Parish Name: St. Elizabeth
Capital: Black River
Land Area: 1,210.7 sq km (467.5 sq mi)
St. Elizabeth is one of the oldest parishes in Jamaica. Originally including much of the western section on the island it was split to form parts of Westmoreland and Manchester in 1703 and 1814 respectively. St. Elizabeth was named in honour of Lady Elizabeth Modyford, wife of Sir Thomas Modyford, Governor of Jamaica between 1664 and 1671.
Early settlement in St. Elizabeth began in the Pedro Plains where the Tainos, the first known inhabitants of Jamaica, occupied the coastline and lead a simple life. Though the original Tainos died by the 17th century, persons of Taino descent from Surinam came to settle in the parish in the 18th century and their descendants are there to this day.
When the Spanish were defeated in 1655, the slaves who did not manage to flee to Cuba, retreated to the impenetrable Cockpit Country, which included parts of St. Elizabeth. These fleeing slaves became known the Maroons and, today, St. Elizabeth remains home to the Maroons of Accompong, one of the most famous Maroon towns in Jamaica.
St. Elizabethans also played an instrumental role in the Sam Sharpe Rebellion of 1831. It is documented that about 20 to 40 percent of the slave population fought in that uprising.
This little town of Black River, now the parish capital, can boast its popularity in the 19th and early 20th centuries as a fishing spot, colourful balls and banquets – often held at ‘Court-house’ and its annual circus that attracted visitors from far and wide.
Black River, among the oldest towns in the island, is reportedly the first to have received electricity. The Leydens brothers were among the earliest settlers in the parish, and they are said to have imported Jamaica’s first motorcar.
Though the social scene has changed significantly, the parish has forged ahead in agricultural production, providing the bulk of Jamaica’s vegetable and fruit provisions. The Black River supports an important shrimp and freshwater fishery. And best of all, St. Elizabeth’s diverse geographical patterns make for a landscape as rich and varied as the heritage of its people.
St. Elizabeth lies to the southwest end of Jamaica, bordered on the north by St. James and Trelawny, on the south by the Caribbean Sea, on the west by the parish of Westmoreland and on the east by Manchester. The northern and north-eastern sections of the parish are mountainous, while an extensive plain occupies the central and southern districts. Running through this plain from north to south is the Santa Cruz range of mountains which terminates at the southern extreme with a 1,600-foot precipice.
St. Elizabeth has several towns of importance. These are Santa Cruz, Malvern, Junction and Balaclava. Other organised towns within the parish are Maggoty, Lacovia, Bull Savanna, Southfield, Newell, New Market, Siloah and Middle Quarters.
The Cockpit Country
The Cockpit Country is a large area in west-central Jamaica that derives its name from the ‘cockpit’ krsat limestone which has the appearance of an overturned egg-tray. This area measures approximately 450 km2 and though centred in the parish of Trelawny, has extensions into St. Elizabeth.
The Cockpit Country vegetation is the largest and most intact example of wet limestone forest in Jamaica. Its flora exemplifies the outstanding endemism of the West Indies. And, most of Jamaica’s 550 native ferns grow in this area.
Important Jamaicans from the Parish
The Hon. Roger Clarke, CD was the Minister of Agriculture from 2012 up until his death in 2014. A former mayor of Black River in St. Elizabeth, Clarke was Member of Parliament for North East St. Elizabeth between 1991 and 2007.
Dr. the Hon. Barbara Gloudon OJ, OD, Communication Specialist, Playwright and Journalist, was born in Malvern, St. Elizabeth.
The Rt. Hon. Sir Donald Sangster, ON, born on October 26, 1911 in the parish of St. Elizabeth, was a Jamaican solicitor, politician and the second Prime Minister of Jamaica.
Dr. the Hon. Alfred M.W. Sangster, OJ, well known educator and founding president of the University of Technology (formerly the College of Arts Science and Technology), was born on July 24, 1929 in the parish of St. Elizabeth.
Una Maud Marson, Jamaican feminist, activist and writer was born on 6 February 1905, in Santa Cruz, St. Elizabeth. She was the first black female to work for the BBC.