Tag Archive | Jamaica

Cherry Garden Great House

On my Saturday hike, I decided to explore a different part of Kingston.  In the past, I headed straight up into the mountains directly behind my house, but today I wandered up into the mountains farther to the west into the Norbrook area.  As I hiked up Russell Heights, on into the Cherry Garden residential area, I noticed a house that had the look of a great house.  I took several photographs in order to compare them with what I found online.  Sure enough, I discovered when I returned that it was indeed Cherry Garden Great House.

Colonel Ezekiel Gomersall originally established the Cherry Garden sugar estate.  His place of burial is the Kingston Parish Church with the following inscription on his tomb:


In addition, on his wife’s tomb:


Following Colonel Gomersall’s death, the property passed onto his nephew, Ezekiel Dickenson and the property remained in the hands of the Dickenson family and was administered by Attorney Joseph Gordon of Scotland.  Prior to emancipation, Joseph Gordon (1790-1867) managed over thirty plantations with over eight thousand slaves.  He eventually purchased the estate from the Dickensons and added additional adjacent lands.  Joseph Gordon eventually became Custos and Member of the House of Assembly for St. Andrew Parish.

GordonOne of his sons, George William Gordon (1820-1865) was born the illegitimate son of Anna Rattrey (1792-1863), a slave on the Cherry Garden Estate.  George was privately educated and then sent to Black River to be educated in business under his Godfather James Daly.  He was a quick learner, which led to speculation in real estate, and he exported produce.  He eventually purchased numerous coffee and sugar plantations and at the time of his death, he owned nineteen properties.  He married Mary Jane Shannon, the white daughter of an Irish newspaper editor.  In 1844, George entered politics and was elected a Member of the House of Assembly for St. Thomas-in-the-East.  He was a member of the liberal Town Party, which was made up of colored and Jewish merchants, newspaper editors and lawyers.  The Town Party was in direct opposition to the conservative Country Party made up of the white planters.  The Country Party held the majority of seats in the Assembly.

When his father, Joseph Gordon went bankrupt in 1845, George was able to come to the rescue and saved Cherry Garden from foreclosure.  George paid all the expenses for his father and stepmother to return to England and then George and Mary Jane took up residence at the Cherry Garden Great House.  George Gordon became a champion of the impoverished ex-slaves, particularly in the Saint-Thomas-in-the-East Parish.  He also left the Anglican Church and became a Baptist.  In 1865, following the Morant Bay Rebellion, he was unjustly tried for treason and executed on 23 October 1865.  His widow sold the property in the late 1860’s.  Jamaica now considers George William Gordon one of their national heroes.

Oscar Marescaux, a powerful local banker, purchased the property in the late 1860’s.  He extended and roofed the front and back patios and paneled the interior with mahogany.  Mr. Marescaux was a very tall man, over six feet, long thin legs, hunched-up shoulders with a growth of beard after the style of a Frenchman. Many considered him irascible and arrogant. His views on natives of the country were narrow and prejudiced.

The great house is an impressive two-story structure.  The main entrance has a double bifurcated stairs that ascend to the entrance portico.  Four cast iron columns support the portico, which forms a second story observation deck surrounded by intricate railings and topped by a classic pediment. Marble covers the floor of the entrance porch.  One impressive architectural feature is the use of Jalousie windows to allow excellent ventilation and illumination into the house.

If you want a view of the great house, head up hill from Barbican Road on Russell Heights and when the road makes a sharp left, the house will be straight ahead of you.

Cherry Garden Great House Photo Gallery

Cherry Garden Great House Location Map


The Alley Saint Peters Anglican Church-Clarendon Parish

On Sunday, I headed for a friend’s church up in the mountains of Clarendon.  I figured I would swing by The Alley to get some photographs of the interior of the Saint Peter’s Anglican Church building.  I had previously taken photos of the exterior during a weekday so I figured I’d take this Sunday to get see the inside.  I arrived at 9:00 and stayed until 10:00 o’clock when I had to leave.  Alas, no one showed up on the Sunday morning of my visit.  However, I did manage to get some decent photos through the windows, which you can view below in this post.  I had a particular interest in the church building because it contains many monuments to the past owners of the local sugar estates, on the interior walls.

Post Photo

Saint Peter’s Church is located in the town of The Alley (yes that’s right THE Alley).  From what I understand, The Alley was quite the town in the 1700’s; in fact, it was called the Paris of the New World.  Today, it is a sleepy town where most residents are employed by the local Monymusk sugar plantation or work in the Monymusk sugar mill and distillery.  If the church building is any indication of what the town looked like in the past, it was certainly a beautiful town.  I saw other evidences in the area of the grandeur that once was a town fitting the name of Paris of the New World.  The Vere Parish sugar belt brought the prosperity to the region.

Saint Peter’s Church is the third oldest Anglican Church on the island of Jamaica.  The church, originally built in Withywood (now Milk River) was founded in 1671 as the parish church of Vere Parish (now a part of Clarendon Parish).  After the 1692 earthquake, the church moved to The Alley and they constructed the building in 1715.  In 1722, a hurricane partially destroyed the building.  The church rebuilt the existing building on the existing foundations and completed it in 1735.  They constructed the magnificent building of red brick and stone quoins brought over as ballast in ships from England.   The brick tower forms the entrance to the building and is accented by quoins, arched windows and crowned with castellation all painted dazzling white.  The original slate roof has recently been replaced with a shingle roof, as evidenced by the piles of slate remaining along the exterior walls.  Most of the windows are arched at the top.  Unfortunately, an addition has been added to the back of the building constructed of unpainted concrete block.  The stairs in the tower lead to a three-quarter ton bell cast by Mears of Whitechapel, London in 1857.  This same foundry cast Big Ben in London.  The massive organ was installed in 1847 and is said to be the oldest organ in the Commonwealth Caribbean.    There are magnificent stain glass windows.  The window on the east side of the building depicts the life of Jesus and the window on the west, the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed and the Ten Commandments.  Graves of colonialists and members that are more recent surround the building.

Exquisite marble monuments are on the walls and set into the floor.  One wall monument calls attention to the one below as:













In addition, the monument that bewails poor wretched survivor Elizabeth Osborn:













Monuments in the church building commemorate the following families (dates of death): Alpress, Collman (1840’s & 1850’s), Douet (1900’s), Edwardes (1820’s), Fowles (1900’s & 1910’s), Gale (1740’s & 1750’s), Gibb (1900’s), Gibbons (1710’s), Hannaford (1870’s), Husband (1900’s), Lewin (1970’s), Lewis (1830’s), McGilchrist (1760’s), Mitchell (1890’s), Morant (1720’s to 1750’s), Murdock (1930’s), Osborn (1800’s to 1820’s), Plummer (1970’s),

Pusey (1760’s & 1780’s), Read (1740’s & 1770’s), Robinson (1970’s), Scott (1970’s), Sympson (1840’s), Tillman (1910’s) and Wilson.

The church built the Mike Robinson Hall above the old rectory but it has since burned down.  Just the stonewalls remain.  It would have been great to ask who Mike Robinson was, but alas, I had miles to go and there was no one around to ask…maybe some other day.  Therefore, I shall leave the long dead colonialists to stand guard until I return.

Photo Gallery

Location Map



Ackendown Great House


 On the way back to Kingston, after a weekend hunting great houses in Hanover, we decided to track down Ackendown Castle which is supposed to be located across from the entrance of Whitehouse Sandals. Sure enough, we turned onto a road between two posts, headed up the hill and found the Ackendown Great House. The chain link gate was standing open so we parked our vehicle and headed toward the most obvious structure on the property, the great house. The house is abandoned, so I dutifully took pictures of the great house from all directions and even drew out a house plan.

The house appears to have had major modifications over the years. The original house was built (1750) prior to Archibald Campbell’s birth (1781-1833). It consisted of the back rooms on a square-cut stone and brick foundation that made up the original house. On top of this building appears to be wood and lime plaster construction (Spanish walling). It was connected by a paved courtyard to the kitchen outbuilding. It had a semi-circular stairs at the front of the house. The original roof was probably a gable roof that ran east and west. The back rooms which don’t have a basement are presently being used as a horse barn. More than a century ago (1878) Andrew Stephen Aguilar added a front wing with its separate east-west gable roof. This wing had a full basement made of cut stone and contains an oven on the east wall. Sydney Aguilar added east and west wings and converted the gable roofs into hip roofs (1920). Further additions were made at a later date to the rear on both the east and west (1950).   Most of the wood flooring is missing, leaving the basement open to the second floor of the south addition. In the living room, the wall wood supports are exposed and painted brown, with white plaster between the boards. The house is painted white with brown louvered windows. There is a large porch with stone steps on the front forming an arch beneath the floor.

It is thought that John and James Guthrie owned the property between 1710 and 1757. The Guthries were an important historical family in Jamaica. Between 1757 and 1784 the property was owned by William Beckford. From there the ownership gets somewhat muddled but eventually the property ends up in the ownership of the Campbells who supposedly built the Ackendown Castle. From 1869 to 1878, R. F. Thomas was the owner and then from 1978 to recently it was owned by the Aguilar family.

There is evidence of numerous buildings scattered around the property, including several storerooms connected by a pimento barbeque (a flat area for drying pimento). This would indicate that at one time, the plantation was used to produce pimento. West of the house is the Negro house piece where mounds of the previous houses are still visible. The July 1837 plan shows 32 structures averaging 15 feet x 20 feet in size scattered over nine acres. The plan also shows the fourteen acre provision grounds where the slaves grew their own food.

The great house is easy to find, directly across from the Whitehouse Sandals Resort gate. I wonder how many people, staying at the resort know that such an interesting structure is within a short walking distance?


Ackendown Great House Layout

Ackendown Great House Layout

Ackendown Great House Photo Gallery

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Gales Valley Great House

The Challenge of Finding Gales Valley Great House

I had a bit of a struggle finding Gales Valley Great House. The trip to Hamden Great House was easy to find because a working sugar factory is there and they give tours (I will cover the Hamden Estate in a future post). The Hamden estate is adjacent to the Gales Valley Estate but at the time, I didn’t realize it. I headed west out of Wakefield, visited Hamden, backtracked into Wakefield, headed south and realized I must be past the estate according to the map. I then asked directions and a helpful man pointed back to the road to the Hamden sugar mill. I was told to follow the road that leads to the limestone quarry and sure enough, I found it near the top of a hill, surrounded by coconut trees, overlooking the large acreage of the previous estate. I found it abandoned. I was able to draw up a floor plan and it must have been a beautiful house at one time with a terrific view of the surrounding mountains and cane fields.

Description of the House

The split level wooden house is painted green and has a steep corrugated metal “M” type hip roof (two peaked roofs side by side). There is a large verandah facing north and the large slash and louvered windows allow the cool breezes to pass through the house. There are no ceilings, allowing the heat to rise and vents at the top of the interior walls allows great cross ventilation…a house built for the warm temperatures of Jamaica, rather than show. The floors are hardwood as well as the interior walls. As in most great houses of Jamaica, the living space is on the second floor. At some point, someone remodeled the house, adding an inside bathroom. A stairway in the living room leads to the ground floor. A separate kitchen out building is also built into the side of the hill.


William Gale originally owned Gales Valley Estate in Trelawny Parish and the York Estate in Saint James Parish both of which equaled 3,147 acres. He also owned Mount Hindmost Estate in Clarendon. The Gales also owned the pens and cattle ranches called St. Jago and Paisley. In 1820, there were 388 slaves at York, 262 at Gale’s Valley, 175 at Mount Hindmost and 40 at each of the two cattle pens. These numbers declined in later years. William was born on 7/15/1728 at Liguanea, St. Andrew’s Parish, to John Gale of Withywood and his wife Elizabeth Morant Gale. On 1/11/1753 at Vere, he married his first cousin, Elizabeth Morant. Elizabeth died on 6/14/1759 at age 31 and was buried at Vere Church. The couple had no children. William was a member of the Assembly for Hanover Parish in 1754-55 and for Saint John Parish in 1755-56.

The Gale and the Morant families came to Jamaica separately in the seventeenth century soon after the island was seized in 1655. Major John Gale (1637-1689) was buried there, as was John Morant who died in 1683. Various marriages linked their families, as they both acquired plantations, large estates, and great wealth. In 1754, John Morant owned 4,631 acres in Clarendon and 3,582 acres in Vere. Five members of the Gale family owned more than 6,000 acres of the island. In 1759, John Morant’s great-grandson Edward (d 1791) moved to England from Jamaica, where the family had built up extensive estates. He bought the Brockenhurst estate in Hampshire England in 1770, and his eldest son John Morant (d 1794) purchased the Manor of Ringwood from Henry 8th Lord Arundell in 1794. The Jamaican estates were handed down to subsequent generations of the family. Edward Gregory Morant (1772-1855) inherited his Uncle William Gale’s estates in Jamaica. Death duties on the death of a later Edward Morant in 1910 forced the family to sell the Ringwood properties in 1916. Many of the Brockenhurst estates were sold in 1951 and 1959.

The house is located west of Wakefield on the boundary of Trelawny and Saint James Parishes. Look for the quarry sign, turn left and it is on the top of the hill to the right of the road.

Gales Valley Great House Photo Gallery

Gales Valley Great House Location Map


Green Park Great House

In its “hey day”, the Green Park had to have been a magnificent structure. When Thomas Southworth moved to Green Park Estate, a two story Georgian great house existed made of square cut stone which was probably shipped to Jamaica from England as ship ballast. The house was approximately 40 feet by 60 feet. He built a second great house adjacent to the first of over 6,000 square feet. He constructed ground floor out of cut stone and the second story of wood. In the center of the second story was a large room 40 feet long by 18 feet wide, which was used as a dining room and ballroom. It had a high ceiling formed by the roof peak. The ballroom had large arches and French doors on the north side opening onto a wide verandah on all four sides of the house. The verandah was enclosed with alternating sash windows and louvers, which allowed cool breezes to flow through the house. This room was surrounded by bedrooms. The ground floor consisted of a large center room and a room on each corner. External doors on the east and south sides opened into foyers. The grand foyer was on the west side and was constructed entirely out of wood. There were numerous gun ports, required by law. A plantation was required to defend itself against a slave revolt; hence, most great houses had a ground floor made of stone. Additionally, it was required that there be no less than one white man to every one hundred slaves. On the south were two double doors six feet wide and fifteen feet high. There was one set of double doors at the west grand entrance. At the front of the building are two marble plaques on either side of the front door. The northern plaque says, “Green Park Plantation Manor” and the south says, “Built in 1764 by William Atherton.”

In addition to the two main structures, to the rear of the first great house there was a gabled kitchen with a huge oval window and a large brick fireplace able to roast a whole ox. Next to the kitchen were the stables, carriage house, and a round two story bathroom with three toilets on the first floor and a bath on the second floor. To the rear of the second great house was a large windmill tower.

I would have loved to see the great house in its prime. Unfortunately, the present owner is unsympathetically restoring the house and when finished it will not look like the original building.

Green Park Great House Layout


Green Park Great House, Trelawny, Jamaica. The Dining Room. From a Photograph taken in 1922. Collection: Brett Ashmeade-Hawkins.

Green Park Great House Photo Gallery

Green Park Location Map


Green Park Sugar Estate | The History

This is the first of two blog posts on the TheLastGreatGreatHouseBlog.wordpress.com. The first post will discuss the history of the estate and second post will discuss the great house itself. Much of the information is derived from the excellent research by Brett Ashmeade-Hawkins into the estate.

Green Park Estate was located approximately ten kilometers from Falmouth in Trelawny Parish. A portion of it was originally the Bradshaw Estate, named after James Bradshaw. Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England granted to it to James Bradshaw in 1655 for the part his Father or Uncle (it is uncertain) John Bradshaw played in signing the death warrant of King Charles I. In 1660, King Charles II granted an adjacent estate to Richard Barrett and in 1706, Queen Anne granted 248 acres to Francis Egg who sold it to George Collier who renamed it Green Pond. George Sinclair bought the property from George Collier in 1740 and then built the first great house. In 1743, he sold it to William Clarke who built the second great house on the property, which was now 300 acres. He used is as a cattle operation. In 1759, Clarke sold the property to Edward Barrett who had inherited the Barnett Estate, increasing the property size to 742 acres. In 1759, Edward Barrett sold the property to James Peterkin who resold it to two Kingston merchants named John Kennion and Thomas Southworth in 1761. Thomas Southworth moved to the plantation, changed the name to Green Park and changed it from a cattle operation to sugar estate. Construction began on the present great house in 1764 by Thomas Southworth but he died before it was completed. William Atherton, Southworth’s heir, moved to the estate, took over the operation and completed the great house between 1768 and 1769.

During the 1770s, William Atherton expanded the estate by purchasing the adjoining Bradshaw Estate in 1771, which increased the size to 1,315 acres, and he added a second sugar mill in 1773 with an imposing stone windmill, which supplemented the mill powered by cattle. He imported hundreds of slaves from Africa to work in the cane fields and sugar factories of what was now the third largest estate of the eighty-eight estates in Trelawny Parish. William Atherton established himself, not only as one of the wealthiest sugar planters but also established himself as a merchant in the nearby towns of Martha Brae and Falmouth. Additionally he acted as the attorney for William Gale who owned the Gale Valley estate and Edward Hyde who owned the Swanswick Estate as well as several other planter families. (I will report on the existing Gales Valley and Swanswick great houses in a later blog. He also owned the Spring Valley Pen, which I will report on, in a later blog.) This made him an immense fortune and allowed him to purchase Prescott Hall, a country estate near Preston in Lancashire and retire to England in 1783. He died in 1803 and left the Green Park Estate to his nephew, John Atherton.

In 1810, the plantation records listed the estate having 550 slaves and 302 head of cattle. Green Park Estate stayed in the family until 1910, when the family decided to sell it to their Planting-Attorney, Walter Woolliscroft who had managed the estate for many years. In 1920, Mr. Woolliscroft made a fortune in the “Dance of the Millions.” In 1919, sugar sold for US$0.05 per pound:

1919 Average- US$0.05
January 1920- US$0.06 1/2
February 1920- US$0.095-the highest sugar had ever sold
March 2- US$0.10
March 18- US$0.11
March 27- US$0.12
April 8- US$0.15 1/2
April 18- US$0.18
May 19- US$0.22 1/2 this was the high when Mr. Woolliscroft sold his crop
By December the price was US$0.03 3/4

The price of sugar continued to fluctuate radically but usually higher that the average 1919 price which made Mr. Woolliscroft very wealthy but following the stock market crash of 1929, the price of sugar plummeted sending the Green Park Estate deeply into debt and forced Mr. Woolliscroft into bankruptcy. He sold the estate to Guy Milliner. Eventually the estate and sugar works were closed in 1957 and the last sugar cane crop harvested in 1963. Kaiser Bauxite Company bought the property to resettle farmers on five acre plots.

Green Park Sugar Estate Photo Gallery

Green Park Sugar Estate Location


Seville Great House

Seville Great House

My oldest son, Raul, and I visited the Seville Great House in 2013. The Government of Jamaica has recently renovated the 301 acre Maima Seville Great House Heritage Park and they have done a marvelous job on not only the house but also the surrounding out buildings.

Christopher Columbus discovered Jamaica on May 5, 1494, and landed near the present heritage park. Christopher Columbus was shipwrecked and stranded in the area between 1503 and 1504. In 1508, the Spanish government gave Jamaica to the Columbus family and they made Christopher’s son, Diego, Governor of the West Indies. One year later, Diego Columbus’ lieutenant arrived on the island and began the construction of Seville la Nueva (New Seville). Columbus planned a grand city. This was the first Spanish town on Jamaica and became the first capital. A fort, cathedral, a governor’s palace and a sugar works were built. Later they moved the town to higher ground away from the mosquito breeding mangrove swamps and sixteen years later, the capital was moved again to Saint Jago de la Vega (now called Spanish Town) on the south coast.

In 1655, the English beat the Spanish at the Battle of Rio Nuevo and the Spanish left the island for Cuba. As a reward for his role in defeating the Spanish, Captain Samuel Hemmings was granted 2,500 acres of land in 1670, which included Seville la Nueva. In 1745, Hemmings’ grandson built a great house on the site of the original house as well as a slave village and a successful sugar works.

Hemmings built the house with two stories, but a hurricane blew the top story off about 1898 and it was never replaced. The structure is of waddle and daub construction with wood floors and English tiles. The doors are constructed of raised panel mahogany. The slash windows were later modified to include jalousies. The interior of the house has mahogany arches that separate the living and dining rooms. A veranda was constructed across the entire length of the north and east sides of the house to allow adequate ventilation and sunlight. There is a projected entrance portico with stone steps. The roof had a covering of cedar shingles. Additionally, a typical slave hut has been constructed on the property. Inside, an excellent museum has been arranged showing the life and times of eighteenth century Jamaica plantation life. One can also view the ruins of the sugar works.

The Maima Seville Great House Heritage Park is located adjacent to the north road A-1, approximately 12 kilometers west of Ocho Rios and approximately 1 kilometer west of the town of Saint Ann’s Bay. It is well signed and well worth the trip if you are in the area. The guided tour costs US$15 for adult tourists and US$6 for a child. For locals the price is JA$800 for adults and JA$300 for a child.

Topographical View of the Great House, Sugar Works and Slave Village at Seville Estate, St. Ann, Jamaica. Detail from an extremely rare Late 17th Century or Early 18th Century Map of the Harbour of St. Ann’s Bay, St. Ann, Jamaica, dating between 1690 and 1722. Collection: The National Library, Kingston, Jamaica.

Seville Great House, St. Ann, Jamaica. Built in 1745 by Capt. Richard Hemming. From an Original Photograph, c. 1905. Collection: Brett Ashmeade-Hawkins

Seville Great House Photo Gallery

Seville Great House Location Map


Stokes Hall Great House

Stokes Hall Drawing

Luke Stokes, the governor of Nevis, invaded the extreme southeast corner of Jamaica and drove out the Spanish in 1656. The Spanish called the area Hato de Morante (Ranch of Morant). Luke Stokes along with 1,600 other settlers were the first Englishmen to Jamaica. He later called the area Stokesfield. The area is part of the Plantain Garden River and Negro River delta and is the most fertile area in Jamaica, due to the periodic flooding by the river. The mountains to the north receive approximately 250 inches of rain a year and along with an occasional hurricane, cause a large bed load of soil to spread out over the delta. It was along this river, many prosperous sugar estates were established among which were Stokes Hall, Golden Grove, Duckenfield Hall, Holland, Amity Hall, Hordley, Hampton Court, Winchester and Wheelerfield. Much like the Nile River in Egypt, floods brought down new fertile soil for the crops. Unfortunately, the river delta was also a breeder of mosquitoes, which brought malaria and yellow fever. Luke Stokes, his wife, and two-thirds of the settlers died within a couple of years. The remaining settlers moved to higher ground, which they called Stokes Hall. Stokes Hall was adjacent to the road that passed from Kingston, through Port Morant and on to the estates at the mouth of the Plantain Garden River, Holland Bay. Up until the mid-1800s, Port Morant was one of the most important sugar shipping ports in Jamaica, but with the decline of king sugar due to the slave emancipation it became the small fishing village it is today. Stokes Hall Great House, in historical documents is referred to Stokes Hall Slave House because it was built by slaves brought from Nevis by Luke Stokes. It is one of the oldest English ruins on the island of Jamaica and built by Luke Stokes’ children. Like many early great houses in Jamaica, it was built more like a fortress than a house. Gun holes are still evident in the building walls. In 1840, the Stokes Hall and the adjacent Hampton Court sugar estates were owned by Alexander Donaldson and consisted of 1,443 acres. An earthquake destroyed the great house in 1907. The road up the hill was called Negro House road because it was lined with slave houses. Today, the view from Stokes Hall Great House is spectacular. Toward the east and south is the extensive river delta covered with sugar cane with the Duckenfield Hall sugar mill in the distance. It was sugar cane harvesting and the recently brown reaped fields were checker-boarded among the green cane fields. To the north, the Blue Mountains made up the skyline. The ruins of the great house consist of three remaining towers, the foundations of the kitchen outhouse and a water tank. The house is make of concreted rock rubble faced with dressed stone. Evidence of a stucco coating remains in some areas. Although there is some fancy arch work on the outside windows and doors, the lintels are really made of timber. Stokes Hall Layout There are a series of directional signs after one passes Morant Bay coming from Kingston. However, as most Jamaican sights, the signs are only good from one direction. In this case, it is well marked coming from the west but if you are coming from the east, you will never see the signs. The final sign is a bit confusing. Just before, you get to the village of Golden Grove, the final sign points toward a dirt road, but could be construed to be indicating to continue on the paved road. Where the paved road crosses Pleasant Hill across from the bus stop is the dirt road that continues up the hill to the great house.

Stokes Hall

Photo believed taken in the 1930’s

Stokes Hall Great House Photo Gallery

Stokes Hall Great House Location


The Overseer, Bookkeeper, and Driver


Each plantation had an overseer who was directly responsible to either the resident proprietor or the absentee proprietor’s attorney. He was the man who made sure the plantation ran smoothly and usually lived in the great house when the landowner was an absentee. Whereas, the attorney may be responsible for numerous plantations, the overseer was in control of only one plantation. He was a man who superintended several gangs of field laborers on a plantation. In Jamaica, the “overseer” became “obisha” by the late 1700’s and “busha” by the early 1800s. Usually, the attorney started his apprenticeship as an overseer.

The overseer might have several bookkeepers working under him. In Jamaica, these bookkeepers had nothing to do with keeping books. In fact, many times they were illiterate white men, whose sole function was to get the maximum work out of the slaves.

At the bottom of the supervisory level below the bookkeepers were the drivers. These were always slaves.

The hierarchy of management was paralleled by a hierarchy of punishment. Corporal punishment would be meted out to slaves by the drivers, bookkeepers or overseers. Whereas, the white bookkeepers would never receive corporal punishment. If the offense was great, they would be summarily dismissed without a horse to ride. The overseer would force them to walk off the plantation. If an overseer was dismissed, he would be given a horse or mule to leave with dignity. If corporal punishment was to be given to a member of the white management team, it would be administered by the government of Jamaica.

The Attorney

Holand Estate

As various landowners decided to return to Britain, they needed someone to manage their affairs on the island of Jamaica. This individual was called an attorney, not in the legal sense of the word, as in attorney-at-law. In fact, very rarely was an attorney an educated lawyer. He was called an attorney because he had the power of attorney to act on the behalf of the landowner.

There were two types of attorneys, the planter attorney who usually resided in one or more of the plantation great houses and a mercantile attorney who usually resided in the port towns. By living in an estate great house, the attorney laid claim to the highest position in the plantation social order. The planter attorney’s typical functions were the following:

  • Select and manage the overseer of the plantation
  • Visit the estate on a regular basis
  • Manage all records, pay wages
  • Handle all trading, both local and international
  • Send regular reports to the owner
  • Carry out the wishes of the landowner
  • Insure the plantation remained profitable

In exchange, the attorney received a portion of the profits, generally 5-6%. Very rarely did an attorney handle only one plantation. In 1832 there were 200 attorneys handling 473 estates (sugar), plantations (usually coffee or pimento) and pens (livestock). Thus with a commission of 5-6% and handling of several plantations, an attorney could become a very wealthy man.

Attorneys were always white men who generally started out as young men in the position of an overseer, factor or a book-keeper (these positions will be described in a later blog). Most were British born who arrived in Jamaica in their early twenties. If they survived the first ten years, they would generally become an attorney in their late twenties. Yellow fever and malaria cut down many promising young men. Most attorneys didn’t marry until their positions were secure, usually in their forties. Typically an attorney was twenty years older than his wife.

B.W. Higman, in his excellent book, Plantation Jamaica 1750-1850, stated:

The typical attorney was a man equipped by practical experience to deal with the demands of plantation management rooted in his district. The large attorney also possessed political and legal power and influence that might benefit his employers. None of this is surprising, in the sense that absentee and resident proprietors seeking agents to manage their investments had an interest in appointing people qualified to serve them efficiently. However, the profitable operation of the system depended on more than finding men willing and able to exploit human and physical resources through harsh management. The proprietor had final authority in the deployment of capital and resources, but the attorney necessarily had responsibility for the many areas of management, and opportunities barely dreamed of by the modern stockbroker.

If the reader of this blog is interested in exploring, in more depth, the management of Jamaican estates, plantations, and pens, I heartily recommend Higman’s book, which is available from Amazon.com.