Way Back When On The Black River

Way Back When On The Black River

Way back when Charles II was still King of Spain, and France was warring with England, three wealthy brothers from London purchased hundreds of acres along the shores of the Black River. There are several Black Rivers in the world, but in 1685 it was the one in southwestern Jamaica that came under private English ownership. The brothers designed and built a trading port at the mouth of the river, with a vision of floating their logwood trees down the Black River onto ships waiting to export the valuable commodity. Yet there was another reason for the port: it was a landing point for slave ships arriving from West Africa.

When Thomas Edison was marketing his electric light bulb all over Europe, Jamaica was still using oil lamps. However, since Black River was such an important trading port, it was the first to receive electricity. Soon after that the telephone was introduced to Jamaica, and a phone exchange put in – at Black River of course. Once the automobile arrived in Black River, the use of the steam engine began to wane in terms of transportation. Black River was a very important hub in Jamaica right up to the mid 1800’s.

The main export of Black River was logwood, a tree with a uniquely rich colour that was used to produce the only natural blue-black dye in the world. The dye was in large demand by clothing makers, milliners and weavers across Europe, due to it’s rich tones.. Unfortunately, when synthetic dyes were developed in ways that were far cheaper than importing trees from across the ocean, the logwood industry in Jamaica dwindled away. The bustling port of Black River began to shrink when their exports of rum, pimento and cattle hide had been taken over by other locations.

Around the Black River there is still an aura of colonialism. Centuries of English rule have left their mark on the architecture of the area. Old cemeteries tell the stories of families who once presided over plantations and farms in the Black River region. St. John’s Parish church still stands with picturesque humility among the Jamaican flora. Inside there are monuments dating back to the 18th century, a century old pipe organ in working order, and massive granite slabs lining the walls.

Yet among the aging souvenirs of colonial times, there grows the robust Jamaican nation. Breadfruit, coconut and banana trees encroach upon old plantation homes. Crocodiles, mangroves and tropical birds now rule the Black River. The wharf where slaves were once auctioned off is now lined with fishing boats. The quiet community of Black River has had a long and interesting history, and yet the people there enjoy a quiet lifestyle that is a reflection of modern Jamaica.

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