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Why Is Jamaica Divided Into Parishes?

why is jamaica divided into parishesAnswered by Tracie Shortridge, Associate Writer

The current design of our beautiful island of Jamaica is a uniquely shaped and artistically bordered vision.

Take a walk with me on this journey of how the boundaries resulted in the creation of the parishes in Jamaica.


Prior to the parishes, there were literally two named ranches owned by the Spaniards called Yallahs and Morant. They were the largest ranches on the island and were therefore used as border markers.

At this time, other than the Yallahs and Morant ranches, the capital of Jamaica was Seville.

With other ranches being developed over the years, there came a need for more markers to differentiate the regions and ranches of the now Spaniard-led Jamaican population.
So, the division took place.

This was between 1572 and 1655. The ranches identified on the map from this division were:-

  • Northside
  • Bluefields
  • Withywood
  • Guanaboa
  • Spanish Town
  • Liguanea
  • Yallahs
  • Morant

The First Parishes

Then the English took over in 1655 and decided that all these ranches were not only too large to be bearing one name and one boundary but also that the country needed a better administrative structure so this gave birth to the first parishes.

This started with seven parishes:-

  • Clarendon
  • St. John’s
  • St. Andrew’s
  • St. Katherine’s
  • Port Royal
  • St. David’s
  • St. Thomas

As you may have noticed with the names, all these parishes were named after wealthy and distinguished people in the English regime.

But with the growth of the trade industry, more parishes were added.

Parishes were created quickly and even had two unnamed parishes until later years.
By 1675, Jamaica boasted a total of 14 parishes. They are as follows in order from West to East:-

  1. Unnamed
  2. St. James
  3. St. Ann
  4. St. Mary
  5. St. George
  6. St. Thomas
  7. St. Elizabeth
  8. Unnamed
  9. Clarendon
  10. St. John
  11. St. Catherine
  12. St. Andrew
  13. Port Royal
  14. St. David

By 1692, other boundaries were created resulting in two additional parishes, with a total at this point of sixteen. They were:-

  • St. Dorothy &
  • Vere

    Kingston was then added in 1703 making it a total of seventeen parishes.

    In 1722, the new Governor of Jamaica, the Duke of Portland, created the parish of Portland from St. George and St. Thomas.

    He also separated one unnamed parish into two parishes and called them Hanover and Westmoreland.

    The Counties

    To further ensure clear and vivid parish lines, the parishes were grouped into three counties, Cornwall, Middlesex and Surrey.

    In 1814, one new parish was added making it a total of 21 parishes.

    The parishes stayed in this order until 1842 when, upon exiting office, Governor Sir Charles Metcalfe was honoured with a parish being named after him, namely, Metcalfe, which was through the elimination of St. George and St. Mary.

    The Elimination & Merger Of Some Parishes

    Then, in 1867, eight parishes were eliminated and other parishes were merged resulting in what we have today, a total of fourteen parishes!

    Cornwall County

    Hanover Lucea
    Saint Elizabeth Black River
    Saint James Montego Bay
    Trelawny Falmouth
    Westmoreland Savanna-la-Mar

    Middlesex County

    Clarendon May Pen
    Manchester Mandeville
    Saint Ann Saint Ann's Bay
    Saint Catherine Spanish Town
    Saint Mary Port Maria

    Surrey County

    Kingston Parish Kingston
    Portland Port Antonio
    Saint Andrew Half Way Tree
    Saint Thomas Morant Bay

    So, why is Jamaica divided into parishes?

    Simple… as regular people device their own unique visions and plans for the future, so too did the leaders of the various administrations. And, based on their vision of growth and economics, they devised what they conceived as the best way forward for the country.

    Be sure to read more about each of the parishes here. Read more about the history of Jamaica here as well.

    Sources Referenced:

    2. Caribbean History for CSEC, by Radica Mahase, Kevin Baldeosingh, 2011

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