Seville Plantation was a large colonial British colonial sugar estate located on St. Ann’s Bay on the north coast of Jamaica. The property, now owned and operated by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (www.jnht.com), is located approximately two kilometers west of the town of St. Ann’s Bay. The British acquired Jamaica from Spain in 1655 and by the 1670s, Richard Heming had established a sugar estate on the property. The plantation was built on approximately 2500 acres, including lands that previously had been the site of Sevilla la Nueva, the first Spanish Capital of Jamaica.
Seville Plantation consisted of a strip of land extending from the shore to the mountainous interior of the island. Sugar was grown on gently sloping tracts of fertile land along the coast. In addition to sugar cultivation, the estate produced limes, pimento, coconuts, mahogany, livestock and crops for local consumption. Two slave villages were located further inland to the south and west of the planter’s residence on a small piece of land at the edge of the lush tropical forest that rises sharply to the south (Armstrong 1991). The sugar works were located northeast and down slope of the planter’s residence.
African Labor at Seville
Between the founding of the sugar estate in the 1670s and emancipation in 1838, Seville Plantation was home to an average of 275 enslaved Africans engaged primarily in the production of sugar from 300-400 acres of land planted in sugar cane. Two slave villages were established on property; the earliest is represented on a 1721 plat as a linear grouping of houses. It is believed to date from the initial British Colonial sugar estate on the property (circa 1670) to apparent abandonment after a series of destructive hurricanes in that caused considerable damage in the 1780s.
A second, later village was situated to the west of the main house. It is possible that one or more house sites were already built in the new area but the punctuated impact of the hurricane brought on a wholesale shift in village location that is consistent with internal changes in community dynamics by the late 18th century (see Armstrong and Kelly 2000). Following emancipation many former residents moved to a new settlement, called The Priory, located just to the west and off estate lands; the African Jamaican village continued to be inhabited by a reduced population. By the end of the 19th century, the last residents of the former slave village had died, and the village area reverted entirely to bush lands.
East Indian Labor at Seville
The importation of East Indian labor into Jamaica in the 1830s was a response to labor shortages brought on by the cessation of the slave trade and then emancipation. Following the Immigration Act of 1858, the number of Indian laborers imported into Jamaica increased dramatically. Although there is no direct historical documentation for East Indian laborers in the records of Seville Plantation, an oral history taken in 1981 from Mr. Carpy Rose, the last living person to have been born in the later African village, indicated that he had been told that a”Coolie” house was present in the early village prior to his birth. Archaeological data from House Area 14, located in the early village, suggests a later reuse in the mid-19th century. This later household occupation exhibits what Armstrong considers a “bad fit” with the other laborer households; “it exhibited data at the wrong time, in the wrong place, and it exhibited material and structural variation from the data found in the African Jamaican contexts…” (Armstrong 2005:225). If House 14 is indeed an East Indian household, it provides an important comparative base for studies of ethnicity and social cultural attributes associated with laborers on the property (Armstrong and Hauser 2004).
The study of Seville has been published in a series of articles that have addressed thematic issues relating to the plantation. These include an overview of the cultural landscape of Seville Plantation which focuses on the African Jamaican settlements and their interpretation through time (Armstrong 1999), a comparative analysis of the processes of internally defined transformations within society (Armstrong 1998), landscapes and settlement patterns in relationship to social relations (Armstrong and Kelly 2000), house-yard burials (Armstrong and Fleischman 2003), and comparative studies related to the material record of race, ethnicity and labor conditions (Armstrong 1998 and Armstrong and Hauser 2004). Comparative analysis of African and East Indian laborer contexts are presented in Armstrong and Hauser 2001 and 2004. In addition, details related to a refined analysis of temporal contexts using both mean and variable measures of variance from the mean using whisker plots is described in a methodological paper (Armstrong 2005). Now the DAACS database is presenting detailed analysis of selected sites on the property so that data can be compared and shared. Several recent conference papers that use Seville data are available through the DAACS website’s Current Research page (Galle 2007a, 2007b; Nelson, Neiman and Galle 2007). With this renewed interest in the project related to the DAACS project, a synthetic analysis of the project is being prepared by Armstrong and Mark Hauser.
Douglas V. Armstrong and Jillian Galle
Syracuse University and The Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery