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Clarendon – History

Clarendon is located at the southern side of Jamaica, roughly halfway between the eastern and western ends of the island.  It is bordered on the north by St. Ann, on the west by Manchester, on the east by St. Catherine and on the south by the Caribbean Sea.


Before the Spaniards and the English came, there were the Tainos who lived on Portland Ridge [now called Portland Cottage] (the part of the parish that juts out into the sea).  Taino villages could also be found on the banks of the Rio Minho River, near the Parnassus Estate, with the other villages on the banks of the Milk River.

A significant number of Spaniards settled in this parish and they named the southern grassland plains “savannahs”.  On these grasslands they raised imported animals (pigs, horses and cattle) roamed the area, and often strayed into the woods.  The hide of the cattle was exported to Spain while the beef and tallow were used locally.

At the time of the Spanish occupation, the northern and southern parts of the plain were known by their original Taino names – Guatibacoa and Yama.

When the British came to Jamaica, the southern part of the parish, Vere, was named after the daughter of Sir Edward Herbert, Attorney General to Charles I.  The lady, Vere, was also the wife of Sir Thomas Lynch (three time Governor of the island), who first came to Jamaica with Penn and Venables in 1655 when the British took Jamaica from the Spanish.  The area ‘Vere’ was once called Withywood because the area was covered with woody plants and withes – creeping plants, the stems of which were used for making baskets.

The English began planting cotton and indigo as they developed the fertile plains.  Large plantations soon took over as sugar cane became the main crop.  In 1662, approximately 500 people lived in the parish of Clarendon.

Sugar estates were developed along the Rio Minho valley and many places in this region still bear the names of original settlers, for example Suttons, Pennants and Ballards.  Henry Morgan, the notorious buccaneer, once owned Morgan’s Valley and Danks.

One of the earliest slave rebellions in Jamaica occurred in this parish, at Suttons Plantation, in 1690.  The runaways from that plantation joined the Spanish-speaking free Africans of the north, and the whole group came to be known as “Maroons”.  In time, these Maroons were driven out of Clarendon and, led by Kojo, son of the leader of the Suttons uprising, they eventually settled in the Cockpit Country.

After Emancipation, upper Clarendon became an area of extensive peasant settlement and the extension of the railway from May Pen to Chapleton greatly facilitated the development of these areas.


Clarendon is predominantly a wide plain, lying between the Braziletto Mountains in the east and the Carpenter Mountain (The Manchester Highlands) in the west.

The area between Carlisle Bay and Milk River is presently used for growing sugarcane.  Smaller areas are used for cultivating tobacco and for extensive mixed farming.  Rice is grown in the Amity Hall swamp.

Bauxite, Jamaica’s mineral resource, can be found extensively in Clarendon, and associated with these large deposits are vast quantities of limestone.  Deposits of copper exist in upper Clarendon.

An important feature associated with the limestone areas of Jamaica is the presence of caves, cockpits, sink-holes and underground passages.  The Portland Ridge Caves in Clarendon contain considerable deposits of bat-guano and cave-phosphates, which are useful as fertilizers.

In addition to the Jackson Bay Cave and the three Sandy Bay Caves, there are some 57 other accessible caves in Clarendon.

There are three natural geographic divisions to the parish.

  • The Upper Division, to the north, embraces the major towns of Chapleton, Spaldings, Rock River, Frankfield and several villages.
  • The Middle Division includes May Pen, Four Paths and Hayes.
  • The Lower Division in the south includes Lionel Town, Race Course and Milk River.


There are several cays off the coasts of Clarendon.  On the Pedro Bank, which extends westward for nearly 160.9 km (100 miles) from a point about 64.36 km (40 miles) southwest of Portland Point, there are four (4) main cays, the largest being the South West Cay which is about 0.80 km (half a mile) in circumference.

There are also several cays off Portland Bight: Great Cay, Little Cay and Pigeon Islands.  Other cays off the coast of Clarendon are the Bare Bush, Little Half Moon and Big Half Moon Cays.


Clarendon’s major bays are the Salt River, Peake, Little Miller’s, Holmes, Jackson and Sandy Bays.


Between the Bull Head Mountains and a wilderness of rough limestone cockpits lie some valleys which the Spaniards called Los Vermejales or the Red Lands because of the colour of the soil.



The first roads of the parish were constructed in the late eighteenth century linking Four Paths to the Mocho Mountains. A bridle path from May Pen to Chapleton was later made into a proper road. The network of roads now consists of: highways, main roads, paved and unpaved minor roads, bridle and footpaths which link all the major towns and villages.


The chief modes of transportation in the parish are public passenger buses, mini buses, taxis, private motor vehicles, trucks/tractors and motorcycles. There are railway stations at May Pen and Chapleton which are used only by the bauxite companies.


Sugar Cane

The geography of Clarendon itself provides an opportunity to produce most crops grown on the island, but it is sugar cane, coffee, citrus, cocoa and vegetables that are grown for export. Clarendon has traditionally been a sugar producer.  In the 1990s government’s privatisation programme provided an opportunity for sugar lands to return to private hands.  Today, Clarendon has a mix of producers who cultivate nearly thousands of hectares of land that produce cane. The Monymusk factory processes the cane.  This estate, which produces half of the parish’s sugar, has been acquired by COMPLANT.  Bernard Lodge in St. Catherine and Frome in Westmoreland have also been sold, along with associated lands to COMPLANT, by the government for US$9 million (J$774 million).


There has been an attempt to develop the south coast as an alternative to the north coast as a tourist destination. While the parish’s full potential has not been tapped, the Milk River Spa is a major tourist attraction. Located in south Clarendon the Spa boasts a hotel and the famous Milk River Baths. The water is rich in minerals and is reputed to be a cure for certain ailments.

The Versalles Hotel offers lodgings to visitors, accommodations for weddings, conferences and other functions.


Secondary and tertiary health care is provided by four hospitals: the Chapleton, Lionel Town, Percy Junor and the May Pen Hospital. An infirmary situated near the May Pen Hospital is operated by the Parish Council.

Primary health care in the parish is provided by 35 health centres.


May Pen

The capital of Clarendon, May Pen, was once part of a property owned by Rev. William May.  It is said to have begun as merely two inns on the bank of the Rio Minho.  The town grew rapidly and in 1938 it was made the capital of the parish.  It is now a large town and boasts many churches, factories, a courthouse, modern libraries and numerous stores.


A trip into north Clarendon necessarily includes a visit to Chapelton.  This mountain town was once called “Chapel Town” because of St. Peter’s church originally built there as a chapel for the parish church in the plains. Over time the name was shortened to Chapelton.  Records here date from 1666.  In front of the church is the civic park. At the entrance a bust of maroon leader Cudjoe keeps watch.  Behind him a clock tower that chimes the hour and half hour bears the names of citizens who died in World War l.  Across from this is the police station and farmer’s market.  Near the centre of the town on its own hill is Clarendon College.

The Social Development Commission (SDC)

The Social Developing Commission (SDC) is a statutory body operating under the aegis of the Office of the Prime Minister. The work of the Social Development is informed by the social policy of the Jamaican Government, with specific responsibility for community development. The Mission of the SDC is to “facilitate the empowerment of people in communities to the end that they become self-reliant and self sustaining”.

The SDC helps communities by mobilizing projects in all the parishes. Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF), which was established to assist in reducing poverty, works closely with SDC. Since the SDC is the main community development agency, JSIF utilizes its network of local and parish offices throughout the island to provide information on the level of deprivation of communities and their priority needs.

The work of the SDC in Clarendon

The SDC is involved in various community development projects, sports activities, recruitment for youth development programmes, and related programmes in the parish.


In the colonial era, sugar became ‘King’ in the island’s export agriculture based economy although there was also significant production of coffee, tobacco, cotton, indigo dye and domestic food crops. Over the last century, however, a massive diversification process has been under way.

Jamaica’s most important modern economic activities are tourism, bauxite mining, agriculture and manufacturing.  Tourism is now the country’s largest earner of foreign exchange. The country is also one of the world’s major producers of bauxite and alumina, from which aluminum is made. It represents the country’s second major source of foreign exchange.

Limestone, gold, sand, gypsum and marble are other minerals mined in significant quantities.

Most farmers have small plots of land and produce mainly domestic food crops. Export agriculture is mainly based on larger farms, with the chief crops being sugar, bananas, coffee, citrus, cocoa, pimento and root crops such as yams. There has been some progress in the growing of mushrooms, strawberries and pawpaw.

Inland fish farming as well as conch fishery have become well established and expanding industries.

A highly protected manufacturing sector grew rapidly in the early post-Independence era,

but as markets were increasingly liberalized, manufacturing has suffered. The most successful producers have been those able to identify niche export or domestic markets where their products are differentiated from mass marketed goods.


Local Government in Jamaica relates to the administrative arm of Government at the parish level that has responsibility for parish infrastructure and development.  The range of responsibilities include – the development and maintenance of infrastructure, management of markets, abattoirs and cemeteries and the regulation of street vending, building and public health.

Since 1993, the process of Local Government Reform has been effected to enhance the capabilities of the Local Authorities to carry out its functions more efficiently.

Under the process of Local Government reform the social and economic infrastructure within communities have been improved through the Social Development Commission, Jamaica Social Investment Fund, the Social and Economic Support Programme and the Sports Development Foundation.

In addition, roadways were rehabilitated; parochial markets refurbished; Parish Council administrative offices refurbished, and minor water supplies and related services installed.

And, in Clarendon the quality of local governance has been maintained. There has been the establishment and operation of three bus and car parks in the town of May Pen resulting in less congestion.

The markets are being leased at a more realistic rate. Four markets are being operated  successfully – May Pen, Chapleton, Frankfield and Kellits.

The town clocks and towers of May Pen and Chapleton have been restored.


There is an inextricable link between national security and national development and therefore, governments must ensure that security and justice initiatives are always in tandem with and even ahead of, the evolving pressures and demands of societies.

The Government of Jamaica has remained unrelenting in its stance to implement crime management initiatives and improve the access of every individual to the justice system.

Through the Ministry of National Security and Justice some implemented crime management strategies include additional motor vehicles and high-powered motor bikes; wider deployment of security personnel islandwide; increase in police patrols in communities and business centres; improved police-community police relations; research and development, and training in investigation techniques.

In recent times, the combined efforts of the national security forces have resulted in a downward trend in crime; a better justice system; an increase in the level of professionalism within the national security forces, and the introduction of steps to modernise the penal system in Jamaica.

The effects are being appreciated at the parish level.



To enable the provision of technical and vocational education and training in the public and private sectors, the Government, in 1991, established a statutory organization, the Human Employment and Resource Training Trust/National Training Agency (Heart Trust/NTA). This body develops and implements training programmes with the objective of providing Jamaica with a competent, certified workforce consistent with the need for economic growth and development and to promote quality, relevance, efficiency and equity in the training system.

The Ebony Park Academy Heart/NTA is a residential training institution for males and females located in Toll Gate Clarendon.

Education has been put at the fore of national development. Education and training are riding priorities and there is specific emphasis on early childhood education.


There are five political constituencies with five Members of Parliament, one for each constituency.

These are as follows:-


North Western


North Central

South Western

South Eastern


Clarendon records the lowest annual rainfall of any parish, registering on average 1126mm per annum.

For many months of the year, very little rain falls on the plains in Clarendon, and without irrigation the crops would not thrive.




Jackson Bay

Rocky Point

Clock Tower – May Pen Square

This clock is over 80 years old.  It was constructed in honour of Dr. Samuel Glaister Bell, a renowned doctor who lost his life while crossing the Rio Minho after visiting a patient.

Denbigh Agricultural Show Grounds, May Pen

Jamaica’s largest agricultural show is held on the site every year over the three-day Independence weekend.  It highlights outstanding farmers, displays of produce from the various parishes, and contests including the farm queen contest and the champion farmer contest.

Denbigh Show Grounds in Clarendon is the home of the Jamaica Agricultural Society.  The Denbigh Agricultural and Industrial Show, first held in August 1952, today attracts up to 1,000 exhibitors and 35,000 patrons over three days.  It showcases the best in the island’s agriculture, horticulture and livestock and fish farming.  Agencies involved in technology generation and new techniques also display their new technology. The event presents a marketplace for local and overseas agricultural interests.  It is also a favourite place for family outings. There is also a Miss Farm Queen contest where young ladies from all the parishes compete for the crown.  The contestants have to be knowledgeable in the area of agriculture.

Halse Hall Great House

One of Jamaica’s historic houses, this architectural masterpiece is now owned by the Alcoa Bauxite Company.  The lands on which the house stands were given to an English officer, Major Thomas Halse in 1655, and were passed from him to Francis Sadler Halse who played a leading role in the Maroon Wars.  The most famous owner of the house was Henry de la Beche a geologist who contributed to the development of geology in Jamaica and who wrote the first, “Geology of Jamaica”.  Another famous occupant of this house was doctor and botanist Sir Hans Sloane.

Kemps Hill Lookout

All that remains of this look out, which is situated approximately 6.43 km (about 4 miles) north of Alley, are some old canons.

Morgan’s Valley and Estate

Henry Morgan (1635 – 88), the famous buccaneer from England, owned this property and lived there while he was Governor of Jamaica.

Portland Point Lighthouse

Situated on the summit of Portland Ridge, the tower of this lighthouse is an open frame steel structure, 40.23 m (132 feet) high.  The beacon light is a revolving white light which gives off two flashes in quick succession every 15 seconds.

St. Gabriel’s Anglican Church – May Pen

Once called Lime Savannah Chapel, this was the “daughter Church” of St. Paul’s in Chapelton.  When the Church of the White Cross fell into disuse, St. Gabriel’s took its place.

St. Paul’s Anglican Church – Chapelton

When the present parish was divided into the parishes of Clarendon and Vere, the Cross Church was then the parish of Clarendon.  Chapelton was once known as Chapel Town.  St. Paul was built as a Chapel of Ease to the Cross Church, and was the first place of worship erected in Upper Clarendon.  Originally known as “The Chapel”, the village around it took its name from the church and became known as Chapel Town.  In the course of time it was shortened to its present form – Chapelton.

The Alley Church

Built with brick and stone quoins in 1671, this church was originally a squat building about 10 m (33 feet) wide and 14.63 m (48 feet) long.  The eastern end was erected and consecrated in 1872.  The Alley Church is the oldest Anglican Church in the island.

The Church of the White Cross

Situated about 6.43 m (4 miles) from May Pen, this old Parish Church of Clarendon is now covered with dense undergrowth.  The first capital of Clarendon, Cross, derived its name from this church.


The first car racing track set up in Jamaica.

Aqueduct Whitney

The Whitney estate is reached by road at Whitney, near Porus, Manchester.  The estate is located in the Mocho Mountains.  The property, once a producer of coffee, cocoa and sugar now produces bananas and coconuts.

On this property which is over 300 years old, was a cattle mill used for grinding cane.  This was replaced by the water wheel mill and then steam engine.  On the estate is an aqueduct that is supplied with water from a dam across the Whitney River.  The aqueduct is built of brick, irregular and squared cut stones. Although ruined in places, the aqueduct runs from the dam to the reservoir, another hundred yards to the mill.

Malmsy Valley Great House:  Rock River

The Malmsy Valley Great House is located in an area known as “Beckford” about three miles

(5 km) south of the sugar works at Rock River.  The Greathouse is in ruins but enough evidence is there to suggest that the building was constructed in a style similar to that of Colbeck Castle in St. Catherine.  It is one of the earliest houses built after the English Occupation in 1655.

God’s Well, Milk River

This is a natural well near Milk River.  It is reached via the Milk River – Alligator Pond road.  The well itself is a thing of beauty, at the foot of a hill.  It is about 90 ft. deep with a circumference of about 480 ft.

Port Esquivel

This port is located near Portland Bight, Old Harbour Bay in Clarendon.  However, there is an original Port Esquivel that was used for shipbuilding during the early days of Spanish Colonisation.  The Port was named after Juan Esquivel who served as the Spanish Governor between 1509 and 1519. From this Port, Spanish settlers could have easy access to their capital town Sevilla La Nueva.  The present port name is reminiscent of these facts.

The present Port Esquivel was built between 1952 and 1954.  Its construction was a direct result of the fact that bauxite had been discovered in 1942 in the island.  As a result, Alcan became very interested in the island as an investment venture.  In 1954 the first shipment of bulk alumina left Port Esquivel.

This Port is located on the western end of the Bay, with several cays surrounding it.  Alumina is the major export from the port but molasses is also exported.

Milk River Mineral Spa and Hotel

The property of “The Milk River Baths” dates back to the days of slavery in the 18th century.  The owner was a Mr. Jonathan Ludford who at that time kept a number of slaves.  The story is told that one of the slaves committed some offence and was severely punished by his master.  The slave however, escaped and ran away into the nearby hills where he discovered a spring with salty tasting water.  He bathed his beaten body and after a few days when he was thought to be dead, he returned to the slave home, looking extremely well and strong and all his wounds completely healed.

He showed his master the location of the stream and on seeing the amazing stream pouring from the rocks he decided to fence the area and put the slave there as a watchman.

Before Mr. Ludford’s death he willed the buildings and property so that the people of the land could benefit from it.

The Milk River Bath in Clarendon is one of the island’s major mineral springs.  This Spa is famous for the therapeutic value of its waters.  It is situated at the foot of Round Hill near Vere.  The water is slightly saline and maintains a temperature 91.9o F (33.3o F).  It flows from crevices

in the hill – into the small bath house built beside it – at a rate of 1091.04 litres (240 gallons) per minute, 1,571,098 litres (345,600 gallons) per day.

The mineral waters of the Milk River Mineral Bath are some of the most remarkable in the world.  Besides being rich in mineral salts, they have a high level of radioactivity resulting in its therapeutic value. The world renowned Milk River Bath possesses an international reputation for the cure of several diseases. The water is specifically recommended for the treatment of gout, rheumatism, Sciatica, lumbago, neuralgia, eczema, kidney and liver troubles.  The mineral content includes sodium chloride, sulphate of soda, magnesium chloride, potassium chloride, calcium chloride, traces of lithia, bromine, silica, potassium, lithium and iodine.

Some other important historic sites include:

  • The Sugar Works at Kellits
  • Rock River (private estate)
  • The Windmill Tower at Porus
  • Tavanore Estate House at Chapelton
  • The Rustic ruins at Reynolds, Vere
  • Rock River Estate ruins
  • Ruins of a dam at Reynolds

In the cane piece near the old Alley church can be found the remains of an old indigo works.  Indigo now grows there as a weed.


  • Versalles Hotel – May Pen
  • Milk River Spa Hotel


 Alley or The Alley

First known as Withywood, Alley was originally a part of Vere.  The area took its name from the Alley Church that is situated there.

Arthur’s Seat

There are two sources given for this place-name:  one is that it came originally from a place in Scotland; the other is that it took the first name of its first owner, Arthur McKenzie who owned it in 1811.

Bull Head MountainSo named from the shape of this mountain that rises to a height of approximately 1097.3 metres (3,600 feet), and is the highest elevation in this parish.  This mountain is regarded as being the geographical centre of the island and is a conspicuous landmark to vessels approaching from the south.

Colonel’s Ridge

This might have been named after Colonel Dawkins, an early English settler who owned Dawkin’s Pen and Dawkin’s Kraal.

Curatoe Hill

Named after a plant which was used in connection with rum fermentation, and was common here.


This name came originally from the north of Wales.  The Denbigh property was owned by the late Hon. W. G. Muirhead, C. M. G., Custos of Clarendon who gave part of it to be used as the Denbigh Show Grounds.

Far Enough

This area consisted of lands taken up by George McKenzie, a member of the 1698 Scotch Darien expedition, which proved a failure.

Gold Mine

The Spaniards are said to have “washed gold” here.

Kemps Hill Lookout Point

The site of an old English camp which was first known as Camp Hill.


Originally owned by the Grant family and was named after their home in Scotland.

Mount Moses

Evidently named after the Biblical patriach.

Palmer’s Cross

Said to have taken its name from its original owner.


Named after a ridge in Greece, it is a sugar estate that was once owned by Henry Dawkins.


Named after Penrhyne Castle in Wales.


Said to bear the name of an Italian Jew who once owned the property.  The Hon. Jacob Sanguinetti is the earliest recorded owner.


Bears the name of the first owner of this properly.

Smokey Hole

First known as “Dawkins Smokey Hole”, it was originally owned by a Colonel Dawkins.

Vere-ma-Hollis Savannah

The name is believed to be derived from the Spanish, Los Virmejales or the red grounds.


Omar Davies      –           Former Minister of Finance and Planning

Fay Ellington              –           Actress, media personality, lecturer

Claude McKay            –           internationally celebrated poet and novelist


Vere Technical High School (track factory) has produced high class female athletes

both at the local and international level.  The school was attended by Merlene Ottey, Jamaica and the Caribbean’s first female Olympic medalist and Deon Hemmings, Jamaica’s first female Olympic gold medalist.