Wah gwaan Massive? Even though the west uses February to celebrate Black History and Reggae, we do it every day. We believe in us, and know that one month is not enough to celebrate all we represent. As you can imagine, any chance to add to the national celebration of our people’s contributions is a perfect time for us. This week, we’ll be featuring the Emancipation Trail in the old capital.
We will use THIS February to reflect on the continued struggle for racial justice and social equality. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be championing stalwarts from various sectors and highlighting key historical moments and places. Don’t forget to come back often for updates.
When the Spanish arrived in 1494, they settled in Sevilla Nueva (now New Seville). In 1534, after leaving New Seville, they settled and built the area we know as Spanish Town. It was first called Villa de la Vega, later St. Jago de la Vega and now Spanish Town. The town served as the island’s capital for over three hundred years. Today, Spanish Town still possess rich memories of the past and is home to many historical buildings. However, the four most famous buildings are located in Emancipation Square. These buildings represent the most impressive of their kind in the West Indies.
The Former Town Square
Originally, Emancipation Square was considered the town’s centre. Unfortunately, over time the square became badly damaged by fire and natural disaster. One such disaster was the 1692 earthquake which destroyed many of the original structures. After a massive restoration that took decades, the buildings were converted into government offices to keep the square active.
Now, there are four key buildings that make up the square.
Old King’s House
Before the King’s House was erected in 1762, the Old Spanish Hall of Audience stood on the spot. To make way for the new King’s House, the Hall was demolished in 1761 to accommodate the Governor’s Mansion. This building formed the first unit of the civic square, designed in the then-popular Georgian style.
For almost one hundred years, the mansion was the official residence of Governor of Jamaica. Many significant historical events took place within the walls of this building. On August 1, 1838, the Emancipation Declaration was read from its steps. It was also to this same location that National hero, Paul Bogle, ended the historic march from St Thomas.
When the nation’s capital moved to Kingston in 1872, King’s House was temporarily abandoned. In October of 1925, a massive fire destroyed most of the building. As part of the restoration of the square, the building’s front façade was renovated, and the People’s Museum of Craft and Technology is now located in its stables.
House of Assembly
This two storey brick structure was constructed around 1762 and witnessed many bitter debates. It was the official meeting place of the local legislature for most of the 18th and 19th centuries. The Assembly was transferred in 1872 to Kingston when it became the capital. After this date, the Old House of Assembly was used for several purposes. Today, the old House of Assembly is used as the offices and Mayor’s Parlour of the St Catherine Parish Council.
During the Battle of the Saints in 1782, Admiral Lord Rodney saved Jamaica from a French invasion. Afterwhich, British sculptor John Bacon was commissioned by Jamaica’s government to create Rodney’s appreciation statue. The Assembly spent £5,200 on the statue alone and a reputed £31,000 on the entire project.
Behind the statue, you’ll find the Jamaica Archives. The Archives house many important documents, including a few signed by historical giants, such as King Louis XIV. The collection is considered one of the finest in the Western Hemisphere.
Old Court House
This Georgian building was the last unit built to complete the Square. The site was originally a cemetery and then a Chapel. After the structure of the Chapel was altered, space was used for an arsenal for small arms. That structure was demolished, and the Court House was erected in 1819. The upper level of the building was used as a Town Hall. Regrettably, in 1986, the Court House was destroyed by fire.
Interested in learning more about the old capital? Plan a visit to the square today. It is free of cost and easy to navigate! Come share, celebrate, boast and discuss our Jamaican culture with us.