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Michelle Gadpaille

In 1692 an earthquake shook the Caribbean area, completely destroying the town of Port Royal, which had stood on a glorified sand-bar called the Palisadoes, and guarded the entrance to Kingston Harbour. Port Royal was the Buccaneer capital of the world. It seemed no less than divine retribution for such wickedness when a large strip of the town land, including streets, houses and people, sank beneath the sea.

Port Royal's demise was the signal for the rise of Kingston. A new town was needed, on more solid ground, one which would combine access to the harbour shipping with proximity to the capital city, Spanish Town. A site was chosen on the mainland across the harbour, on property belonging to Colonel William Beeston (later Governor of Jamaica 1700-1702).[1] The town was planned and laid out by Colonel Christian Lilly of the British Royal Engineers. [2] It is not unusual that the military should have had so much to do with the founding of Kingston. It was intended to be primarily a ships' depot, a naval yard, a supply base, and an army camp, and only secondly, a town. The plan of Kingston as set out by Lilly, is as militarily straight and regular as anything the town would ever see again. Lilly created a grid of streets on the plain - main streets running at right angles to the harbour, focused on the docks at one end, and on the Parade Ground at the other. The whole site occupied about 200 acres. Away to the North East, the army Camp proper was placed. (See Map 1)

Kingston was a maritime town from the first. It inherited the functions of Port Royal as the main trading link with Spanish America, and as the financial hub of the island. Jamaica being a British Colony, with a staple-based export economy, shipping was its life line. Much of the island's export trade passed through Kingston, and almost all of its imports. Docks grew out from the land, each dock being privately owned, along with a strip of land behind it connecting it with the first lateral street of the grid. This street quickly became an area of warehouses, taverns and wholesale dealers, "the general resort of men of business, being composed of stores and counting houses"[3].

Even the industries and occupations of Kingston remained those of a naval supply depot -- tanning and saddlery, coach repairing, printing, building and carpentry, and, of course. sloop-making, and refitting facilities for ships.

The town would remain essentially contained within Lilly's grid for over 100 years. One extension was made, in a fit prosperity during and after Queen Anne's War. Wartime naturally brought boom conditions to such a naval and military base. This first extension of the town plan of Kingston was to the east. A block of streets was added, from East Street to Fleet Street, ending in the North at East Queen's Street. The expansion was not for residential purposes; it was conditioned mainly by the desire for more docks along the East shore, and the resulting need to connect the dock facilities to the main centre of town by continuations of the streets. (See Map #2)



1. Edgar Mayhew Bacon and Aaron Murray, The New Jamaica (New York, 1890) p. 12.

2. Ibid.

3. Cynric Williams, A Tour Through the Island of Jamaica in 1823 (London, 1827) p. 221.

For the illustrated History of Kingston by Michelle Gadpaille, go to:
History of Kingston Part 1
History of Kingston Part 2
History of Kingston Part 3
History of Kingston Part 4

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