A Description of the Places and People in Jamaica

At the time it was Captured in 1655

The text of this page is taken from the book, History, Civil and Commercial, of the British Colonies in the West Indies, written in 1793 by Bryan Edwards, a plantation owner based in Jamaica. A prominent figure in the politics of the West Indies in the late eighteenth century.

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[p. 146]

… I shall conclude this chapter with an account of the state of Jamaica, its inhabitants and productions, as it was found by the English forces on its capture in May 1655s observing only, and I mention the circumstance with a regret in which I am sure the reader will participate, that Gage, who planned the expedition, embarked with and perished in it!

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Regarding People and Places

The whole number of white inhabitants on the Island, including women and children, did not exceed fifteen hundred. Penn, in his examination before the protector's council, on the 12th of September 1665, states them at twelve or fourteen hundred only, of which he says about five hundred men were in arms when the English landed, It is remarkable however that Blome, who compiled a short account of Jamaica s0 early as 1672, avers that the town of St. Jego de la Vega consisted of two thousand houses, two Churches, two chapels and an abbey. There must therefore have happened at some period a wonderful diminution in the number of the white Inhabitants, and the expulsion of the Portuguese settlers, as related by this author, appears the more probable. Blome perhaps has given an exaggerated account of the number of the houses; but sufficient evidence remained, till within these few years, of the buildings consecrated to divine worship, particularly of the two churches and the abbey.

Regarding Remaining Places

Of the other principal settlements, the chief appears to have been at Puerto de Caguaya, since named by the English Port Royal; but though it was next in consequence to St. Jago, it was probably nothing more than an inconsiderable hamlet, established for the purpose of some small traffic with the ships bound from Hispaniola to the continent. Its subsequent rise and extensive prosperity, its deplorable wickedness and fatal catastrophe, are circumstances too well known to be repeated(*1).

(*1) The following singular inscription appears on a tombstone, at Green-Bay, adjoining the Apostles' Battery.


"Here lies the body of Lewis Galdy, Esq. who departed this life, at Port Royal, the 2nd December 1736, aged eighty. He was born at Montpellier in France, but left that country for his religion, and came to settle in this island, where he was swallowed up in the great great earthquake, in the year 1691, and by the providence of God, was by another shock thrown into the sea, and miraculously saved by swimming, until a boat took him up. He lived many years after, in great reputation, beloved by all who knew him, and much lamented at his death."

To the westward of Caguaya was the port of Esquivel (Puerta de Esquivella) so called, I presume, in honour of the governor of that name. This port seems indeed to have been almost deserted at the time of the conquest in 1655, the Spaniards giving the preference to Caguaya; but it was still resorted to by the galleons, as a place of shelter during the hurricane months, and, from its ancient reputation, the English named it Old Harbour.

From Old Harbour to Punto Negrillo, the western point of the island, the seacoast was chiefly in savanna, abounding in horned cattle; but there does not appear to have been any settlement in all that great extent of country, except a small hamlet called Oristan, of which however the accounts are obscure and contradictory.

Returning eastward, to the north of Port Caguaya [JTL: Pot Royal] was the Hato de Liguany; presenting to the harbour an extensive plain or savanna, covered with cedar and other excellent timber. This part of the country was also abundantly stored with horned cattle and horses, which ran wild in great numbers; and the first employment of the English troops was hunting and slaughtering the cattle, for the sake of the hides and tallow, which became an article of export. It was supposed by Sedgewicke, that the soldiers had killed 20,000 in the course of the first four months after their arrival; and as to horses, "they were "in such plenty (says Goodson) that we accounted them the vermin of the country(*2)."

(*2) Colonel Barry's house all galleried round (now called Cavaliers) was formerly, when the Spaniards possessed the island, the only place in Liguany inhabited; a rich widow had here a sugar-work, and abundance of cattle in the savannas, near 40,000." (Sloane, vol. i. Introd. p. 73.)--The mountains of Liguany were supposed also to contain mines both of gold and copper.

Eastward of Liguany was the Hato, by some called Ayala, by others Yalos, and now wrote Yallahs; a place, saith Venables "which hath much commodity of planting or erecting of sugar engines of water, by reason of two convenient rivers running through it fit for that purpose." Next to Ayala was the Hato called Morante.

This Morante (saith Venables) " is a large and plentiful Hato, being four leagues in length, consisting of many small savannas, and has wild cattle and hogs in very great plenty, and ends at the mine, which is at the Cape or Point of Morante itself, by which toward the north is the port Antonio."

Such is the account of Jamaica as transmitted in general Venables's letter to Secretary Thurloe, dated 13th June 1655. The reader will perceive that no mention is made of the north side of the island; which gives room to conclude, as was undoubtedly the fact, that it was one entire desert, from east to west, totally uncultivated and uninhabited.