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Chapelton actually not Clarendon's first capital

Published:Monday | January 9, 2012 | 12:00 AM


With respect to a story in The Gleaner of Saturday, January 7, titled 'How Clarendon's first capital got its name', your writer, Christopher Serju, referring to Chapelton, begins his story with the statement: "Its claim to being the first capital of Clarendon is undisputed." Chapelton is, in fact, the second capital of Clarendon, and May Pen is the third.

The parish of Clarendon was created in 1664 and named after Sir Edward Hyde (1609-1674), Lord High Chancellor of England (1657-1667), who was made the first Earl of Clarendon in 1661. His family motto was 'The Cross, the Test of Faith', and so the capital of the new parish was named 'The Cross', and its position in the southern part of the parish is noted on old maps of Jamaica on the main road from Old Harbour travelling west, after passing through Colbeck and Rosewell.

The first parish church of Clarendon (The Church of the White Cross) was the third Anglican church built in Jamaica (after Spanish Town and Port Royal). Elections for the first Jamaica House of Assembly were held there in 1664. The church was built of brick in the shape of a cross; the Rectors lived there with their slaves who worked the glebe. Its ruins may be seen in the bushes at The Cross (not to be confused with Palmer's Cross, which is nearby) and I recommend that it receive some protection as a heritage site.

In 1774, Edward Long wrote: "The hamlet, or village of the Cross, is situated about six miles from Old Harbour Bay, on the great roads leading, one to leeward, the other to Old Woman's Savannah. It consists of about 10 houses, near the parish church, which is a handsome brick building, of four ailes. Hard-by, likewise, stands the skeleton of the parsonage house, which at present is converted into a cooper's shop; a metamorphosis that is not at all wonderful; for the inhabitants of this hamlet, being mostly Jews and Mulattoes, afford no very agreeable neighbourhood to a Protestant divine."

Cross church set precedent

Beyond the Cross Church, the main road forked, one branch going towards the north coast (through the Pedro Valley) and the other going along the south coast (around Round Hill).

As cultivation in Clarendon shifted further inland, a chapel of ease (St Paul's) was built by the military barracks in the northern part of the parish; at first the settlement around it was called 'Chapel', then 'Chapel Town', and now 'Chapelton'. Later, Chapelton became the parish capital, but 'The Cross Church' remained the parish church, until it was finally destroyed in 1815, whereupon St Paul's became the parish church for Clarendon.

May Pen was a small hamlet until the coming of the railway in 1885, which spurred its development. It became the third capital of Clarendon in 1938, but it is the only parish capital without a cenotaph, as the one for Clarendon was built when Chapelton was the capital.