Culture & History in Saint James Jamaica

Culture & History in Saint James Jamaica
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Saint James Parish:
Cultural and Historic


With such a lengthy history in Saint James Jamaica, there are some nice historical and cultural sites to look for. They include:

  • Bellefield Great House – On the Barnett Estate in Bellefield (off the Fairfield Main Road). Owned by the Kerr- Jarrett family of the Barnett Estates, the Great House and its Sugar Mill were built in 1794. Once an immense sugar plantation encompassing 50,000 acres, the Barnett Estate is one of the area's finest examples of Old World colonialism in Jamaica. The enchanting estate (restored in 1994) will give you a glimpse of 18th century colonial living of the Jamaican elite. They offer a Taste of Jamaica tour, focusing on the history of Jamaican cuisine. “Patrons will have an opportunity to participate, to taste, to cook, to dance, to sing and most importantly to laugh and enjoy true Jamaican hospitality. The best part is that they will learn a little about Jamaica’s cultural heritage, history and cuisine while they are at it.” Learn to make jerk and jerk seasoning. Afterwards, tour the Great House, absorb the history, and enjoy a lunch buffet. Distinguished visitors, including Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy, once graced the doors of the Bellefield Great House.
  • Burchell Memorial Church (a.k.a. 1 King Street) in Montego Bay where Sam Sharpe's remains are buried. The Church was named after the renowned Baptist Missionary and pioneer Thomas Burchell. He did most of his pioneering actions in the western parishes of the island. Built in the Jamaican-Georgian style, the Old Baptist Manse shows the transition of European design to tropical environment.
  • (The) Cage: This little cut-stone and brick building in Sam Sharpe Square was constructed in 1806 as a lockup for vagrants, disorderly seamen and runaway slaves. Nestled in a small corner of the historic Sam Sharpe Square, this structure is a constant reminder of the days of slavery. This 'prison' is on the northeast side of the square named for National Hero and freedom fighter, Samuel Sharpe. The bell in the tiny belfry was rung at 2 p.m. every day to warn country slaves that they had one hour to leave town or face imprisonment for breaking the curfew on blacks. This structure was originally walled-in with local wood. However, it was destroyed by the mischief of locked-up sailors and fugitive slaves, and it was eventually substituted with the stone and redbrick you see now. It is now used a Tourist Information Centre and museum.

  • Creek Dome or Creek Head: The Montego Bay Dome is located at the intersection of Creek and Dome Streets. This six sided brick structure was built in 1837 and stands over the stream, which until 1894, was Montego Bay's only source of reliable water. The Dome was erected over the stream to protect the water which came up from the stream onto the road surface. As the name implies, it is in the shape of a Dome - well, almost. There is a rounded roof, a door and white wooden louvers. The creek over which it is built provided much needed water during drought in the 1800's. The "Keeper of the Creek" lived in the upper level and he controlled water collection until a piped supply was made available. The dome still stands (although it no longer provides drinking water).
  • Croydon in the Mountains - Twenty-four miles from Montego Bay in Catadupa you will find this gorgeous plantation that cultivates coffee beans and pineapple. The three-hour tour will give you a first hand look at how the crops are grown, and you can see the magnificent grounds. This particular plantation is the winner of the National Champion Plantation (the highest agricultural award in all of Jamaica). Sample some of the pineapples and Blue Mountain coffee produced here. Honey is also produced here, and the tour includes a glass-protected hive that lets visitors view the bees' world up-close. Editor's note: if you are in Ocho Rios and have time for only one plantation tour, consider Brimmer Hall near Port Maria. For a panoramic video of Croydon Plantation, click here.
  • Fort Montego – Fort Montego was built in 1774 to protect the town. The old cannon is still pointing out to sea. It housed four 12 pounder guns and five smaller guns. In 1760, one of the fort's rusty guns exploded and killed a gunner while firing a salute to celebrate the surrender of Havana. The only occasion the fort fired at a ship was in 1795 when the officers at the fort mistook an English ship for a French privateer.
  • Greenwood Great House- On the A1 about 14 miles east of Montego Bay, this sugar plantation estate sits perched high above the sea on a hill. Some visitors prefer Greenwood to Rose Hall because it has undergone less restoration. Built between 1780 and 1800, this was the Georgian style residence of Richard Barrett, cousin of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Her father, Edward Moulton Bennett, an absentee planter who lived in England, was one of the largest property owners here with 84,000 acres and 3,000 slaves. The original Barrett library here has books dating from 1697, oil paintings and antiques. It is one of the best preserved great houses on the island and is usually open on weekdays. Don’t miss the fabulous view of the sea from the big balcony. The main house of the Bennetts, and birthplace of Edward Bennett, was Cinnamon Hill which is nearby, close to Rose Hall, was the Jamaican home of Johnny Cash until he died in 2003.

  • Grove Hill House is located in Montego Bay. It was built in the early 18th century. The house is a 2-story Georgian structure; the first story is constructed from cut stone while the top is of wood. From the time of its construction to the present, the house has remained in one family. It has a long tradition of hospitality. Many young officers from visiting ships were frequent and welcomed guests there. One such person was Admiral Lord Nelson.

  • Montego Bay Court House and MuseumBuilt in or around 1774 this building proved to be quite an important monument in St. James' history. The Old Court House in Montego Bay is probably best known for the trial of National Hero Samuel Sharpe which was held in 1832. Sharpe led the Great Slave Rebellion of Christmas 1831. Many estates, including the surrounding areas of the Parish, were burnt. Sharpe and many others who had been involved in the rebellion were tried and hanged. The Montego Bay Civic Centre was built on the site in 2001 and The Museum of Saint James is housed here. The Museum’s exhibits trace the history of Jamaica from pre-Columbian days.
  • Old Slave Ring - Cotton Tree Lodge, 42 Union St., Montego Bay. This semi-circular arena-like structure where prospective buyers viewed slaves parading before them, is located on the grounds of the Rerrie's house in Montego Bay. The slave ring is said to have belonged to "Morishe", a slave trader. It was declared a National Monument in 2004.

  • Rose Hall Great House – This house is probably the most famous in Jamaica. Built on a hill two miles east of Ironshore in 1770 by John Palmer, the Custos of St James, it attracts over 100,000 visitors per year. It was named after his wife, Rose, who hosted elaborate social gatherings on the island. In the Christmas rebellion of 1831, slaves destroyed the house and it was left in ruins for over a century. In 1966 John Rollins, a wealthy American, bought the property and restored the house to its former grandeur. The Great House is most well-known for its legend of Annie, wife of John Rose Palmer, known as The White Witch of Rose Hall. She practiced voodoo and allegedly murdered all three of her husbands before being strangled by her slaves. Her ghost is said to haunt the property. The truth is that although Rose Palmer, the true mistress of the house, did marry three times, her last husband, John Palmer, the owner of the estate, outlived her. Novelist H.G. Lisser who wrote The White Witch of Rose Hall, a spicy tale of the slave era, apparently was the source of this legend. The guided tour includes exploration of the house with its 18th-century decor and antiques. The tour ends with a visit to the “dungeon”, which has been transformed into a tavern. One authentic violent bit of Rose Hall history did happen here on Good Friday in 1963 -The Coral Gardens Massacre. This clash between the police and local Rastafarian farmers started when the Rastafarians were denied access to their vegetable plots through the Rose Hall property while investors were developing the house into its current tourist attraction state. When a police officer turned up to seize the protesters, he was struck with a spear, and a gas station was set ablaze. The army was called in, and eight Rastas were killed in the fight. Afterward, the authorities declared a crusade against Rastas all over the island, throwing hundreds into jail, and shaving off their locks. Local Rastafarians memorialize the slayings at Sam Sharpe Square every Easter.
  • St James Parish Church: This building was erected between 1775 and 1782 in the form of a Greek cross. The builders adopted the name of the Spanish church that had been built on the site - a convenient coincidence. It was almost completely destroyed by the earthquake in 1951 but was soon restored but with some slight deviation from its original design. Many of the monuments inside are considered to be among the finest of that era and include works by John Bacon, the foremost English sculptor of his time. There is a memorial to Rose Palmer whose life was distorted to create the legend of the White Witch of Rose Hall.
  • St. Mary's Anglican Church is situated on the Montpelier Estate, which dates back to the days of slavery. The cornerstone of the church is dated 1847. The site on which the St. Mary's Anglican Church now stands was the scene of a noted slave uprising. Old Montpelier was one of the estates burnt by slaves during the great slave rebellion in the western Parishes of Jamaica between 1831-1832.
  • Sam Sharpe Square - Located in the center of Montego Bay, the square is named for a national hero. Sam Sharpe was a Baptist deacon who was hanged for the infamous "Christmas Rebellion" in 1834. Originally known as Charles Square, it was named after Admiral Charles Knowles who was the Governor at the time the square was laid out in1775. It has been called The Parade, Court House Square, or simply The Square. On October 17th, 1983 a statue of Sam Sharpe was unveiled to mark Jamaica's 21st year of Independence. The square was renamed in his honor. The Right Excellent Samuel Sharpe (1801 - 1832), National Hero, was the leader of the weeklong Christmas rebellion which began on December 28, 1831 and spread rapidly throughout the parish. There is a life sized sculpture of Sam Sharpe and his men during the Christmas rebellion in 1831. Sharpe was hanged in this very square, and the spot is still a rallying point for political protests and speeches.
  • Salter's Hill Baptist Church– This Church was voluntarily built by African slaves in 1825. It is also connected to Reverend Walter Denby, from Scotland, who was imprisoned for his work with the slaves. He was released and able to continue building the church. A memorial to him was erected on the site. The famous abolitionist William Knibb also served this church as a Minister. The Salter's Hill Baptist Church was destroyed by fire in the early 19th century; however, the basic structure of the building remains standing.
  • The Town House at 16 Church Street Montego Bay was built in 1776 according to a date over the entrance to the basement, which means it may be older than the Parish Church. This Georgian 3-story building is owned by Nigel Pemberton whose wife purchased it in 1967. The basement and ground floors are leased to Mr. James Snead and now houses the Town House Restaurant while the upper floors are leased as offices.
For our listing of hidden gems, beaches, golf, recreational stuff, and other fun things to do in this parish, click here.


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One Comment

  1. “Belvedere Estate – In Chester Castle” This is in Hanover.

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