Since my first visit to Seaford Town, about a year ago, I’ve wanted to return – mostly to photograph a few of the traditional German cottages I’d noticed there.
I got my chance this past weekend. This time, it wasn’t only about the cottages, it was to introduce Inge, my cousin’s German friend, who was visiting Jamaica for the first time, to Seaford Town, the largest German settlement here. I’m glad I returned as this visit offered a lot more interaction with residents than the previous one and yielded more information about the town.
Seaford Town was created in 1835 when the government at the time purchased 500 acres of land from a Lord Seaford, who owned the Montpelier Estate, to settle Germans who’d been recruited from Bavaria, Westphalia, and Waldeck.
With slavery about to come to an end, the planters thought of bringing in additional help to work the plantations. They probably also realized that for their own safety they needed to increase their numbers. (The Christmas rebellion of 1831 resulted in the deaths of 14 whites, about 500 slaves and property damage in the millions of pounds.)
They came up with a winning solution: recruit whites from Europe. One Dr. Lemonious received a grant from the House of Assembly to recruit 500 Germans.
I wasn’t able to determine why Lemonious picked these particular areas of Germany. Nevertheless, he would have known of the upheavals, economic and otherwise, that the Napoleonic and Revolutionary wars had caused. And being German, he would have known that German men, who were required to do military service, would know how to use guns. In fact, the new immigrants were armed when they arrived, and they not only increased the number of whites in Seaford Town, they were the planters’ line of defense against the former slaves.
The first group of Germans landed in Jamaica towards the end of 1835, another followed the next year. A third arrived in 1839. In all, 300 people with names like Sourlenders, Skelding, Somers, Sleiger, Eisinger, Dusterdick, Bierbusse, Fisher, and Myhaust landed in Jamaica.
Negril’s legendary 7-mile white sand beach and its laid-back attitude draw thousands of visitors annually. Most are content with relaxing on the beach that straddles two parishes, Westmoreland and Hanover, but there are several reasons to get out and explore what lies beyond the sand on the Westmoreland side.
The eighth largest of Jamaica’s 14 parishes, Westmoreland takes up the south western end of Jamaica. It was first settled by Taino and Ciboney Indians, remains of whom have been found in Negril and Bluefields, which lies several miles up the coast from Savanna la Mar, the capital. Christopher Columbus stopped in Bluefields, known then as Oristan or Oristano, and a settlement was formed there in 1519, making it one of the oldest settled areas in the island.
Westmoreland is also home to a large population of the descendants of indentured laborers who came from the Indian subcontinent to work on the island after slavery was abolished.
Royal Palm Nature Reserve: Part of the 10,000-acre Great Morass, the wetland area extending from Westmoreland into the neighboring parish of St. Elizabeth, this 300 acre expanse of towering Royal Palms, is the largest stand in the world. The half-mile boardwalk allows you to see up close many of the more than 300 species of reptiles, birds, and butterflies, and over 114 species of flowers. There are also extensive deposits of peat. Open daily, 9-6. Cost: $15 adults, $7 children. Located in Sheffield, a few miles from Negril. 876-364-7404
Mayfield Falls: Billed as Jamaica’s #1 eco-tourism destination, Mayfield Falls boasts waterfalls, 21 natural pools, 52 varieties of ferns, and flowers, butterflies and birds. 876-610-8612
Roaring River Park & Cave: The park and cave are located on the Roaring River Estate that was once owned by the Hay and Beckford families and later taken over by the West Indies Sugar Company (WISCo). The property gets its name from the river that provides water for much of the parish of Westmoreland. The limestone cave and a blue hole, which sits on private property, are both major attractions for the area. Guided tours of the cave and community can be provided by residents of the community for a fee. Located near Petersfield, a visit to Roaring River can be paired with a trip to Abeokuta (below) a few miles away.
Abeokuta Private Nature Park: When slaves came to this part of Jamaica, they brought with them the memory of the place in Nigeria where they had come from. To them, this small corner of Westmoreland reminded them of it and they named it Abeokuta. Now a nature park, it was officially opened in 2003 by the Nigerian High Commissioner to Jamaica. On the grounds are the ruins of an old great house, an aqueduct, which channels water from a river a quarter mile away into a near Olympic-size pool. The pool is possibly one of the oldest swimming pools in Jamaica. From Abeokuta, you can see as far as the coast. 876-891-0837 Located near Dean’s Valley.
Blue Hole Mineral Spring: I have not checked out this spring yet but it looks very inviting. Pool and mineral spring. Wabba 876-860-8805 Near Negril.
Negril Hills Golf Club: 18 holes, par 72, 6,333 yards, tennis court, pro shop and restaurant. 876-957-4638. Negril
Seaford Town: One of Jamaica’s best known German communities, Seaford Town, welcomed immigrants from Germany in the 1830s. A small museum documents the history of this community.
Hilton High Day Tour: A day tour of Hilton Plantation can be combined with a trip to Seaford Town, a few yards away. The tour includes a buffet lunch of roasted pig. Enjoy a relaxing stroll around the plantation, which is located in Westmoreland’s Montpelier Mountains.
Although Seaford Town and Hilton Plantation are located geographically in Westmoreland, they are best reached from Montego Bay.
Manning’s School: Although not a tourist site, Manning’s, founded in 1738 on land bequeathed by Thomas Manning in 1710 for a free school, is the second oldest high school in Jamaica. Its main building, now a library, is a Georgian structure that was constructed of timber. It has a vented gable roof, a cupola with fixed jalousie to provide ventilation, and deep verandahs on the sides. Located in Savanna la Mar, the capital.
Negril Point Lighthouse: Built by a French company in 1894 on a 14 foot deep tank which is filled with water to keep the lighthouse stable in the event of an earthquake. The lighthouse is painted white and rises 66 feet above ground.
Chebuctoo Great House: This Georgian style great house was declared a national monument in 2008. Chebuctoo, which is located on a pimento farm in Cave (near Bluefields) got its name from the Indian name of Halifax, with which Jamaica had significant trade in the 18th century, especially in salted fish.
Peter Tosh Memorial: A few miles up the coast from Bluefields is the community of Belmont where a monument to Winston McIntosh, popularly known as Peter Tosh, a founding member of The Wailers and a son of Westmoreland, is located.
Note: My roots go deep in Westmoreland. I also graduated from Manning’s.
Seaford Town is probably the best known of the German settlements in Jamaica. Nestled in the Montpelier Mountains on western end of the island, Seaford Town is a small community that, in 1835, welcomed approximately 300 German nationals.
There are at least two versions of the story of how they came. By one account, the planters, who were outnumbered by the slaves, feared for their own safety following the 1831 Christmas Rebellion. The presence of armed men, they felt, would deter future revolts so they looked for men who would have been trained and would have had weapons. Since German men were required to serve in the military and were equipped with rifles, they became the logical choice.
Another account is that the Jamaican Assembly appointed a Prussian, William Lemonius, to recruit “bountied” European immigrants to establish settlements in the island’s interior. Their presence, it was felt, would encourage the ex-slaves (slavery was abolished in 1834) to work harder. They were promised housing and a salary, which would be paid weekly until their crops began to grow. They would also be given title to their lots.
Upon arrival from Bremen in December, 1835, they had to build their own homes, were expected to work long hours and exist on very meager rations cornmeal, flour, lard, beef and saltfish. Within a few years after they arrived, several died. In time, they learned how to grow bananas, ginger, cocoa, cassava and coffee.
Descendants of those Germans who came to Jamaica in the 19th century and earlier can be found in St. Ann, St. Mary and Trelawny but of all the communities, Seaford Town has the strongest retentions. Other evidence of the German connection can be found in place names such as Manhertz Gap, Bremen Valley, Hessen Castle, Mount Holstein and Charlottenburg, among others.
Seaford Town is located about 25 miles from Montego Bay. A small museum containing artifacts, photographs and other documents can be found there as well as the Roman Catholic church, the first church built in Seaford Town. Entrance Fee: J$500, roughly US$6.00.
This is my submission to this week’s Budget Travelers Sandbox Travel Photo Thursday series. Be sure to check out other photo and story entries on their website.