Of Many Cultures The People Who Came
IN A letter to her cousin in Germany dated December 3, 1778 a German tourist to Jamaica noted happily:
"As soon as we disembarked, a man who was on the shore came to welcome us in a most polished manner in the German language; he invited us to return home with him. A German in Jamaica? Yes, my dear child, there are Germans all over the world."
She went on to add, "...The German who we met on shore was from Holstein, a joiner by profession. He and his brother came to this country 17 years ago. Skilled in art, hardworking and thrifty, a moderate drinker of rum (as are many English men and Germans here) he grew very rich, so rich in fact that now he owns seven large houses in this city as well as a workshop with more than 30 workmen (slaves). We asked for the lady of the house so that we may be able to pay our respects to her also, as we do in our country; but she didn't appear. Later we learned that the joiner and his brother each had a Negress for wife, whom they had bought at the slave market. The white women of Europe are not worth much here; instead of working, they become overly fond of luxury and spend about 12,00 ecus of their husbands' money per year. Therefore, those who do not wish to spend so much on a white woman prefer to buy a black one from Africa. Aren't they as much members of the human race as are European women; and of what importance is the colour of their skin? (Levy, pg. 35)."
In this letter, found in a collection published in 1783 as "Christmas Presents from Jamaica in the West Indies for a Child in Europe," translated from German to French and then to English, the writer notes the existence of her fellow countrymen with a mixture of surprise and relief. What she may not have realized was that within 60 years, the Jamaican planter class would look to Germans as a source of estate labour. In the 1830s, following the abolition of slavery, planters all over the British West Indies began to scramble for labourers. In Jamaica, the belief that ex-slaves would leave the sugar-producing lowlands entirely and populate the mountainous interior was added cause for concern. In order to deny them that choice and keep them close to the sugar lands, the planters concocted a scheme where they would import Europeans to occupy the island's interior hilly sections. Some believed this new-found competition would force the ex-slaves to work harder (Hall, p. 49).
By the end of 1834, the Assembly appointed a recruiter, a Prussian named William Lemonius. He was charged with organizing the importation of German and English labourers and work towards the establishment of a colonial government project involving three European Townships in the island's interior. In 1835 the third wave of Germans arrived, again from Bremen. Of this 532, almost half were sent to form the Cornwall township of Seaford Town, the first of three townships slated for settlement, even though only 17 of the cottages slated to be ready for them on arrival were completed. More joined them in 1836 from the second lot organized by Lemonius. The other two townships were earmarked for Middlesex in St. Ann, near to the St. Mary border and Altamont on the Portland coast.
The township plan was to be regulated by the Immigration Act of 1836 which stipulated the terms and conditions of indentureship. These included the importer's being responsible for shipping, food and other needs of the immigrants, the fact that on completion of 6 months of residence, the importer would receive £12 for all persons 12 years or older and £8 for those under 12 and that all immigrants would be exempt from taxation whiles during their period of indenture. In 1840 the Act increased the amount of financial assistance given to the planters (which was often used to cover shipping costs) and limited the indentureship to a period of one year. By 1841, however, the European Immigration policy was deemed a failure. The Germans had failed to entice the ex-slaves to perform harder. In fact, they were envious of the ex-slaves' access to their own provision grounds and tended to work less industriously as a result (Hall, p. 54). By 1842 the authority to appoint recruiting agents in Europe had ended, penalties were instated against those who employed immigrants in unhealthy situations and the government's expenditure on immigration was limited to £20,000 a year, a reduction of £30,000 from 1840 (Hall, p. 52-53). The Government had begun to look elsewhere in earnest for sources of labour, namely China and India.
By the end of September 1838 the population had halved to 156 as a result of tropical diseases, overwork and some migration to America, based largely on the returns from sales of ginger. To survive these immigrants stuck together and learned how to plant banana, plantains, ginger, cocoa, coffee and cassava. During this period, Apprenticeship ended and some ex-slaves moved into nearby areas. A competitive relationship between them and the Germans grew, based largely on suspicion from both sides. This caused the Germans to band even more closely together.
The first land titles were handed out in 1850 three acres to each member of a household. The town's first priest arrived in the 1870s, when the population had grown to close to 500. An Austrian, Father Tauer, established a permanent mission and built a stone church. Destroyed by a hurricane in 1912, it has since been rebuilt.
Seaford Town was not the only place Germans settled and so it is not the only place where light-eyed and blond Jamaicans can be found. There is a German Town in Trelawny and over the years, Germans were also found in Alexandria, Christiana, Brown's Town, Stewart Town and Ulster Spring. These communities seemed to have had greater contact with neighbouring towns than Seaford Town which is probably why Seaford Town tends to be regarded as having the strongest German retentions and is thus often referred to as if it is the only German town. Indeed, the terms Seaford Town and "German Town" seem to be used interchangeably. Of course, there are also places, often found in the island's hillier sections, whose names reflect German influence such as Manhertz Gap, Charlotten-burgh, Mount Holstein, Bremen Valley, New Brunswick and Hessen Castle, among others.
Today some 160 people of German descent remain in Seaford Town, but family names like Dusterdick, Eisinger, Sleifer, Volker and Zwinkman, present 100 years ago, have disappeared. Inbreeding, along with some integration with Jamaicans of African and Asian descent occurred leading to the creation of "Germaicans," as stated by one resident of Seaford Town.
Sources: Hall, D. Bounties European Immigration with Special Reference of the German Settlement at Seaford Town, Parts 1 and 2. Jamaica Journal, 8, (4), 48-54 and 9 (1), 2-9. The Gleaner. Seaford Town Advertising Feature. August 14, 2003, D7-8, Jacobs, H.P. (2003). Germany in Jamaica. A Tapestry of Jamaica The Best of Skywritings. Oxford: Macmillan Caribbean and Kingston: Creative Communications Ltd. p. 362-363. Levy, M.C. Through European Eyes: Jamaica 200 years ago. Jamaica Journal, 17, 4. p. 32-42.
Photos courtesy of HEART/NTA Communications Unit.
Coming April 5: The series explores the birds and butterflies of Jamaica.
A Jamaica Gleaner Feature originally posted March 02, 2004.
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