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Georgia Overseer’s House

After leaving the Long Pond Great House, while driving down the highway between Clarks Town and Duncans, I noticed a great house at the top of a hill. I drove up the hill, a group of men met me, and they informed me that I was at the Georgia Great House. Upon further investigation, the house is actually the Georgia Estate overseer’s house. The Georgia Great House is further up Georgia Ridge. An Everglades Sugar Company security guard gave me a tour of the outside of the house.  So far, all I know about the great house is that the Thomas Gordon founded the Georgia Estate and it consisted of 1,389 acres. I hope to discover more about it later. Any help from my readers would be greatly appreciated. It appeared that several sugar mill employees now live in the house.

The two story house is constructed of square cut stones, probably brought over from England as ballast in the ships that hauled sugar to England. The builders constructed both stories of stone. There is a large cut stone stairway in the front. Corrugated metal now covers the hip roof. The remains of the original kitchen out building is in ruins and barely visible behind the house.

The house is easily recognizable, just off the Clarks Town/Duncans road, just a couple of kilometers south of Clarks Town.

John Grant, Chief Justice of Jamaica from 1784 to 1790 purchased the Georgia Estate in 1778.  He was also and an Attorney for several other estates and having become wealthy from Jamaican  sugar, retired to Scotland in 1790.  He sold Georgia Estate to his friend Charles Gordon

Charles Gordon moved to Jamaica in 1772, from Scotland to settle the estate of his uncle who had been a merchant in Montego Bay.  While he was there, he purchased the Georgia Estate from John Grant.  He became very wealthy and was able to return to Scotland in 1781.

Major General Thomas Gordon who lived from 1788 to 1841 owned Georgia Estate and it’s 250 slaves.  He received his title during his service in behalf of the Greeks in their war of independence from the Turkish rule of their country.  He owned the slaves up until their emancipation  in 1838.



Georgia Overseer’s House Photo Gallery

Great Houses Early April 2015 150Great Houses Early April 2015 151Great Houses Early April 2015 153Great Houses Early April 2015 154Great Houses Early April 2015 155

Georgia Overseer’s House Location Map


Long Pond Great House

Long Pond

I “discovered” the Long Pond Great House as I drove the road between Clarks Town and Duncans. It was easy to find because it was adjacent to the recently renovated Everglades Sugar Company’s Long Pond sugar mill and distillery. The most obvious structure beside the road was the 18th century windmill tower, now hidden in the trees growing on it, said to be a part of the oldest sugar mill in Trelawny. The original owner of Long Pond Estate was William Reid who acquired the property in 1709. The Reid family eventually owned six estates in the parish. At some point in the early 1800’s, the Clarke family bought the property and built the Long Pond great house in 1820. They owned all the estates around the present day Clarks Town. The 1840 Jamaica Almanac states that Long Pond was 2,347 acres in size and was owned by Simon H. Clarke.

The house must have been magnificent at one time. Today it houses employees at the adjacent sugar mill and distillery. As with most great houses on the island of Jamaica, the family quarters were on the second floor. A double stairway leads to the second floor with an arch beneath the stairs adding a touch of glamour. The upper door is flanked by narrow windows and an arched window above the door. This door leads into a foyer that extends out from the house proper. It appears that two additions on either side of the front foyer with shed roofs were added at a later date. The main house has three hip roofs covered today with corrugated metal. A further addition appears to have been added to the back which also has a shed roof. Today, the square-cut stone has been painted white. There are numerous outbuildings located around the property.

Long Pond Great House Photo Gallery

Long Pond Great House


Windsor Pen

The first property I visited today was at the end of a long trip from Kingston to Windsor. The further I drove back into Cockpit country; the road became narrower and eventually became a one lane road from Coxheath to the hamlet of Windsor. Evident, along the road, as I drove deeper into Cockpit Country, was the karst topography (a landscape that was formed by the dissolution of the soluble limestone). The large white rugged limestone cliffs contrasted sharply to the bordering lush green valleys. It is a place where rivers flow sometimes above and sometimes below the surface due to the porous limestone. The town of Windsor was established in recent times when Kaiser Aluminum transplanted the people from Saint Ann Parish to Windsor in Trelawny Parish. Usain Bolt, the world record holder in the 100 meter and 200 meter races, Jamaica’s fastest man in the world and local hero, was born here. Most of the people have left the area. At the end of the paved road, at the Windsor Cave “office”, I asked direction of the local cave tour guide and he pointed to the left and told me to follow the dirt track. The great house soon came in sight. It’s not really a great house, but a pen. The term “great house” is only meant for the “big” house of sugar plantations. This was the “big” house of a cattle operation. Cattle operations were very important, because cattle were a vital aspect of a sugar estate. Cattle were used to transport the sugar cane to the mill and in many operations were the motive power of the mill. Many times the same owner possessed both estates and pens. In this case, John Tharp (For more information on the Tharp family, see the Potosi post), who owned most of the plantations along the Martha Brea River. He purchased the 5,500 acre Windsor plantation in the late seventeenth century. The flattest land and land closest to the port of Falmouth was planted in cane. The more rugged terrain and areas furthest from the port were used for pens, due to the mobility of the cattle. The overseer of the pen lived in the house. After John Tharp’s death, William Tharp, his nephew arrived in Jamaica in 1828 and stayed ten years. After his departure and emancipation, the estates were neglected, broken up and sold in 1867.

William James Donald-Hill moved to Jamaica from Scotland in approximately 1892 and purchased Windsor for the first time in about 1892. He sold it in the late 1800’s and moved back to Scotland. After a few winters in cold Scotland, he moved his family back to Jamaica and purchased Windsor Pen again in the early 1900’s and his family lived in the house until about 1947 when the pen was sold to Miriam Rothschild who carried out extensive renovations to the house and subsequently sold it to Kaiser Aluminum who subdivided it for the transplanted farmers from Saint Ann Parish. The house was given to the Jamaica Boy Scouts by Kaiser Aluminum and eventually they sold it to Michael Schwartz who presently lives in the house.

The ruins to the rear of the house were the original buildings built between the two Maroon Wars (between 1739 and 1795) due to its strategic location at the end of the Troy-Windsor trail. The British military built the fort to deny the Maroons access to the Martha Brae River. The house property is surrounded by the ruins of the walls. It’s thought that the existing building ruin was either a military hospital or a storage facility. Michael Schwartz is in the process of stabilizing the ruins.

The house is constructed of square-cut stone that have been coated with stucco and painted the color of yellow ocher. The wooden trim is painted white. A porch extends out from the second floor front door and is reached by a sweeping stone stairway.   The first floor, as required by law at the time, was built as a fort with numerous gun ports in the ground floor walls. This served as both a defense against rebellious slaves and warring Maroons. The stone work is very evident on the interior of the first floor with numerous arched doorways. William James Donald-Hill carved his initials in the door frame of one of the doors and the date 1812 was carved during the Tharp ownership. The main living quarters are on the second floor to take advantage of the cooling mountain breezes. The original hip roof (?) was constructed of cedar shakes, but at the present time the cedar shakes are covered with corrugated metal. Miriam Rothschild removed the wooden louvers from the front of the house, but these have been restored by the present owner. She added the upstairs flush toilets, built a large upstairs screened in verandah at the back of the house with stone steps from the ground and the main entrance gates to the property were moved from the front to the east side. In the 1950’s, the kerosene lamps were replaced by electrical power provided by two single cylinder diesel generators. Today, power is supplied by solar cells installed on the roof of the house.

Because of its location in the heart of the Cockpit Country, the Windsor Pen has been used by researchers since at least 1920. Harold E. Anthony (mammologist at the American Museum of Natural History of New York) says in his 1919-1920 field notes, “Windsor is at the end of the road, the best jumping off place for the Cockpit Country and best sort of collecting station. The hills are of the Cock Pit variety and close right in on the Windsor Pen. The one drawback are the miscellaneous pests. The ticks are terrible and the mosquitoes only a little less bad. The latter however are day bitters and the nights are serene.” During the 1950’s Dame Miriam Rothschild conducted her research on mammalian ectoparasites in Windsor Cave and published her “Fleas, Flukes and Cuckoos” in 1952 while living at Windsor Pen.

Michael Schwartz and Susan Koenig operate the Windsor Great House as their home and a research center for scientists interested in the unique attributes of the Cockpit Country. One of the best ways to get a real feel for the Cockpit Country is to go to Windsor in the evening for a “Meet the Biologists” dinner. There are several rooms to provide lodging and meals are available on request.

Due to my many years as a mine reclamation engineer, having restored over three thousand acres of phosphate mining in central Florida, I promised Michael I would address the issue of mining in the Cockpits. I have found that mine operators want to work on a “level playing field” with their competitors. If reclamation is required, they want their competition to be required to reclaim at the same level as they are required. This means that meaningful regulations need to be passed by the government entity that has jurisdiction over mining operations. Additionally, those regulations need to be equally and justly administered in accordance with the spirit and rule of law. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that Jamaica has either the laws in place or the will to enforce those regulations; therefore I can understand Michael’s opposition to any mining in Cockpit Country.

A tremendous amount of information can be gleaned from the excellent website: Michael can be reached by telephone at 876-997-3832 or email at

Windsor Pen Photo Gallery

Windsor Pen Location Map


Hyde Hall Great House

It is sugar cane harvesting time in Trelawny. I can smell and see the burning fields, just before they are harvested. The harvesting machines are cutting cane and I pass loaded trucks along the back roads between Falmouth and the Long Pond sugar mill outside of Clarks Town. Approximately, two kilometers from Clarks Town, I turn the corner and there before my eyes, in the middle of cane fields is a magnificent example of 18th Century Jamaica Georgian architecture. It looks so out of place in this day and age. I pulled my pickup truck under a large cotton wood tree next to a woman washing clothes in a plastic bucket. I got out of the truck and was approached by a man walking by with a machete in his hand who said, “Hey mon. I’m hungry. You got any food?”

I replied, “I don’t have any food, but if you give me a tour of the house, I’ll pay you for the tour.”

“Sure mon. Come wit me.”

“First I want to get photographs of the outside and then I want to see the inside.”

“No problem mon.”

I took numerous photos on the outside. The design of the Hyde Hall Great House is very different from the beam and column type of earlier great houses. The three large arches on the ground level, allowed carriages to pass under the house in inclement weather and the passengers could disembark and enter the house via a winding stairway to the second floor. The house is two stories and constructed of cut-square stone for both stories. There are three hip roofs in the typical “M” shaped found in many Jamaica great houses. At one time the roof was cedar shingles, but today is corrugated metal. The impressive cut stone grand stairway with wooden balustrades, at the front of the house that leads to the second story, is slowly collapsing under its own weight.

We passed under the north arch of the ground floor carriageway. The large paving stones were polished smooth from years of use.   I noticed several huge sacks of charcoal stacked in the carriageway and judging by the smoke encrusted stones, it was obvious that this was the only means of cooking in the house. My guide pointed out a stone marked 1820, the date of the construction of the house. I peeked in several rooms on the ground floor and they were full of wooden bunk beds. I found out that during harvest time, the great house is used as a dormitory for the employees of Everglades Sugar Company. We passed on to the second story via a rickety wooden stairway and the great room on the second floor was filled with the same type of wooden bunk beds as I saw on the first floor…in fact every available space in the house was occupied by beds and people. As I walked around and through the house, it was not too hard to imagine what it must have been like in the 1800’s.

Hyde Hall Plantation had it’s origin in the history of two families, the Hydes and the Halls.  William Hall arrived in Jamaica in 1687 as secretary of Christopher Monk, the Duke of Albemarle who was the new Governor of Jamaica.  Before becoming secretary to Christopher Monk, William was the British Council in Balboa, Spain.  William Hall had only one son James and when he died in 1699, his son married Elizabeth Crossley.  Elizabeth’s sister was married to Edmund Hyde, the Chief Justice of Jamaica, hence the name Hyde Hall.  The estate that Hyde Hall Great House presently occupies was first owned by James Hall.  The family also owned Hall’s Delight in Saint Andrew which had the only silver mine in Jamaica.

At some point, the plantation was passed on to George Clarke (1676-1760) who was related to the Halls. He moved to New York for a short time and upon returning to England, moved up the social ladder by marrying Anne Hyde, heiress of Hyde Hall in Cheshire, England. She was related to the Earls of Clarendon and to Ann Hyde, wife of King James of England and mother of Queen Mary and Queen Anne. Not only did George marry well, but managed to get himself appointed Royal Lieutenant Governor of New York and got several hundred thousand acres of upstate New York thrown in for good measure. He named his estate in New York Hyde Hall after the English Estate of his wife and one of his Jamaica estates in the same manner. Lt. Governor Clarke’s elder son George Hyde Clarke eloped with a neighboring squire’s daughter, deserting his first wife and was disinherited. Lt. Governor Clarke’s younger son Edward died before his father so the inheritance went to Edward, his nephew and son of his brother also called Edward. So Edward the younger inherited Swanswick (see my previous post) from his father and Hyde Hall from his Great Uncle Lt. Governor Clarke in 1777. I think I have that whole sorted mess figured out but I could stand to be corrected. In any event, that is how Hyde Hall got its name.

In 1779, the estate passed back to the Halls by inheritance, in the person of William James Hall (1725-1779) and was inherited by his younger brother, Cossley Hall (1728-1790).  By 1788, Cossley Hall was deeply in debt and sold the 2,000 acre estate to Henry Shirley, a fellow sugar planter, who owned Spring Garden Estate in Portland Parish. Hyde Hall was the principal residence of the Shirley family until 1914. It was during the ownership of the Shirley’s, the great house was construction in 1820. This was possibly one of the last great houses constructed in Jamaica.

In 1790, a sugar refiner by the name of Millet came to Jamaica from ST. Domingo (later called Haiti) and introduced the use of limes and lemons to produce white sugar.  This white sugar was first produced at Hyde Hall.

Nearby, in front of the house, are remnants of the wind powered sugar works (the tower still stands) and a cattle mill (now a ruin). The stone windmill is almost entirely hidden by the trees and ferns growing out of its many cracks. My guide took me over to the tower and we checked out the interior. Then we struck off through the undergrowth and checked out the ruins of the rest of the sugar mill, with walls crumbling through the years.

As a bonus, the good folks of Hyde Hall pointed to a nearby hill and there was what I assume was the overseer’s house. The two story house was also constructed of square-cut stone, with three equal sized rooms on the first floor and an apartment on the second floor. The whole was topped off with a corrugated hip roof. I can imagine the overseer living upstairs and the bookkeepers living in the three rooms below (see my post on sugar estate management). As I walked up the hill to the house, I realized not much has changed for these cane workers since the nineteenth century. Yes, they do run mechanized equipment instead of hoes and machetes but they still get around by walking, they still wash their clothes in a bucket and they still cook over a charcoal fire.

Hyde Hall Great House Photo Gallery

Hyde Hall Great House Location Map


Vale Royal Great House


While at the Georgia Great House, the security guard offered to take me to the Vale Royal Great House, in exchange for a ride to his home, which was near the great house. The house is off the paved road between Clarks Town and Duncans. Situated on top of a hill, the house overlooks hundreds of acres of cane fields. Below the house is the old sugar mill, which lush foliage completely obscures from view.

The house was magnificent in its day built in the Georgian architectural tradition, which is better suited for the cool wet English climate rather than the hot humid weather of Jamaica. The road took us between two ornate pillars and up to a yard surrounded by a low stone wall is topped by a wrought iron fence. Attached to the front of the house wall is a stone monument with the inscription AD 1823, which I assume is the date of the construction of the house. A double stairway leads to the front entrance of the square cut stone two story house. A hip corrugated metal roof tops the structure. Arches on the ground floor give the house a look of grandeur. Behind the house are extensive out buildings, which were once a kitchen, bakery, slave quarters and storage rooms. Slaves brought meals up to the second story living quarters via a narrow covered stairway at the side of the house. This was called a whistling walk because slaves were required to whistle while they carried the food to make sure they didn’t sample any of the meal. Unfortunately, the sugar estate manager was not at home, but the security guard assured me that if he had been, he would have been glad to give me a tour of the interior. There are several large houses nearby which housed the other Vale Royal Plantation management.

The estate was founded by Charles Graves (1749-1825) in 1776 and he called the estate Walky Walky. In 1827, the estate was known as Vale Royal and had 286 acres and 156 slaves. The estate was sold to Thomas P. Thompson after the emancipation of the slaves and by then was 612 acres in size. He also owned Mario Bueno and Lancaster estates.

Thanks to my readers, I was put on the track of the proper name of the great house. I originally thought it was Windsor Castle, but after investigation of some old photographs, a second trip to the great house and a discussion with a local, I confirmed it was called Vale Royal. This should not be confused with Vale Royal in Kingston, the “official” residence of some past Jamaican Prime Ministers.

While I was at the great house the second time, I decided that I would check out the old sugar mill ruins at the bottom of the hill which I failed to do during the first visitation. With an enormous amount of thrashing around through the jungle, I “discovered” the ruins. I will try to upload a video in the near future so you can participate in the “discovery.”

The house is located 2.5 kilometers off the paved Duncans/Clarks Town road, and that dirt road is on the left, 2.6 kilometers from the Duncans’ clock tower at the center of town.


Vale Royal Photo Gallery

Vale Royal Great House Location Map


Spring Vale Pen

William Atherton owned Spring Vale Pen at the same time he owned Green Park Estate (reported on in a previous post) in the late 1700s. Spring Vale was used to raise cattle which were used to raise mules and oxen necessary to haul the cane, run the sugar mill and other estate work. Since the Spring Vale Pen was up in the cooler mountain climate with fewer mosquitoes, it was used by the Planting Attorney, Overseer, Bookkeepers and other British managerial staff to recover from the malaria and yellow fever prevalent in the coastal Green Park Estate and as a refuge from the coastal heat. In the 1824 Jamaica Almanac stated that Spring Vale Pen had 186 slaves and 571 head of cattle and was 1,972 acres in size. In 1910, both Green Park and Spring Vale were sold by the heirs of Edward Atherton. The house is presently the office of Valley Fruit Company which grows pineapple, papaya and sugar cane. For additional background information, especially during the 20th century, one can go to the following website: .

The house is located in a beautiful meadow surrounded by mountains. It is made of two foot thick stone walls which some parts have been covered with stucco and painted white and other parts still show the natural rock. The trim has been painted a forest green. A verandah extends across the front and right sides of the house. The roof is an “M” style, common in the larger great houses of Jamaica. The original roof was cedar shakes, as evidenced by the underside of the roof but is now covered with a corrugated metal roof. The windows are a combination sash and louver styles. The first and second floors are made of wide mahogany wood planks as well as the interior walls. The floors are a dark wood, the walls are white and the doors are painted forest green. There are numerous interior louvers and lattice work to facilitate the flow of the cool mountain breezes.

Spring Vale Pen is located 4.4 kilometers south of Deeside Baptist Church and 8.7 kilometers south of Wakefield. The road is mainly gravel with occasional asphalt paved patches.

Spring Vale Pen Photo Gallery

Potosi Estate

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. There I met the good people who worked at River Bumpkin Farm and they gave a tour of the ruins of the Potosi Sugar Mill.

Thomas Partridge, the original owner named the estate after the fabled Bolivian silver mine. He also owned an adjacent estate, Hampstead (which I have covered in a previous post). Upon his death, his son, Thomas Partridge Jr. inherited the property and upon his death, the property passed on to his two sisters. One of the sisters, Elizabeth, married John Tharp in 1766 and this was the start of the many estates he owned on the Martha Brae River.

John Tharp was born at Bachelor’s Hall, Hanover, Jamaica in 1744. He was educated in England and returned to Jamaica to work at the Potosi Estate, eventually marrying Elizabeth. In 1767, he sold Bachelor’s Hall and purchased Good Hope, Lansquenet and Wales estates. By the end of the eighteenth century, he owned most of the estates in the area including Bunker Hill, Covey, Merrywood, Pantrepant, Unity and Windsor. He also acquired Dean’s Valley Estate in Westmoreland and Chippenham Park in Saint Ann where he lived the later years of his life and died in 1804 at the Good Hope Great House.

John Tharp had four legitimate children: John, William, Joseph, Thomas and Eliza. Five years after the death of his wife, he had a daughter by one of his slaves and she became his favorite child. She married well in England with an annual income of six hundred pounds. In 1792, Tharp married again but a scandal erupted when his wife had an affair with the husband of his daughter Eliza so he moved to Good Hope where he spent the rest of his life. John Tharp became estranged from his children and left his entire fortune to his baby grandson, who turned out to be mentally ill, resulting a horrendous lawsuit. In 1840, the Jamaica Almanac lists John Tharp’s heirs owning 22,409 acres. In April 1836, there were 224 slaves on the estate and John Tharp, Jr. received 4,494 pounds for compensation when they were emancipated.

Kenroy Birch took me on a very informative tour of the ruins and surroundings. He pointed out the various plants. The one that most intrigued me was the prickled lala thorn tree. The story goes that if a young man wants to find out if his girl is true to him, he will climb the thorn tree. If she is willing to pull the thorns out, then she is the one for him. 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 mill had an innovative system of delivering the cane to the mill from the fields above the mill. The builders constructed a cane chute made of dressed stone. The cane was delivered to the top with ox cart and then pushed into the chute, which delivered it to the mill in the valley, one hundred feet below.

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.

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.

River Bumpkin Farm Contact Information

Website:; Telephone in North America: 1-877-768-8370; Telephone in The Caribbean: 1-800-744-1150; Telephone outside North America: 1-305-663-4364.

Potosi Estate Photo Gallery

Potosi Estate Location Map


Tilston Great House Blog

A View from Afar

I was driving between Wakefield and Deeside and noticed a beautiful great house in run-down condition on a hill overlooking the cane fields. I pulled into the works yard of the Everglades Sugar Company, but the foreman didn’t give me permission to go up the hill to take photographs. Maybe some other day. Just a few photographs is all I have.

John Simpson formerly owned Tilston Estate and it consisted of 2,197 acres. The great house is located on a rocky promontory in the Queen of Spain’s Valley that may have been a Spanish settlement. I couldn’t find much information on John Simpson or the Tilston Estate.

Additional information about John Simpson from E. Webb:

Just a little about John Simpson, based on my own research into his life in England after leaving Jamaica in 1792. He was the son of John the elder, almost invariably called “Simpson of Bounty Hall” but also owner of Tilston and Chester estates, and Elizabeth nee Lawrence, who was related to both the Kenyons and the Barretts (as in Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the poetess) also planter families, and brought land to her husband in her marriage settlement. John Snr died in 1785. John Jr lived in England from 1799 to 1823, where he had a house in the fashionable part of London and a country estate in Kent. He sold up and quit the country for life in France after falling into debts (I think his lifestyle was pretty extravagant) which even the income from his sugar estates could not meet. He was a friend of Thomas Pepper Thompson, who left Vale Royal, Maria Bueno and Lancaster to John by his will of 1819. In 1824, Simpson mortgaged Bounty Hall to a John Dunn, but never made any repayments. His sons John and Thomas were to have inherited the surviving estates, but the disposition of the lands which Elizabeth Lawrence had brought to the family in her marriage settlement was subject to a case in the Court of Chancery which dragged on for at least 20 years, and the inheritance, subject to all sorts of trusts and annuities, seems to have become badly tied up.
Tragedy stalked the family. The Tilston still-house caught fire in 1835, and John’s nephew died from terrible burns he received in trying to put it out. Then John’s son, John III, predeceased his father, dying after a fall into a chasm while hunting on the Vale Royal estate in 1844.
By 1845 all the Jamaica estates were in the use of Thomas Thompson Simpson, John Simpson’s youngest son. John himself died in 1847.

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Tilston Estate Photo Gallery

Tilston Estate Location Map


Retreat Estate

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.

Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 11.43.19 AMIncidentally, 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.

Retreat Estate Governor Nicholas LawesGovernor 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:; 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




Retreat Map copy


Retreat Estate Photo Gallery



Retreat Estate Location Map



Stewart Castle Estate


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.


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.


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