A Descriptive Account of the Island of Jamaica

- Circa 1790 -


Excerpted from:  Beckford, William, Esq., A Descriptive Account of the Island of Jamaica, London, 1790. Vol I & II.


Excerpts transcribed by David Bromfield (dbromfield@ucsd.edu ).  May not be copied or reproduced without permission from the transcriber. 



Miscellaneous Facts circa 1790:

(ref: Vol I, pp xxvi - xxvii)

140 pounds currency of Jamaica makes 100 pounds sterling.

Two main towns in St. Elizabeth are Lacovia and Black River: Lacovia contains about 20 houses and quarter sessions and petty court for the parish are held here; Black River has about 50 houses and a "fine bay" for shipping.

Savanna-la-Mar is the county-town, where the assize courts are held for the county of Cornwall on the last Tuesdays in March, June, September and December. It has about 100 houses.


Times of the Seasons in Jamaica: (ref: Vol I, pp 317 - 321)

The Guinea corn is generally gathered in the month of January, or perhaps a little later: it is first cut down; the heads are then divided from the stalks; and the weakly Negroes, or the children, as the heaps are raised by the abler hands, convey them to the carts.

This part of a Jamaica harvest will not admit of any variety, and must consequently remain without any further description. A parcel of Negroes huddled together in the same employment, conveys not any idea but that of confusion; while the field itself, a brown stubble, with a few weeds, presents rather a barren, than a pleasing appearance; a remark which will hardly hold good in the perfection of any of the other productions of the island.

About Christmas, the cotton begins to ripen; and when the pods are fin full blossom, the bushes upon which they grow have a very soft and beautiful appearance. The silky whiteness of its stalk, opposed to the verdure of the leaves; appears like snow that is left unmelted upon the meads; and when many acres are covered with this downy plant, and are beheld at a little distance, a representation not much unlike a winter field, arrests the eye, and gives a striking contrast to the scenes around.

The pods open in succession; and of course, when the Negroes once begin to pick, they continue, if the weather be favourable, day after day to collect and carry them home, until the whole crop shall be gathered in.

The Jamaica cotton will bear but one or two crops; whereas that of other kinds, particularly the French, will continue to ratoon for many years.

The blackness of the Negroes faces, contrasted with the beautiful white of the production above described, must naturally have a very singular effect; and, I think, would not displease the eye, if introduced into the second ground of a warm and extensive landscape.

Of this plant the process is clean and simple. It is first of all exposed to the sun and air, to dry; it is then turned over by sticks and whipped; it is afterwards gined, and then hand-picked, and whipped again; and is, lastly, rammed into a bag, which is kept constantly wetted, and which, when filled, completes its operation.

In December, the first ships are expected to arrive from England; and those who stand in need of fresh stores, and are in want of provisions, anticipate their appearance with no small impatience and anxiety.

The different wharfs are now a scene of bustle and confusion: the boats passing to and from the different shipping, the wains that are continually clattering along the roads, the noise of the cartmen, the cracking of their whips, and the strings of Negroes that are seen passing and repassing upon a variety of avocations; and, last of all, the groups of white people whom curiosity, friendship, or trade, assemble together; afford an agreeable scene of tumult and variety, to which the hurry and confusion of the attending wagons and carts, with the disorder of the cattle, the drivers, and the boys, do not a little contribute.

The traveler is now buried, wherever he passes, in successive columns of dust; his ears are continually saluted with noise and uproar; and the air resounds, as at the wharfs, to the rumbling of carts, the creaking of wheels, and the thunders of the whip. The whole country appears to be alive; and the general activity and impatience seem to increase in proportion to the approach of the expected harvest; and which the farmer in England, and the peasant in all countries, naturally feel at the expectation of profit and abundance.

It is now that the overseer is anxious to collect the strength of the estate; that he sends out in search of the absent Negroes, and is vigilant in bringing back to the plantation those that have absconded, or that have been long considered as runaways . . . "

Last Updated on 09/01/1999
By David Bromfield


Last Updated on May 10, 2012 by  David Bromfield