"But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."
KJ Bible, Genisus 2:17
I admit it is a little unfair to blame 53 year old Boston Puritan Increase Mather (above) for the 4,000 deaths in Jamaica. The Reverend did not actually kill those people - unlike the 25 he helped murder in Salem, Massachusetts. But he was so damn certain in his ignorance, that his certainty ran over a lot of honest doubts that might at least have given those 4,000 deaths meaning. An Anglican minister and the son of a preacher, "The Godly" Increase always pontificated from the pulpit of solid moral bedrock - even as the sand beneath his feet liquefied and swallowed his soul. The Reverend Mather was certain, for example, that what Yehaweh said about the Port Royal earthquake of 1692 was "All of those people were sinners and deserved their fate!" And that seems a little arrogant, doesn't it?
"God is always invented to explain those things that you do not understand."
Richard Feynman Nobel winning American physicist
As the 17 million square miles of the South American Tectonic Plate drove west at just over an inch a year, it elbowed aside the 1 million square miles of the Caribbean plate, shoving it at half an inch a year into the southeastern edge of 29 million square miles of the North America plate. These large collisions accommodated the curvature of the earth by cracking like a plate of glass dropped onto a concrete slab. For example, Cuba rested firmly on the North American Plate.
But just off its southern shore was the 25,000 foot deep and 250 mile long Cayman trench, which was consuming the 73,000 square miles of the Conave micro-plate, driven north. Ninety miles to the south the island of Jamaica was being shoved inexorably toward that trench. But Jamaica was also being pulled apart by the Walton fault, moving west at half an inch a year, connected by transverse faults to the Plantain Garden Fault, slipping west at a full inch a year and running 300 miles from the island of Hispaniola to the once volcanic Blue Mountains in Jamaica's interior. As the waxing quarter moon set on the evening of 6 June, 1693, the delicate balance of all this intricate geological machinery was on the verge of breaking.
"Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah...Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities..."
Dawn of Wednesday, 7 June, 1692 greeted Port Royal - the second largest English city in the New World and "the richest and wickedest city in the world"- with the continued promise of unending wealth.
Approaching Jamaica from the Caribbean Passage any Spanish or French threat had to first navigate the mile wide entrance between the eastern heights of Salt Pan Hill, defended by a row of cannon called the 12 apostles, and the 14 guns in the star shaped brick edifice of Fort Charles, perched on western tip of the 18 mile long sand spit called the Palisadoes.
Protecting the 60 full rigged transports, slave ships, schooners and cutters anchored safely in Cagway Bay this morning were the 26 cannon in Fort James and Fort Carlisle.
Blocking any land assault across the narrow neck of the Palisadoes was Fort Rupert with another 22 guns. And for good measure defending the south sea side of Port Royal were the 26 cannon of Fort Morgan, named to honor the 4 year deceased Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica and infamous privateer, Sir Henry Morgan.
"Sometimes people ask if religion and science are not opposed to one another. They are: in the sense that the thumb and fingers of my hands are opposed to one another. It is an opposition by means of which anything can be grasped."
William H. Bragg 20th century British Nobel physicist, chemist, and mathematician.
During the first 50 years of English occupation, Jamaica's income had come from stealing what the Spanish had stolen from the Aztecs and Incas - piracy. But within the last decade the economics had shifted. Jamaica's Royal Governor, the Earl of Inchiquin, was no longer the unquestioned lord, and the dominant arm of the British government was no longer the Royal Navy, Both of those powers had been superseded by the corporate-like Board of Trade and Plantations.
Civilian lawyer and businessman John White, the new Vice President of the Jamaica Council, was the regional head of operations, directly responsible for the 4,000 Europeans in Port Royal that June morning, men, women and children, who were all employees one way or another, of the Board of Trade. There were also 2,000 to 2,500 Africans - but they were not people, but property
"Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire."
KJ Bible Judges 1:7
Port Royal was a company town - a slice of London transplanted to the Caribbean, 2,000 Tudor brick and mortar multi-story homes and shops tightly packed into 51 sandy acres between the sea and Cagway Bay, where Puritans, Catholics, Episcopalians, Jews and Muslims labored with one purpose - to get rich. The venal sins of the sailors and pirates were tolerated since they were making so many so wealthy.
In the words of observer Edward Ward, Port Royal was “...as sickly as a hospital, as dangerous as the plague, as hot as Hell, and as wicked as the devil”. Dutchman Jan van Riebeeck saw, "The parrots of Port Royal gather to drink...ale with just as much alacrity as the drunks that frequent the taverns that serve it."
As Rector of St. Peter's Anglican Church near the junction of the High and Lime Streets, the Reverend Doctor Emmanuel Heath was God's official representative to this den of hypocrisy. Before ten this morning he walked the few yards south to the Merchants' Exchange, to have coffee with Vice President White. The Reverend would later credit Mr. White's lively conversation with delaying his luncheon date with the garrison's Captain and his family, on Queens Street along the harbor front - and thus saving Dr. Heath's life.
"I count religion but a childish toy, and hold there is no sin but ignorance."
"Complex, statistically improbable things are by their nature more difficult to explain than simple, statistically probable things."
Richard Dawkins, 20 century British evolutionary biologist
There were 2,000 dead in 4 minutes, and another 3,000 who would die over the following year of broken bodies, hearts and minds. The brick forts of James and Carlisle disappeared into Cagway Bay. Fort Rupert flooded. The least damaged was Fort Morgan. More morbid, among the 33 acres dropped into the harbor was the graveyard, leaving the recently dead floating with their ancestors. Quaker John Pike later wrote his brother, “Great men who were so swallowed up with pride...now lie stinking upon the water, and are made meat for fish and fowls of the air” - and the target for human scavengers, “...their Pockets picked, their fingers cut off for their rings, their gold buttons taken out of their shirts."
“And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”
KJ Isaiah 66:24
The survivor Samuel Bernard dealt with directly with the trauma. "We shall be unworthy of God’s mercies if we be not by His judgments taught to learn righteousness.” John White's survivors on the Council declared themselves "an instance of God Almighty's severe judgment." But distance made the ignorant more certain, and mercenary. Wrote one, "A God of limited patience had punished a wicked people."
London Presbyterian minister John Shower used the deaths as pulp for his first publication: "Practical Reflections on the late Earthquakes in Jamaica”, blaming the disaster on "Atheism, and infidelity...and barefaced deism..." He denounced those who thought there must be a rational cause for such horrors, because, "...the Hand of God is not to be overlooked in such things", and warned his readers, "If you do not truly repent...your judgment is near, your destruction is at hand."
And in the largest English city in the new world, Boston, the Reverend Cotton Mather wrote to his uncle John, in terms that were almost jubilant. "Behold, an accident speaking to all our English America." He was looking for a victory, as that summer his father had executed five "witches" in Salem, but this only led to more witch trials.
"For the belief in a single truth is the root cause for all evil in the world."
Max Born, Nobel physicist and mathematician
Increase Mather was busy that summer, and would not set down his reaction to the Port Royal Quake for decade - by which time his reputation was suffering because of the witch hunts. But disaster tales are always popular, and time had moderated the old Puritan's views. He now acknowledged "...many times, earthquakes proceed from natural causes." But then he asserted they were "...usually, a sign that men have sinned, and that God is angry. Certain it is, that if men had never sinned, they had never been terrified with earthquakes...Whole towns...with all the people in them...(have) gone down alive into the pit. Would such a thing be, if God were not infinitely displeased by the sins of men?"
"Early the next morning Abraham...looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah...and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace."
But Increase, now over 60 years old, was just warming up, reminding his readers, "...Was it not so with the Sinners in Sodom? An earthquake swallowed up their houses, and all the bodies in them. But what became of their souls? Does not the scripture say, that they are suffering the Vengeance of eternal fire?...Shall we that call our selves Christians be worse than the heathen Romans, of whom it is said, that when they saw the earthquake they feared greatly...have we forgotten what God did in Jamaica thirteen years ago, when two thousand people (whites and blacks) perished by the earthquakes there."
"Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends."
J.R.R. Tolkien writer
The people of Jamaica had not forgotten. Almost half a century after the earthquake, in solid ground across the bay in the new city of Kingston, they buried the mortal remains of Lewis Galdy. He had experience a religious rebirth after the earth spit him back up, but had used his time not to preach faith but live it, for better and for worse. He remained a businessman, and in Jamaica. If he left little of value behind, that was not an act of God, it was an act of Galdy. And when he died at 80 years of age - 16 years after and ten years older than Increase Mather when he died - Lewis's tombstone would read, "Beloved by all and much lamented at his Death". If he was, he was more loved than bitter old Cotton
"Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone."
KJ Bible John 8:7
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