JN Foundation publishes history of St Thomas
Parris Lyew-Ayee’s childhood in St Thomas is replete with blissful joy. From catching janga (shrimps) in the rivers of St Thomas; learning to swim in the sea, which was in his backyard in Yallahs Bay; to attending Kumina meetings are some of the childhood memories that still remain with him.
Lyew-Ayee says he is happy that the history of St Thomas is being highlighted through the Parish Histories of Jamaica Project, which is being spearheaded by the JN Foundation in collaboration with the Department of History and Archaeology at The University of the West Indies, Mona.
“This is an invaluable project as it not only documents the history of the parish, but to some extent, some oral history is being preserved through the stories of persons like me who lived in the parish,” said Lyew-Ayee.
The History of St Thomas is one of six parishes so far completed by the project. The other five parishes are St Catherine, St Mary, Trelawny, St Elizabeth, and Portland.
Apart from the Rozelle Falls, near Morant Bay, for Lyew-Ayee, the ‘Oliver Bridge’ is one of his childhood memories of the parish. The bridge was eventually replaced by the now Bustamante Bridge.
“It was different from any other bridges that you would see. It was pretty narrow. While I was there, it was in disrepair. So when I used to go back home on the ‘tiger bus’, when you approached the bridge, everyone would have to come off the bus and walk behind the bus as it drives across the rickety bridge,” he said.
The published history also explores how the town of Bath, home to the Bath Mineral Springs, came into being.
According to the account, during the wet season, the mineral water that springs from rocks at different levels reaches a temperature of 128 degrees Fahrenheit and gets to a high of 130 degrees Fahrenheit in the dry season. The Bath mineral water has high concentrations of lime and sulphur, and once it became clear that taking a bath in the healing waters coming from the spring proved helpful for skin diseases and rheumatic illnesses, arrangements were quickly put in place to lead the water to a bathhouse, where persons could experience the curative powers of the mineral spring.
“So began the series of events that led to the establishment of the town of Bath, named after the healing powers of its famed mineral baths, today known as Bath Fountain,” the history reads.
St Thomas is also associated with two of our national heroes, Paul Bogle and George William Gordon, who both fought for justice and fair treatment for all Jamaicans in the 1800s.
And the parish has not forgotten the legacy of these freedom fighters. In fact, according to the history of St Thomas, behind the burnt-out Morant Bay Courthouse stands the monument to the martyrs of 1865, which reads, “in memory of the 437 Jamaican Martyrs of October, 1865, who fell because they loved freedom”.
Onyka Barrett Scott, general manager of the JN Foundation, said that the aim of the JN Parish Histories of Jamaica project is to support identity building through research of and engagement around the histories of the 14 parishes.
“We are happy we have completed six parishes thus far. The value of the project has been demonstrated even more in the past few months as the nation has dealt with the pandemic. The JN Foundation is pleased to be playing a role in preserving the history of the Jamaican people and parishes through written accounts,” she said.
Barrett Scott said that persons are invited to access the Parish Histories of Jamaica website at http://parishhistoriesofjamaica.org and learn more about the remarkable history of Jamaican parishes.