Jamaica: Caribbean & Barbary Pirates, Earthquake, & Revival
Columbus landed on Jamaica in 1494, claiming it for Spain.
In 1503, Columbus shipwrecked at St. Ann’s Bay.
Columbus remained there for over a year. A monument marks the spot.
A few years later, the city of Sevilla was founded - the first Spanish settlement on Jamaica.
For the next two centuries, the Caribbean was ruled by Spanish ships, and the pirates who robbed them.
One notorious pirate was François le Clerc (French, d.1563), who was known as “Peg Leg” after he lost his leg in a sea raid.
Peg Leg had an entire fleet of pirate ships which robbed Spanish vessels then returned with the booty to the island of Saint Lucia.
Peg Leg so thoroughly sacked Santiago , the Spanish capital of Cuba, that Spain moved the capital to Havana.
Other infamous pirates were:
- Sir Francis Drake “El Draque” (English, 1540-1595);
- Sir Henry Morgan, namesake of the rum (Welsh, 1635-1688);
- Francois l'Olonnais (French, 1635-1668);
- William Kidd (Scottish, 1645-1701);
- Henry Every “Long Ben” (English, b.1653-?);
- Edward Teach “Blackbeard” (English, 1680-1718);
- Bartholomew Roberts “Black Bart” (Welsh, 1682-1722);
- “Calico Jack” Rackham (English, 1682-1720);
- Anne Bonny (Irish, 1700-1782).
A pirate tactic was to fly a flag of surrender or truce, or the flag of a different country, as a disguise to lure unsuspecting ships to draw near.
Once the targeted ship was close enough to discover the deception, it was too late for them to escape.
This tactic was called flying a “false flag,” and has since become a political term to describe groups or governments which perpetrate crises incidents for the purpose of seizing power, often blaming the incidents on their innocent political opponents.
The skull pirate flag, called the “Jolly Roger,” was adapted from the flag of the Muslim Barbary pirates who raided ships and beheaded with their scimitar swords.
In 1625, Muslim corsairs flew the skull flag when they raided Cornwall to take English as slaves.
From the 16th to 19th centuries, Muslim Barbary pirates raided and kidnapped an estimated one million from England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Netherlands, and Iceland, selling them as slaves in Tripoli, Algiers, and Tunis.
One of the Pilgrims’ ships was captured by Barbary pirates.
Pilgrim Governor Bradford wrote in Of Plymouth Plantation, of an incident in 1625:
“Two fishing ships … with corfish … and … 800 lbs. of beaver, as well as other furs, to a good value from the plantation … went joyfully home … till they were well within the England channel, almost in sight of Plymouth …
But even there she was unhapply taken by a Turkish man-of-war and carried off to Saller (Morocco) where the captain and crew were made slaves …
… Thus all their hopes were dashed and the joyful news they meant to carry home was turned to heavy tidings … and now by the ship taken by the Turks … that all trade was dead.”
In 1516, Muslim pirate Barbarossa (Redbeard) became king of Algiers and proceeded to raid Spanish ships and the coasts of Spain, France and Italy.
He allied himself with Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and gained naval dominance of the Mediterranean.
Thousands of Christian captives were made slaves and kept in rat-infested Bagnio dungeons.
Giles Milton wrote of Thomas Pellow, who was captured in 1704 at the age of 11 from an English fishing village and became property of Sultan Moulay Ismail.
Sultan Ismail had 25,000 white slaves build his grand palace in Meknes - the “Versailles of Morocco.”
Once, he ordered guards to push Christian slaves off a high wall they were building because they were not hammering in sync. He beat his slaves “in the cruelest manner imaginable, to try if they were hard” and murdered some for “hiding pieces of bread.”
His 500 wives, mostly captured European women, bore him a record 1,042 children.
An account of Sultan Moulay Ismail, titled A Journey to Mequinez (Meknes), written by John Windus (London, 1825), stated:
“His trembling court assemble, which consists of … blacks, whites, tawnies and his favorite Jews, all barefooted … He is … known by his very looks … and sometimes the color of the habit that he wears, yellow being observed to be his killing color; from all of which they calculate whether they may hope to live twenty-four hours longer …
… When he goes out of town … he will be attended by fifteen or twenty thousand blacks on horseback, with whom he now and then diverts himself at (by throwing) the lance … His traveling utensils are two or three guns, a sword or two, and two lances, because one broke once while he was murdering;
… His boys carry short Brazil sticks, knotted cords for whipping, a change of clothes to shift when bloody, and a hatchet, two of which he took in a Portuguese ship, and the first time they were bought to him, killed a man without any provocation, to try if they were good.”
Witnessing tortures, beheadings and forced conversions to Islam, Thomas Pellow escaped after 23 years. A distant relative, Sir Edward Pellew, led the British fleet to bombard Algiers in 1816, freeing thousands.
In 1655, Jamaica was captured by British Admiral William Penn, the father of Pennsylvania’s founder.
While Admiral Penn was sailing the Caribbean, a Quaker missionary named Thomas Loe, visited the Penn estate and witnessed to 15-year-old William Penn, Jr.
This was the first time young Penn had heard about the light of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. He later recalled that it was during this time that “the Lord visited me and gave me divine Impressions of Himself.”
Young William Penn later became a Quaker and founded Pennsylvania.
Jamaica was too far away for England to defend, so the inhabitants turned to the lawless privateers, freebooters, buccaneers, and pirates for protection from Spain.
They would attack Spanish ships and settlements , then return with the gold and booty to Jamaica.
On Jamaica’s sandy southeast coast, the city of Port Royal grew to surpass Boston as England’s most prosperous New World settlement.
Many of the Caribbean’s thousands of pirates and smugglers operated from there, with half of the 200 ships a year passing through the harbor transporting slaves, liquor, and other contraband trade to Spanish America.
Drinking, gaming houses, slave trading, brothels, taverns and grog shops, attracted “pirates, cutthroats, whores and some of the vilest persons in the whole of the world.”
Port Royal was called “the richest and wickedest city in the world” or “the Sodom of the New World.”
Suddenly, JUNE 7, 1692, an earthquake and tsunami sank Port Royal under the sea, followed by violent aftershocks.
Over 2,000 drowned.
Graves were opened and bodies washed about.
The sea inundated the town’s wharf, “with all those goodly brick houses upon it … and two entire streets beyond that.”
Enormous waves tossed ships from the harbor into buildings, and in many places the ground opened up and “swallow’d up multitudes of people together.”
Members of the Jamaica Council declared
“We are become … an instance of God Almighty’s severe judgment,”
therefore every future “seventh of June … be kept and observed by all the inhabitants of this Island, as an anniversary day of fasting and humiliation,”
in hopes that acknowledging “manifold sins and wickednesses committed against his Divine Majesty,”
may “appease God’s imminent wrath and prevent heavier judgements.”
A Quaker resident, John Pike, wrote June 19, 1692:
“Ah brother! If thou didst see those great persons that are now dead upon the water thou couldst never forget it.
Great men who were so swallowed up with pride, that a man could not be admitted to speak with them, and women whose top-knots seemed to reach the clouds, now lie stinking upon the water, and are made meat for fish and fowls of the air.”
Eye-witness Rev. Emmanuel Heath, the Anglican rector for Port Royal, had finished his morning prayer service at St Paul’s Church and was meeting with John White, president of the island’s council, when the floor began “rowling and moving” and they “heard the church and tower fall.”
Rev. Heath wrote:
“Port Royal was terribly destroyed by an earthquake and breaking in of the sea upon it. The destruction was sudden … in four minutes multitudes were killed by the falling houses …
… I believe God I never in my life saw such a terror … the earth opened and swallowed up people before my face …
The sea swallowed up the greatest part of that wretched sinful place … They are so wicked, I fear God … will utterly destroy all by this dreadful Judgment …
By this terrible judgment, God will make them reform their lives, for there was not a more ungodly people on the face of the earth.”
A resident, Samuel Bernard, wrote:
“We shall be unworthy of God’s mercies if we be not by His judgments taught to learn righteousness.”
Rev. John Shower wrote in his Practical Reflections on the late Earthquakes in Jamaica, 1693:
“It is dreadful to think … how Atheism, and Infidelity prevails, and barefac’d Deism, with the Rejection of Christianity, and all Revealed Religion …
… If you do not truly Repent, so as to hate Sin, and leave it, and turn to the Lord;
if you do not unfeignedly give up Yourselves to God in Christ, as your Saviour, and Sovereign, your Judgment is near, your Destruction is at hand, you must Perish;
and that more dreadfully, than most others in the World.”
In 1782, George Lisle, the first ordained Black American, went to Jamaica with other freed slaves to begin a Baptist Mission.
The African Methodist Episcopal denomination was founded in 1816 by Richard Allen. It sent missionaries to the Caribbean, Haiti, San Domingo and Africa.
In September of 1860, Jamaica was visited with a tremendous revival, as documented in Dr. J. Edwin Orr’s book, The Event of the Century: The 1857-1858 Awakening.
Moravian missionary Rev. Theodor Sonderman recorded that the revival began in St. Elizabeth Parish and spread to Montego Bay, Bethel Town, Spanish Town, Clarendon and Kingston.
Fervency in prayer was accompanied by trembling, crying out to the Lord, weeping, and repentance.
One morning prayer meeting drew 500 people.
Baptists reported over 6,000 baptized.
United Presbyterian Church reported 4,000 new members, calling it “the most remarkable and encouraging (news) that have ever come from Jamaica.”
Churches were crowded to overflowing with membership roles exploding.
Crime subsided, gambling houses closed, superstitions were abandoned, and cohabiting couples were married.
Congregationalists considered the Island completely evangelized.
Wesleyan Methodist Churches reported thousands of new members with sinners wailing and “strong crying with tears.”