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The legend of Goat Islands

Sunday, September 01, 2013    

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MANY people — even those exposed and educated -- have admitted that they that they didn't know about Goat Islands prior to the current swell of controversy around the two cays located off the St Catherine coast.

But thanks to the National Library of Jamaica, we've come upon some very interesting facts.

For one, the islands are rumoured to be the site of Scottish pirate Captain William Kidd's looted treasure. Also, a cave with Arawak remains is said to be there, and at one time, they were inhabited by slaves and their owners and much later, by US naval officers.

* Goat Islands were once owned by Sir Thomas Lynch, Governor of Jamaica from 1682-1684.

* The islands are cited as Coverly Great Goat Island and Peters Little Goat Island on a 1763 Craskell and Simpson map. By 1804 they are cited on Robertson's Map of the county of Middlesex as Great Goat Island and Little Goat Island.

* Great Goat Island was valued for its wood. According to the Morning Journal, April 16, 1838: "All that valuable and extensive run of land, called Great Goat Island, containing about 1,500 acres, all in heavy wood, upwards of 30 years growth. The above run of land not only abounds in the best hardwood timbers, but also a great quantity of limestone of superior quality; and as a fishing station, Spanish Town and its vicinity is chiefly and abundantly supplied there from."

* From references in the Returns of Proprietors and Properties (Jamaica Almanac), Little Goat Island was inhabited by slaves and their owners:

Date Proprietor Property Parish Slaves Stock

1815 Summers, Philip Little-Goat Island St Dorothy 22 -

1817-20 Newland, Patrick Little-Goat Island " 23 "

1821 Gordon, Joseph " 17 "

* By 1884, the Goat islands were owned by Louis Verley and cited as occupied by wood and ruins.

* Early in the 20th century, a Captain Sherlock who was well known by the members of the Royal Jamaica Yacht Club, had a large yacht and spent several months each year on Goat Island excavating among the caves for treasure, which he believed to have been buried there. The island is said to be the burial spot for the looted treasures of Scottish pirate Captain Kidd.

* In his Historic Jamaica, Frank Cundall, Secretary /Librarian at the West India Reference Library (now National Library of Jamaica, NLJ) states that there is a cave with Arawak remains on Goat Island.

* Also in another source by Frank Cundall, a book titled Jamaica Under the Spaniards (abstracted from the Archives at Seville), 1919, Goat Island was a part of the Spanish's system of defence for Jamaica:

"Don Fernando Melgarejo deCordova, Your Governor of the island of Jamaica,... On the 15th March [1598] after having driven from the port a hulk and tender of corsairs, he had information that they were three leagues outside the port at a Cay called "The Goats", and crews from the vessels, on the shore cutting Brazil wood and loading it. He went personally in two boats to disembark in some mangrove thickets and swamps, because the port was occupied, and so as not to be detected he went at midnight and supplied the people, at his own expense, with arms and munitions and provisions; and, in an ambuscade that he made, he captured and killed many with great risk to his person on account of the pieces of artillery they discharged."

* In the 1940s Goat Island was a part of the Portland Bight area that was leased to the United States for the set up of naval and air bases. This deal was made during World War II between the United States and Britain.

* In 1941, Goat Island was declared a Protected Area. Under the Protected Area Order, "no person being either an enemy alien or a person who was not resident in the said area on the day of the making of this Order shall land upon the said island or shall enter within the said area except with the consent of the Inspector of Police in charge of the parish of St Catherine."

* In 1958, scientists including Bernard Lewis and R Proctor from Institute of Jamaica along with others from the University College of the West Indies (now University of the West Indies, UWI) visited Great and Little Goat Island to assess the value of the flora and fauna and its potential to become a nature preserve. It was the desire of Frank Cundall, Secretary /Librarian at the West India Reference Library (now National Library of Jamaica, NLJ) to have it declared a sanctuary for the benefit of the vivarium at the Institute of Jamaica.

— Compiled by the National Library of Jamaica

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