The Stennett family occupied the Liberty Hill plantation starting about 1830, three years before the emancipation of the slaves and lasted until well into the twentieth century. The parliament of the United Kingdom passed the Abolition of Slavery Act in 1833. It was very strict in its provisions:
- On Aug. 1, 1834, all slaves 6 years old and younger were to be freed, as would be any new children born in British territories.
- On Aug. 1, 1834, all older slaves would begin a period of apprenticeship that would last for four or six years.
- Predials, (field-laborers), would remain apprenticed until Aug. 1, 1840.
- Non-predials would remain apprenticed until Aug. 1, 1838.
- After these dates, the slaves would be completely free.
- During the period of apprenticeship, the slaves would work for their masters for three-fourths of each week, which amounted to 40.5 hours of work.
- During the remaining 13.5 hours of the week, they were free to work for wages or work on the provision grounds.
- With wages earned, a slave could buy his or her own freedom, with or without his master’s consent.
- Special Magistrates, later called Stipendiary Magistrates, were appointed to oversee this apprenticeship process.
- Parliament would divide out a sum of £20,000,000 among the slave owners as compensation for the loss of their property.
Thus, the Stennett family lived through one of the most turbulent times in Jamaica history as the country passed from the slavery and sugar economy. A combination of the loss of cheap labor and the collapse of the price of sugar resulted in the major changes to the welfare of the land rich, cash poor plantation owners. Many of the absentee landowners lost their plantations due to mismanagement, the need for cash to pay labor and the inability to make payments on their heavily mortgaged properties. The ones, who survived, like the Stennett family, were able to persist by selling some of their land and changing to different crops like bananas, pimentos and copra (coconuts).
The last of the Stennett family were the sisters, Miss Annie, Miss Winnie, Miss Dora and Miss Georgiana, daughters of Doctor Stennett. Doctor Stennett was a member of the Jamaican Assembly. It is said the Dr. Stennett almost fought a duel with Captain Barrett, also a member of the House and of the family that resided at the Greenwood Great House. The sisters took an active part in the village of Lime Hall with Miss Winnie being the organist at the small church. They would help those in need, bind the wounds of those needing those kinds of services and hired the local people for jobs around the property. The local people reciprocated by watching over the ladies as they became elderly and protecting them during times of turmoil. The sisters had a large library from which they liberally loaned reading material from their shelves. There they lived until their deaths and their graves are located on the property.
If you are not used to nightfall in the tropics, darkness can catch you by surprise. Unlike the northern climes where twilight can drag on for hours, Jamaican sunsets “get there fast and then take it slow.” Night comes in less than 30 minutes, and hikers who forget the tropical dash-to-dusk can find themselves awash in pressing darkness.
I’m sitting on the verandah of a mountain-side Liberty Hill Great House at sunset, looking north to where sky meets sea. Both disappear. Quickly. Resorts surrounding Saint Ann parish narrow to pinpoints of distant light. The glow from the 15-story Norwegian Dawn cruise ship melts into darkness as its twin Azipod propulsion units push the 958-foot floating palace from Ocho Rios to the Port of Miami. A cool breeze flowing from land to sea wafts across my skin, a delightful respite from the sweltering heat of the coast. I hear the rustle of royal palm leaves. Around the verandah lights, delegates from the 22 species of Jamaican lizards have emerged to feast on insects, other lizards, and quick step robber frogs. The love songs of tree frogs fills the night on all sides. Further in the distance, the far distance, so as not to keep me awake, I hear the offbeat rhythms of reggae, the night-pulse of Jamaica that will beat into the early morning.
Wap. Wap. Wap. I awaken to the ceiling fan turning overhead. A rooster’s crow carries through the cool morning air, accompanied by dogs barking impatiently in the distance. A braying donkey demands, “Let me out for breakfast!” The mourning of doves and the chorus of cicadas have replaced the nighttime croaking of the tree frogs. Another day in the Jamaican mountains has dawned.
I made reservations to spend the next two weekends at different Jamaican great houses. This weekend I will spend a night at Tamarind Great House, which is a few miles south of Oracabessa. This was a part of the Crescent Estate and I will report more about the history in a latter blog.
The second great house is the Liberty Hill Great House. The Traceys established the Liberty Hill plantation in the late 1700s to grow pimentos. The owners expressed excitement that I will be coming to listen to the story of their property. If the owners agree, then I will also include in this blog, links to their various properties.