers
by Christine Markel Lampe
WHERE IN THE BLASTED HECK IS PORT ROYAL?
Port Royal was in Jamaica, an island south of Cuba. It was at the end of a long spit of land protecting the entrance to an excellent harbor, now known as Kingston Harbor. Jamaica was originally colonized by the Spanish, but was captured in 1655 by the English (part of Cromwell's attempt to break Spain's monoply of the Caribbean). The new town was named Port Royal in 1660 when King Charles II was restored to the English throne. It quickly became the most licentious city in the world, called the modern Sodom and Gomorrah. In 1692, two-thirds of the city sank in a great earthquake. A ghost of a town remained after that, and to this day it is still a sleepy little village with few reminders of its infamy.
DID PORT ROYAL REALLY HAVE PRIVATEERS?
Yes! Well, sort of. For the first few years after the English colonized Jamaica, two men-o-war ships were based out of Port Royal. But the ships were soon recalled to England. In a panic, alone in what was essentially a Spanish lake, the good citizens of Port Royal felt they needed some type of protection. In 1657, they sent emmissaries to Tortuga (a nearby pirate haven, off the island of Hispaniola) to entice some of the buccaneers to use Port Royal as a base of operations, and by their sheer presence, offer some protection. It was not hard to get some of them to comply. Port Royal had a good number of grog shops, taverns, luscious (or at least willing) ladies, a good deep water port, willing merchants to buy their "salvaged" goods, and lots of places to spend their doubloons. These buccaneers were first headed up by Edvardt Mansveldt (Edward Mansfield). Upon his death in 1666, Henry Morgan took over command. Morgan had a commission from England, so technically he was a privateer, and the buccaneers under his command were the Port Royal Privateers. But when he led his privateers in the Sack of Panama n 1671, England & Spain had signed a peace treaty. It is argued that Morgan was aware of the treaty, but led the attack in spite of it. After the attack on Panama, Spain made such a stink about it that Morgan was sent to England in chains. But he so charmed the king that he was knighted, elevated to the position of Lt. Governor of Jamaica, and charged with ridding Jamaica of the pirates. Thus Morgan became pirate hunter, and did a right good job of it. So, the heyday of the Port Royal Privateers would have been between 1660 and 1675.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR US AS REENACTORS?
Though our club states its time frame is between 1600 and 1800, the historical PRP would have been operating between 1660 and 1675. You might focus more on this period as you develop your persona. Learn to talk about Jamaica, Port Royal, its inhabitants, and its important events as if you had lived there. Read more on the period, the locations, the various pirates and privateers, so you can imagine you are actually there.
WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE WERE AMONG
THE BUCCANEERS IN PORT ROYAL?
Though Port Royal was an English colony, the buccaneers were of many ethnic types.
English, Irish, Welsh, Scots (political exiles, escaped indentured servants, sailors who jumped ship); French, Dutch (well known for their nautical skills), Africans (escaped slaves), Spanish (renegades willing to prey on their countrymen), Portuguese (also well known for their nautical abilities), and to a lesser extent, Italian, German, Greek, and muslims from the Barbary Coast. There were probably also some Native Americans, South Sea islanders, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, but very few.
Though coming from diverse geographical backgrounds, 95% of the buccaneers would have had something in common: they were sailors before they became buccaneers. What about the other 5%? There would have been sea artists (carpenters, sailmakers, coopers, gunners, surgeons), musicians, cooks, navigators & sailing masters, religious persons, and women. There are no known female pirates during the Buccaneer Era (prior to the 1690s) but who knows what may have never been documented.
BESIDES THE BUCCANEERS,
WHAT OTHER TYPES OF PEOPLE COULD HAVE BEEN
IN PORT ROYAL?
Colony magistrates, rich plantation owners, poor plantation owners, religious personages (despite its reputation, there were many houses of worship in Port Royal, including a Jewish temple), soldiers, merchants and tradespeople, tavernkeepers, grog shop owners, tavern wenches, prostitutes and brothel keepers.
WHO ARE SOME OF THE HISTORICAL FIGURES
WE MIGHT HAVE MET IN PORT ROYAL?
Henry Morgan, Francois L'Olonnais (infamous French buccaneer), Roche Brasiliano (Dutch buccaneer), Basil Ringrose (English buccaneer), Bartholomew Sharp (English, travelled with Ringrose), and Sir Thomas Modyford (governor of Jamaica who encouraged piracy).
HOW DO I DECIDE WHO I'D LIKE TO PORTRAY?
In the beginning, it might be easiest to build off of your own background, ethnic heritage, or personal proclivities. You might even find an ancestor of the period who might have been in the area. What knowledge or skills can you bring into play? Music, magic, macrame, art, needlework, nautical skills, etc. What area of research and reading are you interested in? Develop a character that can make use of those skills or knowledge. Start slowly. Get a rough feel for your character. Pick a name, but don't be afraid to change things as you do more research. You might even want to create a completely new persona later on, or have more than one. Let your persona interact with others in the club. You'll be surprised how easily your persona can take over at times!
CAN I PORTRAY AN ACTUAL HISTORICAL CHARACTER?
Unless you are prepared to do a lot of research on that person, it's generally not recommended, especially for your first persona. Practice first on a fictional character. You might choose to be related to a real person, but that would still require knowledge of that famous person. You could be an immediate family member, or a crew member who served under that person. If you're not willing to do the research, develop a fictional character so no one can pin you down to the facts.
FOR FURTHER RESEARCH
No Quarter Given, the magazine, published every other month.
The Buccaneers of America, by Esquemeling. Covers the appropriate time period and area in a first hand account (although be aware that he hated Morgan and his writing is so biased).
The Pyrate Prymer, published by No Quarter Given Press, includes a bibliography with more recommended reading.
The No Quarter Given web site has an extensive online bibliography.