Not many people know that Port Maria, the "Puerto Santa Maria" of the Spanish, was the second town to be established in Jamaica by the colonizing Spaniards. Formerly a bustling seaport under both Spanish and English rule, the town today reflects little of its former prosperity or importance. Except for a handful of buildings, not much remains of the Colonial-era architecture. The town is set in the center of a deep inlet of the northern coastline with a small island just offshore, and the bay is certainly one of the most picturesque in Jamaica. As capital of the parish of St Mary, Port Maria is home to the St Mary Courthouse, an old, elegant building subtly dominating the town's waterfront.
Port Maria, and indeed the entire parish of St Mary, has a very old and deep-seated tradition of protest. From as early as 1655, African slaves set free by the fleeing Spanish took to the hills, forming Maroon communities and carrying out the occasional attack on British estates and towns. In 1760, Tacky, the notorious rebel slave, led a revolt against slave owners that lasted over a month before British authorities could suppress the fighting. Centuries later, in a 1938 riot that started in Islington, a small farming community near to Port Maria, four men died as a result of clashes with local police. The spirit of protest lives on, although in recent times not much has been able to incite the people here to mass violence.
In front of the courthouse is a monument to Tacky, a freedom fighter of the 18th century. In 1760 Tacky, an African slave of Coromantee descent, assembled a guerrilla army to attack their British enslavers and seize control of the land. The revolt started on the nearby Frontier plantation, but spread quickly after Tacky and his followers raided the munitions store in Port Maria. Tacky's Revolt was one of the most pivotal slave uprisings in Jamaican history, because, although outnumbered and ill equipped, Tacky's followers kept the British at bay for more than a month before the rebellion could be subdued. Following the rebellion, many of the slaves that managed to evade the British banded together and fled to the hills to join the Maroons, but as many as 300 slaves were executed for their participation.
The St Mary Parish Church, built in 1861 of limestone blocks on the edge of the bay, is one of the most picturesque structures anywhere on the island. The modest chapel is set against the dazzling turquoise harbor, framed by tall palm trees whose leaves rustle gently in the warm sea breezes.