Sugar cultivation was a lot more labor, capital and expertise intensive than either cotton or tobacco crops in the new world. This led to a highly specialized agricultural/industrial system, many years before the industrial revolution. Many of the processes learned in sugar mills were later applied to factories in Europe and North America. The cane had to be cut at exactly the right time (January to June) to maximize the production of sugar and the juice had to be extracted before the cane spoiled. This required the sugar estate owner to have a sugar mill near the fields.
The cane was fed through rollers that were powered by either animals, men, wind or water. If the green juice was left for a long time before processing, it would begin to ferment. The juice was then sent to the boiling house, usually by chutes where it was boiled down in a series of copper kettles over the furnace, each one smaller then the last. This was a highly skilled and dangerous job. The juice went into the largest kettle and here the operator skimmed off the impurities and then ladled the contents into the next smaller kettle. The ingredients became hotter as the kettles became smaller and the final kettle resulted in a thick, brown, ropy material called muscovado, a mixture of brown sugar and molasses. At his point, quicklime was added to aid in granulation and at exactly the right moment, the fire was cooled and the sugar ladled into a cooling cistern. The head boiler needed to know where the sugar was grown, how it was harvested and transported in order to get the process right.
The muscovado was placed into clay pots and the molasses was allowed to drain for up to a month. The brown sugar was then sun dried and packed into hogsheads, large barrels that held 1,500 pounds of sugar.
Auxiliary operations of the harvest included the cutting of the cane, hauling of the cane, usually by ox cart, and hauling the expended cane stalks after the rolling process to the trash house. The trash house was an important part of the operation. The expended cane was placed in the trash house to dry and then was later used to fire the furnaces. The skimmings and molasses were converted into rum in the distillery.
Work in the sugar mill was extremely dangerous and stressful. If the mill-feeder got any part of his hand caught in the rollers, he was drawn in and crushed. An axe was kept handy to chop off the limb before it was too late. The boiling house was extremely hot and sometimes water had to be poured on the shingled roof to keep it from catching fire. If the boiler operator got any boiling sugar on his skin, it stuck like glue and many times resulted in death.
Sugar Mill Photo Gallery
John Blagrove, who owned Maggotty (later to be renamed Kenilworth) also owned Orange Valley, Unity, Pembroke and Cardiff Hall estates. Cardiff Hall Great House was (and still is) a magnificent house and was the Blagrove family’s primary residence (see my previous Cardiff Hall Great House post). Great houses were not always occupied by the owner of the plantation. Much of the time, either an owner planter lived on one of his other estates as in John Blagrove’s case or he was an absentee owner who lived in England. Much of the time the attorney or the overseer lived in the great house (see my plantation management posts).
I was able to find what I assume were the ruins of the great house on another part of what would have been a portion of the estate. It was near the remains of a windmill tower. Stone windmill towers on the island of Jamaica almost always indicate the previous location of a sugar mill. Wind was used to turn the rollers that squeezed the juice out of the cane. The house is situation on a hill overlooking the north road. There are numerous stone steps that lead up to the front of the house. Although the roof is missing, the grandeur of the house still shines through. The house was constructed of square-cut stone and brick, probably brought as ship ballast from the Old World. The patio at the front of the house is paved with brick. The front windows and doors have arches at the top of each opening, giving an elegant appearance to the house. The alternating pattern of the red brick and the white stone is striking and shows that some thought went into the design of the building to make it aesthetically pleasing. Only the first floor remains but the few stones above the first floor indicate that the whole house was once stone.
The Portrait of John Blagrove by the Italian Pompeo Batoni, now in the National Gallery of Jamaica, represents a young man who sat for the painter during his “Grand Tour” to the Continent. Britons regarded the eighteenth-century Grand Tour as necessary in finishing the education of a gentleman from the aristocracy and the upper gentry. Between 1740 and 1787, Batoni’s reputation among “British Grand Tourists” was very high and they offered him the leading source of patronage. Blagrove was born in Jamaica and inherited his wealth through sugar production and plantation slavery.
Blagrove made his “Grand Tour” because he had the wealth to do so and because it was the fashion for those of his class at the time. Having a Batoni portrait was not only desirable but also a symbol of status owing to the portrait’s having a social, cultural, aesthetic and symbolic resonance. With the rising tide of Abolitionism, the portrait became a symbol of gentlemanly status and sophistication in the face of growing hostility toward proslavery West Indian planters.
British Abolitionist culture dating from the late 1760s had no effect on the nature and representation of Batoni’s representation of Blagrove. Batoni’s Italian practice was shaped by the “Old Master” tradition of copying and invention as well as by financial demands. In fact, Blagrove’s portrait conforms to a clichéd formula that the painter had, by that time, adopted for his British clientele.
Upon relocating to England in 1805 and leaving the portrait behind at Cardiff Hall, his portrait likeness by the master Batoni seems to have lost its interest for Blagrove.
The house can be seen near Highway A1 across from Chukka Adventures near Sandy Bay.
Kenilworth Great House Photo Gallery
Kenilworth Great House Location Map
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: 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.
Potosi Estate Photo Gallery
Potosi Estate Location Map
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
Retreat Estate Photo Gallery
Retreat Estate Location Map
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
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.
Our Visit to the Drax Hall Great House
Bonita and I were on the hunt for the Drax Hall Great House for two weekends. The owners of every store, apartment building and hotel in the neighborhood of the great house named their establishment Drax Hall…something. We found that villages and neighborhoods assume the name of the original estate or great house. There is a plethora of towns named after the great house or pen house such as Amity Hall, Brown’s Hall, Carron Hall, Dean Pen, Fellowship Hall, Giddy Hall, etc., whether or not the great house or pen still exists. The names give us a target area to look for great houses but on the other hand may send us on many a “wild goose chase.” Finally, we discovered that all that was left of the great Drax estate was the ruins of the water wheel for the sugar works.
In 1669, William Drax founded the Drax Hall Estate. Drax came to Jamaica from Barbados. Upon William Drax’s death in 1691, he passed the estate on to his son, Charles Drax who owned the estate until he died in 1721. William Beckford acquired Drax Hall Estate in 1722 from Samuel Reynolds, Charles Drax’s brother-in-law. William Beckford’s acquisition of the estate initiated a period of nearly 60 years of absentee ownership, first by Beckford, until his death in 1770, and then by his son William Beckford, owner from 1771 to 1821. The senior Beckford was said to be the richest planter in Jamaica. At his death, he owned nine sugar plantations and was part owner of seven more as well as nine cattle pens and a house in Spanish Town. (In a latter blog, I plan to report on the system of absentee landowners and their representatives left in charge of the estate known as their attorneys. Many times the owner’s foreman lived in the great house and never the owner.) In 1821, Drax Hall passed from the Beckford family to John H. Pink, who died in 1841. The Sewell family later purchased Drax Hall Estate.
Because Drax Hall was founded as a sugar estate, it’s not surprising to see that the property also features an impressive and well-preserved water wheel that drove two stone rollers. These rollers crushed the sugar cane and out flowed sugar juice. Heating this juice produced sugar, which remained after the liquid evaporated. The water for the wheel flowed from a dam on the Saint Ann Great River, which marked the western edge of the estate. The water wheel greatly boosted the productivity of the estate. Although Drax founded Drax Hall as a sugar plantation, subsequent owners switched to bananas and cattle in the 1880s and coconuts in 1905.
An 18th Century View of Drax Hall Estate. St. Ann, Jamaica in 1765. It shows the original 18th Century Great House on the hill overlooking the Sugar Works. From a Manuscript Plan of Drax Hall Estate surveyed by George Wilson in 1758, which includes a later pictorial cartouche dated 1765. Collection: The National Library of Jamaica, Kingston, Jamaica.