History of St. Thomas

Both Bowden and Port Morant were busy harbours during the heyday of sugar and bananas. Most of St. Thomas’ large coconut plantations and sugar estates are no longer in operation, however, the sole surviving sugar factory in the parish is the Duckenfield Sugar Factory. The United Fruit Company once had many flourishing banana plantations in the parish, but was forced to close due to the damaging effects of the Panama Disease. The Company pulled out, and the banana stations closed. Coconut and banana trees in St. Thomas were virtually wiped out by the hurricane of 1944 and many of those left standing were finally blown down in 1951 by Hurricane Charlie. St. Thomas remains an important agricultural parish. The Plantain Garden and Morant River valleys remain the domain of large estates where sugar and bananas are grown for export. Cocoa is a popular small farmer crop and there has been a revival of coffee production in the more elevated areas of the Blue Mountains.

Coconuts used to be grown for copra that was made into coconut oil and animal feed. Now a small but thriving industry has emerged for the bottling of coconut water for the domestic beverage market. The harvesting of the “green” coconuts for the bottling industry has come at the expense of the older copra industry. Small-scale near-shore fishing activities continue around the coasts of the parish. The oyster project at Bowden has collapsed but the growing of artemia at the Yallahs ponds is thriving. Today, a few large areas are used for the cultivation of coconuts, sugarcane and bananas, but small farming is now the main agricultural practice in the parish. Despite changing weather patterns and occasional periods of drought, most crops do very well. St. Thomas has been the incubator of some interesting agricultural developments. One such is the production of oysters at Bowden. These oysters are shipped to markets in Kingston and the North Coast tourism market. Another development is the production of artemia based at Yallahs Pond. The artemia are used as fish food, saving the country valuable foreign exchange.

MAIN RIVERS

Yallahs River           36.9 km (22.9 miles)

Plantain Garden River   34.9 km (21.7 miles)

Morant River            25.9 km (16.1 miles)

MAIN ELEVATIONS

Blue Mountain     2256 m

Yallahs Hill      730 m (2,394 feet)

MINERALS

A small amount of marble is currently being mined from quarries in the Bath area of St. Thomas. Jamaica marbles come in various colours – pinkish-grey, grey-green and maroon. Some 100 tons are produced here annually primarily for use in the tile industry. In terms of capacity for polish, colour patterns and richness of colour, Jamaican marble compares favourably with those on the international market.

Talc and asbestos occur in the Hornblende schists of the area surrounding Bath.

FORESTS

Government Forest Reserves 13,158 hectares (32, 514 acres)

Private Woodland 74,138.4 hectares (183,200 acres)

WETLAND AREAS

*Cow Bay Swamp

*Albion Swamp

*Great Morass

St. Thomas- Main Towns

Bath, Yallahs, Port Morant, Easington

 POLITICAL DIVISION

 

Constituency PC Divisions MPs
Eastern Bath, Dalvey, Port Morant, Morant Bay Dr. Fenton Ferguson
Western Cedar Valley, Llandewey, Yallahs, Trinityville, Seaforth, Whitehorses James Robertson

St. Thomas- Special Attractions and Points of Interest

Bath Botanical Gardens

Established in 1779 by the Government of Jamaica, these gardens are the second oldest in the Western Hemisphere. Many of the plants first brought to Jamaica were introduced here, including the croton, the jacaranda, cinnamon, mango, jackfruit and breadfruit.

Bath Fountain

Discovered by a runaway slave in 1695. The Bath Fountain (or Mineral Spring) was acquired and developed by the government in 1669.  The water is drawn from both hot and cold springs, and its high mineral content (sulphur and lime) is said to be effective in the treatment of skin diseases, gout and rheumatism.  The use of the spring reached its height about 1750, and led to the establishment of a thriving little town at Bath.

Judgement Cliff

The earthquake of 1692, which destroyed most of Port Royal, literally tore off part of a mountainside in St Thomas. The result is Judgement Cliff, a geological phenomenon easily visible from the road about mid-way between Easington and Richmond Vale. It appears that half of a mountain simply crumbled during that massive quake.

BEACHES

.  Mezzgar’s Run

.  South Haven

.  Rozelle

.  Lyssons

.  Retreat

.  Prospect

.  Rocky Point

INTERESTING PLACE NAMES

Yallahs

Yallahs was chosen as the site of the first Baptist church in Jamaica in 1822. The Rev. Joshua Tinson’s attempt to start the Baptist church was thwarted, however, but he returned in 1828 and succeeded in establishing both a church and school.

Llandewey

This name originated in north-east Wales.

White Horses

Is an area of stunning beauty. This area was named Barreras Blancas or White Barriers by the Spaniards, because of the continuous line of white cliffs along that stretch of coastline. The English named the area White Horses for the same reason.

Sugar Loaf Hill

The Spanish settlers originally named this hill “Punta de los Ananones”.

Potosi

A place name originating in Bolivia.

Lyssons

An extensive estate originally owned by Colonel Thomas Freeman, the first Speaker of the House of Assembly in the 17th century.

SOME WELL-KNOWN PERSONS FROM ST. THOMAS

.  Donald Addison Banks, C.D.

Bank Executive

.  Dorothy Casieta Lightbourne. O.J.

Former Attorney General and Minister of Justice

Hon. Charles Lightbourne, O.J.

Businessman

Hon. Justice Madge Morgan

Attorney-at-Law

Former Judge of the Court of Appeal

Hazel Louise Vaz

Retired teacher and Founder, Vaz Preparatory School

St. Thomas-Monuments and Historic Buildings

Morant Bay Courthouse

Scene of the 1865 riot, this courthouse was burnt during the violence that occurred. It was rebuilt some time afterwards. Leader of the rioters National Hero, Paul Bogle, was buried behind the court-house in a shallow grave.

Stokes Hall Great House

Stokes Hall and nearby Stokesfield mark the area where Major Luke Stokes – the then Governor of Nevis – brought his family and over 1,600 colonists to Jamaica during the days of colonization. Fevers and related illnesses killed many of the colonists, including Major Stokes and his wife, but his children survived and eventually established these two outstanding houses. The ruins of the Great House are possibly the oldest existing structural foundations in the island.

Morant Bay Fort

Located behind the Morant Bay courthouse, this fort dates back to 1773, but its three remaining cannon were installed early in the 18th century.

Morant Bay Lighthouse

This 100-foot high structure was built in 1841 by Krus, part of the contingent of 11,400 free Africans brought to Jamaica after emancipation. Many of these Africans landed and settled in Morant Bay as well as the interior areas of St. Thomas, particularly along the Plantain Garden River Valley.

Stony Gut, Site of Bogle Chapel

At this site is a plaque with these words can be found:

“Here was located the Chapel and house of National Hero the Rt. Excellence Paul Bogle.  It was from this spot on October 11th, 1865, that Deacon Bogle led his people to Morant Bay to protest against the oppression of the humble Jamaicans by the plantocracy.  It was brutally put down by Governor Eyre.  Deacon Bogle was taken near Stony Gut on October 23rd, 1865, tried by Court – Martial and hanged at Morant Bay on October 24, 1865.” The quiet glade in which the monument is located also has the grave of a descendant of the Bogle clan located immediately behind the monument.

St. Thomas-Location and Geography

It is bordered by St. Andrew on the west, Portland on the north and the Caribbean Sea to the south.

GEOGRAPHY

The land mass of St. Thomas ranges from the peaks of the Blue Mountains and John Crow Mountains down to sea-level. Subsidiary ridges of the Blue Mountain range, running from east to west across the island, come to their eastern end in St. Thomas. These include the Port Royal Mountain Range, which rises in some parts to 1,219.2m (4,000 feet) and stretches from above New Castle, in St. Andrew, to a point near the sea in the Albion area of St. Thomas. Between the valleys of the Yallahs and Negro River lies the Queensbury Ridge, and to the extreme south of Blue Mountain massif stands the Yallahs Hill, a 730m (2,394 feet) isolated ridge. The vegetation of western St. Thomas is mostly dry limestone scrub forests at 0 – 381m (0 – 1,250 feet), with the higher rainfall eastern area of the parish showing more luxuriant vegetation. The coastal area of the parish between the Yallahs River and Hector’s River includes large wetland areas such as the Great Morass and the Cow Bay Swamps, as well as significant areas of deciduous forest. The shoreline is characterised by rocky cliffs and sandy or gravelly beaches and is indented by a number of bays which include Sugar Loaf, Yallahs, Salt Pond, Lyssons, Holland Point, Rocky Point, Canoe and Morant Point. Behind the coast there are lower mountain rain forests over 381m (1,250 feet) and some elfin woodlands at the highest mountain levels.

St. Thomas-History

Long before modern-day Jamaicans inhabited the parish, other peoples moved among the forests and grasslands of St. Thomas. The history of human settlement in the parish stretches back as far as 650 AD when the Taino people reached our shores. Archeaologists have unearthed Taino settlements at Spanish Wood, Retreat, Belvedere, Cambridge Hill and Yallahs. But little is left of these early settlers apart from their graves, some pottery and the refuse they left at their dump sites. With no form of writing, much of what is known of the Tainos comes from accounts of early Spanish explorers. The Spanish first reached Jamaica in 1494 when Christopher Columbus reached the North Coast. Effective Spanish colonization began in the early sixteenth century. The Spanish arrival had a devastating effect on the Tainos. The forced labour policy of the Spaniards disrupted their society while new European diseases decimated their population. The Spanish occupation of the island lasted just over a century and a half, during which Jamaica remained an unimportant colonial outpost. It lacked the large quantities of precious metals that would have made it attractive to many Spanish settlers.

Jamaica was used largely to provide fresh produce for passing ships as well as a source for hides and lard to Cuba. Evidence of the country’s economic role can be seen in the settlement pattern of the parish. The first Spanish settlers in St. Thomas established cattle ranches at “Morante” (later to be called Morant Bay) and at Ayala (now Yallahs). “Morante is a large and beautiful hato (ranch), being four leagues (20 kilometers approx.) in length, consisting of many small savannahs and has wild cattle and hogs in very great plenty,” General Robert Venables said about Morant Bay, the year his army conquered the island for England. With a small population and weak defences, Spanish administration collapsed within a week of the arrival of the English army on May 10, 1655. The local Spanish administration surrendered the island, and many colonists fled, but armed resistance continued for another five years, relying on the support of freed slaves, and the backing of the authorities in Cuba.

Still, after over a century and a half, the Spanish left no enduring mark on the parish apart from a few place names. The English established a system of military government to stave off the threat of Spanish attempt to recapture the island, but this threat gradually diminished. One year after the English conquest in 1655, residents of other colonies were invited to settle in Jamaica. Small numbers of settlers from New England, Bermuda and Barbados took up the offer.  St. Thomas proved most successful in attracting settlers when in December 1656, Major Luke Stokes, Governor of Nevis, along with his family and some 1600 other colonists, settled in the Morant Bay area. In a matter of months, two-thirds of the colonists (including Major Stokes and his wife) died of fevers.  Stokes’ children survived to become the owners of large plantations at Stokesfield and Stokes Hall. St. Thomas was also the site of the most serious attempt of a foreign power to take the island from the English. Jean du Casse, a French buccaneer who was also Governor of Santo Domingo, landed  a force of over 3,000 men at Morant Bay in 1694. For over one month, Ducasse and his party destroyed plantations, burned sugar mills, murdered colonists and kidnapped hundreds of slaves. Although the bustling harbour of Port Morant was guarded by Fort Lindsay on Morant Point and Fort William on the other side, these proved ineffective against du Casse. With a fleet of three warships and 23 transports, du Casse dominated the seas around the island. After ravaging the parish he embarked his men on the small fleet and sailed for Carlisle Bay in Clarendon where stiffened resistance eventually forced him to withdraw his forces from the island. In later years, bands of Maroons settled in the St. Thomas mountains and eventually joined with those in Portland thus forming the “Windward Maroons.” They would play a critical role in the events that were to unfold. The history of St. Thomas is now most popularly associated with the events of 1865 – events which led to Jamaica’s irascible Assembly being dissolved and the island’s status being changed to that of a Crown Colony. George William Gordon, a member of the local Assembly, was an advocate for improvements in the conditions of the peasantry. A mixed-race businessman, his actions were bitterly resented by the white plantocracy, which saw its position being threatened by drought, as well as low world sugar prices and high import costs due to the ongoing US Civil War. With tough external market conditions, plantation owners wanted to keep the local labour force firmly in line and dependent on plantation work. With rising unemployment and a disgruntled black peasantry, the ruling elites had the full backing of Governor Edward John Eyre in enacting harsh legislation against petty offences.

Additionally, the entire judicial system of the island, except for the Supreme Court, was in the hands of prominent citizens, rather than trained lawyers. So the peasantry also had to deal with a justice system in which their interests were not served. Paul Bogle, a Baptist deacon from the district of Stony Gut, led a group of people from the surrounding areas to the then capital, Spanish Town, petitioning the Governor for an improvement in the conditions of the peasantry. Bogle’s delegation had to trudge 65 kilometres back to Stony Gut, as no official would see them. Bogle, who had originally received strong support from Gordon, then began to train his followers in the use of arms. After several disturbances occurred, a warrant for his arrest was issued. The ultimate clash came on October 11, 1865, when a riot in front of the Morant Bay Court House resulted in the killing of the Custos and fifteen others. This has come to be known as the Morant Bay Rebellion. Martial law was declared by the Governor, and the warship, the ‘Wolverine,’ dispatched to Morant Bay from Kingston. The Morant Bay Rebellion led to a week of killing and house burnings under the cover of martial law. Over 430 men and women were executed under the martial law provisions. Scores of others were murdered without the benefit of trial by bands of Windward Maroons operating on behalf of the colonial government. George William Gordon, who was not in the Parish at the time of the uprising, was illegally taken aboard the Wolverine and carried to St. Thomas where the martial law provisions applied.  After being tried and sentenced to death, he was hanged in front of the Morant Bay court-house.  Bogle was also hanged on the same day, and both bodies thrown into a mass grave behind the building. As a result of the atrocities carried out by the colonial forces under his authority during the Morant Bay Rebellion, Governor Eyre was relieved of his post and recalled to England.  There he was tried, convicted and dismissed from the Colonial Service.  A striking statue of Paul Bogle stood  before the Morant Bay Courthouse, a testimony to Bogle’s fight for freedom.

Under pressure for Britain’s Colonial Office and terrified of further peasant uprisings, the Legislature surrendered the Constitution of the island. Jamaica to become a Crown Colony, ruled by a British appointed Governor rather than the local Legislature. One positive result of the change brought about by the Crown Colony Rule was a rationalisation of the parish structure of the island to improve administrative efficiency and cut costs. The modern-day parish of St. Thomas emerged in 1867, from a combination of the parish of St. David and St. Thomas-in-the-East. Morant Bay emerged as the joint capital while the St. David capital, Easington, shows few signs of its former prominence. Those events of over a century ago have made Paul Bogle and George William Gordon National Heroes to modern Jamaicans and made Stony Gut and Morant Bay names which stir powerful emotions.

St. Thomas-Overview

Sweeping down from the serene height of Blue Mountains to the pristine coastline of South-east Jamaica, the parish of St. Thomas is one of the most storied in the island.

 

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