Treasure Beach is the generic name for four coves along the south-west coastline of Jamaica in the parish of St Elizabeth - Billy’s Bay, Frenchman’s Bay, Calabash Bay, and Great (Pedro) Bay. Travel literature attributes the “distinctive appearance” of the Treasure Beach population to shipwrecked Scottish sailors who “intermarried” with locals sometime during the 17th to 19th centuries. Lighter skin tones, blonde or red hair colours, and blue or green eyes are said to emerge across the generations in Treasure Beach as a direct result of the Scottish shipwreck. This representation of Treasure Beach is used to define the region and draws from the island-wide stereotype that St Elizabeth’s southern population is "brown" or has lighter skin in comparison to the majority of Jamaica.
My PhD, funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council, will help expand our knowledge of the understudied southern St Elizabeth history and will develop our understanding of the complex multicultural layers of the population. Whilst Treasure Beach is the focal point of this study, the area also acts as the lens through which the wider history of southern St Elizabeth can be re-evaluated. The aim is to create a space for a wider range of representations of the Treasure Beach and surrounding southern St Elizabeth history.
We know from genealogy and archival research that the history of southern St Elizabeth is much richer and more complex than travel literature leads us to believe. Whilst the legend of a Scottish shipwreck persists, the pre-Taíno population, Spanish invaders, the offspring of British slave-owners and African slaves, and a myriad of other international heritages that settled within southern St Elizabeth are hidden. An acknowledgement of these layers is not only important in fleshing out the historical narrative of southern St Elizabeth, but may help us to understand the origins of the “distinctive appearance” stereotype that has become associated with the region. This project will also analyse recent history in Treasure Beach and southern St Elizabeth, including emigration from the region and the advent of community tourism.
The research methodology includes archival research, demographic analysis, and economic development analysis, but the methodology at the heart of the project is oral histories strengthened by surveys. These oral histories take the form of audio-recorded semi-structured interviews with members of the Treasure Beach population and surrounding communities in southern St Elizabeth. Findings generated through online surveys will compliment the interview data. The first survey will be completed by residents in southern St Elizabeth and the second will be completed by the Jamaican diaspora of southern St Elizabeth. The third, fourth, and fifth surveys will be completed by the international diaspora of southern St Elizabeth and each will target one of the three main catchments of emigrants, namely the UK, the US, and Canada.
The reasons for considering the diaspora within this study are two-fold. Firstly, emigration is integral to the history of Jamaica and there is a need to tap into the knowledge of these voices. Secondly, it is valuable to consider how former residents of southern St Elizabeth, who may or may not have the “distinctive appearance”, were encountered and racially or ethnically categorised in international contexts. How did the experiences of the diaspora feed back into the identity of southern St Elizabeth?
Find out more about the project