Stewart Castle was patented in 1754 by James Stewart I. Initially established as a small landholding of around 167 acres, the main house and sugar works were constructed after 1776, as suggested by a list of estates settled after 1776 that was published in the 1839 Jamaica Almanac (Panning 1996a:172). By 1799, the sugar plantation had grown to well over 1200 acres and was supported by the labor of over 300 enslaved Africans (Panning 1996a).
It is not known when James Stewart II inherited Stewart Castle. He married Elizabeth Dallas in the early 1780s and their union produced six children, the first of whom was born in 1783 (Panning 1996a). Stewart II led an active political and military life, serving as both the Custos of Trelawney Parish and as a Major General in the Militia. He was a commissioner of a conference held with the Maroons at Trelawney Town, prior to the beginning of the Maroon Wars of 1795 (Panning 1996a:173). Stewart died in 1828 and Elizabeth moved to Philadelphia shortly thereafter (Panning 1996a:173).
Despite his political and military success, James Stewart II appears to have been a poor plantation manager. Stewart II was forced to mortgage the property in 1797 and Panning suggests that the property may have been managed by an agent of the London merchants who held the mortgage. He suggests this may have prompted the creation of the 1799 Munroe, Stevenson, and Innes plat (Panning 1996a). Although it has been suggested that the estate became a cattle pen at the time of its sale in 1830 to Robert Sheldon (or Sheddon), Stewart Castle was clearly converting to cattle well before then as it had an average of 282 cattle each year during the second decade of the 19th century (Panning 1996a:172).
Main House Complex
The construction and expansion dates of the main house complex are unknown, although archaeological and historical evidence suggests that the initial phase most likely began during the third quarter of the 18th century. The cut masonry main house was constructed in two phases. The first phase includes a large, square main house or lodge with two detached fortified towers: one located at the northwest corner of the house; the other at the southeast corner. The towers are heavily fortified with small cannon and gun ports. The second phase of construction expanded the central core of the house and connected the two towers. Architectural evidence indicates that interior rooms were well appointed with paneling, wainscotting, and chair rails.
Concern for safety and Stewart’s growing family clearly motivated the additions to the main house complex. Connecting the main core to the exterior towers added new chambers and provided protected access to both towers. A large water cistern lined with hydraulic cement (3.1 meters x 5.5 meters by 2.5 meters) was built inside the north room of the main house. A heavily fortified three-seat privy was constructed to the west of the main house. The most noticable addition was a massive courtyard wall, which protected gardens and outbuildings from potential attack. The top of the 2.5 meter high masonry wall is mortared with broken 18th-century wine bottle glass to further deter would-be attackers. The almost obsessive focus on fortifications demonstrates a perceived and possibly very real threat to Stewart Castle from the Maroons and Stewart’s own slaves. If the Castle came under attack, Stewart had the ability to secure people and animals inside the courtyard as well as ensure a large supply of safe drinking water (Panning 1996b:202).
It is not known if the fortified privy and other outbuildings were constructed during the first or second phase. Future archaeological excavations hope to answer this question.
The 1799 plat is currently the only existing document that refers to slavery at Stewart Castle. The plat shows at least 43 structures in an approximately 45 acre area labeled as “Negro Houses.” Located to the northeast of the village is an area of approximately 170 acres that was designated as “Negro Grounds” and “Rocky Woodlands and Negro Grounds.” A portion of the current road overlaps with the path represented on the plat by the dashed line. The path, and road today, passes through the village, rises up through a steep, marginal limestone forest that was once the provision grounds. Today, the road ends but the path continues over the crest of the ridge, and descends along a steep, rocky face before ending at the wharf. This path is still used by fishermen who make their day camp outside the late 18th-century storehouse located along the wharf. One fisherman, who lives in the Refuge community located near Stewart Castle, has been walking this path daily for at least 60 years, as did his father before him.
Stewart II, like most resident Jamaican planters, was clearly concerned about living in close proximity to over 300 enslaved individuals and the main house fortifications are perhaps some of the best evidence of this concern. They may have been prompted by Stewart’s inability to observe the activities of over 300 slaves living within a short distance of his house. As Bates’ (2007) viewshed and cost-surface analysis of the Stewart Castle property indicates, the spatial organization of the plantation favored the minimization of movement over the ability to observe the enslaved population. The village and provision grounds could not be observed from either the main house or overseer’s house. It was located in an area that made travel to the sugar works and some cane fields relatively easy.
Overseer's House and Sugar Works
The crumbling remains of the overseer’s house are located directly across the road from the ruins of the sugar works, which consisted of boiling and curing houses, cattle mills, trash houses, and storehouses. The overseer’s house was located across the road and due north of the works. A wide span of jalousie windows along the south side of the house provided unfetter view of all activities occurring at works. Measured drawings of the overseer’s house were produced by Edward Chappell, Director of Architectural History at Colonial Williamsburg, and Matthew Webster, Director of Preservation at Drayton Hall, in June 2007.
Two important visual images shape our current understanding of Stewart Castle. The Munro, Innes, and Stevenson plat dated to 1799 represents the entire plantation and provides fine-grained information regarding crop type and location, field size, paths, and roads as well as outlines of buildings. This plat is located in the National Library of Jamaica. An early 1830s lithograph by J.B. Kidd documents the overseer’s house and works. The main house with its corner towers can be seen in the distance.
Currently, the 1799 plat and the 1830 lithograph are the only surviving documents that directly address Stewart Castle. Panning notes in his 1996 articles that many of the statistics regarding the Stewart Castle estate are drawn from a 1955 article by Miss. Gertrude Cardew (Stewart’s great, great granddaughter) who cites these figures from the Jamaica Almanacs, located at the Library of Jamaica. Panning, however, was unable to locate these statistics in the mid-1990s. A number of other sources mention the political and military activities of Stewart II, but do not refer to Stewart Castle directly. Future research in archives in Jamaica and the UK may turn up additional information, at which point this statement will be revised.
Archaeological Excavations at Stewart Castle
Archaeological research was first conducted at Stewart Castle in 1957 by Mr. Charles Cotter. Cotter excavated a Taino midden on the property, which prodcued a wide variety of faunal remains, such as perforated and unperforated marine shells, giant conchs, giant crab limbs, and the bones of birds and turtles (www.jnht.org). No additional excavations were conducted until 2007.
DAACS initiated archaeological excavations at the Stewart Castle Main House and Slave Village in May 2007. DAACS used shovel-test-pit survey and area excavation at the village and main house to begin to understand the temporal and spatial variation at both areas of the plantation. Excavations were conducted by students from the University of Virginia, the University of West Indies Mona, and DAACS staff. This research was made possible by The Reed Foundation, the University of Virginia, and from an endowment made possible by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery