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Slavery-day cemetery uncovered in St Elizabeth

Published:Sunday | March 27, 2016 | 2:11 PMPaul H. Williams
Vincent Samuel, secretary-treasurer of the Beersheba Old Students’ Association, who alerted The Gleaner to the slavery-day cemetery at Paynestown, St Elizabeth, points to the headstone of John Salmon, a former custos of St Elizabeth.
John Salmon was a custos of St Elizabeth.
A section of the slavery days cemetery discovered last week at Paynestown, St Elizabeth.

Elvie Miller and her family have been living in Paynestown, near New Market, St Elizabeth, since 1979. They occupy 13 acres of family land. She said that they had always heard that there were "slave graves" on a section of the property, but they had never seen them. However, her son claimed to have seen them when he was a boy.

The old graveyard had been overgrown with shrubbery until last week when Vincent Samuels, secretary-treasurer of the Beersheba Old Students' Association, who had recently heard of the graves, organised for the area to be cleared.

The clearance revealed a small cemetery demarcated with stone walls. Uncovered within those walls were the graves of former notable residents from the parish, some of whom owned enslaved people. The elaborate headstones, some well preserved, and quick research, said it all.

One of the best preserved epigraph reads: "Sacred to the memory of the Honorable John Salmon who died at Kepp on the 4th of February 1879 aged 81." The entire area - including communities such as Hopeton, New Savanna, New Market, and Paynestown - the research has also shown, was replete with estates and pens such as The Kepp Estate.

John Salmon, the owner of The Kepp, and the custos of St Elizabeth at the time, was the owner of several properties. A large tree had grown on his grave but was cut down during the clearance. Another grave, right beside Salmon's, and just like his, is surrounded by brass rails, which show no extensive weathering, if any at all.

Other surnames appearing on headstones are Cathcart, Coke, and Manley. However, there are several graves without headstones; some are partially buried; some headstones have disintegrated, and bamboo clumps have overgrown a few.


In reacting to the discovery, Samuels, who alerted The Gleaner, said, "The burial ground that has been discovered at Paynestown, New Market, St Elizabeth, is a library that is worthwhile exploring to unearth invaluable historical facts."

He said that some of the captured Africans from West Africa who were taken to St Elizabeth were auctioned at the slave port in Black River by auctioneers Palarchie and Levy and sold to slave masters, who transported them in their buggies to work at The Kepp and adjoining estates.

Amid the excitement, Miller and her children were surprised to know that such a historical spot existed on their property. She said that while they might have once heard that enslaved people were buried there, they had absolutely no idea that it was, in fact, the owners of enslaved Africans and their associates who were buried thereon.

Madge Mullings, Miller's daughter, said that she was excited and had learned much from the discovery. She admitted to not knowing much about slavery in Jamaica, but the spot now reminds her of a visit to the Rose Hall Great House when she was a child, and she hopes that the site on her family's land will be become just as famous.