Mona Great House
Of the three neighboring sugar estates, Mona, Hope, and Papine, nestled into the foothills of Long Mountain and hugging the edges of the Liguanea Plain, the Mona Estate had the most staying power. It was the last active sugar plantation in St. Andrews Parish, with 1908 recorded as the last year of sugar production. In the 18th century, Mona had an impressive start. Its massive cut limestone and brick sugar works date to the late 1750s, where the still house or distillery and rum storehouse still carries the capstone with the date of 1759. Mona Estate shared an equally impressive limestone and brick aqueduct with the Papine and Hope Estates that carried water from the Hope River to the sugar mills of each plantation (Francis Brown 2004, 2010). By the mid-20th century, Mona sugar works lay mostly in ruins. The Bookkeeper's house remains standing and serves as the UWI Mona Archaeology Laboratory today. The other works buildings are in ruins on the campus.
The Mona Estate appears to have had at least two great houses. One map, dated 1785 and commissioned by James Wildman, owner of the neighboring Papine Estate, shows two Mona Great Houses: one a mile west of the Mona works and another south of the works in an area now called College Common, a neighborhood of faculty housing for the University of the West Indies, Mona. Until 2011, when the UWI Mona Archaeological Field School and DAACS began its fourth year of collaborative field work, the exact location of the Mona Great House in College Common was unknown.
In mid-May 2011, the DAACS-UWI crew identified the likely site of the early Mona Great House during a walking survey. Shovel test pit survey commenced shortly thereafter. One hundred thirty-six shovel test pits were excavated over 5,376 square meters. Several 18th-century brick and limestone architectural features were identified on the surface, including a well, the exposed foundation of a rectangular flanker or outbuilding, fragments of brick-in-course likely associated with a matching flanker to the north, and foundation fragments likely associated with the Great House itself. Recovered artifacts reveal significant investment in costly imported goods such as the most current and expensive ceramic and glass tablewares. Large quantities of locally-produced coarse earthenwares and tobacco pipes surrounding the flankers and distributed south and west behind the Great House suggest that a substantial number of enslaved laborers also likely lived and worked at the Great House complex.
The Mona Great House, located in College Common, was likely constructed to house Philip Pinnock and his wife Grace, both of whom purchased the estate in 1757. Pinnock was the first owner to invest real cash into the estate, and the cut stone aqueduct and Mona works buildings likely date to his tenure. The Mona village was also likely established at the same time, if not slightly before construction of the works.
Around 1767, the estate, with its enslaved population and all stock, was sold to John Kennion. A 1774 map of the neighboring Papine Estate shows its southern boundary as "Mona Estate belonging to John Kennion Esquire formerly Philip Pinnock". However, subsequent estate maps dated 1779, 1785, and 1831, also in the collection of the National Library of Jamaica, were done at the behest of William and Thomas Bond, a London merchant and magistrate respectively, or their heirs.
The 1779 survey map of the Mona Estate shows the College Common Mona Great House site in detail: a large great house with possible portico oriented to the northeast and two flankers or dependencies located directly behind the great house. This survey map was essential to identifying the surface features at the College Common site.
The Bond estate owned Mona throughout the period of greatest change in Jamaica’s sugar industry – beginning in a period of relative prosperity during the late-18th century, all the way through the abolition of the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans, the failed period of amelioration and the coming of abolition of slavery in 1834 and emancipation in 1838. It may have been the further blows to the industry with the end of protective duties at mid-century that finally led to the sale of Mona Estate to Louis Verley, a Jamaican planter and merchant. Between the 1860s and the 1890s, Verley purchased Mona, Latimer Pen, Papine and Hermitage Pen, consolidating holdings of more than 2,600 acres. Mona’s acreage was just around 1,000 acres.
Excavation history, procedure, and methods
Interest in locating and surveying the College Common Mona Great House site began in earnest in January 2008, shortly after archaeological field work at the Papine Village commenced. Dr. Suzanne Francis-Brown, author of the seminal work on the history of the UWI Mona campus (2004), toured Jillian Galle and Leslie Cooper through College Common, where she showed them an early cut limestone and brick bridge over the August Town Gully. Cooper took several GPS readings at the bridge and around College Common and used these points to rectify a modern map with the 1825 plat showing the bridge and the Mona Great House. Over the years Francis-Brown kept urging DAACS to consider work at the Great House site and was a driving force in turning our attention to the site.
In late 2010, Ivor Conolley and Galle decided that the focus of the 2011 UWI Mona Archaeology Field School should be on finding and surveying the Mona Great House site in College Common. Cooper’s 2008 map was essential to knowing where to begin looking for the site. Prior to the start of field school, Conolley and DAACS staff, including Francis-Brown who now works for DAACS as a research historian and excavator, field walked the house lots and open spaces between College Common Road and Long Mountain Road. We quickly found the foundation of an early well in Dr. Ron Young’s yard. Further investigation of the area revealed visible remains of a rectangular foundation approximately 3-by-9 meters. The size suggested it might be one of the dependencies drawn on the 1779 plat. Also visible were bits of brick and limestone foundation elsewhere in the yard.
The Youngs generously granted permission for the field school to begin work in their yard just a few short days after our request. DAACS established an UTM grid over the site using a total station and GPS. STPs were placed six meters apart on alphanumeric transects across the site, which extends beyond the Young’s house lot into surrounding yards.
Between May 16 and 27 and again between June 13 and 17, 2011 DAACS staff and field school students excavated 136 shovel test pits. Work was also begun on two 1-x-1 meter units, placed over a fragment of what is likely one segment of the great house’s foundation. These units quickly revealed a complex set of architectural features which only more time, and a larger area excavation, could puzzle out. As a result, we recorded and closed the units in anticipate of future field seasons. Exposed architectural features were mapped with a total station and are included on the site map.
All artifacts from the Mona Great House excavations were exported to the DAACS laboratory at Monticello in Virginia for analysis and digitization. These artifacts were returned to UWI Mona in September 2011 and are currently curated by the Department of History and Archaeology
The Great House Survey is part of the DAACS Caribbean Initiative (DCI), a large-scale, internationally collaborative initiative to document archaeologically through survey, excavation, and collections analysis, the trajectories of change in slave lifeways on the north and south coasts of Jamaica and on the small islands of Nevis and St. Kitts during the 18th and 19th centuries. DCI’s primary method for understanding change in slave lifeways is use of systematic shovel-test-pit survey to document change in the material record over time and space. The Mona Great House survey is modeled on other successful DCI shovel-test-pit surveys on the south and north coasts of Jamaica and on Nevis and St. Kitts.
Summary of research and analysis
Over 3,400 artifacts were recovered from the Mona Great House site. This site contained a much higher concentration of high-style and costly goods than the Mona and Papine Villages, including a ceramic tableware assemblage comprised primarily of White Salt Glaze, Delft, and Chinese Porcelain sherds. Leaded glass stemware and drinking glasses also suggest significant investment in costly dining rituals. Seventeen fragments of lead window came and window glass point to substantial great house-style architecture.
The artifact assemblage also revealed a glimpse into the lives of the enslaved domestic laborers. Locally-produced coarse earthenwares dominated the entire ceramic assemblage and cluster southwest of the two flankers. One hundred seventy-four fragments of tobacco pipes—both imported and locally produced—also spread away from Great House and likely represent inhabitants of both the great house and surrounding dependencies. Website users can access all of the artifact and context data by using the Query the Database modules: http://www.daacs.org/querydatabase/.
Distribution maps for a host of artifact types demonstrate that all major artifact concentrations cluster to the west and southwest of the two flankers. The one exception is pearlware, the latest ceramic ware type found at the site in any quantity. It distributed in a donut-like array around the southern flanker. That flanker is the best exposed foundation, with three sides of the foundation fully visible on the surface. Oral history from residents at the site in the 1960s describe even more ruins of this structure, as well as being able to see what was likely the southern foundation of the great house, which is now under a berm of sediment. The pearlware distribution may suggest that the southern flanker was occupied the longest, although this tentative conclusion would take additional excavation to confirm.
Finally, correspondence analysis (CA) of the Mona Great House ceramics assemblage resulted in two phases for the site. Phase 1 and Phase 2 have MCDs of 1763 and 1768 respectively. Two other measures that are less sensitive to excavation errors and taphonomic processes that might introduce a small amount of anomalously late material into an assemblage were used and suggest that Phase 1 and Phase 2 date from virtually the same time period. The nearly identical dates for the two phases suggests that the CA, while capturing a mild temporal trend, likely represents social differences between the great house and the surrounding dependencies. Please see the DAACS Chronology Page for additional information on the great House chronology: http://www.daacs.org/resources/sites/chronology/57/.