Stewart Castle Main House
Excavations at the Stewart Castle Main House and Slave Village were initiated by DAACS in May 2007 as part of the DAACS Caribbean Initiative. Located just east of Falmouth Jamaica, in Trelawney Parish, Stewart Castle was patented in 1754. It functioned as a large-scale sugar plantation through the early nineteenth century. Due to a massive decline in sugar prices, the property gradually converted to a cattle pen by the mid-19th century. A 1799 plat by the surveyors Munro, Stevenson, and Innes captures the scope of the sugar plantation period in detail, showing the location of the slave village, the fortified main house, sugar works, and slave provision grounds.
The Stewart Castle Main House complex is currently in ruins. However, enough remains intact to provide a relatively clear picture of the architectural and landscape features around the main house. An accurate and detailed plan of the main house complex was drawn by Steven Panning in the mid-1990s when the site was more intact and less overgrown (Panning 1996b). The heavily fortified main house was constructed in two phases, with the early central core most likely constructed in the third quarter of the eighteenth century.
The first phase of construction resulted in a large, square house flanked by fortified towers on the northwest and southeast corners. The second phase of construction connected the towers to the main block, and includes the addition of a massive courtyard. The courtyard wall is over two and a half meters high, with broken 18th-century wine bottle sherds mortared into the top and 35 gun ports. The concern for security was carried over to a heavily fortified privy, complete with gun ports. Masonry rubble piles also suggest the location of stables and barns.
Prior to 2007, no archaeological work had been conducted that related to the historic period occupations at Stewart Castle. The goal of the 2007 DAACS excavation was to assess the temporal components at the main house, and to understand both the temporal and spatial occupations at the slave village. With the help of students from the University of the West Indies and the University of Virginia, thirty-six shovel-test-pits (STPs) were excavated inside the fortified courtyard at the Main House. Architectural and landscape features were also mapped at the main house. No 1-x-1 meter units were excavated, although plans for future field seasons include larger units and expanded STP coverage outside of the courtyard.
First patented in 1754 by James Stewart I, Stewart Castle began as a small 167 acre landholding. By 1799, the sugar plantation had grown to well over 1200 acres and was supported by the labor of over 300 enslaved Africans. Despite the increase in size, James Stewart II was forced to mortgage the property in 1797. Although Stewart II did not officially sell the property until 1830, it may have been managed by an agent of the London merchants who held the mortgage, hence prompting the creation of the 1799 Munro, 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, 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 (ibid.)
James 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 served as a commissioner at the conference held with the Maroons at Trelawney Town prior to the beginning of the Maroon Wars in 1795 (Panning 1996a:173). The almost obsessive focus on fortifications demonstrates a perceived and possibly very real threat to Stewart Castle from the Maroons and those he enslaved. 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 as result of a large water cistern (3.1m x 5.5 meters by 2.5 meters deep) inside the main house (Panning 1996b:202).
Stewart Castle was purchased by Robert Sheldon (Sheddon?) shortly after Stewart II’s death in 1828 (Panning 1996a:172) An early 1830s lithograph by J.B. Kidd documents the overseer’s house and works, with the main house with its corner towers visible in the distance. Currently, the 1799 plat and the 1830 lithograph are the only surviving documents the directly address Stewart Castle. Future research in archives in Jamaica and the UK may turn up additional information, at which point this statement will be revised.
Excavation history, procedure and methods
The goal of the 2007 DAACS excavation was to assess the temporal components at the main house, and to understand both the temporal and spatial occupations at the slave village. DAACS began by dividing the Stewart Castle property into three survey areas. Area 1 encompasses the Stewart Castle Main House and Yard, Area 2 is comprised of the area in the slave village west of the road, which bisects the village along a north/south trajectory, and Area 3 is located to the east of the road in the village. Archaeological excavations only occurred in Areas 1 and 3 in 2007. Both areas were covered in heavy bush and required extensive clearing prior to excavation.
Excavation began at the Stewart Castle Main House. A datum was placed near the center of the walled courtyard. In order to ensure their longevity, both the datum and total station backsight were excavated as 50 centimeter STPs. These pits were filled with concrete, into which a length of rebar was placed. The datum rebar was then located on the UTM-grid using a GPS unit with < 10 centimeter accuracy. The total station was used to connect the Main House UTM grid to the Village grid, therefore both excavation areas are on the same UTM grid system.
Thirty-four shovel-test-pits were placed on 6-meter centers within the main house courtyard using a total station. An alphanumeric system was established for naming STPs that combined the Area, the Transect Letter, and the STP number. Transects were labeled alphabetically. Transect A represents that northernmost transect and Transect F is the southernmost transect within the courtyard. STPs were numbered consecutively along each transect, beginning along the western edge of the transect and moving east. STP labels therefore look like 1-A-03, which translates into Pit 3, on Transect A, in Area 1. The same numbering system was used for excavations at the village. Please note that those using the STP data for analysis will encounter data from 1-DATUM and 1-BKSIGHT, which are the STPs excavated for the datum and backsight and which are not on the 6-meter STP survey grid.
A total of 36 pits were excavated within the courtyard, including the datum and backsight pits. All STPs were 50 centimeters in diameter and all excavated sediment was screened through 1/4 inch mesh. In most cases, the pits were excavated to either subsoil, or bedrock. The exception was one pit on the F-transect (1-F-01), which was over 1 meter deep and could not be dug deeper due to the constraints of the pit's diameter. Pits were not excavated outside of the courtyard in 2007.
Artifacts were washed, labeled and cataloged to DAACS standards on Jamaica and in the DAACS lab at Monticello. Faunal remains from the main house and village excavations are currently being analyzed at Colonial Williamsburg’s Zooarchaeological Laboratory and will be available through this website in early 2008.
Architectural features within the courtyard were mapped with the total station. These included a small stone outbuilding that was constructed on the interior of the courtyard and adjacent to the courtyard’s eastern wall. Remnants of what appears to be stone edging for narrow planting beds, or possibly drains, were mapped, as well as stone terrace walls.
Future excavation plans include extending the STP transects to the exterior of the Main House courtyard, with a focus on the northern and southern yards. Several 1 x 1 meter units will also be placed within the courtyard to clarify stratigraphy, explore architectural features, and date buried deposits. Data collected during future excavation seasons at Stewart Castle will be cataloged to DAACS standards and provided through the DAACS website.
Summary of research and analysis
The most complete historical research on Stewart Castle to date was conducted by Steven Panning in the mid 1990s. In addition to conducting research in Jamaican archives, Panning produced an accurate measured drawing of the Stewart Castle Main House complex (Panning 1996ab, 1996b). He visited the main components of the property, including the main house, wharf, village, overseer’s house and works. His article provides a detailed glimpse of the ruins as they existed about 15 years ago.
Initial research by DAACS has confirmed many aspects of Panning’s measured drawings, with a few revisions. In June 2007, detailed analysis of the detached southwest tower by Edward Chappell, Director of Architectural History at Colonial Williamsburg, identified it as a highly fortified, three-seat privy. The arches identified by Panning as possibly part of a kitchen functioned to protect those using the privy.
DAACS staff was not able to find remnants of blue painted Delft, or any other ceramics, mortared into the top of the courtyard wall, although broken 18th-century wine bottle glass was abundant. The depth of the STPs in the E and F transects indicate that a large amount of fill was used to level the interior courtyard surface prior to the construction of the courtyard walls. In all likelihood, the fill came from the excavation of the cellars and cistern located inside of the main house.
The almost overzealous nature of the physical defenses around Stewart Castle, including the fortified privy, armored courtyard, and nearly 100 gun ports, speaks to Stewart II’s concern for his personal security. The majority of the defenses face inland, toward the mountains and the Maroons, as well as toward the slave village. The lack of attention to defenses along the water suggest that Stewart’s main concern lay in the enslaved and Maroon populations that substantially outnumbered white planters on the island throughout the 18th century.
In her honors thesis titled "Surveillance and Production on Stewart Castle Estate: A GIS-based analysis of models of plantation spatial organization" (UVA, 2007), Lynsey Bates used view-shed and cost-surface analysis to analyze plantation organization at Stewart Castle. Through the combination of modern topographic maps and the 1799 plat, Bates concluded that surveillance of the enslaved population at Stewart Castle was secondary to minimizing travel time between the village, the sugar works, and certain fields. By placing the works and village in locations that minimized travel between the two, Bates demonstrated that Stewart sacrificed visibility, since neither the provision grounds nor village were observable from the main house or the overseer’s house (Bates 2007). Bates's thesis is available for download at: http://www.daacs.org/research/.
A number pf research papers and posters related to DAACS’s 2007 research at Stewart Castle will be presented in 2008. These will be made available through the DAACS website after they are presented.