I never made it to St. Thomas, located on Jamaica’s southeastern coast, until I was in high school. As part of our graduation celebration, our teacher organized a day trip around the island that brought us not to Morant Bay, its historic capital, but to Prospect Pen to view the Jamintel Earth Station* that had opened some years earlier. I still have the grainy photo of us posing primly in our navy school uniforms with part of the satellite station in the background.
St. Thomas, the 9th largest parish on the island, is bordered on its northern end by the Blue Mountains. Its diverse landscape includes mountains and wetland areas. The island’s only east-west river, the Plantation Garden, is located in the parish.
St. Thomas was established in 1662 and named for Thomas, Lord Windsor, who was governor of Jamaica at that time. It was known then as St. Thomas in the East. The name it was shortened to St. Thomas around 1866 when the number of parishes was reduced from 22 to 14.
St. Thomas has been home to the indigenous Taino Indians, Spanish, British and Maroon communities. Archeologists have found remnants of Taino settlements, dating to 650AD, in several locations in the parish.
No other event in the long history of St. Thomas has captured hearts and minds as the Morant Bay Rebellion. In 1865, Paul Bogle, a Baptist deacon, led a delegation of residents to petition the governor who were dissatisfied with their land tenure arrangements and the injustices they suffered.
Although slavery had been abolished, the majority of the population were unable to vote as they did not own land, neither could they read.
Following their unsuccessful attempt to get the ear of the governor and the arrest of some of the delegates, Bogle headed a peaceful march to the Morant Bay Courthouse a few days later. Sadly, a riot broke out. By the time order was restored, nearly 1,000 people were killed by troops, executed or sent to prison. Bogle and George William Gordon, a politician, who was not even in the parish at the time, were hanged.
The rebellion had a huge impact on the island, as well as in Britain. The governor was charged with murder (but was never tried), the Assembly was dissolved and the island came under colonial administration.
Paul Bogle, St. Thomas’ most famous resident, and George William Gordon were both later named a National Hero. The rebellion of 1865 still stirs powerful emotions and is the subject of poems and songs.
5 Reasons to Visit St. Thomas
Bath Botanical Gardens – Established in 1779 by the Government of Jamaica, these gardens are the second oldest in the Western Hemisphere. Many of the plants first brought to Jamaica were introduced here, including the croton, the jacaranda, cinnamon, mango, jackfruit and breadfruit.
Bath Fountain – According to local lore, a runaway slave discovered the mineral spring in the 1690s. The spa was opened in 1747 and is a popular location for Jamaicans.
Cunha Cunha Pass Maroon Trail – A very popular 8 km trail in the Blue and John Crow Mountain National Park that was first used by the Maroons to travel between St. Thomas and Portland. Guides are needed for this hike.
Morant Bay Court House and Memorial Garden – Although partially destroyed by fire, the courthouse is the location of the 1865 rebellion that ended with the execution of national heroes, Paul Bogle and George William Gordon. A statue of Bogle, which stood in front of the courthouse, will be returned when the court house is restored.
The Memorial Garden across the street is dedicated to Jamaicans who died in World War I.
Morant Bay Lighthouse – The oldest lighthouse on the island, it was built, in 1841, by indentured workers who came to the island from Sierra Leone.
St. Thomas has several great beaches, including the popular Holland Bay Beach.
My favorite sight in St. Thomas is the whitecap on the waves that crash to the shore, and the roadside waterfall near Whitehorses.
If you’re in Kingston, St. Thomas is less than 30 miles away. It is a little over 4 hours’ drive from Montego Bay.
The Jamintel Earth Station, part of Cable and Wireless, was installed in 1971. It was linked to an INTELSAT satellite to provide telephone, telegraph and television connection. It’s no longer in operation.