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The History of the Jamaican Parishes

The History of the Jamaican Parishes

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Did you know that there was a time when Jamaica had more than 14 parishes? Back then, the number of parishes almost doubled what we have now! Before 1655 when the Spanish were sovereign rulers of Jamaica, parishes were not established. However, after the British gained control of the island, Sir Thomas Modyford divided the land of wood and water into seven parishes. These were located mainly in the mid to southeastern region of the island. Under those circumstances, the names of the administrative units were St. Katherine’s, St. John’s, Port Royal, Clarendon, St. David’s, St. Andrew’s and St. Thomas in the East.

This design, however, did not last very long with the development of eight more parishes in the following years. By the year 1683, St. Dorothys, St. Thomas in the Vale, Vere, St. George’s, St. Marie’s, St. Ann’s, St. James and St. Elizabeth’s were added, and the number increased to 15.

Formation of Counties

Due to the increasing number of parishes, Jamaica was divided into three counties in 1758 as a means to make holdings of the Justice court easier. Cornwall, Middlesex and Surrey mirrored the naming of counties in England. Just like its namesake, the county of Cornwall is the westernmost county and Middlesex got its name due to its position in the middle. The county of Surrey bared the title after the English county which boasts the town Kingston upon Thames.

Depicting the Jamaican Counties
Photo from: Wikipedia

The Last Addition

By 1844, the land of the other existing parishes split up to create seven more parishes. Listed below is a timeline of the occurrence:

  • Kingston was built between the years 1693-1702 and separated from St. Andrew.
  • In like manner, between 1703 and 1722, Westmoreland became a reality based on land separated from St. Elizabeth.
  • The parish of Portland was named in honour of The Duke of Portland when he became Governor in 1722. Portland’s landmass emerged from St. George and St. Thomas in the East. During the same period, the parish of Hanover also emerged.
  • Subsequently created with the land which separated from St. James, Trelawny materialized in memory of Edward Trelawny between 1738 and 1752.
  • Afterwards, St Elizabeth, Clarendon, and Vere were all reduced to create Manchester. Manchester got its name from the Duke of Manchester, who governed Jamaica between 1808 and 1811.
  • In 1842, to honour Sir Charles Metcalfe, a former Governor, the Metcalfe parish was created from St. George and St. Mary.

The Final Fourteen Parishes

Even with all the renaming of the land previously, ever since 1867, the current fourteen parishes have been without change. Also remaining are the three counties. Eight of the former 22 parishes merged into the ones that now exist:

  • Eventually, the parish of Port Royal derived from land divided between the parishes of Kingston and Saint Andrew.
  • St. George divided between St. Mary and Portland.
  • St. David merged into St. Thomas.
  • Metcalfe is now part of St. Mary.
  • The parish of St. Dorothy is now part of St. Catherine.
  • Vere is now part of Clarendon.
  • St. John absorbed into St. Catherine &.
  • St. Thomas in the Vale combined into the parish of St. Catherine.

Information retrieved from http://old.jamaica-gleaner.com/pages/history/story0013.html

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