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: CockPitCountry.com. Michael can be reached by telephone at 876-997-3832 or email at Windsor@cwjamaica.com.
Windsor Pen Photo Gallery
Windsor Pen Location Map
After meeting with Michael Schwartz at his Windsor Great House in Windsor, I headed back toward Sherwood-Content. Upon leaving the driveway I encountered Sonny looking for a ride to Sherwood-Content to sell his bunch of bananas to purchase bun and cheese (a must have for Easter). He asked for a ride, to which I answered, “It’s going to cost you. You have to show me the location of the Content Pen in Sherwood.” He said, “I suppose you want me to put out my ganga (marijuana) before I get in.” to which I answered in the affirmative. A little way up the road, he hopped out of the pickup truck, disappeared into the bush and few seconds later deposited a bunch of bananas in the back of the truck, which must have weighed fifty pounds. Along the way, he pointed out the various medicinal plants along the road. He seemed to be very knowledgeable on the identification but a bit hazy on the uses. Medicine generally requires the understanding of both parts of the equation. He directed me up a steep hill to the Baptist Pastor’s house. Behind the modern house was the Content Pen. Finding these great houses is half the fun.
The house is a two story affair with a rock first story and a timber and rubble second story. The building has three hip roofs (a modified “M” type roof), each covering a third of the building. This roof system may have been used when additions were added to a house or to limit the span on more than two bearing walls. In any event, it is terrible to keep rain leaks away since the first place to start leaking is in the valley between the two roofs. It is the place where corrugated metal first rusts. On the sides, each section had large sash window. Across the front was a two story verandah. The wooden second story veranda is supported on stone pillars. The first story is painted red and the top story is painted white. It looks like it maybe the original paint job. A portion of two walls is all that remains of the kitchen out building. Nearby were numerous houses that probably housed the overseer and slaves. Those buildings are still is use today.
The estate was small at 58 acres and was used for the raising of livestock. There was a large portion marked out as “Negro Lands” where the slaves grew their own food. It eventually became a Baptist pastorium or manse. The Stirling family owned the pen as well as the Hampden Estate (I will cover Hampden Great House in another blog) and probably used the pen to supply work animals for the extensive sugar operation.
Sir James Stirling (1679-1749) of Glasgow Scotland had 22 children, forcing many to seek their fortune outside of Scotland. Several of his sons moved to Jamaica as merchants and planters. Archibald Stirling (1710-1783) established the Hampden Estate and Content Pen. Upon Archibald Stirling’s death, Sir William Stirling-Maxwell took over ownership of the Jamaica properties and ran them for 25 years.
It is rumored that Englishman William Knibb died in the great house. He is one of Jamaica’s official Heroes for his work in the abolition of slavery in Jamaica.
As a side note, Sherwood-Content claims to be the home town of Usain Bolt the holder of the world record in the 100 meter and 200 meter races. Bolt was actually born in the nearby town of Windsor, a town that is almost non-existent.
The great house is up the hill on a dirt road opposite the Waldsensia Baptist church.