Saint Mary Parish
Saint Mary is located in the northeast section of Jamaica, bordered by Portland to the east, Saint Ann to the west, and Saint Catherine and Saint Andrew to the south. Its chief town and capital is Port Maria, which was the second town built on the island by the Spanish.
Saint Mary was probably named after the Spanish name for its port, Puerto Santa Maria. Another theory is that it may have been named for Governor Sir Thomas Modyford’s daughter, Mary. When Saint Mary was first formed, it was adjacent to the parish of Saint George, which was named after George Nedham, Mary’s husband.
The parish covers an area of 236 square miles, making it Jamaica’s fifth smallest parish. The old parish of Metcalfe was merged with it in 1867. It is mountainous, rising up to almost 4000 feet at the highest point. There are three main rivers: the Rio Nuevo, Wag Water and White Rivers. Some major towns include Highgate, Oracabessa, Richmond, Annotto Bay and Gayle.
There is evidence of indigenous Arawak/Taino presence in Saint Mary and it was one of the first areas on the island to be occupied by the Spanish. This parish was also one of the most active in the fight against slavery. The Easter Rebellion occurred in 1760, led by an African slave named Tacky, an overseer on the Frontier plantation. Trying to gain their freedom, Tacky and his followers set off a rebellion which lasted several months, taking over several plantations and killing their masters. They also robbed and killed the storekeeper at Port Maria's Fort Haldane.
By the time the militia, assisted by Maroons who were bound by treaty to help suppress rebellions like this, restored peace, over 60 white people had lost their lives as well as 400 or so slaves, including two ring leaders who were burned alive and two others who were hung in iron cages at the Kingston Parade (the main square in Kingston), until they starved to death.
Tacky was beheaded, his head displayed on a pole in Spanish Town, and his followers committed suicide in a cave near Tacky Falls. The existence of the Maroons at Scotts Hall is another indication of the strong resistance to slavery in this parish. And labor riots, which affected several parishes in 1938, resulted in four men losing their lives at Islington. You can visit the monuments for Tacky and the men at Islington in the parish.
With a population of about 113,000, Saint Mary is one of the poorer parishes in Jamaica but is ripe for development. The main source of employment is agriculture, with this parish producing bananas, sugar, citrus, tobacco, pimento (allspice), cocoa, coconuts, coffee, vegetables, breadfruit and annatto. They produce several coconut-related products – coconut oil from the copra (the dry white coconut meat) and coir (fibers extracted from the outer shell), used for rope, floor mats, brushes, mattresses and insulation.
Saint Mary is the parish with the most historic buildings, monuments and ruins, and there are several great houses (plantation houses). It is also the birthplace of many well-known reggae artists including Beres Hammond (from Annotto Bay), Capleton (from Islington), Lady Saw (from Galina), Ninja Man (from Annotto Bay), Sizzla, and Ini Kamoze (from Port Maria).
The parish was also the second home to some notable celebrities. Ian Fleming, the famous British author, fell in love with the lush parish and built a home in Oracabessa, called Goldeneye. He spent most of his winters following World War II at Goldeneye where he wrote the majority of the James Bond novels, and retired here in the 1950s. Oracabessa's nearby James Bond Beach is appropriately named! Sir Noel Coward, the British actor and playwright, also fell in love with the area and lived nearby at Firefly, his estate near Port Maria, between 1956 and 1973. Goldeneye is now a resort property and Firefly is currently a museum.