Searching for the Retreat Estate Great House
On Saturday, I turned off the hard road at the River Bumpkin Farm sign and made my way down the marl (weathered limestone) road to the office of the farm. There I met the good folks who worked at River Bumpkin Farm and they gave me a tour of the ruins of the Retreat Sugar Mill. The great house no longer exists.
Pirates of the Caribbean
Retreat was a property owned by Jane Stone who was a slave and became the wife of Jonathan Barnett who owned Barnett Estate. She also owned the nearby Hampstead Estate (covered in a previous blog). Retreat Estate had 180 slaves at the time of emancipation.
Incidentally, I will charge off in a different direction here and discuss the capture of John Rackham by Jonathan Barnett, Jane Stone’s husband. John Rackham was better known as Calico Jack (he liked to wear calico), the pirate. Calico Jack is best remembered for two things: He designed and flew the famous pirate flag consisting of a skull and two crossed swords and also he had two female pirates in his crew…Mary Read and Anne Bonny. He cruised the Leeward Islands, the Jamaica Channel and the Windward Passage between 1718 and 1720.
Governor Nicholas Lawes of Jamaica directed Captain Jonathan Barnett to take two privateer sloops on a mission to hunt down Calico Jack. The Tyger was heavily armed with several guns and twenty Royal Navy sailors and some British Army troops. At 10:00 PM on 20 October 1720, the Tyger discovered Calico Jack’s ship, the William at anchor in Dry Harbor Bay. The crew was drunk and sleeping as the Tyger silently approached the ship. Captain Barnet demanded that they surrender to which Calico Jack replied with a few shots from a swivel gun. The Tyger replied with a broadside and Barnett ordered his men to close and board the William. The pirates retreated to their cabins and the British sailors and troops quickly rounded up the pirates including a drunken Calico Jack.
Calico Jack and his pirates were taken to Port Royal tried on 16 November and hung on 19 November (speedy justice in those days). Mary Read and Anne Bonny pleaded pregnancy and avoided hanging at the time. Anne Bonny escaped but Mary Read was hung, but not before she issued the now famous saying, “If Calico Jack had fought like a man; he need not be hanged like a dog.”
The Sugar Mill
Kenroy Birch (also known as “Bug”) took me on a very informative tour of the ruins and surroundings. He pointed out the various plants. The farm also grows 27 varieties of bananas. The gentle trail wound along the river shaded by the verdant foliage.
The sugar mill was constructed adjacent to the Martha Brae River to harness the water to turn the rollers to crush the cane. The water was brought to the site via an aqueduct, which turned a water wheel, which via gears turned the rollers. The water mill was in operation until 1850 when it was shut down and the sugar mill operation was consolidated at the Hampstead mill using steam power.
Cane juice extracted from the rollers ran through gutters to the boiling house where it was stored in large cisterns call clarifiers and tempered with lime to remove the dirt. The juice was then heated and the scum was removed to be used in rum making. The purified liquid was boiled in a series of copper cauldrons of decreasing size, each getting smaller and hotter. The last copper was the smallest and hottest and the final product was a combination of sugar and molasses. The sugar was then taken to the curing house where in was put in wooden barrels (hogheads) with holes in the bottom to allow the molasses to drain out. After several weeks, the sugar, called muscovado, was ready to ship to Europe. For centuries, the skimmings were discarded until the enterprising sugar estate owners realized they could ferment it and produce rum. The crushed cane was stored in a trash house, allowed to dry and then used to fire the furnace in the boiling house. The products of both the curing house and the distillery were loaded on bamboo rafts and floated down the Martha Brae River to the coast to be loaded on ships.
River Bumpkin Farm
If you are looking for an educational adventure, I suggest the River Bumpkin Farm. You can go on the walking tour of the ruins and then having worked up a sweat, go tubing or kayaking in the Martha Brea River. They also have a beach and mountain bikes for a bit of additional exercise. When you get hungry, a canteen is available. The contact information is: Website: www.IslandRoutes.com; Telephone in North America: 1-877-768-8370; Telephone in The Caribbean: 1-800-744-1150; Telephone outside North America: 1-305-663-4364.
Retreat Estate Map | 1850
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