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Chapter 5. Town and Country: Eighteenth Century Westmoreland – JN Foundation

Chapter 5. Town and Country: Eighteenth Century Westmoreland

The trial and sentencing of Rackham and his pirate gang demonstrated clearly that the Jamaican authorities did not intend to tolerate piracy in its coastal waters; this gave English settlers, attempting to establish plantations, a small measure of relief. But the growing strength of runaway Africans, referred to as the Maroons, cancelled out any feeling of security that they might have had as they were “miserably harassed” when livestock, ammunition and women were carried off during Maroon raids. This enemy was comprised of people also in need of land where they could hunt and plant food to feed themselves and their families; for an increasing number of these Maroons, Jamaica was the homeland. Theirs, too, would be a struggle for survival which was now threatened by backra.

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In the context of the Americas during the eighteenth century, seizure of land by Europeans had now become an established norm; in South America, much of the land of indigenous peoples had passed into the hands of the Spanish and Portuguese with the support of the Catholic Church, while in North America, the Spanish, English and French were steadily depriving the Native American peoples of their lands.

The slave rising on Suttons estate in Clarendon in 1690 was the commencement of attacks on properties of white planters. At that time a number of slaves fled from the property and their attacks would last for 40 years. By 1731, however, Maroons in their various scattered settlements had come to realize that the British intended to wage a concerted war against them and with the emergence of Cudjoe as their military leader, came a new phase in Maroon warfare. Born on Sutton’s estate, Cudjoe is described in British records as bold, skillful, and enterprising. Skilled in guerilla warfare, his men were taught to use the art of attack and defense effectively, and his strategic move to the Cockpit country put him in easy access of the parishes of St Elizabeth, Westmoreland, Hanover and St James. Accompong, and Johnny, brothers of Cudjoe, were also Maroon leaders.

British settlers in western Jamaica in 1733 had a gloomy future before them as long as the prevailing Maroon raids continued. Only the south-eastern corner of the island was free from Maroon attack. The English planter/historian Bryan Edwards states that there had been an increase of Maroons in Clarendon, St Ann, St Elizabeth, Westmoreland, Hanover, and St James.

The war which later would come to be known as the First Maroon War (1731-1739) went badly against the British and at length Col. John Guthrie, colonel of the Leeward Militia, was singled out by the new governor, Edward Trelawney, as the man to seek out Col. Cudjoe and make a peace treaty with him. (It will be recalled that John Guthrie was one of the Scots who had survived the Darien venture, and had now become a highly respected member of Westmoreland’s plantocracy.) The British felt that Col. Cudjoe “had a reputation for sense and humanity” and so a party of troops led by John Guthrie and Francis Sadler was dispatched to find him and to open negotiations with him. Finally, on March 1, 1739, the treaty which ended the war was signed. John Guthrie, however, did not live to see the fruit of his difficult mission. Seized “with a gripping pain in the bowels,” he died two months later in Spanish Town at the age of fifty-two.

Two reservations of land, one of 1,000 acres (Accompong) and one of 1,500 acres (Trelawny Town) were granted to the Leeward Maroons and their descendants in perpetuity; their complete independence was guaranteed, based on certain conditions. Considering the fact that 4,000 acre grants had in the past been made to a number of individuals, this allocation could hardly be considered generous on the part of the British. By the 1750s, there would be more than 40 proprietors in Westmoreland owning estates of more than 1,000 acres.

In the west, it certainly was advantageous for the British to have the Maroon settlements in two specific places as they could now be contained and under surveillance. The situation was not like in former times when it was difficult to keep an eye on their many settlements. The treaty required that the Maroons refrain from “depredations” upon the whites. They agreed also to surrender runaway slaves, receiving a premium of fifteen dollars in each case for capturing them, while there was to be a severe penalty for harbouring fugitives. These arrangements, as was intended by the British, naturally produced antagonism between the Maroons, who were free in their mountain strongholds, and slaves who toiled in drudgery on the plains. The treaty also called for the Maroons to keep roads open from their two western townships into the parishes of St Elizabeth and St James; in times of local riot or foreign attack they would also be required to aid the government.

Having established amicable relations with the Maroons, the planters of Westmoreland could now settle down to the business of cultivating sugar in earnest and the ensuing decades of the 1740s and 1750s would be ones of prosperity for them. Sugar cane requires large quantities of moisture and the four great requirements in establishing a sugar plantation were said to be:

  • richness of soil
  • easiness of access
  • convenience of distance from the shipping place – a stream of water running through the premises.

The plains of Westmoreland were, therefore, ideal for planting sugar cane. The administering of an estate was carried out by the proprietor but where the proprietor was an absentee, an agent called an attorney carried out the proprietor’s instructions. If an attorney did not reside on an estate of which he was in charge, there was usually a resident overseer who was supposed to carry out the instructions of the attorney. Under the overseers were the book-keepers who were field or factory foremen. All energy on the sugar estate was geared towards the production of hogheads of sugar and puncheons of rum which would be taken by cattle wain or barge to the barcadere (wharf) to be loaded on ships waiting to sail to Britain. This was the sole annual concern of those in charge of this process and all human beings, free and enslaved, belonging to a particular property were required to perform  their various duties or suffer dire consequences  for disobedience. This stanza of a poem published in the supplement of the Savannah-la-Mar Gazette in 1788 well illustrates the distress of a planter whose sugar mill has ceased turning for “want of wind”:

Raised on the summit of that narrow ground, She stands like some poor creature basely bound, No longer merry slaves and ripening canes, Move to the joyous hurry of her vanes.



The Battle of Culloden in Scotland on April 16, 1746, was the final clash between the French-supported Jacobites, the supporters of the Stuarts, and the British government, supporters of the Hanoverians.

The Royal troops under the Duke of Cumberland defeated the supporters of Bonny Prince Charlie and Culloden marked the end of the military phase of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745/46. The battle was followed by a lengthy period of suppression in the Highlands marked by massacre and despoiling. Of the officers and chiefs who escaped the battle, those who were able fled to Europe and served in foreign armies. Many of the Jacobite rank and file escaped to the colonies. In the years following the battle, more Scots began settling in western Jamaica, and Scottish names like McLeod, McIntosh, McFarlane are reminders of those Scots who came to Jamaica and settled in the west. Culloden, a property on the south coast east of Auchindown in the parish of Westmoreland is itself a reminder of the event.

As early as 1730 the seaport of Savanna-la-Mar had superceded the inland township of Queens Town as the capital of the parish of Westmoreland. Fourteen years later, on October, 20, 1744, a hurricane, during which there was also an earthquake, brought terrible destruction to the island: Port Royal, Kingston, Old Harbour, and Savanna-la-Mar felt its fury. Some felt that the hurricane was even more terrible in many respects than the earthquake at Port Royal in 1692. Describing what took place in Savanna-la-Mar, the historian, Bryan Edwards, wrote, “The sea bursting its ancient limits overwhelmed that unhappy town and swept it to instant destruction, leaving not a vestige of man, beast, or habitation behind. So sudden was the stroke.”

Yet Savanna-la-Mar recovered. Edward Long in 1774 referred to Savannala-Mar as “the metropolis of Cornwall” although Montego Bay in the north-west was prospering, It had between 60 to 70 sail coming into port annually and was made a free port by 1750. In 1752 the courthouse for the parish was erected. In spite of its “indifferent harbour or road for shipping” and its sand banks which were apt to shift, Savanna-la-Mar had become the principal port of the county of Cornwall. Produce from St Elizabeth, Westmoreland and Hanover was shipped from this port and there was flourishing trade with “Truxillo, Honduras and the Mosquito Coast.”

Savanna-la-Mar was nevertheless a small town consisting of only one “tolerable street” with 50 to 60 houses scattered around. The fear of fire caused an act to be passed in 1768 prohibiting coopers from making fires except within an enclosed yard surrounded by a brick or stone wall of eight feet in height having only one door and that placed to the westward. Magistrates were empowered to have thatched huts and other thatched buildings pulled down if they saw cause to do so.

In the development of Savanna-la-Mar, the Established Church played a pivotal part. Late in the seventeenth century or early eighteenth the first parish church, was built seven miles from the Bay. It had been a good cruciform church of “free stone” but fell into disrepair. Edward Long wrote, with some amusement, that while the parishioners, who had fallen into “a violent dispute,” were deciding whether it should be repaired or a new one erected, the roof “unable to wait the issue, tumbled in.” In 1774 the parishioners were worshipping in a timber chapel about one mile from the town. From a former beadle’s list the names of rectors from 1739 are known, the Rev John Dickson being the incumbent at the time of the 1744 hurricane. He died in 1747 and was succeeded by the Rev John Pool 1747 – 1766.

The parish of Westmoreland had built no residence for its rectors and in lieu of a rectory they were paid a stipend of £50 per annum.

In 1738 the principal sum of money arising from the bequest of Thomas Manning amounted to £800 and an Act constituting the Manning’s Trust was passed by the Assembly which authorized the Trustees to establish the free school and erect the school house on nine acres of land on a site one mile from the town of Savanna-la-Mar.

The running of the school was within the Church’s purview; it appointed teachers and said what subjects should be taught. The characters of the schoolmasters were varied; in the 1760s an incident occurred when the schoolmaster, a Mr Fisher, under the influence of liquor shot another white man who was on duty at the Fort. This resulted in his dismissal; he was replaced by a Mr Dixon, being “of excellent character.” His views on education were progressive for we learn that he obtained modern maps of the world for his schoolroom.

Some years later, in 1792 it was discovered that the Trustees of Mannings Free School had lent out the monies “of the said free school without taking proper security for payment whereby the said monies [had] become lost to the charity”. It was found, too, that more than £600 was owing to a former headmaster and that the only income that the school had for payment of salary and other expenses was derived from the rent of 15 slaves (jobbers). Eventually in that same year a bill was passed in the House of Assembly giving the school permission to sell part of its land so that it could pay off its debts. Many years later, the House of Assembly voted that a yearly sum of £128 should be granted to Mannings Free School.

The Church of England, being the Established Church, was the only religious body in the parish up to this time, though there is an obscure reference to Quakers coming to Westmoreland in the early years.

The structure of the fort at Savanna-la-Mar was strongly criticized by Edward Long (1774). In his opinion it could only withstand an attack from a privateer, not a serious invasion. It had 18 or 20 guns and a magazine sited at the front of the fort. Its cost to the parish was £15,000. Neither the advice of an engineer nor anyone with building expertise had been sought. Undermined by the strong currents in the bay, half of the structure had fallen into the sea; the remaining “misshapen pile,” Edward Long predicted, would remain as “a lasting monument to convince posterity of the inexpertness of their fore-fathers in military architecture.”

The fort was not the only military structure which met with Edward Long’s disapproval; he found defects in the design of the Delve barracks, built in 1761 to house 100 men. For one, the hospital was wrongly sited, also some loop-holes in the fort were too small to enable guns to be fired from them and though the window shutters of bullet-tree wood were an ingenious idea, they had to be opened in order to fire at the enemy. However, the battery built on rising ground at Glasgow property, on the border of Hanover, proved of good use in the insurrection in 1760.

Throughout the centuries, bridges, their security, construction  and maintenance, have played an important part in the history of the parish of Westmoreland. The Cabaritta River, for example, which was navigable for about 12 miles, had two good timber bridges. (A public barcadere was at Paul’s Island.) There were other smaller bridges like “Barbeque bridges” leading to “hogsties”, “Congo bridges” leading to the hills and “Common bridges” leading to the canepieces. Westwards of Savanna-la-Mar there were about seven miles of undrained morass. The roads of Westmoreland were described by Edward Long as being “for the most part deep and dirty and in the rainy season scarcely passable.” To the east, the barcadere at Cave served the estates in that neighbourhood; sugar, rum, mahogany-planks and other commodities were transported by lighters to the boats.

Westmoreland is the only parish of Jamaica about which there is an account of what day-to-day life was really like for people on the sugar estates. In the 1980s, Professor Douglas Hall transcribed 10,000 pages of the diaries of Thomas Thistlewood, an Englishman from Lincolnshire who lived in Jamaica between 1750 and 1786 and was overseer first at Vineyard Pen in St Elizabeth, and later at Egypt sugar estate in Westmoreland. In 1767 Thistlewood acquired Rockodondo Pen. By that year he owned 28 slaves, and by 1783 he had acquired six more. The property consisted of 160 acres much of which was swamp land on which he grew livestock, vegetables and flowers. Thistlewood envisaged himself as one day becoming a gentleman farmer.

Early in his employment at Egypt, a full description is given in his journal of the various aspects of the work on a sugar estate from the preparation of the land and the digging of the caneholes to the actual manufacture of the sugar. Eleven weeks of sugar manufacture resulted in 690 pots – 25 pots equalled one hogshead so he made 27 hogsheads and 15 pots. Besides this information there is much to be learned about the many other tasks performed on the estate, and about the workers who performed them.

Professor Douglas Hall wrote, “There is no other document known to us, which by daily record over 36 years allowed us to find people rather than names among the work force of the time.” The title of Hall’s book, In Miserable Slavery, comes from an entry in Thistlewood’s diary dated Sunday, July, 17, 1757, in which he refers to Phibbah, his plantation “wife.” She was owned by Mrs John Cope, whose husband employed Thistlewood as overseer. “Poor girl,” he writes,” I pity her, she is in miserable slavery.”

Thistlewood’s entries in these personal records are brutally honest, even documenting all of his sexual encounters. His partners were not anonymous; they were black women whose names were faithfully recorded, along with time, date and place.

He also noted the sexual relationships of other men with women. There were observations about planters, overseers, book keepers and slaves. At times his remarks express disapproval of the conduct of those guests who dined, and slept over with slave women – often a customary gesture of hospitality offered by the host. By some remarkable twist of fate, his journals were not destroyed. What singles out Thistlewood from the rest of his contemporaries is that his accounts survived.

Thistlewood’s diaries also provide us with interesting glimpses of people and their activities in the seaport of Savanna-la-Mar. There were many taverns whose ownership changed from time to time; Thomas Adams had to leave his and become an overseer because “he had given too much credit.” Other tavern-keepers were Jimmy Hayes, a Mr Emetson, and Miss Polly Clarke who owned the “Valley Tavern”. “The Free and Easy”, “Satler’s Tavern” and “Mr Dickie’s Tavern” also came in for mention. Presumably rum, grog and “porter” were sold in these establishments but there were also other liquors like claret selling at between 10 to 15 shillings per bottle.

From time to time, the sale of slaves would take place at a tavern such as Craig’s tavern. The sale of slaves in Savanna-la-Mar also took place on slave ships like the Guinea Snow whose trader was a Mr Murray. Occasionally,

Westmoreland planters and overseers set out early in the morning and went further west into the parish of Hanover to Lucea, where sales were held on ships in the harbour.

In 1748 a bill to prevent slave owners mutilating or dismembering their slaves had been rejected in the island’s House of Assembly; instead in the following year cruel slave laws were increased in severity.

A number of Jews lived in Savanna-la-Mar. There was mention of Isaacs, a Jewish constable, but merchants, owning shops made up the majority. Mr Abraham Lopez was a money-lender, who seems also to have been in the rum trade; from time to time, overseers would borrow money from him and pay the loan back in rum. One merchant, Mr Abraham Tavarez, was obviously very devout as in September of one year he came to ask Thomas Thistlewood for sprigs of myrtle to adorn the

Jewish Tabernacle. A Mr Moses Nunes also came seeking myrtle and was given a large bunch of flowers instead, as there was no myrtle to be had. The rest of the community looked somewhat askance at the Jewish people amongst them; gunpowder was sold by some and there was always the suspicion that it might be being sold to the Maroons. When, however, it was time for the levying of taxes, the burden on the Jews was heavy.

Richard Hart calls our attention to the fact that in 1733 the Assembly had accepted a recommendation “that the Selling or disposing of powder to any free negro, negro slave, Indian, or mulatto, be made a felony without benefit of clergy.” With the threat of possible death penalty hanging over their heads persons who had risked selling powder and ball to rebels in the past would be discouraged from doing so in the future. It is interesting to note in the light of this law that Thomas Thistlewood gave his slave attendant, Lincoln, a gun and powder so that he could go hunting waterfowl. Laws prohibiting slave from doing something were not always strictly adhered to by owners/overseers. For example, slaves were sometimes allowed to move about without tickets. Also slaves were not supposed to own large livestock like horses but Thistlewood records a slave selling a filly.

During his years in Jamaica, it is not surprising that Thomas Thistlewood had a great deal to do with a number of doctors who attended not only to his slaves but also to him: Drs Allwood, Rock, Pugh, Charles McIntosh, Richard Panton, Parkinson, Horlock, Walker, Graham, Smith, Cutting, Roberts, Dr Thomas King who also “pulled teeth.” It would appear that these medical men were kept quite busy as there were patients with ailments such as tetanus (lockjaw), yaws (caccaw), measles, pox, “clap” and other venereal diseases in need of attention. In many instances the treatments were purging or “bleeding.” Dr James Wedderburn was adept at inoculation for small pox, using the fluid itself from the pox.

The general health of the population, both slave and free, was appalling; miscarriages and cases of child mortality were frequent occurrences. In addition, the cruel punishments, both physical and psychological, inflicted on their own slaves, added to the poor state of health in general. Besides those planters intensely involved in sugar, there were a few who had other interesting side lines. Mr Wade, for example, had a herd of 40 dromedaries in his yard, while at Moorland Hill there was a small menagerie consisting of birds and some unique animals such as a raccoon. Monkeys as pets were also to be found in the parish.

There were individuals who grew pimento, while others  were    cutting, chipping and shipping logwood; at least one person  was engaged in tanning. Mr Sharpe at Three Mile River had an indigo cistern and to the east at Cave a Mr S, who “locks his gate” had “plenty of  potherbs and bees.”  Just outside Savanna-la-Mar,  at Strathbogie, was a cabinetmaker, who made fine mahogany tables.

The exchange of plants with neighbours was a pastime dear to Thomas Thistlewood. He records going to visit two gardeners, William Thompson, and Francis Scott. On one occasion he went and spent time at Ackendown; he rode all over the property, where Scott had recently become the overseer. From there he went to Mr Stewart’s Robin’s River, through Basinspring (Beeston Spring) which he found all in ruins and ruinate; then on to Bog and up to Brotherton where he saw “a good hardwood house.” In a later entry in his diary he notes that the gardener, Francis Scott, had left Ackendown. “Mr Wildman discharges everyone,” was Thistlewood’s remark. At Egypt, Thistlewood grew rice and like the Spaniards before him, kept a flock of sheep.

Mr Jeremiah Meyler owned the sugar plantation, Meylersfield; but he also had a ship and had close connections with merchants in Kingston like the wealthy slave-trader, Thomas Hibbert, who lived on Stanton Street where Meyler often visited him. We know, too, that he owed a great deal of money.

A few people had magic lantern shows and horse racing was sometimes held at Camp Savanna. Occasionally a travelling showman of one kind or another would arrive in Savanna-la-Mar. One of these was an American, Mr Poole, the noted performer in horsemanship, who in November 1784 was on his way north from the Windward Islands. He offered a variety of surprising feats, including a “Wonderful Horse” that would “lay himself down for a considerable time as if dead and afterwards groan through extreme sickness and pain; he will then rise up like a Lady’s lap dog. This noble animal will also feign himself lame, so that he can scarcely move.” Mr Poole advertised that his performances would be on Tuesday and Saturday, November 9 and 13 at precisely four o’clock. Tickets were one dollar each.

Some six years before, a sleight-of-hand artist, who did tricks like fire-eating, came to Savanna-la-Mar and rented the second floor of Mr Kennedy’s tavern to put on a show. (Moses Mendez Montfante was the owner of the house). About two hundred men and women packed into the room upstairs, when at the height of the entertainment, the floor collapsed. Pandemonium followed. People suffered from bruises but no one was killed on the spot, although two persons died from injuries a few days after. It could have been worse and a number of black people in the downstairs hall might have lost their lives had it not been for the fact that a drunkard had driven them out of the building minutes before the accident occurred. It would seem, too, that there was at least one pickpocket in the midst of the audience as one man lost his watch and some money in the scramble, and many others lost hats and shoes et cetera. Although the entertainer had done nothing wrong, he made his escape, fleeing to Black River in the neighbouring parish, for fear of reprisals.

In the Savanna-la-Mar Gazette an unusual news item appeared on September 9, 1788, concerning a magician who had recently attracted a large number of spectators in the town, astonishing them with his sleight-of-hand acts, one which included slipping handkerchiefs off the heads of innocent black people who had been going about their business in the street. The newspaper article warned that even though there was no beadle in the town, there were many hands waiting to apply the whip on him should “he fall into the hands of justice.” On the plantations, Anansi stories were greatly enjoyed in the slave quarters, and there were gifted storytellers who could hold their audiences spellbound for hours on end. There were among the slaves those who enjoyed playing the fiddle for dances. On an event of significance like a house-warming or  the commemoration  of a death, “plays” were put on by the individual concerned, for example a “dinner play” or a “house play” which might be quite costly. Much to the annoyance of the white people, drumming sessions, which sometimes went on all night, were frequent and sometimes resulted in the drummer or drummers being flogged by the overseer on the following day for keeping him awake all night, or endangering the estate by providing enemies with knowledge of their whereabouts.

There was more movement up and down the countryside than one would have expected in a society which denied freedom to the majority of its inhabitants. As a system of “tickets” was in operation, slaves could move about; they could obtain permission to travel from their estates to other estates to see a relative or attend a function like a funeral. Not all slaves liked to leave the safety of their estates; runaways were sometimes killed by other runaways.

Unemployed white people were often seen going up and down looking for work; it was not uncommon to see white women on horseback journeying on the roads. Overseers frequently changed their jobs, moving from one estate to another. Since the signing of the treaty between Cudjoe and Guthrie in 1739, no longer were Maroons an invisible enemy waiting to ambush unsuspecting settlers or soldiers; now Col. Cudjoe and his lieutenants and Maroon parties were visible, policing the roads on the lookout for runaways, insurgents and prize money. Sometimes they brought tobacco for sale on the estates.

Three entries from the Journal of Thomas Thistlewood are good examples of the change in relationship between Maroons and planters:

April, Wednesday, 25th 1752: 3 Wild Negro men (one of them Capt. Cuffee’s son) and a woman, belonging to Cudjoe’s town called to beg refreshment and lodging. Gave them a quart of rum, a bottom of sugar & 8 mackerel and leave to stay in the plantation all night.

Sunday, 24th February 1754: About noon a white man, with Wild Negroes armed, and 2 Baggage Negroes, from Trelawny Town.

Thursday, 28th April 1757 Capt. Quacoo and some of his attendants dined here.

Needless to say the Maroons were envied by other blacks for their status and liberty.

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