Nested in the centre of Down Town, Montego Bay, is the popular Sam Sharpe Square. This historic place is bustling with pedestrian and vehicular traffic. It was originally called Charles Square.
Sir Charles Knowles was the governor of Jamaica from 1752 to 1756. James Lawrence who was the custos of the parish in 1755, laid out the parade in the town of Montego Bay and named the square as “Charles Square” in honour of the governor.
Charles Square was renamed as Sam Sharpe Square in the year 1976 to honour Jamaican National Hero Samuel Sharpe. He was from Montego Bay and was executed in the market place for being the main instigator of the 1831 Slave Rebellion at Kensington Estate nearby.
Here are a few images of what the square looked like then based on the images sourced from the National Library of Jamaica .
Today, Sam Sharpe Square boasts of several historic monuments such as the Sam Sharpe Monument, the Cage, the Civic Centre and the Freedom Monument and a fountain.
The cage, a wooden structure was originally built in 1806. It was used as a jail for runaway slaves, unruly seamen and vagrants. In 1822, the Vestry replaced the wooden structure with a stone and brick structure you see in the picture above. In later years, it was used for other purposes. Today, it is a place where they sell phone cards and other things.
Sam Sharpe Monument
Kay Sullivan designed the Sam Sharpe monument and it depicts Samuel Sharpe standing with a Bible in his hand and talking to the slaves. Samuel Sharpe was instrumental in the abolition of slavery in Jamaica. He was a Baptist Preacher and a great leader. Through his religious meetings, he communicated with other slaves and encouraged political thinking.
The Montego Bay Cultural Centre formerly called as the Montego Bay Civic Centre is a majestic structure that catches your eye as soon as you reach the Sam Sharpe Square. This facility has undergone major refurbishing by the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) and involved a cost of $109 million. This place now houses an art gallery, a museum, space for the performing arts, a bistro, an artisan village and a gift shop.
It is a collaborative effort of the TEF, the St. James Parish Council, the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo), the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Urban Development Corporation (UDC).
Originally, this building served a different and grim purpose. It was the Old Court House and was built in 1774. This is the place where many African slaves were tried. Samuel Sharpe was also tried here for his involvement in the Emancipation War on 19 April 1832 and he was sentenced to execution by hanging.
By 1959, the court offices and local government offices had become too large for the building to accommodate them and the court offices were moved to new premises on St. James Street. A fire destroyed the courthouse in 1968. In 2001, the Urban Development Corporation restored the building with funding from the Venezuelan Government through the San Jose Accord. It was reopened as the Montego Bay Civic Centre. It is a multi-faceted facility with provision for a museum, art gallery, performing arts and conferencing facilities.
The Freedom Monument was erected in 2007 to memorialize the enslaved persons who participated in 1831-32 war of emancipation.
In this picture, you can see what the Old Court House looked like in the early 1900s.
Here are a few more pictures I clicked at the square.
View of the back of the Montego Bay Cultural Center. While I was clicking these snaps, the bystanders told me that there were prisons here too.
A patty shop to snack at if you are tired or you could buy a few fruits at this pushcart.
When you visit Montego Bay, don’t miss a trip to the Sam Sharpe Square in Down Town.
Image Source: National Library of Jamaica and Jamaica National Museum. Click on the images to go to their website.