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Chapter 4. The Birth of the Parish of Westmoreland – JN Foundation

Chapter 4. The Birth of the Parish of Westmoreland

In , the large south-western parish of St Elizabeth was divided into two distinct parishes. The eastern half retained the old name of St Elizabeth, while the western half was named Westmoreland. Scots Cove on the coast marked the eastern boundary of this new parish, while in the north-west, the Great River marked the boundary between it and the parish of St James.

The House of Assembly of Jamaica which had been established in 1664 and which was responsible for framing the laws of the island consisted of elected members, two for each parish. For the first time, two members had to be chosen for Westmoreland.


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The minutes of the House of Assembly for Wednesday March 17, 1703 indicate that an amendment to the “Act for dividing the parish of St Elizabeth” was already in committee stage, awaiting approval of the Governor and Council. On June 3, the bill was read and passed for the third time. In July, however, there was postponement as both representatives of St Elizabeth needed to be present and were “out of town,” that is, not in attendance in Spanish Town.

It was not until Thursday, October 7, 1703, that finally the first representative for the new parish of Westmoreland, Michael Houldsworth, Esq., was sworn in by the governor and took his place in the House. On that same day he was appointed to seven committees, and made chairman of one which was mandated “to bring the bill to encourage the importation of white men”. The matter appeared to have been one of extreme urgency as a bill was prepared, taken through the three required stages and became law as the Deficiency Act before the end of the year. It required that on the estates there should be one white man for the first ten Negroes, two for the first twenty, and one for every twenty thereafter. A fine, equivalent to the cost of a servant’s maintenance, would be imposed for each deficiency.

At the next meeting of the House, John Lewis, the second representative for Westmoreland was sworn in. Both men, Houldsworth and Lewis, found themselves in an Assembly which was seething with political malice, suspicion and intrigue, and divided in loyalty; some were supporters of the new monarch, Queen Anne, and some were supporters of the Stuart claimant to the throne.

On arrival at the House on October 22, 1703 at 7 o’clock in the morning to commence the day’s business, the members learnt that the Journal of the House had been stolen, “tore in pieces and thrown up and down the streets in several places of the town.” There was great indignation and armed with an address, drawn up by Michael Houldsworth, the Speaker, accompanied by all the members of the House, went up to the Governor to request that a proclamation be made offering a reward of £500 to the person or persons who could find the offender or offenders “so that he or they may be brought to condign punishment.” In the mean time John Williams, a drummer in Her Majesty’s army, intimated that he knew the identity of the offender but needed to be assured that there would be no reprisals if the name was disclosed as it was a person in authority.

Eventually, it was learnt that “the offender” was actually Thomas Freeman, one of the members of the House. Freeman’s name had appeared in several previous minutes as on a number of occasions he had refused to attend the House. On one of these times, when the Messenger had been sent for him, he had appeared at the window of his dwelling and would not open the door. He is also recorded as “misbehaving himself by swearing in the House and other contemptuous Behaviour.”

The convening of the House in 1704 took place on April 11, but Houldsworth and Lewis appear not to have been returned in the recent elections and now Westmoreland was represented by Ephraim Stevenson and Thomas Cargill. In his opening address the governor, Sir Thomas Handasyd, referred to his dissolution of the previous Assembly and appealed to the members of the new House for better conduct, better than what had characterized previous sessions. He expressed his concern for what was happening in the society: oppression of the fatherless and widows and the taking away of orphans’ estates had become prevalent and he made an appeal for these malpractices to cease.

The new parish of Westmoreland did not make a good showing in the House as it had defaulted in not paying the tax; it was recorded that justices and the Vestry of the parish had neglected their Duty, also the “deficiency money” had not been collected.

The creation of Westmoreland had taken place in the year following the ascension of Queen Anne to the throne of England in April 1702, so it is likely that the new parish capital was named Queen’s Town to commemorate  this      event.  Queen’s           Town   was subsequently known by several other names, including Banbury, Cross Roads, Cross Paths, Savannah or Beckford Town, “the land having been given in lots of from five to twenty acres by the late Richard   Beckford Esq  and regularly laid out  for streets, with a large square left in the centre for a church.” The  grave of John Guthrie,  the  Darien survivor, who later became Custos of the parish and Colonel of the Militia, lies here in the churchyard. By the time Edward Long was writing in 1774, Queen’s Town had become a mere hamlet with a few “tolerably  well built” houses.

During the late seventeenth century, the Guinea trade, as the slave trade was called, had become an integral part of England’s wealth. The Guinea trade even had its own currency, the guinea (21 shillings).

Two main areas of the African continent supplied peoples for this business of exploitation. Historically speaking, the more well-known of the two sources has been the West African source but in more recent years, scholars have drawn attention to the fact that significant numbers of Africans who came to the Caribbean were from Central Africa, areas identified today as the two Congos and Angola. Their studies show that the slave trade affected and dislocated a much larger part of the African continent than has been recognized in the past; also the ethnic mix of African arrivals in Jamaica was much greater than has previously been acknowledged.


As we have seen in the previous chapter, Scottish discontent had come to a head with the failure of the Darien scheme. Scots continued to be firmly shut out from English commerce. So long as this situation existed, Scotland was a threat to English security and a possible base from which the French might invade England. from the north. Early in Anne’s reign, however, commissioners were appointed to look into the possibility of negotiating terms of a union between the two countries. Finally, the English agreed to compensate the Scottish government for their   loss   in   the   Darien   scheme;   in   turn,  the   Scots reluctantly gave up their own Parliament. On May 1, 1707, the Act of Union was signed between the English and the Scots. To Jamaica, this Act meant that Scots now had a legal right to enter and settle in the island.

Between Bluefields and Scots Cove, the area named Surinam Quarters had already become the home of a number of Scottish survivors from the Darien. Now they would be joined by relatives seeking to escape from famine in Scotland; starvation had been grave, especially in the 1690s. Many who had migrated to Ireland were to come to the island in the 1700s and 1800s. The Covenanters, too, escaping religious persecution would also find western Jamaica a haven from oppression. They were members of the religious movement, whose tenets were Presbyterian. During the seventeenth century they were savagely persecuted by the English and sometimes charged with high treason.

Transportation to the Americas and the West Indies was often their fate. Among surnames frequently connected with the Covenanter movement was the name Graham, a common surname in western Jamaica today.

In Jamaica some twenty per cent of all land patentees who would receive governmental grants of land between 1714 and 1754 would be Scots; in the latter year Scots constituted nearly a quarter of all landholders in Jamaica. The Scottish family system, as Richard B. Sheridan pointed out, “helped to make migration a continuous one, for one Scotsman was hardly established abroad before he sent for his brothers, cousins, nephews, and fellow townsmen.”

Half a century before, Scots had been sent to Jamaica in Cromwell’s time as slaves, now they would come to work as artisans, stone masons, millwrights. and even overseers, working in many instances for absentee owners and then trying to buy their own land; they also would come as ship’s captains, delivering estate supplies and loading on sugar and other tropical produce for the return journey.

On the plains of Westmoreland, where the soil retains the moisture well, many fortunes would be made out of sugar in the eighteenth century. The earliest families to settle in the parish of Westmoreland were mainly English. Among them were the Dorrills, Vassalls, Witters, Beckfords, Saddlers, Ricketts, Goodens, and Kirkpatricks. It is interesting to note that settlers like Francis Sadler and Henry Darlington would feel some measure of security by having their properties close to the Westmoreland Barracks. Even neighbours were not above acts of hostility if owners of plantations were away from their properties for any length of time, particularly if they were not of the same political persuasion. On one occasion Thomas Cargill, member for Westmoreland, lodged a complaint against Rowland Williams and John Johnson, surveyors, for entering and “ running out” his land “whilst he was attending the service of the Country” at the House of Assembly in Spanish Town. Rowland Williams and John Johnson, surveyors, had done this without his permission.

The name of Thomas Manning, an early settler, lives on in the name of the school which flourishes in Savanna-la-Mar today. Manning stipulated in his will of 1710 that upon his death the income arising from his property should be used for a school with a tutor or tutors “to instruct and educate youth.” His executors were his “trusty friends,” Rowland Williams, Gent., Capt. George Goodin, Dr Hugh Kirkpatrick and William Dorrill. Manning’s real estate included houses and buildings on a run of land at Burnt Savanna in “said Island bounding upon lands of William Claver Esq, John Goarly, John Stevenson and Caboratta River” and 13 slaves: Ruan, Chibba, Pica, Daniel, Margaritta, Hager, Dido, Isaac, Rose, Kate, Pruna, Maria and Dick, and an Indian by the name of Tom. Thomas Manning’s “penn” had 100 “ neat cattle,” two riding horses, two mares and two colts.

Besides swarms of mosquitos, natural disasters like hurricanes, and the constant threat of slave insurrection from within, Jamaica was also under threat of “incursions of an Enemy on the sea coast.” Life was dangerous in the remote west, but never dull. Sometimes planters setting up their sugar plantations were crippled financially when their equipment and skilled slaves were taken off to Cuba by the Guarda de la Costa. Perhaps the most publicized incident in “the Remote Parts” was the capture and trial of the notorious Captain John (Jack) Rackham of Providence Island in the Bahamas and his crew of twelve, which included two women. In 1720, having terrorized fishermen, and tobacco and pimento traders, including a woman in her canoe, on the North-side, the pirates had sailed towards Negril Point. Their sloop was lying close to the shore when it was spotted by Captain Bonevie  and  Captain Barnett of Montego  Bay whose vessels were bound on a trading trip to the south cays off Cuba. Guns were fired and a skirmish ensued in  the night at  about   ten o’clock. The unlucky party of thirteen was overpowered by Captain Barnett, taken into custody at Davis Cove by Major   Richard James, and under guard carried off  to gaol in Spanish Town.

The upshot of the trial was that all persons were found guilty. Captain Rackham and the ten men were hanged. To this day one of the cays beyond Kingston Harbour is known as Rackham Cay. As for the two women pirates, who were both pregnant, Mary Read died in prison and Ann Bonny was reprieved.

It was three years after this famous incident that on November 6, 1723 a bill was passed in the House in Spanish Town “for dividing the parish of Westmoreland into two distinct parishes, for the ease of the Inhabitants.” The new parish of Hanover was created out of Westmoreland’s most westerly lands, approximately a third of the older parish, so that today the size of the parish of Westmoreland is 807 square kilometers (312 square miles).

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