Jamaica has 14 parishes:
- St Andrew
- St Ann
- St Catherine
- St Elizabeth
- St James
- St Thomas
For administrative purposes, Kingston and St Andrew were merged together as a single Municipal Unit called the Kingston and St Andrew Corporate Area in 1923.
These parishes became fixed in 1867, “as part of the reformation scheme” (Cundall 1915, pg. 43) after the Morant Bay rebellion, by a law passed for the reduction of the number of parishes. Previously, there were 22 parishes!
1655-1675: The English Conquers and begins Parish Divisions
According to Olive Senior (2003, pg. 375) the parish was, within the English system of local administration, an ecclesiastical division that reflected the close union between Church and State. As such, when the British took control of Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655, the country was divided into parishes for easier administration, and almost everything became Saint this or Saint that.
In 1662, a census of the island revealed that the country was divided into ten districts (Cundall 1915, pg. 40), the remnants from the Spanish occupation: “the Precincts of Port Moranto; Morant, Yealoth; and Legene; the town of Saint Angelo Delvega [St. Jago de la Vega]; Between Black River, Bower Savana and thereabouts; In the Angles Quarter; In the Seven Plantations, Macaria; Quathebeca; In the Quarters of Quanaboa and Quardelena; and Point Caugway.”
In 1664, when the new Governor, Sir Thomas Modyford, arrived in Jamaica from Barbados with 1000 settlers, he ordered a survey of the island and found that “there is in the said island but seven established parishes: videlicet, the town and parish of St Katherine’s, St John’s, the town and parish of Port Royal, Clarendon, St David’s, St Andrew’s, and St Thomas” (Cundall 1915, pg. 40).
This changed in 1670 when the island was divided into 12 parishes: St Catherine, St Andrew, Port Royal, St David, St Thomas, St George, St Mary, St John, St. Ann, St James, St Elizabeth and Clarendon. The following map was prepared showing the parishes, and published in Richard Blome’s Description of the Island of Jamaica (1672).
In 1673, the parish of Vere was formed “by cutting off a portion of Clarendon,” and in 1675, “when an Act was passed for dividing His Majesty’s Island of Jamaica into several parishes and precincts, St Thomas-in-the-Vale was taken from St Catherine; and Clarendon lost another piece out of which was formed St Dorothy” (Cundall 1915, pg. 40).
So by 1675 Jamaica had 15 parishes.
1693: Kingston is Formed (Parish #16)
With the destruction of Port Royal by the great June 7, 1692 earthquake “most of the inhabitants that survived settled in hastily erected buildings in St Andrew, on the harbour, and in the following year  the parish of Kingston was formed” (Cundall 1915, pg. 42).
1703: Westmoreland is formed (Parish #17)
In 1703, the parish of Westmoreland was formed out of a portion of St Elizabeth.
1723: Portland and Hanover are Formed (Parishes #18 & #19)
In 1723, the parish of Portland was formed, partly from land taken from St Thomas-in-the-East, and part from land taken from St George.
Hanover was formed out of lands taken from part of Westmoreland.
I should note here that in 1758, the three counties were formed, Surrey, Middlesex and Cornwall for the more convenient holding of the courts of justice.
1770: Trelawny is Formed (Parish #20)
In 1770, the 20th parish, Trelawny, was formed, out of a portion of lands from St James. The parish was named after former Governor of the island, Sir William Trelawny.
1814: Manchester is Formed (Parish #21)
In 1814, the parish of “Manchester was created by taking parts from Clarendon, Vere and St. Elizabeth” (Cundall 1915, pg. 42).
1844: Metcalfe is Formed (Parish #22)
In 1841, the last parish to be created in Jamaica’s history, was formed: the parish of Metcalfe. The 22nd parish was “formed out of the parishes of St Mary and St George” (Cundall 1915, pg. 43). The parish was named in honour of Governor Charles Metcalfe.
1867: No More New Parishes! The Numbers are Reduced
On April 23, 1867, “as part of the reformation scheme of Sir John Peter Grant” (Cundall 1915, pg. 43) the law was passed for the reduction of the number of parishes from 22 to 14:
- Kingston was increased by absorbing a part of the parishes of St Andrew and Port Royal, and the whole town of Port Royal.
- St Andrew took the remaining part of the parish of Port Royal.
- St David was merged into St Thomas-in-the-East.
- St George merged with Portland.
- Metcalfe was merged into St Mary.
- St Thomas-in-the-Vale, St John and St Dorothy were all merged into St Catherine.
- Vere merged with Clarendon
The result is today’s 14 parishes, as outlined above.
Until next time…
Blome, Richard (1672). Description of the Island of Jamaica. London: T. Milbourn.
Cundall, Frank (1915). Historic Jamaica. London: West India Committee.
diGJamaica. Parish Evolution
Senior, Olive (2003). Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage. St Andrew: Twin Guinep Publishers, Ltd.