Paul H. Williams, Contributor
WOODSIDE, St Mary:
ACCORDING TO Dr Erna Brodber in her book The People of My Jamaican Village 1817-1949, Woodside, St Mary, first appeared in Jamaican government records in 1811. It was a 1,000-acre coffee plantation owned by a Dr William John Neilson, who inherited it from his father, John Neilson, who died in 1800.
Woodside was the largest coffee plantation in the area, and many enslaved people from Africa laboured on it. Brodber said that in 1817, the names of the enslaved people on Woodside plantation began to be entered into official government records. "By a government ruling which took effect in that year, each master had to declare his slave holdings ... . The persons named in William John Neilson's 'returns' are the ancestors of some of the people who live in Woodside today," Brodber writes
Apart from the descendants of enslaved Africans, there is not much, for obvious reasons, that the enslaved Africans have left behind. Yet there is a place called 'Daddy Rock', a cavern-like formation, where it is said the enslaved Africans would meet to socialise and discuss issues. "According to the oral history here, the enslaved people used to go there to talk their own business," Brodber told Rural Express recently.
Also, the Woodside Great House, which was once a school, is now an old Anglican church.
Major Taino (Arawak) settlement
But before the arrival of the British and the Africans, Woodside was a major Taino (Arawak) settlement. The Tainos were annihilated, but some of their vestiges - such as some steps etched on a slope near the Anglican church, a burial spot in front of the church, and a rock carving called 'One-Bubby Susan' - are still in Woodside.
It is for these reasons that the citizens of Woodside, including Brodber, historian, educator, sociologist, anthropologist, author, want Woodside designated a heritage site. And there is already an Emancipation observance, which takes place in Woodside on July 31 and August 1, which ends at Daddy Rock. "We transport ourselves back to 1838, and we go there to talk our own business," Brodber said. A re-enactment of the proclamation of the emancipation of the enslaved Africans is part of the observance.
At Daddy Rock, what the citizens want is a plaque engraved with the names of their ancestors. Some families have already erected individual plaques, but not everybody can afford such plaques. "So what we want to do now is to put up a big plaque with the names of all the people who were here in 1817 ... but we want help to put up the plaque," said Brodber, who was born in Woodside.
The significance of the monument, she said, is that it would be "a point where everybody can say I was here. My people were here. I have roots. In 1817, my people were here". It is about giving people their history. The present young generation, she said, is interested in the development of Daddy Rock, and recently, they bushed the spot in front of the rock. This spot, it is hoped, will be transformed into a garden, a communal space.
And the desire for some people is for all of Woodside to be officially recognised by the Jamaica National heritage Trust. If not, One-Bubby Susan herself should be designated a heritage Taino site. "We want a declaration," Brodber said.