Guarded City - 1690
been said that geography is nine-tenths destiny and that is certainly
the case in the Caribbean. Historically these islands were alternately
pawns of war over territory and sugar producing components that oiled
the wheels of English mercantilism. From as early as the 1700s the British
King called Jamaica "the gem in my crown." Jamaica's forts, which began
to be erected soon after the English conquest in 1655, were a direct result
of the need to secure naval and commercial interests.
The English began
their fortification at the 'point' as Port Royal was first known. Once
the colony became better established and Kingston began to develop, however,
there was a need to defend the entire Liguanea Plain in which Kingston
The security of Kingston
Harbour was dependent on forts as up until the mid-20th century, the prevailing
mode of attack was by sea. The fear was that an attacker would attempt
to land a force and occupy Liguanea Plain, thereby taking control of Kingston
and the rest of the island. The entire purpose of a fort was to strategically
place guns to unleash maximum force on one's enemies.
and the late 1700s, at least eight forts were built, six before the 1692
earthquake. Contracts were given to local builders and slave labour was
used. Many as five hundred slaves could be employed at a single site.
Stone and brick were the main materials, most of the stone was dug from
quarries at Port Henderson Hill.
Potential enemies approaching
from the east (windward) side would have
then had to pass the fire of Forts Rupert, Morgan and Charles while in
a narrow sea-channel. If they managed to round the point (or Port Royal)
they would have had come up against with Forts Walker and James, and if
they managed to make it into the harbour itself they would have had to
contend with Fort Carlisle.
ON THE HARBOUR
In the late 17th century
when the earthquake left the island particularly vulnerable to attack
there was concern that the French could attack the Liguanea Plain from
the east. The idea was that they could land troops in the thinly populated
area to the east of a narrow pass where Long Mountain meets the harbour,
and force it without ever having to contend with the guns of Port Royal
which were slowly being rebuilt. In 1694, the French used this exact method
to attack. The English, however, were forewarned by a Capt. Elliott who
escaped by canoe from St. Domingue (what is now the countries of Haiti
and the Dominican Republic) where he had been imprisoned by the French.
The English braced themselves by refortifying Port Royal and a fort that
stood where Rockfort now stands. Some three thousand French troops, led
by Admiral Du Casse, anchored at Cow Bay, just north of the mouth of the
Yallahs River and began to ravage the eastern parishes before regrouping
and heading to Clarendon. A mere 250 Jamaican militia met them at Carlisle
Bay and turned them back in an impressive display of bravery. The French,
lost close to seven hundred men. Clarendon was saved from the fate of
the eastern parishes which had suffered severe property damage, and many
lives were spared because the Jamaican inhabitants had removed themselves
from that area prior to the arrival of the French.
Although raids were not uncommon in Jamaica in the 17th century, this
was the only invasion attempt made other than that by Cromwell's troops
in 1655. The militia was dutifully recognized for their heroism and accorded
the use of the royal colour blue on the facings of their uniforms. The
present day Rockfort was built in 1729 and designed to hold seventeen
guns. Like its predecessor, it was intended to cover any eastern approach
therefore the guns now seen along the harbour side were most likely never
used to defend the fort. In the 1700s and for a long while after, water,
too shallow for ships to sail in, would have come right up to the edge
of the fort. The road ran through the fort itself, offering a defence
in itself, supported by the eastern facing guns.
The earthquake of
1692 did more than cause certain forts to disappear and new ones to be
built - it changed the landscape through submarine convulsions - one of
which opened a new channel under Port Henderson Hill. This channel permitted
ships to enter the harbour without having to come into contact with the
guns of Port Royal. When relations between Britain and Spain began to
deteriorate, that the need to protect this channel took precedence. In
1740 construction began at Mosquito Point. By the mid-1750s, the 80-gun
Fort Augusta named after the mother of King George III, was completed,
thanks to £12,000 and a sixty gun booty captured from the
French in 1745. Although Fort Augusta effectively blocked the narrow passes
into the Kingston Harbour, to achieve added security, in the 1740s, a
battery of twelve guns was placed along a small promonotory due west of
Port Royal. They came to be known as the Twelve Apostles or the Apostles
artillery fortifications without flanking defenses, known as redoubts
were built at Drummond's Hill, south of Newstead, near the Mammee River,
at Dallas Castle on the fording of the Cane River, and a battery placed
at Thorn Hill Ridge. A well-known redoubt was called Fort Belle - located
near what is now the site of today's Crowne Plaza Hotel. It was built
along with two others, on Stilwell Road and in Bridgemont Heights, to
protect the Stony Hill Barracks. (Two guns from these redoubts can be
seen in the present Manor Park Plaza near the site of the old Mill restaurant.)
Article by Rebecca Tortello.
Sources: Buisseret, D. (1971). The Fortifications
of Kingston. 1655-1914. Kingston: Bolivar Press. Buisseret, D. (1983).
The French Invasion of Jamaica - 1694. In The Jamaica Journal, (16), no.
3, pp. 31-33. Buisseret, D. (1990) Historic Jamaica from the Air. Kingston:
Ian Randle Publishers.
- 1655 -1667:
Fort Charles, 26-gun stone fort called Fort James after King Charles's
- 1678: Fort
Carlisle, 14-gun fort
- 1678: Fort
Rupert, 22-gun fort
- 1678 -1680:
Fort Morgan, 26-gun fort was constructed to cover a particularly vulnerable
point, the sea-front between Fort Charles and Rupert Fort Walker, 18
- Fort Castile:
guarded the crossing of the Hope River by the sea was strengthened by
the addition of auxiliary batteries into Fort Nugent.
- A watch tower
was also erected to cover the hills surrounding Fort Nugent called the
Martello Tower (pictured right). It still stands today.
- A signal station,
Rodney's Lookout, named after the famed admiral, was also built
on Port Henderson hill.
- Two other forts
were built at Port Henderson -Fort Johnston named after one Duncan
Johnston, who owned the land, and Fort Small, erected by one
- 1700: Fort
William, named after King William
- 1729: Rockfort,
Fort Augusta, 80-gun named after the mother of King George III.
- 1799: Fort
Small became known as Fort Clarence, in honour of William, Duke of Clarence,
King of England (1820-37), who served in the West Indies as a naval
officer. In this period, batteries were also constructed at Ferry and
Salt Island, although no remains exist today.
October 15: The series explores two of Jamica's National Heroes.
To the Series
found your articles on the Pieces of the Past most entertaining
and interesting to read. For me as a historian these pieces come
at a time when Jamaicans need to reconnect themselves with their
past and the Gleaner's efforts through this medium is quite commendable.
I have found
especially today's article on the 1780 hurricane to be quite of
interest to me as I am currently involved in bringing to light the
role of natural disasters in the development of Jamaica's history,
culture, society, economy and politics and the article on the "Hurricane
of 1780" has greatly aided in this direction. Keep up the good
work and I look forward to more interesting and historically significant
pieces from this series." - Kerry-Ann
First 500 years in Jamaica
taking you for a stroll down memory lane for the next six
months. Along this journey,we will relive several events which
significantly impacted on the social, political and economic
development of Jamaica. As we travel share your experience
Send your comments to:
of the Past,
The Gleaner Company Ltd.,
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