Green Castle Estate…steeped in history, dates back to the very early beginnings of Jamaica.
Jamaica and the other islands of the Antilles evolved from an arc of ancient volcanoes named rikitiki that rose from the sea millions of years ago. Green Castle history begins with Jamaica’s first inhabitants, the Taino. … While knowledge of the Jamaican Tainos is still far from complete there have been archaeological explorations that have taken place at Davey Hill on Green Castle Estate revealing our Estate dates back to the very beginnings of life on the island. It has revealed a people that lived on a wide variety of animal sources as well as cassava root. Early inhabitants of Jamaica named the land “Xaymaca”, meaning “Land of wood and water” and this evolved or changed into Jamaica over time.
However, it was on May 5, 1494 that Christopher Columbus, the European explorer, who sailed west to get to the East Indies and landed in Jamaica and officially put it on the world map. Shortly after Colombus’s discovery, the Spanish colonised the island and took the Tainos as slaves. By 1600 the Tainos were largely extinct through ill treatment and disease, and many West Africans were brought to the island as slaves.
Spanish settlement of the north side scarcely outlived the Tainos but unfortunately, very little remains of these earliest traces of European culture. We do know that the Spanish built a coastal road that would have run through Green Castle. But that road had disappeared by the time of the English settlement in the 1660s, to be re-established when the trade in sugar began on the north side in the 1730s. There has also been speculation that the Spanish town of Melilla, never precisely located, might have been in the area of Green Castle.
In 1655, the English invaded Jamaica, defeating the Spanish. The English built the settlement of Port Royal and this became a base of operations for pirates and privateers, including Captain Henry Morgan. The waters of Green Castle Estate were part of the busy port area during this period. We also believe the waters off the Green Castle Estate private beach would have been central to the pirate operations and the caves and coastline perfect for hiding their treasure!
England gained formal possession of Jamaica from Spain in 1670 through the Treaty of Madrid. Shortly after, in the 18th century, sugarcane replaced piracy as Jamaica’s main source of income. Under English occupation, Green Castle carved out a distinguished place in Jamaica history. For two hundred years it was owned by a succession of three of the leading families on the island who developed it as it as plantation. During this period all trade in an out of the plantation was by sea. Another two hundred years passed before viable overland routes connected the north side to Jamaica’s major cities in the south.
Green Castle continued to grow and thrive, and it was actually named “Green Castle” during this time after a romantic ruin in Ireland by Robert Nedham.
Robert Nedham’s plantation prospered and expanded from around 1728, and he started sugar plantations at Green Castle and Orange Hill. He occupied the great house at Green Castle until his death in 1738. Unfortunately, remains of the original great house have so far escaped discovery, in spite of concerted attempts to locate its foundations.
The coral-stone tower of Nedham’s landmark windmill still survives, and carbon dating has established that one of its largest timbers dates from a tree felled in the 15th century, suggesting salvage from a Spanish ship or some Spanish building in the vicinity. Close to the mill tower are foundations for an animal mill and associated sugar production buildings and storage buildings.
Several fragments of a cluster of warehouses and a wharf at Jack’s Bay also survived. These date back to around 1750.
Nedham’s son, also named Robert, took little interest in Jamaican life. As a Result, Green Castle and its associated properties passed to George Ellis on the elder Robert Nedham’s death in 1738.Thus Green Castle became associated with a third illustrious Jamaican family, the descendant of Captain John Ellis. The extended Ellis family was just coming into its own in Jamaica. They would be a dominant force in local politics as well as sugar cultivation until the middle of the next century.
During most of the 18th century sugarcane was Jamaica’s main export. However In the last quarter of the century, the Jamaican sugar economy declined as famines, hurricanes, colonial wars, and wars of independence disrupted trade. Producers in other countries became more competitive and production dropped significantly. Green Castle suffered the woes of all Jamaican sugar estates in the early 1800s. Depressed sugar prices and the mandated end of slavery (to take effect in 1834) pushed all but the most successful plantations to the brink of bankruptcy. In 1854, all three Ellis estates were put on auction. As a result, the estate were broken up and abandoned, leaving the land to be settled by squatters.
Joseph Bravo, a London merchant, put the Green Castle parcel back together in 1871, with a new emphasis on pimento production. When Bravo died in 1881, the land passed through several hands before clear title was finally achieved by John Pringle in 1887. Pringle was in the process of purchasing numerous north side lands and converting them to banana plantations (by now the banana trade had replaced sugar as Jamaica’s leading export). According to some estimates, by the turn of the twentieth century St. Mary parish became the leading banana producer in the world. For the next fifty years Green Castle strived as a banana plantation, however, with the onset of the Great Depression, the financial affairs of the estate and its owners once more began to crumble and it once again failed.
In 1937, Green Castle was sold to its manger, Joseph Ray Johnson. A visit by John H. MacMillan, Jnr., in 1950 led to a lease and purchase of Green Castle Estate by an American with deep roots in the agricultural industry. Macmillan immediately set about reintroducing diversity to the plantation economy. Banana, coconut and pimento were paramount and the savannas became grazing grounds for beef cattle.
When MacMillan died Green Castle was sold to its current British owners.
Visitors wanting to learn about Green Castle history can step inside our historic windmill tower built in the 1600’s, or find shards of pottery on Davey Hill from the original Green Castle inhabitants, the Taino Indians around 900AD. The landscape is inspiring, and as you sit on the Estate House veranda looking out to sea, you can imagine tall ships coming into Jacks Bay to collect sugar, rum, cocoa and bananas to take back to European markets. Take a walk on the natural eco beach and you will see pieces of brick and English coal dropped on the natural eco beach when it was a busy port during Green Castle’s plantation days.