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Wrought Iron Hand Tools From The Underwater Excavations of Colonial Port Royal Jamaica

Katie Custer
Thesis: May 2004
Chair: Filipe Vieira de Castro
Nautical Archaeology Program


The written history of Port Royal starts with the European discovery of Jamaica on Columbus' second voyage to the New World and has proven to be rich in shady characters and natural disasters. The English took possession of Jamaica from Spain in 1654 and the city of Port Royal was established soon after. Port Royal, located at the end of the Palisadoes sand spit, a natural barrier roughly six miles long, separates Kingston harbor and the Caribbean Sea. Originally functioning as a protective fortification of the harbor, it became an active harbor and the most economically important English colony in the New World from 1655-1692. Port Royal quickly earned the title of "Wickedest City on Earth" because of its reputation of officially sanctioned privateering and piratical expeditions, and the abundant supply of establishments of ill repute. On Wednesday June 7,1692 a devastating earthquake struck Port Royal and destroyed a major portion of the city. A total of 33 acres, or 66% of the city, including buildings and people, at the very end of the sand spit, literally sank into the shallow harbor. It was not until the concentrated efforts of the Nautical Archaeology Program (under the direction of Dr. Donny L. Hamilton), the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, and the Jamaican government, started archaeological excavation from 1987-1993, that the real picture of this sunken city emerged. Through the excavation, mapping, collection, and conservation and analysis of artifacts a ghost image of this city was brought back to life and interpreted. A large collection of iron hand tools from this site was preserved. These conserved and replicated artifacts are now available for analysis. This thesis is a continuation of the catalog of hand tools from the Port Royal excavations previously done by Ms. Marianne Franklin. It seeks to link the historical background of these artifacts to tool technology and the history of Port Royal and its tradesmen through the use of historical documents.

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