Fort Stewart, St Mary – report on recent archaeological excavation

A few years ago, the late Robert Barker of the FGSJ discovered a map showing properties in the area of northern St. Mary (then St George) which had been surveyed in the early 1670s. Noticeable on the plan was a drawing of a four bastioned building at Fort Stewart, a property owned by Major William Nedham. Robert identified the probable location of the site which, in 2019, with the help of satellite imagery provided by Dr Brent Fortenberry of Texas A&M University, Peregrine Bryant, FGSJ chair, found. In March 2020, an FGSJ team with Dr Conolley, carried out a preliminary survey which resulted in a unanimous conclusion – that the remains of a fortified structure featuring four bastions were there and that this was an important site that should be surveyed properly by a team of archaeologists. Between September and December, Dr Conolley, with Dr Zachary Beir of the University of the West Indies, led a dig there and the FGSJ helped fund the team’s expenses.

Image: Extract of map showing Fort Stewart, n.d. (National Library of Jamaica)

Shortly after the restoration of Charles II to the throne, Nedham and his brother, both royalists, were allocated large holdings in this part of the island. Fort Stewart was allocated to William Nedham and surveyed soon after, in 1670. That same year was the year Jamaica was formally ceded to the English by the Spanish but attacks by the French, Spanish and some Maroons were still occurring so buildings needed to be able to withstand attack.

The site of Fort Stewart’s old bastioned house has clear views of the coastline as well as of the hills behind. It was ideally positioned to see attacks coming from sea or land.

Photo: Zachary Beir
The Bastion House is set on an elevation with good visibility. The house was built on an elevated area in a fairly defensible location. The western, southern and eastern sides are bounded by a steep descent. Less defensible is the northern part of the property which slopes gently upward.

In researching background to the property, Antony Maitland, an FGSJ member found an 18th century plan of Fort Stewart. This features a drawing of the property house which is shown as a fortified structure of timber and cut stone and brick set on cut stone foundations.

Illustration: The Bastion House at Fort Stewart, St. Mary, n.d. (Bowdoin College)
Probably the original Bastion House built c.1670. Batten windows and doors, wooden siding, stone foundation, stone steps rising to the veranda, wooden uprights, wooden railings, gun slats, veranda rear wall of stone and brick

Dr Conolley writes: ‘Unlike the Georgian building style that was to emerge from the Italian Palladian decades later as the dominant fashion, houses in this early period were quite different. The windows would not be ornate sash windows but batten type enclosures. Doors would be of sturdy wood. House sidings would be fortified with gun slats. Roofs would not be of shingle that could be easily set alight but of red ceramic tiles which were fire proof and of a type used by the Spaniards only fifteen years before. Although the Treaty of Madrid prohibited trade with the Spanish territories, trade nonetheless continued, and it would not be surprising for the English to procure such a readily available roofing material, as roofing tiles, from the Spanish. Red ceramic floor tiles would also be available from the Spanish trade. Stones for the foundation and walls would be readily available from mountain lands and so would lumber; bricks could have been carried over from England as ballast in the holds of ships.’

The excavations found that the entire bastion, basement and upper floor, was constructed of cut stone. This is underlined by a feature which appears on all of the walls which encompass the north east bastion. This feature suggests that a new stone wall was placed on top of the bastion basement stone wall. This new stone wall likely replaced the upper floor of timber. Also found was evidence of red roofing tile fragments and of a tiled (red/terracotta ceramic floor tile) basement floor. Artefact fragments found dated mainly between the 18th and 19th centuries but included remnants of pottery made 1640-1740.

Steps and stone foundation for veranda landing.

FGSJ Team: Peregrine Bryant, Ivor Conolley, Andrew Smith, Rene Rice, Tony Minter and Douglas Blain

Archaeology Team: Ivor Conolley, Zachary Beir, Angelique Mullings and Romaine Thomas

Rosie Dodd