Parish Name: St. Thomas
Capital: Morant Bay
Land Area: 742.2 km2 (286.5 sq. miles)
Sweeping down from the serene height of Blue Mountains to the pristine coastline of south-east Jamaica, the parish of St. Thomas is one of the most storied in the island. It is bordered by St. Andrew on the west, Portland on the north and the Caribbean Sea to the south.
Long before modern-day Jamaicans inhabited the parish, other peoples moved among the forests and grasslands of St. Thomas. The history of human settlement in the parish stretches back as far as 650 AD when the Taino people reached our shores. Archaeologists have unearthed Taino settlements at Spanish Wood, Retreat, Belvedere, Cambridge Hill and Yallahs. But little is left of these early settlers apart from their graves, some pottery and the refuse they left at their dump sites, called middens.
Evidence of the country’s economic role can be seen in the settlement pattern of the parish. The first Spanish settlers in St. Thomas established cattle ranches at “Morante” (later to be called Morant Bay) and at Ayala (now Yallahs).
In later years, bands of Maroons settled in the St. Thomas Mountains and eventually joined with those in Portland thus forming the “Windward Maroons.” They would play a critical role in the events that were to unfold.
The history of St. Thomas is now most popularly associated with the events of 1865 – events which led to Jamaica’s Assembly being dissolved and the island’s status being changed to that of a Crown Colony.
Those events of over a century ago have also made Paul Bogle and George William Gordon National Heroes to modern Jamaicans and made Stony Gut and Morant Bay names which stir powerful emotions.
St. Thomas is bordered by St. Andrew on the west, Portland on the north and the Caribbean Sea to the south. The land mass of St. Thomas ranges from the peaks of the Blue Mountains and John Crow Mountains down to sea-level. Subsidiary ridges of the Blue Mountain range, running from east to west across the island, come to their eastern end in St. Thomas. These include the Port Royal Mountain Range, which rises in some parts to 1,219.2m (4,000 feet) and stretches from above New Castle, in St. Andrew, to a point near the sea in the Albion area of St. Thomas.
Special Attractions and Points of Interest
Bath Botanical Gardens
Established in 1779 by the Government of Jamaica, these gardens are the second oldest in the Western Hemisphere. Many of the plants first brought to Jamaica were introduced here, including the croton, the jacaranda, cinnamon, mango, jackfruit and breadfruit.
Discovered by a runaway slave in 1695, the Bath Fountain (or Mineral Spring) was acquired and developed by the government in 1669. The water is drawn from both hot and cold springs, and its high mineral content (sulphur and lime) is said to be effective in the treatment of skin diseases, gout and rheumatism. The use of the spring reached its height about 1750, and led to the establishment of a thriving little town at Bath.
The earthquake of 1692, which destroyed most of Port Royal, literally tore off part of a mountainside in St Thomas. The result is Judgement Cliff, a geological phenomenon easily visible from the road about mid-way between Easington and Richmond Vale. It appears that half of a mountain simply crumbled during that massive quake.
Monuments and Historic Buildings
Morant Bay Courthouse
Scene of the 1865 riot, this courthouse was burnt during the violence that occurred. It was rebuilt some time afterwards. Leader of the rioters National Hero, Paul Bogle, was buried behind the court-house in a shallow grave.
Stokes Hall Great House
Stokes Hall and nearby Stokesfield mark the area where Major Luke Stokes – the then Governor of Nevis – brought his family and over 1,600 colonists to Jamaica during the days of colonization. Fevers and related illnesses killed many of the colonists, including Major Stokes and his wife, but his children survived and eventually established these two outstanding houses. The ruins of the Great House are possibly the oldest existing structural foundations in the island.
Morant Bay Fort
Located behind the Morant Bay courthouse, this fort dates back to 1773, but its three remaining cannon were installed early in the 18th century.
Morant Bay Lighthouse
This 100-foot high structure was built in 1841 by Krus, part of the contingent of 11,400 free Africans brought to Jamaica after emancipation. Many of these Africans landed and settled in Morant Bay as well as the interior areas of St. Thomas, particularly along the Plantain Garden River Valley.
Stony Gut, Site of Bogle Chapel
At this site a plaque with these words can be found:
“Here was located the Chapel and house of National Hero the Rt. Excellence Paul Bogle. It was from this spot on October 11th, 1865, that Deacon Bogle led his people to Morant Bay to protest against the oppression of the humble Jamaicans by the plantocracy. It was brutally put down by Governor Eyre. Deacon Bogle was taken near Stony Gut on October 23rd, 1865, tried by Court – Martial and hanged at Morant Bay on October 24, 1865.”
Outstanding Jamaicans from the Parish
The Rt. Excellent Paul Bogle,National Hero, was a Baptist deacon from the district of Stony Gut in Portland. He led a group of people from the surrounding areas to the then capital, Spanish Town, petitioning the Governor for an improvement in the conditions of the peasantry.