It’s after 5:00 p.m. and I’m driving along Long Lane, enjoying the cool climes that always greet me on my way towards Stony Hill for my final destination: the ever cool, the ever lush and green Golden Spring, home sweet home. I make that sharp left turn at Red Gyal Ring and I glimpse the sign that informs me of the upcoming towns: Stony Hill Square, Highgate, Port Maria, Port Antonio. Wait. Highgate? Port Maria? Port Antonio? Where is Golden Spring?
Come to think of it I can’t recall ever seeing a sign welcoming me to Golden Spring or indicating how many kilometres to Golden Spring. My youngest sister did say she saw one of those old-time looking signs hidden in the bushes welcoming people to Golden Spring but it sure must be well-hidden because all now I can’t find it! What’s up with that National Works Agency (NWA)?
Hmm, how did Golden Spring get its name anyway? Come to think of it why is Stony Hill called Stony Hill? Is it because the land is stony? Does a golden spring exist in Golden Spring? How did these towns get their names?
So from my meandering thoughts on a normal drive home from work comes today’s historical tour into a few of Jamaica’s place names. Sit tight!
Jamaica “Land of Wood and Water”:
Jamaica’s name itself has an intriguing history. The phrase actually owes its existence to the Tainos, the first inhabitants of Jamaica. They called the land Xaymaca in Arawakan, the language of the Tainos, which literally translated into “land of wood and water,” a phrase coined in recognition of the natural beauty and wonders of Jamaica.
So some place names are just as straight-forward, making reference to the natural landscape of the community. Annotto Bay, a town in St. Mary, was named so because of the presence of annatto trees (bixa orellana) that grew wildly in the area. The annatto tree is a shrub or small tree that for centuries provided Jamaican kitchens with seeds for colouring foodstuffs. The tree is a native of Central and tropical South America and was probably brought to Jamaica by the Tainos, who cultivated it in their gardens, although in 1662 a European observer noted that it grew everywhere without cultivation.
The town of Bath in St. Thomas is named after the ‘Bath of St. Thomas the Apostle’, the official name for the Bath Fountain Spa. There is quite an interesting story behind the ‘Bath of the Apostle’. History has it that the fountain was discovered in 1695 by a runaway enslaved man named Jacob, who found it on the backlands of his master’s estate. He accidentally came across hot water gushing from a rock and collecting in a pool and, after immersing himself in the pool over a period of time, he found that he got relief from his bad leg ulcers that had plagued him for years. He eventually bravely returned to his master to tell him about the healing waters on his property.
The news about the spring eventually spread and many persons started trekking to the water to witness for themselves its healing powers. In 1696, two persons built huts at the spring to accommodate their stay, for however long it took to regain their health. It lasted 10 days. Development took off thereafter.
The owner of the land sold the spring to the government for £400 in 1699 and thus the ‘Bath of St. Thomas the Apostle’ was born. Not much development took place until 175o when an Act was passed and £500 was voted by the House of the Assembly for the development of the Bath. This Act brought the town of Bath into existence.
For an interesting read on the Bath Fountain see Robert Lalah’s “Roving with Lalah” Gleaner feature, published on Thursday, July 26, 2006: ‘It’s a miracle!’ – At Bath Fountain in St. Thomas, it’s an everyday occurrence. “
Half-Way-Tree is a very busy road junction and commercial centre in St. Andrew. It was originally called Half-Way-Tree Pen and is said to have been owned by the Hotchkyn family for 130 years. As the story goes, Half-Way-Tree got its name from a large cotton tree that was standing there when the Spaniards first arrived and, until 1866, it was halfway between two places: Greenwhich in the St. Andrew Hills,where the English soldiers had their camp, and the fort near Spanish Town. It is said the soldiers always rested at this spot before proceeding to the fort. The tree died of old age in 1866.
Today, instead of a cotton tree, you will see the Half-Way-Tree clock, built in 1913 by public subscription. The clock tower stands at the meeting point of four roads: Constant Spring, Hope, Hagley Park and Half-Way-Tree roads. The clock is atop a Victorian-era clock tower.
The first written record of Half Way Tree occurred in the minutes of the Council of January 4, 1696, which noted the behaviour of some prominent men who visited the tavern located in the shade of the cotton tree. The minutes noted the following: “The Governor acquainted the Board that he had been informed that Mr. Redman Maccragh, Mr. Henry Archbold, and others had assembled together att halfeway tree in the parish of St. Andrews and had obleiged severall of His Majesty’s subjects passing that way to drink a health to the late K. James, which was lookt upon by the Board to be a great misdemeanour” (Cundall 1915, p. 197).
The enormous roots of the cotton tree later provided a resting spot for the market vendors between their homes in the hills and the markets in the city.
So there you have it folks, just a bit of history about three well-known places in Jamaica. The next time we take a tour of Jamaican place names we will see what the rest of the country has to offer. After all I still have to find out about Golden Spring!
Cundall, Frank (1915) Historic Jamaica. London: Institute of Jamaica West India Committee
Cundall, Frank (1909) Jamaica Place-Names. Kingston: Institute of Jamaica
Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), Half Way Tree. [Online]. Available at: http://www.visitjamaica.com/attractions/half-way-tree.aspx
Jamaicans.com, Jamaica Nostalgia Album. [Online]. Available at: http://www.jamaicans.com/gallery/nostalgia/half_way_tree
Senior, Olive (2003) Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage. St. Andrew: Twin Guinep Publishers, Ltd.
Tortello, Dr. Rebecca (2003) , Place Names – A Window to Jamaica’s History & Character: What’s In A Name? [Online]. Available at: http://jamaica-gleaner.com/pages/history/story0048.htm