The Birth of Kingston by Joseph A. Matalon (Part 1 of 2)

Kingston began in June of 1692, when a major earthquake destroyed the town of Port Royal. Port Royal, at that time was a fortified naval base, and had perhaps as many as 2000 houses, as well as law courts, two prisons, churches and all the amenities of a well defined city. The total devastation of this major centre in Jamaica necessitated immediate action on the part of the then Government of Jamaica for the rehabilitation and rehousing of the survivors of the earthquake.

So, in 1692, the Governor of Jamaica acquired for the princely sum of £4000, 200 acres of land known then as “Colonel Barry’s Hog Crawle”. The transaction was handled by a Kingston Attorney, Nicholas Lawes on behalf of the owner of the property, a Mr. William Beeston. Mr. Beeston had apparently and fortuitously acquired the property previously from Colonel Samuel Barry. (Hence Barry, Lawes and Beeston Streets)

The first settlement in Kingston was designed by a surveyor named John Goffe, who produced a quadrilateral bounded by North, East, West and Harbour Streets. Temporary huts were constructed for refugees from Port Royal and house lots were sold on the condition that purchasers would construct a home worth not less than £30 within three years. In 1693 the Parish of Kingston was constituted. Progress was somewhat slow in the development of the city and in 1703, a 7 year tax-free incentive was instituted to promote the construction of permanent residences.

With the introduction of this incentive, the development of Kingston took off. In 1755, Admiral Knowles, the Governor of Jamaica moved the capital city from Spanish Town to Kingston, but he met stiff opposition from the Assembly, who moved it back to Spanish Town in 1758.

In 1801, the parish of Kingston had a population of 30,000 and in 1802 gained legal recognition as a city. By 1807, the original area of Kingston had expanded north to Sutton Street, east to Fleet Street and west to Pechon Street. The capital of Jamaica was permanently moved to Kingston in 1872 and the existing parish boundaries were established.


Kingston has had her fair share of disasters throughout her history. Economic recession has plagued the trading capital of Jamaica. The Napoleonic Wars brought stagnation to the city, which fell into disrepair and much of Kingston was burned in the fire of 1843. In 1850 some 4,000 people or one eighth of the population died in the cholera epidemic. Major sections of the city were again burned in a fire in 1862. A major hurricane in 1880 and another fire in 1882 did severe damage to the city. Each time Kingston survived and was rebuilt better than before until 1907 when a major earthquake destroyed the city. The aftermath of the earthquake was a fire that took a week to burn itself out.

On the rubble of the 1907 disaster rose the present reinforced concrete city that is today the downtown area of Kingston. The growth and expansion of the city has been geometric as Kingston became the economic, administrative and cultural capital of Jamaica. The city has expanded during the first half of the 20th century to include the once rural parish of St. Andrew and in 1923, the Kingston City Council was merged with the parochial board of St. Andrew, giving birth to the Kingston & St. Andrew Parish Council, the KSAC as we know it today. Read the second half of this story here.

Extracted from a presentation by: Joseph A. Matalon.
The Twelfth Annual Bustamante Lecture
Thursday, February 26, 1998
The Jamaica Conference Centre
by: Dr. The Hon. Aaron Matalon O.J.