Story Of Spanish
Dr. Rebecca Tortello
For some 30 years early Spanish colonists settled in or near to St. Ann`s Bay until they realized that these locations were plagued by swamps.
looked south to a town on a wide fertile plain, a town they named Villa
de la Vega (Town of the Plain). Now known as Spanish Town, it was founded
in 1534 and became the capital in 1538. Having been a Taino settlement
beginning close to 500
In general, Spanish Jamaica was poor and badly governed. Its economy was based on cow hides and lard. It never prospered and was more of a burden than a benefit to Spain (Black, 1965). Indeed, Spanish governors were rarely present and many of the settlers became discouraged and abandoned the island, frustrated that they had no luck finding the gold they so desired. Spanish Town, however, was a good choice for a capital because for the first time since arriving in Jamaica the Spanish chose a site where the land was good for farming.
Town`s proximity to the Rio Cobre was considered important in terms of
health, and its closeness to a major waterway, the Kingston Harbour, important
in terms of safety. The town`s inland location meant an added
The checkerboard plan the Spanish adopted in 1534 still largely influences the layout of the town today (Buisseret, 1969, p. 36). The original Spanish plaza was located near to where the Anglican Cathedral now stands and slightly to the north, where the ruins of Old King`s House now stands, was the Spanish Governor`s house. Under the British, the Square was rebuilt in the mid-1700s following a grid-like plan by John Pitcairne and was replete with Georgian architrecture. It is now considered one of the world`s finest Georgian Squares.
180 years Spanish Town Square was the home of the British colonial seat
of government, the Parish Council and House of Assembly, the island`s
archives, the Supreme Court and the first King`s House, residence of many
colonial governors. Built in the mid-1700s and burnt in a fire in 1925,
Century Spanish Town
It was also the seat of entertainment and the location of numerous balls and concerts. All new governors were feted in style and then required to repay the colonial gentry by holding open houses during the sitting of the Assembly, a practice about which pirate-turned-governor Henry Morgan complained cost him some $1,000. All distinguished visitors to the island were brought to Spanish Town, among them:Horatio Nelson.
Captain Bligh, known for having survived a mutiny amongst his crew and for having brought the breadfruit, among other plants and fruits to Jamaica
Admiral Rodney, for whom a statue now stands on the north side of Spanish Town Square, was also a distinguished visitor.
The memorial designed
by the famous English sculptor John Bacon in 1801 commemorates Rodney`s
victory over a French fleet that had attempted to invade the island in
1782. Rodney is portrayed
to resemble a Roman emperor. Heraldic symbols on the pediment tell the
story of the battle and the cannon on either side were taken from the
A tavern dating from Spanish time, which is said to have also been where
the mules and horses belonging to the Spanish governor were tethered was
Architecturally, Spanish Town remains a national treasure. Near the town`s entrance stands the oldest iron bridge of its kind in Western Hemisphere. Cast in England it was erected in 1801 at a cost of È4,000. On the eastern side of the Square, where the Assembly used to be, is now housed the offices of the St Catherine parish council. The original House of Assembly was built in 1762. On the south side of the square stand the burned remains of the former Courthouse, built in 1819, the victim of a 1986 fire. It is believed that on this site once stood the Spanish Church of the White Cross, said to have been connected by an underground passage to a monastery on nearby Monk Street. Also nearby on Barracks Street lie the remains of military barracks erected in 1791 to house both soldiers and officers. A large underground passage has been discoveredthere, although its origin and purpose remain elusive (Black, 1960, pp. 39-40).
of the Square on Red Church Street stands the Anglican Cathedral on the
site of the Spanish Chapel of the Red Cross which was destroyed by Cromwell`s
soldiers. The first Anglican Church building was destroyed by hurricane
in 1712 and rebuilt in 1714. In 1843 it was named the Cathedral of the
The history of Spanish Town lives on in the remnants of the old buildings that harken back to days gone and in its street names that mark it as a microcosm of the island`s overall history. Reminders of Spanish Jamaica include Red Church and White Church Streets, symbolic of the Spanish chapels of the red and white cross, as well as Monk Street, in reference to the monastery that once stood nearby. Nugent Street and Manchester Street are namedfor British Colonial Governors, while King Street is so named as it runs past King`s House and Constitution Street, near to the Square, refers to the fact that the island`s administrative centre used to be located there.
Black, C. (1960). Spanish Town - The Old Capital. Spanish Town: Parish
Council of St. Catherine. Buisseret, D. (1996). Historic Jamaica from
the air. Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, Sherlock, P. and Campbell, H.
(1998). The Story of the Jamaican People. Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers.
A Jamaica Gleaner Feature originally posted May 19, 2003.
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