History of St. Mary

St. Mary- Overview

Government has approved plans for the Boscobel Greenfield Project to create additional housing solutions in St. Mary. The project will be constructed at a cost of just over $800 million and includes the construction of 99 two-bedroom units and associated infrastructure for 258 lots. It adjoins the Boscobel Brownfield Project of the Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ) and is located close to the airport.

Ground was broken earlier for the development of the Boscobel Operation Pride Project in St. Mary, which will involve construction of new roadways, the completion of roads already laid out, and the provision of electricity.
This project will be undertaken as part of the Operation Pride Programme of the Housing Agency of Jamaica Limited. The contract sum is approximately J$20.5 million, and the Housing Agency of Jamaica Limited will provide technical and project management, as well as facilitate the regularisation of tenure. The community comprises 278 lots, of which some 200 are occupied.

St. Mary-History

The town of Rio Nuevo has historical significance for being the site of the last battle between the invading English and the defending Spaniards who finally had to flea Cuba. A monument, appropriately bearing the names of the English leader, General Doyley, and the last Spanish Governor, Don Cristobal Ysassi, has been erected to commemorate the ‘exchange of power’.

After the English capture, the area around the town of Puerto Santa Maria became known as St. Mary, and the town itself as Port Maria. When the three counties were created in 1758, St. Mary was placed in Middlesex. St. Mary lost some of its acreage in 1841 when the parish of Metcalfe was created out of the parishes of St. Mary and St. George, but her borders were again extended when, in 1867 the number of parishes was reduced and Metcalfe was merged with St. Mary.

Tacky’s Rebellion
From the 17th century sugarcane cultivation and slavery were the central factors in the history of Jamaica. The social structure was made up of a few sugar planters and many Negro slaves. In 1760, the most serious rebellion in Jamaica’s history broke out around Port Maria, eventually spreading to almost the entire island. The leader of this rebellion was a Coromantee slave, called Tacky, who belonged to the Frontier Estate. Fort Haldane, now Grays Charity, was seized and ammunition taken. The rebels then moved inland. Many whites were killed.

In 1765 there was another Negro revolt in St. Mary, again led by Coromantees, however, this uprising was quickly suppressed because it got off to a false start a month early. After Emancipation, free villages were formed in St. Mary but the parish still basically remained one with big estates. At the beginning of the 19th century there were 63 sugar factories in the parish but by the end of the century only three existed. With the decline of sugar, banana cultivation took its place. In order to get this perishable fruit quickly from the field to the final market, many small seacoast towns and bays were used as ports of call for ships carrying out the trade. As early as 1887, bananas were being shipped from Port Maria, Annotto Bay and Oracabessa. Later, Rio Nuevo and Frankfurt also became shipping ports. In 1916 the Western St. Mary Land Settlement was launched by the Western St. Mary Citizens Association founded by Rev. A. A. Barclay. As a result of this land settlement many independent small farmers came into being. This set an example for the rest of the island. In the late 1930s, St. Mary played a prominent role in the creation of Jamaica Producer’s Association set up to prevent the continuation of the monopoly on bananas held by the United Fruit Company and other purchasing organisations. Under the umbrella of the Association, the Jamaica banana growers banded together to ship and market their own fruit.

St. Mary-Location and Geography


 North-eastern Jamaica, bordered on the west by St. Ann, on the east by Portland, and on the south by St. Andrew.
 610.5 square km (235.7 square miles)


The average rainfall is 81 inches, ranging from 67.7 inches along the northeast coast to 138.5 inches along the southeast. The effect of rainfall in the north is reduced because of the permeable nature of the limestone rock.


 114,900 (2010 ESSJ 2010)


South Eastern
 Richmond
 Castleton
 Belfield
 Annatto Bay

 Islington
 Port Maria
 Hampstead
 Highgate

 Retreat
 Carron Hall
 Gayle
 Oracabessa
 Boscobel

There is a noticeable difference between the rugged eastern section which has shale rock and an intricate surface drainage pattern, and the western part, which is limestone and has, predominantly, underground rivers. St. Mary is mostly hilly just under 13 per cent of its area having slopes below 10 degrees. This geological phenomenon is significant because of the effect it has on urban and agricultural development both of which are made more difficult in steeper gradients.

The coastal area of the parish stretches between Palmetto Bay and the White River. Here the vegetation is primarily deciduous.

Principal Rivers:
 Wag Water
 Dry
 Rio Nuevo

 Below 304.8m (1,000 feet) – 290 sq km
 304.8 – 609.60m (1,000 to 2000 feet) – 308.10 sq km
 609.60- 914.40m (2000 to 3000 feet) – 49.21 sq km
 914.40- 1219.20m (3000 to 4000 feet) – 10.36 sq km

Hospitals and Health

 Port Maria Hospital
 Annotto Bay Hospital
 There are also 30 Health Centres

St. Mary-Industry and Investments

There is great potential in this parish for the extensive development o tourism, agriculture and manufacturing. Tourism is now the fastest growing sector of the economy in the parish, and some inroads have also been made in the industry. Agriculture remains the backbone of the parish’s economy.

When the banana industry in St. Mary was in its prime both owners of large plantations and small growers operated profitably. In the late 1940s and 50s, Panama disease destroyed many of St. Mary’s banana plants. Recovery only came to the industry in 1959 with the introduction of the Lacatan banana, a disease-resistant variety which replaced the very susceptible Gros Michel variety.

St. Mary is a large producer of bananas, sugar cane, citrus, cocoa and pimento. It is said that virtually every crop thrives here.

St. Mary has benefited from programmes that support the banana industry. The Government earmarked $724 million on the Banana Support Project in the 2009/10. Physical targets initially envisaged were: ongoing technical and financial assistance to improve the viability of both export and domestic banana producers; to improve productivity and marketability while reducing the cost of production; and new economic agricultural and non-agricultural activities for farmers, farm workers and port workers.
Achievements of the Banana Support Project up to January 2009 were: the establishment of a Project Steering Committee and Project Management Unit; completion of several contracts under the banana improvement programme, such as the economic and financial analysis of the banana industry; banana resuscitation campaign to support the revitalisation and training programme implemented by the Banana Export Company; eight grants were awarded to seven organisations with total sum disbursed more than $39 million; and grants were awarded for Rural Diversification and Enterprise Development in traditional banana growing areas as well as to provide social and economic infrastructure to the domestic crop communities.
The European Union has spent also a significant amount of money to develop agricultural and non-agricultural projects in Jamaica, to provide income to substitute for the losses occurring from the scaling down of the banana industry, under the European Union Banana Support Programme. The total contribution over 10 years has been € 3,490,000.00.

The parish has a small number of high-quality, successful, tourism- related properties and attractions.


 Distance from the capital, Port Maria…
o To Kingston – 70.8 km (44 miles)
o To Montego Bay – 141.6 km (88 miles)
o To Negril – 225.3 km (140 miles)
o To Ocho Rios – 33.8 km (21 miles)

St. Mary-Main Towns

The three main towns in the parish are Port Maria, Oracabessa, and Annotto Bay.

Port Maria
Port Maria is the capital town of the parish. Located on the coast, the town has a good harbor in which lies Cabritta Isle. As the parish capital, the principal buildings are found here.

Oracabessa is located west of Port Maria on the main road leading to the neighbouring parish of St. Ann. The name Oracabessa is thought to have been derived from the Spanish ‘oro de cabeza’ meaning Golden Head. Oracabessa is a farming town.

Annotto Bay
Annotto Bay is a seacoast town on the western side of the mouth of the Wag Water River, one of St. Mary’s many rivers. In its heyday, Annotto Bay boasted a rich sugar estate, Grays Inn, but this sugar factory no longer functions. The rusting smoke stacks that once billowed forth life on this estate now stand idle.


Highgate is a busy, bustling, agricultural and commercial centre.

Formerly known as Meeks Springs, Richmond is a residential and farming area. Here is located Jamaica’s first ‘prison without bars’- Richmond Prison.

St. Mary-Attractions and Points of Interest

Prospect Plantation
At Prospect, the guides are uniformed members of the Prospect Cadet Training Centre, an institution founded by proprietor Sir Harold Mitchell, to provide skills training for young Jamaicans. The plantation tour ends at their ecumenical Chapel, a structure built of cut-stone and lumber from the Kissinger and other famous visitors to the Centre.

Brimmer Hall
Situated in Port Maria, this estate is primarily involved in the production of bananas and coconuts. Other features include a pool, gift shops, a bar and a restaurant which serves Jamaican meals.

Harmony Hall
A renovated 18th century manse located east of Prospect Plantation and west of Couples Hotel.
A combination art gallery, pub, restaurant and craft shop, this ‘Hall’ was the brain child of a group of local businessmen and art lovers.

Moxon’s Restaurant
This restaurant attracts visitors from all over the north coast. Oliver Moxon’s community projects and coconut wood industry are, in their own way, “mini attractions”.

Golden Eye
This is the house at which Ian Flemming wrote the James Bond thrillers. Golden Eye can be seen by taking the left branch of the road which goes through the town of Oracabessa coming from Ocho Rios.

A mini tourist attraction, the house is now owned by music promoter Christopher Blackwell, who has kept the house furnished as Flemming had it (including the author’s writing desk). Bus tours are not allowed, but individual Bond fans may be discreetly shown around the property by the resident staff.

Once a retreat of Noel Coward, this house is now owned by the National Heritage Trust. Noel Coward is buried in the garden there.

Castleton Gardens
The famous Castleton Gardens is located 19 miles from Kingston on the road connecting Kingston to Annotto Bay. The gardens cover 12 acres, at an average elevation of 496 feet. Established in 1865, the Castleton Gardens were once the most richly stocked botanical gardens in the Caribbean and here could be found over 400 specimens from the Kew Gardens in England. Many of the beautiful and valuable trees introduced to Jamaica were first planted at the Castleton Gardens. Over one hundred years after being established, and after several natural disasters, there are still many exotic plants at these gardens, with an abundance of ferns and trees from Madagascar, India and the East Indies.

St. Mary- Monuments

Aqualta Vale Great House
Aqualta Vale was first owned by Thomas Hibbert, (1710- 1780) from Manchester, England. After this it became the property of John Pringle, a Scottish doctor who was the District Medical Officer for St. Mary.

The last great house, which was built by Sir John Pringle in 1907, was destroyed by fire. In the House was a stairway on which a ghostly lady was said to appear occasionally.

Monument to Tacky
A monument to the slave Tacky stands in the Claude Stuart Park at Port Maria.

Monument to Sir Charles Price
A monument to Sir Charles Price, a wealthy eighteenth century planter and speaker of the House of Assembly, stands in the Victoria Gardens in Port Maria. The monument was moved to its present site in 1933 from “The Decoy”, Sir Charles Price’s estate higher up in the hills of St. Mary.

Annotto Bay Baptist Church
Located on the main street in Annotto Bay, this is one of the most interesting structures in the town. Originally built in 1823, the structure suffered damage in the slave uprisings of 1831 to 1832 and in 1880 a storm took further toll on the building. In 1894 it was rebuilt.

In 1962 extensive repairs were carried out on this building and it was declared an historic monument.

Gray’s Inn Charity and Fort Haldane
Under the will of John William Gray, a Port Maria merchant who died in 1894, the Gray’s Charity Home for senior citizens, was set up in 1897. The home is located on the site of Fort Haldane of which only some ruins and cannon remain. The fort was named after General George Haldane, the island’s governor in 1759.


Associated with the parish are some notable Jamaican families – the Pringles, the Silveras, the Goffes, the Gregors, the Lindos, the Magnuses…among others.

Dr. Harry Gerraise Harry
 Dr. Harry was a legend in his time. His fame went beyond Port Maria Hospital’s operating room of which he was in charge.

Dr. Sydney Martin
 Dr. Martin was in charge of Annotto Bay Hospital and was one of Jamaica’s first international athletes.

Chester Touzalin
 Mr. Touzalin was Custos of St. Mary and one of the leaders of the island’s Building Society movement.

Rev. Henry Ward
 Hailing from Islington, Rev. Ward was a powerful preacher and educationalist.

A. A. Barclay
 Barclay was the father of the Building Society movement in Jamaica. He came from the small town of Gayle.

Lily May Burke
 Lily May Burke was a leading suffragette in her day. She made an impact on Jamaican politics at a time when women had little or no say in the public affairs of the country. Burke was from Central St. Mary.