Visiting Lucky Valley, Longville and Sutton’s Plantations in Clarendon, Jamaica

By James Dawkins

Eighteenth-century Caribbean sugar plantations were sites of intense labour and agricultural activity that often demanded twenty-four hour attention from the estate managers and the enslaved, particularly during the cane harvesting season (February to May).[1] It was the profitability of sugar planting which attracted so many British men to the colonies, but only a minority were able to amass enough wealth to return to the metropole to become absentee landlords. The colony of Jamaica possessed one of the highest proportions of non-resident proprietors, Edward Long (1734-1813) and Henry Dawkins II (1728-1814) being two of them. This blog is about my visit, in the June of this year, to the ruins of three plantations formerly possessed by these individuals and the subsequent generations of their families.

The Longs and Dawkins were two of Jamaica’s oldest planting dynasties, settling on the island shortly after its seizure from the Spanish in 1655. Both families established landed holdings in the parish of Clarendon, the Longs possessing Lucky Valley and Longville and the Dawkins’ owning Sutton’s amongst nine others.

Plantation Locations

Barry Higman’s book Jamaica Surveyed provides an account of the Lucky Valley estate and its management under Edward Long.[2] Unfortunately, no such historical record exists for the Sutton’s estate although it was mentioned by Edward Long, in his seminal text The History of Jamaica (1774), to have been the site of “the first rebellion of importance, on record, [which] happened in the year 1690, when between three and four hundred slaves, belonging to…  Sutton’s plantation in Clarendon… killed the white man entrusted with the care of it and seized upon a large store of fire arms… [after which they] proceeded to the next plantation, and murdered the overseer…”[3]

Audene Brooks and Dexter PlumberThese three estates are significant historical sites and I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit them with my primary PhD supervisor Professor Catherine Hall, who has a particular interest in the transatlantic activities of the Long family. Our trip was made possible by Dexter Plumber, a city taxi driver, and Audene Brooks, a Senior Archaeologist at the Jamaica National Heritage Trust.

Trace MorganAll four of us were based in Kingston which is approximately 50-miles from where the former estates lay. Giving consideration to traffic, the distance to the former plantations, and their isolated location in the outback of Clarendon we set off early in the morning. Approximately 3 hours later we arrived in the area in which Lucky Valley plantation once stood, which is situated 20-miles north-east of May Pen, the capital of the parish of Clarendon. Once we reached the township we were tasked with finding the ruins, with the 18th century plan of Lucky Valley plantation composed for Edward Long as our only map. Fortunately, we met Trace Morgan, who told us that he knew roughly where they ruins lay and kindly agreed to come along and help us locate them.

Ivan CalabalerroIt took around another hour to reach the Lucky Valley estate. The ruins, as you can imagine, were covered in vegetation. Fortunately, Mr Morgan knew a man, by the name of Ivan Calabalerro, who lives on a large hill above Lucky Valley; Mr Morgan called over to him to ask if he knew anything about the specific location of the plantation ruins. Around 20 minutes later, Mr Calabalerro came down from the hill top on his donkey and greeted us saying that he knew of some old ruins laying nearby.

Lucky Valley stone structureWhat we found next was astonishing. In a partially open field, which also contained scrubs and long grass, was a strange dome shaped bush. Mr Calabalerro pointed to a part of the bush from which a stone structure was visible. I pulled back the vegetation inside of which lay part of the Lucky Valley plantation. One of the structures that emerged was a large elongated holding tank with circular ends. Unfortunately, the dense vegetation prevented me from going further. More stone ruins were found close by. Mr Calabalerro and Mrs Brooks believed them to be the foundations of more outhouses and potential residencies of either the enslaved or the managers those who once lived on the estate. Like most former sugar plantations, there is not much left at Lucky Valley by way of ruins. Thus, we pressed on to Longville, our next stop.

Longville is now the name of a settlement which received its title from the Long family’s plantation of the same name. The remains of this estate were even more elusive than those of Lucky Valley and after 45 minutes or so of scouring the vicinity we decided to move on to Sutton’s plantation located a short distance south-west of Longville.

The surviving source material shows that the Dawkins family procured the Sutton’s sugar plantation through a combination of payments to and inheritance from John Sutton between 1721 and 1750.[4] By the turn of the 18th century, Sutton’s had become one the Dawkins’ leading plantations in terms of its sugar production and held a labour force of 197 enslaved people.[5].Boiling HouseWe arrived at Sutton’s in the middle of the afternoon. Dexter pulled up close to the sugar works, which are now all over grown, and let Catherine, Audene and myself out of the van. As we got closer to the ruins, Catherine and I decided to explore the interior of the boiling house, which involved walking through vegetation, a series of archways and fallen walls. Before we knew it we were standing in the middle of a large sugar processing house in which three large circular concrete frames are positioned against one wall. The last time I visited, I was told by the owner of the land that surrounds the boiling house, and who has been living in the area for over 35 years, that the circular structures lined up against the wall held the large copper pans used to boil the sugar. I wandered off on my own to take in the experience and pay my respects to my enslaved ancestors who had lived and laboured on the estate.

Interior of an Antiguan sugar boiling house, by William Clark, London 1823 (British Library)I felt very uneasy and disturbed with the little I know about what occurred on this plantation, and indeed the entire plantation complex that was established in the Americas and Caribbean. The sun was blazing hot and the absence of any breeze made me contemplate the kinds of conditions that existed in the boiling house when it was in operation – a closed building with blistering hot temperatures roaring from the copper pans, and little or no protection from the scorching cane juice, with the whip of the overseer driving the labour of my foreparents. A stream of thoughts ran through my head – what must it be like to wake up to the same job day in and day out with no alternative way of existence? The terror, compulsion, brutality, vulnerability, feelings of being exposed and degraded, random acts of violence, the inability to form a stable family, being denied the opportunity to read and write, the threat of having one’s partner and/or children sold off with the possibility of never seeing them again.

Visiting all three plantations was a very moving and poignant experience which allowed me to come face-to-face with one of the tangible legacies of British slavery. It was also an opportunity to commemorate the successful struggle for freedom eventually obtained by my ancestors in 1838. Indeed, I found some solace in the fact that this age old form of abhorrent commerce failed to break the spirit of liberation and hope for freedom that lit the heart of my ancestors.

[1] Justin Roberts, Sunup-to-Sundown: Plantation Management Strategies and Slave Work Routines in Barbados, Jamaica and Virginia, 1776-1810, (Published PhD Thesis, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 2008), p.86.

[2] B. W. Higman, Jamaica Surveyed: Plantation Maps and Plans of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, (Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2001), p.84-91.

[3] Edward Long, The History of Jamaica, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010; Originally published in 1774), p.446.

[4] MS181. Copy of Jamaica title Deeds, 1671-1750, Vol.9, Indenture for the Sale of Land from John Sutton to Henry Dawkins, (May, 1743), Lib: 116, Fol.131, p.101-102; MSS.D.D.Dawkins., C43, Bundle 3:  II 5/7, The Will of John Sutton, 1750, (Oxford: Bodleian Library); MS.D.D.Dawkins., C.43, [Jamaica II, 1-5], II, 5/10, bundle 19, Abstract of Title of Henry Dawkins Esq. to Estates in Jamaica Devised to him by his Great Uncle John Sutton Esqr, (Oxford: Bodleian Library).

[5] MSS.D.D.Dawkins. Register of Stock Upon the Dawkins’ Jamaican Estates – A List of Slaves on Sutton’s Estate, 31st December, 1800, (Over Norton: Private Family Manuscripts), p. 23-27.