Port Royal: The Pirate City God Smote


Port Royal Jamaica, Pre-Smiting

When you watch the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, one of the main settings is a town called “Port Royal.” While the town in the films it completely fictionalized, it is in fact based off a very real place: Port Royal, Jamaica.
Port Royal was known as the pirate capital of the Caribbean and as the story is told, it was a town so evil, decadent and filled with sin it was literally smote by God.

Port Royal was founded in 1518 by the Spanish. After 1655 Jamaica, and thus Port Royal became an English Colony. Yet, while it became English, the English did not have enough forces to protect the town. The town turned pirates for the city defence, in exchange for a general amnesty for pirates. At its height it was the biggest city in the Caribbean. It was a thriving hub of international commerce as it was both an established city and centrally located in the Caribbean.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the rise of Port Royal as a power center coincided with the Golden Age of Piracy (1650-1730). It is unsurprising that that city became a hub for pirates to meet, get crew and rest between voyages to sea.

There is a misconception in modern times about pirates and pirate treasure, which stems from a romantic belief in pirates burying their treasure and maps with X marks the spot. This is a result of the Robert Louis Stevenson novel, Treasure Island, whose plot revolves around just such a situation. This created the pirate trope of buried treasure, one that could not be farther from the truth.


In becoming a pirate, those individuales accepted that they would be hunted down by all the nations of the world. It was inevitable that at some point they would be captured and executed because they became pirates. To be a pirate was to live in the now, and squeeze as much pleasure one could out of life before that life ended. Thus, a pirate would not waste time in burying treasure for later. Any booty acquired was to be spent and enjoyed immediately, and the place they did this more often than not was Port Royal, Jamaica.

Once in the city with their pillaged spoils, these men would go on hedonism binges. They would would purchase all the alcohol (usually rum of course) baubles and women they could find. These benders could go on for weeks, until they ran out of money, and had to go back to sea, so they could do more pillaging in order to come back and repeat the cycle all over again.
One Primary source describes Port Royal in this way:

Wine and women drained their wealth to such a degree that […] some of them became reduced to beggary. They have been known to spend 2 or 3,000 pieces of eight in one night; and one gave a strumpet 500 to see her naked.They used to buy a pipe of wine, place it in the street, and oblige everyone that passed to drink.[citation]

The author of the above source is a bit coy here, as “see her naked” is actually meant to infer “and had sex with.” Another primary source, Jan van Riebeeck, noted that:

“The parrots of Port Royal gather to drink from the large stocks of ale with just as much alacrity as the drunks that frequent the taverns that serve it.”

The city was dubbed “The Sodom of the New World,” the “most wicked and sinful city in the world” and “one of the lewdest in the Christian world.” If at all interested it is well worth reading up on who spent time in Port Royal and what they did;  you will come across names like Blackbeard, Captain Henry Morgan, and even the future Admiral Horatio Nelson, to name just a few.

On June 7th 1692, Port Royal was hit by a massive earthquake, destroying the majority of the city, with a large portion of it literally sliding into the sea. As a result of this earthquake more than 5000 people died. The destruction of the city was hailed by many as God’s justice, smiting down the most wicked and depraved place on earth. As this was the height of the Golden Age of Piracy, Port Royal was held up as an example for those who wanted evidence show God’s wrath upon the evils of pirates.

Interestingly, this proved to be a boon for another Jamaica city, Kingston. All the trade originally going to Port Royal was diverted to Kingston, and it quickly grew into the new central city of Jamaica, which it remains to this day.

Port Royal today is composed of two parts, a small fishing village and the underwater ruins of the city. Port Royal slid into the sea, and it is still there to visit. You can snorkel and scuba dive around the old pirate city. The underwater city is now both a tourist attraction and a boon to archaeologists trying to understand that time period, almost like an underwater Pompeii.

Port Royal, Jamaica. “Post-Smiting.”

Below are a couple of short clips on the excavation and exploration of the sunken city of Port Royal:


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Comic History Mysteries


Hi all!

I recently started a podcast over at www.comixcentral.com called Comic History Mysteries, where I add historical context to comic books. Check it out!


Comics History Mysteries #1


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The Coqui: One’s National Treasure is another’s National Menace


In 2012, on our Hawaiian honeymoon my wife and I had just finished an incredible tour of the volcanos on the Big Island.  We arrived at the airport in Hilo and as we were getting our things together I heard it.



I was confused. I looked around. That couldn’t be right?


This was the wrong part of the world, how are they here?


I was flooded with a feeling of home for a place I had not lived in for 25 years, and was nearly halfway around the world.

The coqui is a tiny frog, no more than two inches long.   

For a frog so small it makes itself known, Their call can hit 90 decibels.

The coqui is a beloved and treasured mascot of Puerto Rico.


Throughout “Almost Like Praying,” a song written by Lin-Manuel Miranda to raise awareness and raise aid money for a Puerto Rico devastated by Hurricane Maria, the song of the coqui is sampled throughout, but can most clearly be heard at the very end of the song.    

“Almost like Praying” celebrates Puerto Rican culture and heritage in many clever ways, sampling a coqui was a nod to a beloved symbol connected to the island. This did not go unnoticed in the comments, and some even saying how they became emotional at hearing the call of that little frog in the song.  

I smile as I remember listening to the song of the coqui coming from outside the wood paneled windows of my grandparents home as a small boy in Puerto Rico.

Coquis are so loved and their song is such a part of the Puerto Rican identity that there are lullabies about the coqui:

English Version:

Spanish Version:

But I was not in Puerto Rico. I was in Hawaii. Coquis are native to Puerto Rico, and are generally only found in Puerto Rico. Why were there coquis here?

I did not think much of it until I returned home. It was a lovely moment in an amazing honeymoon, something that reminded me of my little island in the Caribbean.

Then I googled “Coqui” and “Hawaii.”  


It seems that sometime in the 1990’s a small population of coquis stowed away on a ship that originated from Puerto Rico or perhaps even Florida.  They found a home on the Big Island, which was quite similar to that of Puerto Rico, but with no native predators the coqui population blew up.

Whereas in Puerto Rico the sound of the coqui is considered a musical and wondrous part of the landscape, in Hawaii their song has been described as a “Loud, incessant and annoying call from dusk to dawn” by the Hawaii Invasive Species Council.

“Annoying? The coqui’s song is music!” Was my initial reaction. But I took a step back. The coqui is an entrenched national treasure in Puerto Rico. But in Hawaii, its song is not just out of place it’s LOUD and out of place. There is no heritage associated with their song and it was destroying the natural night time song of Hawaii.

In taking this step back, I read with fascination about this issue. How a small population has come to love the song, but how there is a movement to keep the frogs from spreading off the Big Island to the other Hawaiian islands.

This entire little episode made me appreciate our differences and our similarities. I fell in love with Hawaii both because I love the Polynesian culture, but part of it felt like home, like Puerto Rico. I guess I am an island boy at heart. But while these similarities are real and worth exploring, it is the wonderful differences between these two places that make them unique and amazing.

Perhaps the coqui frog just did not get the message.    

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There is no J St.


Washington D.C., for all its terrible traffic, was a planned city. The core of the city was put on a grid. Number streets going North-South, with letter streets going East to West, and just for fun, Diagonal Streets named after states. (The most famous being of course Pennsylvania Avenue,  with 1600 Pennsylvania Ave being the address of the White House.)

This NPS map of the DC city center does an excellent at illustrating the grid layout of D.C.  


But, there is something odd about the lettered streets.  There is an A St, a B st a C St etc. Except after I St come K St.

There is no J st.

Here is a map that shows it very clearly. On the southern end of both McPherson Square and Franklin Square is I St. On the northern end is K St.

There is no J St.

What happened to J street?

There is a story that says the architect of D.C., Pierre L’enfant hated first Supreme Court Chief Justice, John Jay. L’enfant, to stick it to Jay, removed J street from the city plan.

It’s a fun story. It ain’t true. The real reason there is no J St. is much more benign, but I also think more interesting.  

In the 18th and 19th century, the period of the cities construction, a handwritten J was often indistinguishable from a handwritten I.

An I:

A J:

Infact, Thomas Jefferson would often initial his belongings not T.J. but T.I. As there was an understood interchangeability in an I and a J.

Ironically, there was no J St. as a way to make things less confusing, yet now with greater variety and standardization of fonts, the opposite is the case.

Its an interesting quirk, of an already quirky city.

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The Beard of the Sphinx and the Dream Stele of Thutmose IV


The following I wrote for a Grad Class, I liked it so much I wanted to share.

Things that are not together…but should be…

I followed my first instinct and looked at the collection of the British Museum, where a cynic might claim contains the stolen cultural treasures of much of the world.

My first thought was of course of The Elgin Marbles, and the Parthenon. Yet, that ground felt too well trod. I continued to think about the British Museum collection and I remembered a sort of quirky one involving the Great Sphinx of Egypt.

Object 1:  The Beard of the Sphinx


Figure 1

(Accession Number: 00031296001)

I recently listened to a lecture series by Egyptologist Bob Brier (Great Courses, 1999) in which he related the story of doing research in the British Museum library and nearly tripping over a large stone. Asking what it was, he was told “It’s the beard of the Sphinx!” This anecdote occurred more than 20 years ago, and other documents also mention the beard of the Sphinx “In the basement” of the British Museum (Jackson, 1988).

This was recently rectified and the beard in now on display in the main gallery.  The display is nice, if a bit understated. The text describes a little bit about the Sphinx, where this part of the beard would go and a little about dating the beard.   Now that the beard is more publicly displayed, it is no surprise that its profile is beginning to rise as an object within the collection of the British Museum.

Figure 2

Dr. Brier brought up this story to show how complicated it can be studying a culture whose artifacts have been spread around the world in a more dubious time period. He mentioned that the British Museum really did not have any real issue with giving back the beard of the Sphinx to Egypt, except it would cause a precedent, and the Egyptian’s next item on the list would be the Rosetta Stone. Because the British Museum has no intention of ever giving back the Rosetta Stone, the Beard of the Sphinx remains in London.

Modern politics are keeping this object from being reunited with the rest of itself.

Interestingly, there is a general consensus that the beard was actually a later addition to the Sphinx, and was not made of the same single rock the rest of it. A false beard in Ancient Egypt was denoting of power and was a common accessory of the Pharaoh. A beard may have been added to the Sphinx for the Pharaohs to claim that the Sphinx was actually a kingly portrait. This means this object was itself created and added to the Sphinx due to ancient politics!


Object 2: The Dream Stele of Thutmose IV

Figure 3

            When I chose to write about the Dream Stele of Thutmose IV, I was convinced the original would be in the Louvre, the British Museum or the Egyptian Museum in Cairo; it’s not. It’s in the same place it has been for over 3000 years: between the legs of the Sphinx!

I could not find an accession number for the Dream Stele, but it is managed and protected by the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) who is the Egyptian Museum’s managing body. The reason for no museum tag is that it is still in situ as part of the outdoor museum of monuments that is the Great Pyramid complex at Giza. The Dream Stele, between the Sphinx’s front paws, is visible and prominent to anyone who visits the Great Sphinx.

Figure 4

The Stele tells the story of a young Thutmose (circa 1400 B.C.E.) sleeping under the shadow of the Sphinx (original construction circa 2400 B.C.E.) when he had a dream. In Thutmose’s time, the Sphinx was already ancient and had been buried to the neck in sand. In his dream, the Sphinx told Thutmose if he would dig the Sphinx out, the Sphinx would make him Pharaoh. (Thutmose, though a prince, was not next in line for the throne.) When Thutmose woke he excavated the Sphinx and soon was king. In honor to the Sphinx (and himself), Thutmose erected this stele on the now exposed feet of the Sphinx.  There is even a belief the either Thutmose may have added the beard to the Sphinx or restored it as part of his excavation (Beard of the Sphinx, British Museum). In the subsequent millennia, the Sphinx and the Stele were both re-buried by the sand and were not seen again until the 19th century.

Just like the Beard of the Sphinx, the Dream Stele was a later addition to the Sphinx. Both were added for political reasons. They were making a statement about those who were in power at the time and using one of the most visible wonders to do so. The Dream Stele also contains a carved image of the Sphinx, which notably does show its beard. Having an ancient drawing of the Sphinx in front of the Sphinx is quite powerful.

Digital solution to bring them together:

I would create a VR tour of the Sphinx, which would allow me to swoop around it, and click on different parts of it.  Clicking on the Stella, it would be translated and spoken. I would also have “Points of Interest” and the beard would be one of them.  Selecting the chin of the Sphinx, a digital recreation would show what the beard would have looked like attached. Lastly, there would be a “Time Slider” to be able to go back in time and see what the Sphinx looked like at different periods in its history including when it was just built in 2500 BCE and after Thutmose IV excavation, renovation and addition of the Dream Stella in 1400 BCE.

When comparing the political intrigues of today in regard to the location of the Beard of the Sphinx, and the Political intrigue of antiquity which led toThutmose’s IV’s creation of the Dream Stele, perhaps we can appreciated that human nature has not really changed in 3000 years. Human nature still reins whether that is in self promotion, or in refusing to give up something small for fear of giving up something large.  These intertwined objects, possibly the least known parts of one of the world most famous artifacts, together tell a story that bridges majority of our world’s written history. The more things change, the more they stay the same!


Brier, B. History of Ancient Egypt. The Great Courses. 1999.

Fragment of the beard of the Great Sphinx. The British Museum. Retrieved on April 2, 2017 from http://www.bmimages.com/preview.asp?image=00031296001

Jackson, D. It’s Time to give back the Sphinx’s Beard. The New York Time. Published March 23,1988.  Retrieved on April 2, 2017 from http://www.nytimes.com/1988/03/23/opinion/l-it-s-time-to-give-back-the-sphinx-s-beard-322288.html

Supreme Council of Antiquities: The SCA. Retrieved on April 2, 2017 from http://www.sca-egypt.org/eng/main.htm


Figure 1: Fragment of the beard of the Great Sphinx. The British Museum. Retrieved on April 2, 2017 from   http://www.bmimages.com/preview.asp?image=00031296001

Figure 2: Beard of the Sphinx at the British Museum. Retrieved on April 2, 2017 from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/210824826276884698/

Figure 3:The Sphinx. Retrieved on April 2, 2017 fromhttp://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/sphinx-stela.html

Figure 4: The Sphinx. Retrieved on April 2, 2017 from http://www.linearconcepts.com/photos/2007-Israel/DSC_2735_sphinx.jpg

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​JHU Seminar: 3/31/2017 Presentation Day! and Final Reflections


We did our final presentation was today and we feel it went really well!

I am so proud of our group. I have to say I feel this is the best group I have ever worked with and this is the best product of group work I feel I have ever been a part of.

Alyson, Kenaya, Hannah, and me! The intrepid members of Group 1!

I am so proud of the presentation that I am embedding it here:


What a whirlwind this seminar has been! But it also feel like a culmination of many things in many many ways.

My first job at the Smithsonian was at American Art, which started me on this museum path.

Going back felt like going full circle.

I volunteered at NMNH, it was actually in the Ocean Hall where I realized I wanted to make a career working in a place like this. We had a tour of the NMNH Ocean Hall as part of the seminar.

I worked as a Park Ranger at Fort Washington Park, in the shadow of Mount Vernon. Fort Washington, and the bright yellow Ranger Station was clearly visible from Mount Vernon.

I work at NMAH, and visiting as a student, and not a worker allowed me to consider other positions in the museum that I might want to move into from what I am currently doing.

Many of these places are where I “began” things that culminated in this program. I feels right that in finishing the program I return to many of these same locations.

But it should be noted, that though some things change some stay the same, I am chronically incapable of being on time (This is in part due to my ADHD, but it is something that I have always struggled with). The running joke of the seminar was that, whenever there was a head count I would always be 22 of 22, because I would saunter in last. I appreciated the good natured ribbing. And It seemed accepted by the group as one of my quirks. This actually made me very happy, as what is normally something that causes me great anxiety, became a friendly running joke. (Can I arrive so I am not 22? Sometimes yes! other times…nope.)   It was just another small reason why these two weeks have been so special.

These locations are all part of my own story, and as I continue to try and reinvent myself, I am excited to end this chapter of my life and with excited clear eyes ask:

What’s Next?


JHU Seminar: 3/30/2017 The Spy Museum and Final Project Work


Who needs sleep?
(well you’re never gonna get it)
Who needs sleep?
(tell me what’s that for)
Who needs sleep?
(be happy with what you’re getting
There’s a guy who’s been awake
Since the Second World War)
-Bare Naked Ladies, Who Needs Sleep?

…I do…I need sleep…

Sleep…what an Enigma! …I am so sorry…

The Spy Museum is an amazing museum. Unlike the Holocaust museum, which is an important, but fundamentally depressing experience, the Spy Museum has danger,and deals with stories thats can be considered morally questionable. (Theft, spying and murder.) 

There is an undertone of dangerous excitement.
It was wonderful to finally meet Anna Slafer, whose class I took last semester. 

It was a bit fun that she discussed the idea of “Delight and Insight” which was a major part of last semester’s class, and clearly is an idea she has thought about a lot. 

How do we Make something both informative and fun?

This at its core may be the main questions we have been dealing with all along.

By using digital technology, interactive, and manipulatives we hope to deliver Insight through Delight. 

I think the entire program is based around the belief that in order for museums to effectively deliver this “delight” in the future, we need to keep new technology, and new ways to use technology in mind.

I absolutely agree, with the added caveat that often “Delight” can be achieved using analog methods just as effectively (The balance board of balanced freedoms was a great example of this.

It took longer than expected for our final 

presentation to come together, but once it did, WOW!

I am so proud of our group and I believe this is best group project I have ever had the pleasure to be a part of.

I am also so immensely proud of our project. But I will save that discussion for tomorrow. 🙂


JHU Seminar: 3/29/2017 The Holocaust Museum


It has been years since I last visited the Holocaust museum. It is an amazing museum, and important to visit, but it is a bit heavy, to say the least.

Yet in our discussion with the curators from the museum, they made me realize that the Holocaust museum is continuing a trend that we have noticed throughout this course. First…”it’s complicated.”

This is a bit self-evident when dealing a topic as big and complex as the Holocaust, but to add a little bit of nuance, the museum is much more interested in getting the visitor to consider uncomfortable questions then providing solid answers.

The museum asks the visitor, “What sort of choices would you have made in this situation?” We all want to think of ourselves as the heroes, but part of us knows that likly we would not rise to the occasion and merely take the path of least resistance.

The museum does an amazing job of sheering away the “black” and “white” and makes you dwell in the gray. It is both an uncomfortable place to be in and the place where deeper understanding lies.

Our guide pointed out that this picture, taken clandestinely showing the rounding up of Jews may sound like a small heroic act at first, but on the bottom left are two tea cups. The photographer was drinking tea at their window watching the local Jews be rounded up and taken to camps. That’s horrifying. It also illustrates that it is all shades of gray.

I made the point today that in video games (especially in the 90’s) every other game was based in Word War II, as there was no moral issue with killing wave after wave of faceless Nazis.  The museum works hard to tell us that the people that committed these atrocities were faceless characters but people, doing their job.

Once the caricature is removed, and the humanity is revealed, the Holocaust becomes all the more horrifying an event.

Again i was fascinated that VR is again a main area of discussion for future projects in the museum but again, given the museum, anything like that has to be done with the utmost care.

It is very very complicated.


JHU Seminar: ​3/28/2017 NMNH and Michael Walsh Talk


I love visiting the Natural History Museum, It always feels a little bit like going home. For two years I worked as a volunteer at the museum, and was excited to see it from another perspective.

That only sort of happened. Our Speaker, a paleontologist that works in the museum.

Was very excited very passionate about the subject. He was even very engaging. But the problem was he was a bit softer spoken and the museum was packed. So i missed the vast majority of his talk, because I simply could not hear him.  Because I knew the museum so well, I was ok stepping back to try and let others get Closer to the speaker.

That being said I was struck by one thing our speaker mentioned about exhibit development:


“When we develop an exhibit we start with simply asking:

What are the messages we want to convey?”

In the Ocean Hall the answer to that question was placed right at the front of the exhibit:

Everything in the exhibit supports these messages.

I thought it was a great way to think of exhibit development.

always asking, “Are we on message?”   

It seems self evident, but often these simple methodological queries can get overlooked and the exhibit can get away from us.

Later in the Day we had the pleasure of hearing a talk and watching a film by Art Historian Michael Walsh.

To be honest, my hopes were not too high for this lecture. I was not struck by the idea of looking at the work done in an Armenian church in Cypress.

I could not have been more wrong.

My First M.A. was in Medieval History, so I was immediately pulled in by the story of medieval

Famagusta and his work to protect a cultural heritage that no one else was protecting.

I was most excited about his work with VR, making the Church in VR and open to exploration in VR is incredibly exciting.

I loved the idea of the potential for “Interesting sourcing” Being able to pull up a source document digitally to the paragraph, or have a ancient eye witness account read out loud with a simple click.

This sort of sourced and documented engagement has the potential to revolutionize how we present historical stories, perhaps not just as a narrative, but within the context of an exportable sandbox (which is actually a video game idea)

On top of this my company is working on exploring VR ideas, so that was another reason this was so exciting.

I left the talk absolutely ecstatic and again, excited about the sheer potential and possibilities of this marriage of disciplines.


JHU Seminar 3/28/2017 Mount Vernon…It’s Complicated


I approve of this mug. … I may have also purchased it…


I love going to Mount Vernon, I always get something out of a visit there.

Mount Vernon has already inspired me to write two of my Pre-Seminar Blog Posts. (Feel Free to check them out!):

Who Owns George Washington’s Home, Mount Vernon? Probably not who you think…


A Key With no Door…but Today Opens a lot More


Today’s lesson:

Well…It”s Complicated.

George Washington is invariably the “Hero” of the story of Mount Vernon. “General Washington” was a man who by sheer force of personality was able to sway the direction of war and politics.

There is a reason why the father of our nation is so visible in the national iconography.

Yet, Mount Vernon also works to tell the story of the enslaved peoples, who made up the majority of Mount Vernon’s residents. In this story, Washington is actually the “Villain” as the plantation slave owner.

What Mount Vernon is trying to do is say is that this dichotomy is ok. It”s a complex story. and Washington was a Complicated individual who lived in a complicated time.

This is a good thing.

I was struck when we were being given a  tour of the museum, and it was mentioned that many of the objects had previously been on display but in a different context.

Where previously the silver spoons were shown to indicate the elegance of the Washington’s, now their is a discussion of “Who had to polish and set the Silver spoons.”

Both are valid stories to tell, and these same objects can to a good job of telling both stories.

Character Interpreter Jonathan Wood, here portraying Washington’s Valet Christopher Shields did an incredible job of showing the two sides of Washington, and that as always the story well…it’s Complicated. The ladies also thought he was quite good looking…

History is complicated, and it is very rewarding to be able to appreciate the different layers.

What is hard for some is being able to see one layer and not reject the other layer.

Washington was a/the great man of American history and is justly respected for those achievements.

That is valid.
Washington was a slave owner, and though he may have had some ambivalence about slavery later in life, he still fully participated and profited off the work of enslaved people, occasionally even working directly to keep them enslaved.