How We Got Started
The property known today as Annandale was part of a vast plantation called Aberdeen Pen owned in the 1800’s by Scottish Physician and Planter, Alexander Johnston. It is said that at one time, Johnston had in excess of 275 slaves on his plantation. After Johnston’s death, the new inheritor of the property (name unknown) gave lands to set up a free village for slaves. This village became known in the later years as Epworth. History recalls the terrible and inhumane treatment of slaves by their masters in the 1800’s. One cannot but remember the account of the numerous slave uprisings throughout the island which attested to the fact that not only were the slaves treated badly but they were opposed to such treatment and sought to put an end to it.
The work of the Abolitionists began in Jamaica with the advent of early Missionaries and civic minded individuals committed to putting an end to a cruel system. It was Missionary Isaac Whitehouse a Wesleyan Minister whose efforts gave rise to the early beginnings of the village we now know as Epworth. Whitehouse who worked between Spanish Town and St Ann’s Bay, was instrumental in starting a mission in the newly established settlement in the hills of St Ann. He was captivated by the beauty of this part of the parish and thought somehow it reminded him of John Wesley’s birthplace in England. It was this idea that led him to name the village Epworth in honor of the memory of John Wesley.
The village then was laid out in lots and streets with a central plot for a market. This spot became known as “Market Square”. It is said that early sugar traders from Kellits on their way to Ocho Rios would stop there to sell their products. The influence of the church was significant in the early beginnings of the village. Services for the church were first held in James’ Park. At that time, James Park was not regarded as being part of Epworth. Epworth, it is said, extended from the square to an area just west of the public tank. Early historians say that the boundary extended just below the current post office.
With a day school established by the church, the newly-settled village became one of the first settlements to have a day school. Epworth continued to thrive and its growth was greatly boosted by plantocrat Sir Thomas Roxburgh. Sir Thomas was instrumental in training the first schoolmaster and placing him in charge of the day school. It is rather interesting that this once theocratic village would later have a bar. The early Custos of the parish, The Hon. Michael Solomon ensured that when the village was placed in the Parish Records, a clause was written in the Covenants forbidding the issuance of a spirit license to the village of Epworth. You will read in the article on “Headman Gordon” just how this was circumvented.
Harvest festivals date back to the early beginnings of the village when farmers in this very religious community thought it apt to give of their first fruits to the One who prospered their crops. Throughout the later years, the Market Square continued to be a central trading post. Higglers from Pimento Walk and Parry Town, on their way to the Claremont market, would first stop there to sell coconuts, fish and other products to the villagers. After the death of Sir Thomas, it was plantocrat Noel Hislop whose influence and involvement aided Epworth’s economic life. Years later, the advent of the bauxite industry proved to be the economic panacea for a few lucky families.