Westmoreland is the westernmost parish in Jamaica, located on the south side of the island with Hanover to the north, Saint James to the northwest and Saint Elizabeth to the southwest. The capital is Savanna-la-Mar (plain by the sea), which was established in 1730 and has been badly damaged or destroyed by hurricanes, particularly in 1748, 1780 and 1912. (Savanna-la-Mar is called Sav-la-Mar or simply Sav by the locals.)
The parish is believed to have been named Westmoreland in 1703 because it was the most westerly point in the island. It has an area of 312 square miles and is Jamaica’s eighth largest parish. Westmoreland’s population of 141,000 is composed of a large percentage of Indians, descendants of indentured laborers who came to Jamaica from India to work after slavery was abolished. They are known locally as “Royals” because of their mixed East Indian and African heritage.
Spanish settlers built one of their first three settlements at what is now Bluefields. Columbus also stopped there on his second voyage to Jamaica. Also, the coast often provided refuge for pirates. Henry Morgan, the infamous pirate who later became Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica, set sail from Bluefields in December 1670 for his successful raid on Panama City.
It was an event in Westmoreland that helped change the course of Jamaica’s history. Riots occurred in 1938 at the Frome sugar estate. Changes implemented as a result of the riots led to the universal adult right to vote in 1944 and a new constitution, putting Jamaica on the road to independence. Sir Alexander Bustamante and Norman Washington Manley, two national heroes, emerged as political leaders during this time.
The parish has over 10,000 acres of morass land (low, soft, marshy ground), the largest part of which is called the Great Morass. This ground contains plant and animal material collected over centuries. The morass is mined for peat, an excellent source of energy, and it also serves as a natural sanctuary for Jamaican wildlife. Westmoreland has many rivers. One of the larger rivers, the Cabarita, is 25 miles long and can accommodate boats up to 8 tons. Other rivers include the Negril, New Savanna, Morgan's, Gut, Smithfield, Bowens, Bluefields, Robins, Roaring, Great and Dean.
Westmoreland’s fertile land yields sugar cane, bananas, coffee, ginger, cocoa, pimento (allspice), honey, rice and breadfruit. This is also a major fishing parish with 19 fishing beaches and over 90 boats engaged in the industry. Some major towns in Westmoreland include Bethel Town, Negril, Seaford Town, Grange Hill, Frome and Darliston. But the one travelers are most familiar with is Negril, one of Jamaica’s top three resort destinations.
Some well-known people who were born in Westmoreland include reggae artist Richard Stephenson, better known as Richie Stephens, from Savanna-la-Mar, and reggae legend Peter Tosh OM (born Winston Hubert McIntosh in Grange Hill). A founding member of the Wailers, he later went on to an outstanding solo career but was murdered in 1987 during a robbery at the age of 42. He was conferred with Jamaica's third highest honor, the Order of Merit, in 2012. The Peter Tosh Birthday Celebration and tribute takes place each year in Savanna-la-Mar.