Stewart Castle Estate

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Getting to the Stewart Castle Estate

Stewart Castle Estate-20For years, I have been driving by a sign that says, “Jamaica National Heritage Trust, STEWART CASTLE.” It was at the end of the day and I had just come through Duncans, saw the sign and said, “Stewart Castle…today is your day.” I turned off the north highway (A1) on to a dirt road and headed toward the ocean. I came to a “T” intersection that had a Stewart Castle sign but no arrow, until I looked closer and realized the black arrow was on top of the black portion of the sign. I turned right and followed the road up to the massive pile of rocks known as Stewart Castle. Fortunately, for me, there is a plethora of archeological and historical data available.

The History of the Stewart Castle Estate

First patented in 1754 by James Stewart I, Stewart Castle began as a small 167 acre landholding. By 1799, the sugar plantation had grown to well over 1200 acres and was supported by the labor of over 300 enslaved Africans. Despite the increase in size, James Stewart II needed to mortgage the property in 1797. At the time of its sale in 1830 by James Stewart II, Stewart Castle clearly was converted to cattle well before then, as it had an average of 282 cattle each year during the second decade of the 19th century.

Stewart Castle Map

James Stewart II led an active political and military life, serving as both the Custos of Trelawney Parish and as a Major General in the Militia. He served as a commissioner at the conference held with the Maroons at Trelawney Town prior to the beginning of the Maroon Wars in 1795. The almost obsessive focus on fortifications demonstrates a perceived and possibly very real threat to Stewart Castle from the Maroons and those he enslaved. If the Castle came under attack, Stewart had the ability to secure people and animals inside the courtyard, as well as ensure a large supply of safe drinking water as result of a large water cistern (3.1m x 5.5 meters by 2.5 meters deep) inside the main house.

Robert Sheldon purchased Stewart Castle shortly after Stewart II’s death in 1828 (An early 1830s lithograph by J.B. Kidd documents the overseer’s house and works, with the main house with its corner towers visible in the distance. Currently, the 1799 plat and the 1830 lithograph are the only surviving documents the directly address Stewart Castle.

A Description of the Stewart Castle Estate

The overzealous nature of the physical defenses around Stewart Castle, including a fortified privy, armored courtyard, and nearly 100 gun ports built into various parts of the compound, speaks to Stew­art II’s concern for his personal security. The major­ity of the defenses face inland, toward the mountains and the Maroons, as well as toward the slave village. The lack of attention to defenses along the water sug­gest that Stewart’s main concern lay in the ability of the Maroons to attack and incite the enslaved population that substantially outnumbered white planters on the island throughout the eighteenth century.

The 1799 plat is the only map of the property and many of the represented structures remain visible today. The shell of a massive fortified masonry great house and privy and a well-defended courtyard remain standing near the center of the estate. Wharf piers and a few masonry walls of a storehouse from which hogsheads of sugar were shipped hug a stun­ning coastline. The remains of an overseer’s house overlook the ruins of the boiling house, cattle mill platform, and mill pond. Cobble piles representing remnants of Spanish-walled houses, a grave, and a cut limestone foundation mark the location of a large slave village that housed over 300 slaves in the early nineteenth century.

Today a path represented on a 1799 plat passes through the village and continues through a forest that was once the provision grounds for the estate’s enslaved laborers. Mango, guinep, ackee and coolie plum are still concentrated in this forest. The path continues over the crest of the ridge, and descends along a steep, rocky face before ending at the wharf. Fishermen still use a path who maintain a fishing camp in the eighteenth-century storehouse. One fisherman, who lives in the Refuge Community, a mid-nineteenth century free town near Stewart Castle, has been walking this path daily for over 60 years. His father walked the same path throughout the early twentieth century, likely traversing a route carved by his ancestors centuries earlier.

Research on the Stewart Castle Estate

The majority of research conducted at Stewart Castle has been archaeological and architectural in nature. Edward Chappell, Louis Nelson, and students from the University of Virginia have recorded the Stewart Castle Great house and Overseer’s House. Jillian Galle from Monticello and students from the Uni­versity of the West Indies, Mona and the University of Virginia have conducted archaeological excava­tions within the fortified compound at the main house and at the slave village.

Architectural and archaeological evidence indicates that the Stewart constructed the Stewart Castle Great House in two phases. The first consisted of a cut limestone block house (approximately 28 feet x 24 feet) with a cellar and two detached towers. This phase likely occurred shortly after Stewart I patented the estate. The second phase of construction focused on greatly increasing the defensive capacity of the great house complex. Fortifications included a 16-inch thick, 8-foot tall masonry courtyard wall covered with broken late 18th century wine bottle glass, a large water cistern constructed on the interior of the great house for secure water storage, and a fortified privy complete with gun and cannon ports. The builders also constructed a wall with 36 gun ports constructed every ten feet around the edges. Archaeological research by the team of archaeologists from Monticello and the University of the West Indies confirm that the fortified courtyard was added during the second phase of construction at the main house, which likely dates to the early nineteenth century.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank DAACS for their report on the Excavations at the Stewart Castle Main House and Slave Village as part of the DAACS Caribbean Initiative.

And the University of Virginia, Falmouth, Jamaica Field Guide.

Directions

The turn off to Stewart Castle is 6.4 kilometers east of Glistening Waters near Falmouth on the north highway or 2.5 kilometers west of the Duncan west exit off the north highway.

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Stewart Castle Great House, Trelawny, Jamaica. This immense 18th Century fortified plantation house, complete with corner towers and loop-holed walls, was built in the 1770s by James Stewart of Appin, a wealthy Scottish Sugar Planter, and later owned by his son, the Hon. James Stewart (1762-1828), who was Custos of Trelawny from 1800 to 1821. From an Aerial Photograph by Jack Tyndale-Biscoe, c. 1970. Collection: Brett Ashmeade-Hawkins.

Stewart Castle Estate Photo Gallery

Stewart Castle Estate Location Map

Jamaica-Trelawny

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About Dr. Raul A. Mosley

Raul is the founder of the Fort Worth Portrait Project (FWPP). He holds a Ph.D. in Public Affairs & Issues Management from Purdue University. After teaching for 16 years as a university faculty member at both Purdue and Indiana University, Raul moved to Fort Worth and founded the FWPP in 2014.

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