Jamaican Family Search Genealogy Research Library

Three Articles by Frederick J. duQuesnay

Historic Lucea and the Brissett family


This article is written in the interest of a friend of mine who has recently gone to reside in Lucea. Some months ago she wrote to me asking if I could give her some information about the history of the town. The letter runs in part:

"I'm specially interested in Fort Charlotte and the Lucea Parish Church. I see a tombstone dated 1816, and the whole family of a Captain John Brissett seems to have died in May 1792. The young wife, twenty years old, a three-year-old child, and a week old baby. I would be very grateful if you could find out anything about it for me."

Well this is what I have been able to discover, although I must admit that the information is sketchy for the most part, particularly in regard to the Brissett family.

The parish of Hanover in Jamaica was founded in 1723, and is one of the smallest parishes in the island. At the time of its formation, the Assembly desired it to be named St. Sophia, in memory of the mother of King George I, but the Council overruled them and called it Hanover in honour of the reigning family in England. It is referred to in the Jamaica Almanac of 1751, and the spelling takes the German form, namely – HANNOVER.


The harbour of Lucea is extremely picturesque: almost a perfect horseshoe in shape, it is one of the island's finest ports, with mountains rising to the south and east.

In a charming old print at the Institute of Jamaica dated 1771, the harbour is shown with sailing vessels in port and an equestrian in the foreground. The whole scene is framed at the sides with tropical foliage in which a coconut and cabbage palm predominate.

Edward Long in his History of Jamaica (1774) says that the town was inconsiderable, consisting of one large street and about forty or fifty scattered houses. The situation, he continues, was unhealthy, but the port conveniently situated for traffic with the southwest of Cuba.

In 1776, Lucea was considered extremely important as a port for the loading of sugar and rum for the surrounding districts. In 1881 the principal buildings of historical interest listed included the Parish Church, Courthouse, Prison barracks, and the Rusea Free School.

Parish Church

The church was originally referred to as the Parish Church of Hanover, but there seems to be no certainty as to when it was originally erected, as no foundation stone, which would give the date, can be discovered.

In the church there is an interesting monument to Sir Simon Clarke, 7th baronet, who died in 1777. Sir Simon was born in Jamaica in 1727, the son of the 6th baronet and was a Member of the Assembly. Another member of the family Sir Simon Peter Clarke was an officer in the Royal Navy in 1730, but was transported to Jamaica for highway robbery.

The earliest baptism recorded was in 1725, the first marriage in 1749, first burial in 1727. The northern transept of the church was added in 1837. In 1885 the special high backed pews, for use of the English troops and constabulary, were removed, the pulpit altered, and its location changed.

THE RUSEA SCHOOL: Martin Rusea, a French refugee to Jamaica, left all his real and personal estate for the establishment of a free school in the parish in grateful remembrance of the hospitality shown him during his residence in the colony. Rusea's Will is dated July 23, 1764. The real and personal estate realized £2,700, and the school was established in 1777 in Lucea.

FORT CHARLOTTE; Prior to 1778, the Fort is referred to as Fort Lucea, but the name seems to have been changed to Fort Charlotte when George III came to the throne, in honour of the Queen. Edward Long says that the Fort commands the entrance to the harbour and stands on a rock twenty feet above the sea. Its defence, he says, was satisfactory, having embrasures for twenty-three guns, of which twenty were mounted. The barracks he goes on, was situated towards the south of the town.

The first settler of the Brissett family in Jamaica was John Brissett of Hampshire Estate in Hanover. He married Mary Haughton, Mary Haughton's sister Ann, married William Tharp of Jap River Estate, who was a son of the original Tharp settler in Jamaica.

I also found a note on one George Brissett of Hampshire estate, whose Will was proved on April 4th, 1795. He married Sarah, daughter of Joseph Tharp of Bachelor's Hall. The fact that George Brissett is styled "of Hampshire Estate", seems to prove that he was a descendant of the original Jamaican settler of his family, but it is difficult to define exactly who he was without further research.


We now come to another John Brissett. He was a lieutenant in the Hanover Militia in 1784, and later Captain of Fort Charlotte.

In a letter to Mr. Frank Cundall of the Institute of Jamaica, dated 1921, written from Dublin, Ireland, by Erskine E. West, a relation of the Brissetts, Mr. West states that one member of his family, Captain John Brissett, was killed by the Maroons in September, 1795, and continues: "we have in our possession a coloured miniature of this officer dressed in a green uniform and we know he was a brother of Joseph Brissett of Hanover, Jamaica."

The second Maroon War began in July 1795 and lasted over five months. This Captain John Brissett then is evidently the husband of the lady and children of whose grave my friend in Lucea was anxious to receive information. The inscription runs in part:

"Sarah Jane Brissett, widow of Captain John Brissett of Fort Charlotte, died 30th May, 1792, aged 20 years, 9 months, and George Brissett, their son, died 29th May, 1792, aged 2 years, 11 months."

There is no mention in the records of the 'week-old baby' of whom my friend writes, who is supposed to have been interred in the same grave. However, I must hasten to add that I have not seen the tomb in question, my information is from records preserved in the Institute. Lucea was known to have been very unhealthy in the early days, and Long mentions the terrible fevers which visited and killed the English troops stationed there. It does not seem strange therefore that almost an entire family was wiped out at a blow.

Before I end this account, there is one brief entry which I discovered and which might be of interest regarding the letter written to Mr. Cundall by Erskine E. West. I don't think the name Erskine is very common and it might possibly go back to the time when an 'Alexander Erskine married Elizabeth, daughter of J. Brissett of Hanover in Jamaica.'

Old St. James Church

Picture of old-world charm

by F. J. duQuesnay

The 18th CENTURY church of St. James, standing in its garden cemetery, presents a lovely picture of old world charm. The edifice, built of white cut-stone, is Georgian in concept with the triangular pediment reminiscent of the Grecian design so characteristic of the period, very much in evidence over one of the main entrances. Built in the traditional form of a cross, with a pleasing tower, the interior is ornamented by a well-carved mahogany gallery. Mahogany paneling heavily carved is also used to accentuate the apertures over the main altar in which a set of three exquisite stained glass windows are enclosed. These depict the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension of the Saviour.

One of these windows was presented to the church by Mr. F. W. Lawrence, whose family had owned several properties in St. James including Fairfield, and had been early settlers in the island from 1676. On one side of the Church is a beautiful small chapel, with another lovely stained-glass window, "Given with gratitude to God for the many mercies and blessings He has bestowed on the Kerr and Jarrett families of St. James and Trelawny, 1662-1962." These colonial families became linked through marriage and the well-known surname of Kerr-Jarrett later evolved from this affiliation. The Jarrett family owned Orange Valley Estate in the neighbouring parish of Trelawny, where a complete set of 18th century buildings comprising great house, slave hospital, and sugar works may still be seen today. The family cemetery and vault are in the garden beside the great house.

Concerning the mural sculpture in the church, two stand out quite vividly, and are dedicated to the memories of Duncan Anderson and Rosa Palmer, but of the two, the one to Rosa Palmer is by far the most beautiful, and is reputed to be one of the finest works of the English sculptor John Bacon to be found anywhere in the island. Bacon was commissioned to undertake several monuments for Jamaica in the 18th century, the Rodney Memorial in Spanish Town being another example.


The mural to Duncan Anderson depicts the classical figure of a grief-stricken lady contemplating a medallion bearing the scene of a shipwrecked vessel almost submerged in an angry sea. The epitaph runs as follows: "To the memory of Duncan Anderson, born in Scotland in 1757, who for the recovery of his health embarked in brig Sally, Robert Latimer master: belonging to and bound for New York in North America, which vessel sailed from Montego Bay on September 25, 1796, and has nevermore been heard of."

According to the Feurtado manuscripts in the Institute of Jamaica, Anderson was attached to the local militia from 1788.

The mural to Rosa Palmer, erected to the memory of the beloved wife of the Hon. John Palmer of Rose Hall in St. James, also depicts the classical figure of a woman, her head bowed in sorrow and entwining a garland about an urn on which a medallion bearing a representation of the face of the deceased, is carved; below, the small figure of a pelican feeding its young from its own lacerated breast, represents the spirit of self-sacrifice attributed to the deceased. The flowing lines and exquisite grace of the whole subject make this mural a great and lovely work of art. The inscription runs as follows: "Near this place are deposited the remains of Mrs. Rosa Palmer, who died on the first day of May 1790. Her manners were open, cheerful and agreeable: and being blessed with a plentiful fortune, hospitality dwelt with her as long as health permitted her to enjoy society. Educated by the anxious care of a Reverend Divine, her father, her charities were not ostentatious, but of a noble kind. She was warm in her attachment to her friends, and gave the most signal proof of it in the last moments of her life."

Outside the church, near the north door, and shaded by a young Jerusalem thorn tree, the simple marble slab marking the resting place of Mrs. Palmer's mortal remains can still be seen. The marble is cracked, but the inscription is bright and clear. It runs: "Under this stone are deposited the remains of Rosa Palmer, wife or the Hon. John Palmer of this parish, who died on the May 1, 1790, aged 72."

Historian John Roby, who lived in Montego Bay in the last century, tells us that John Palmer died at Brandon Hill near Montego Bay on March 16, 1797. Also in the churchyard, and lying amongst the flowering shrubs and rambling roses rest the remains of the well-known colonial families of the 18th century. These include a large plot devoted to the Cunninghams, almost over grown by the delicate trace of the scarlet blossomed shoots known locally as Mary's tears. The family came to Jamaica from Scotland, and John Cunningham snr. who was born in Scotland, died at Montego Bay in December 1790.

The tomb of Charles Bernard, particularly outstanding, although badly weathered, still retains much of its original grace of design. Bernard died on September 4, 1790, and according to Feurtado's manuscripts was church warden of St. James in 1768.

The foundations of the church were laid on May 6, 1775, and opened to the public on Christmas Day 1782. According to James Hakewill, the landscape painter who visited Jamaica in the early part of the last century, the St. James church was the handsomest church in the island.

The church was badly damaged when an earthquake shook the island in March 1957. The western parishes in particular suffered severely from the earthquake, and many of the buildings in the area partially collapsed at that time. In 19?? The restoration work on the church was started, but unfortunately much of the stone used in this undertaking was of inferior quality and we can only hope that this will stand up to the test of time.

The Beckfords: their role in history

THIS famous family from Beckford in Gloucestershire, England, was one of the oldest in that country, also one of the early pioneer families that came to settle in Jamaica.

In sympathy they were known to be Royalists, so during the regime of Cromwell, they no doubt found the new government hostile and dangerous to their cause.

The particular branch of the family which we are to consider, did not arrive in Jamaica until the Restoration; however, there were several earlier pioneers already well established, who bore the same name, although bearing different armorial identification.

Peter Beckford came to Jamaica about the same time as Lord Windsor (1662). He was educated as a seaman and had shared in some active service in that capacity. The family was granted 1,000 acres of land in Clarendon by Royal Patent on March 6th, 1669, and from that time they settled down earnestly to property life. Peter took and active part in the government of the Island representing St. Catherine in the Assembly of 1675, and was later called to the Council where he was appointed President. He was the first Custos of Kingston, and Beckford Street in that city is supposed to be named for him.

After the death of the Governor William Selwyn, he served as lieutenant-governor for eight months in 1702. Amongst his colleagues he was not popular; they found him extremely haughty, a defect he had no doubt acquired from his success in the Colony. He also possessed an ungovernable temper which he did not fail (to) vent upon his associates when crossed by them. His career in the Council and Assembly was marked by strong arguments and heated dissensions.

Later, his son Peter Beckford Jnr. joined the Assembly and became the Speaker. He seems to have followed in his father's footsteps, for in 1710 during a debate of the Assembly, near riot broke out when some members rose from their seats with drawn swords and threatened Peter the Speaker. His shouts for assistance brought the Governor, his aides, and the aged Peter Beckford to his rescue. The doors of the chamber were forced open and the Assembly dissolved in the name of Her Majesty the Queen.

This incident was not to be without tragedy, for old Beckford in his agitation and in the general confusion, slipped and fell down the long staircase. He was mortally injured and died soon after.

The fatal Beckford temper nearly cost the young Peter his life, for it is said that as a young man he worked himself up into an insane fury and killed the Deputy Judge Advocate of Jamaica. This action would no doubt have gone hard with him, but he was finally acquitted after a lengthy court case.

Peter Jnr. married Bathshua Herring and they had children. Peter died in 1735. In his will he left £2,000 to found a school in Spanish Town; and with later bequests a school was started there in 1744. This merged with another school started by a benefaction of £3,000 by the Hon. Francis Smith and became the Beckford and Smith in school in 1869.

William Beckford was born in 1709. He was Peter Beckford Jnr.'s son and heir. During his education in England he was criticized and ridiculed for his poor grammar and Jamaican accent. He lived nearly all his life in England, and thus the Jamaican plantations fell into the hands of attorneys while he became an absentee proprietor in the strictest sense.

In 1736 he purchased "Fonthill Abbey", a grand manor with 5,000 acres of land. It was destroyed by fire in 1755. He rebuilt it almost immediately and decorated it lavishly. At the age of 47 he married, and in 1760 William Beckford Jnr. Was born.

The hard even ruthless fibre of his pioneer ancestors was to find direct contrast in this last son of the family, delicate and over sensitive as a child, he grew to manhood tortured by a psychologic sexual defect, and lived a life fighting mental collapse and near despair. When he was ten years old his father who had been Lord Mayor of London died. A year later the boy William inherited his father's fortune.

Of artistic Temperament, this youth was fond of all branches of the arts. He studied music under Mozart, and later took up architecture. Possessed with strong literary inclinations, he wrote several novels and books on travel. His novel "Vathek" appeared in 1786. Based on an Oriental romantic theme, he is best remembered for this work.

In 1783 William Beckford married Lady Margaret Gordon. They had two daughters. The marriage was of short duration for Margaret died in 1786.

Between 1784 and 1793 Beckford had a seat in Parliament. He finally sold "Fonthill" and later built a house near Bath in England, where he lived until his death in 1844.

His eldest daughter married the 10th Duke of Hamilton. Thus with the passing of this unhappy man, who died without a male heir, that branch of the family finally passed into history.

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