Portmore 15: Parish formation in Jamaica — A short history


Portmore 15: Parish formation in Jamaica — A short history


Sunday, January 10, 2021

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When the colonial masters made their parish designations the arrangements were more spatial and utilitarian rather than along socio-economic, geographical, cultural or social lines.

As with the partition of Africa, the partition of Jamaica served the narrow interests of colonial exploitation and very little, if any, thoughts were given to the future growth and expansion of the indigenous and imported populations in a post-colonial world.

The main motives were command and control of the slave population, security for the planter class and quick ease of access to ports and docks to facilitate the Caribbean leg of the Triangular Trade and while the motives were disagreeable, the arrangements were practical and in keeping with the ethos of the time — quite similar to now when the ethos of the time dictates designation of a 15th parish in Jamaica — Portmore: The Sunshine Parish.

The Spanish conquistadors on their capture of Jamaica designated today's Spanish Town as their capital as it was practical, tactical in keeping with their vision of the newly captured territory, undoubtedly the Tainos would have had their 'capital', which undoubtedly served their socio-economic designs.

In 1664, the Spanish lost control of Jamaica to the British who divided the island into seven administrative units known as parishes.

These were located mainly in the centre of the island and long the south-eastern coast: Clarendon, St John's, St Andrew's, St Katherine's, Port Royal, St David's and St Thomas in the east were the seven parishes.

By 1683 the number of parishes increased to 15 as St Dorothys, St Thomas in the Vale, Vere, St George's, St Marie's and St Ann's, St James, and St Elizabeth's were added.

Following the devastating earthquake of 1692 survivors fled across the harbour and the parish of Kingston was formed in 1693.

By the mid-18th century, parishes covered the entire island. In 1758 the island's three counties – Surrey, Middlesex and Cornwall — were created to facilitate more convenient holdings of courts of justice.

Surrey has four parishes —Kingston, the smallest, St Andrew, St Thomas and Portland. Middlesex has five — St Catherine, St Mary, Clarendon, St Ann and Manchester. Cornwall also has five — St Elizabeth, Trelawny, St James, Hanover, the second smallest parish in the island, and Westmoreland.

In the mid-19th century, Jamaica recorded its largest number of parishes — 22.

In 1867 some parishes were melded into others and the island was left with 14 , the number of parishes we have today.

Kingston, which existed as a settlement of houses in the mid-1600s prior to even its formation as a town, became the capital of Jamaica in 1872. It acquired this position due to its function as a major centre for commerce and communication. Kingston was once called Beeston after Sir William Beeston who served as Lt governor of the island from 1693-1700. It is not known how the parish received the name Kingston, although a letter from Port Royal dated July 3, 1693 referred to it being known by some as “Kingston” and others as “killcown”. Kingston was made a parish in 1713.

The parish of St Andrew, formed in 1867, was originally called Liguanea after the Liguanea Plain in which it lies. Since most of the other 13 parishes were named after governors of Jamaica, their wives, or English kings, it is possible that St Andrew derived its name similarly. St Thomas, for example, may have been named after Thomas, Lord Windsor, governor of Jamaica in 1662.

Portland was named after the Duke of Portland, governor in 1723, the year of the parish's formation.

St Catherine, formed in 1867, was named after Charles II's queen, Katherine, and it was once spelled as such. Charles II was king when the parish was formed.

St Mary may have been named after the Spanish port Santa Maria, although Modyford's daughter was called Mary and when St Mary was first formed, it was next to the parish of St George which was named after George Nedham, Mary's husband.

Clarendon was named after Cromwell, the Lord Chancellor and St Ann was named after Ann Hyde, wife of James II.

In 1814 Manchester was formed from the parishes of Clarendon, Vere and St Elizabeth. It was named after the Duke of Manchester who was governor of Jamaica when it was formed.

St Elizabeth was named in honour of Elizabeth, wife of Sir Thomas Modyford, who was governor when it was formed in the 17th century.

Trelawny, formed in 1770 was named for former Governor Sir William Trelawny who died in Jamaica in 1772.

St James was named for the Duke of York who became James II.

Hanover, formed in 1725-26 out of parts of Westmoreland and St James, was named after the then reigning family in England. It was originally to be called St Sophia in honour of the mother of George I, but this idea was overridden.

Formed in 1703, Westmoreland's name may simply come from the fact that it is the westernmost parish in the island.

The formation of parishes in Jamaica and the world over is clearly a dynamic and not a static process and therefore it is expected that as conditions change then those designations will change to match the ethos of the time. I take it as a distinct honour to designate the first parish in Jamaica not named after an English king, his wife or some other English personality.

Designating Portmore as parish is part and parcel of nation-building — Portmore represents the first parish by us and for us...Jamaica, land we love.

Dr Andrew Wheatley is Member of Parliament for St Catherine South Central.

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