Sitting high on a hill with sweeping views of the Caribbean sea, Greenwood Great House was built in the 1780s by the enormously wealthy Richard Barrett; a cousin of the famous poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
Greenwood was built for entertaining when Richard was made Speaker of the Assembly. It was one of four great houses owned by the Barrett family, including Cinnamon Hill located nearby, the family home of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's great grand-parents. Cinnamon Hill was bought by Johnny Cash, the country and western singer. It was his home until his death.
Greenwood is one is the best preserved examples of the plantation era Jamaican Great House. More than 200 great houses in Jamaica were razed during the slave revolt of 1831. The Greenwood Great House is among a very few that were spared from being torched, mainly as a result of the way Richard Barrett treated his slaves. Unlike most planter families in Jamaica at the time, the Barretts were kind to their slaves, assisting them on a path to literacy, an act which was considered a criminal offence.
It was for many generations, the home of the famous Barrett family who arrived in Jamaica from Wimpole Street in London. The house has always been occupied and was purchased in 1975 by Bob and Ann Betton. It has been a labor of love, restoring it to its original splendor. Of all the great houses in Jamaica, this one is the most authentic. It is a national monument due to its history and the enduring presence of antique items.
Tours are offered to the public for a small fee, which is used to help offset the cost of maintaining the house. Truly one of Jamaica's hidden treasures.
The grounds to the back of the house are covered with majestic mature trees that create a natural perimeter, with the help of a picket fence, to enclose a separated back garden. Stone and grassed walkways meander through the grounds of flowering plants and fruit trees. There is a multi-tiered grassed terrace area for entertainment or quiet reflection.
There are three antique horse drawn carriages, including a hearse and mail wagon, parked in a covered pavilion to the front-left area of the house.
The House is built perched on a hillside, with the front garden sitting below the ground level. This creates an imposing perspective, with the house towering above you in all its majesty, when viewed from the gardens in front.
There are several other buildings on the property, one of which was used as a guest house and another, a gift shop.
The house features many of the standard architectural features of great houses of the time.
The verandah (picture above), located on the second floor and facing the ocean, spans a great portion of the width of the house. The view is breathtaking with a full 180 degree view of the ocean, completely filling the left and right peripheral vision. The full curvature of the horizon is visible as a result of the expansive view. The naturally cool ocean breeze, provides relief from the heat and humidity of the natural climate. The flooring is made of native woods that retains a high polish. Jalousies and sash windows provides ventilation throughout the house by maximizes the flow of the cool breeze from the ocean throughout the entire house.
The construction is of stone and wood, with a cedar shingled roof. An outer stairway links the ground floor to the second floor living quarters. The doors are made of mahogany. The detached kitchen is connected to the main building by a covered walkway.
The back porch is covered by an exposed beam cedar shingled shed roof, anchored to the walls of the main building with supporting pillars. The cut stone flooring provides a rustic feel, accentuated by the use of several antique artifacts and furnishings.
The house is extensively furnished with antique furniture, china, crystals and memorabilia from the Barrett family. Many of the pieces have historical significance. The library is extensive with books dating back to 1697. Many works of art adorn the walls with several portraits of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and many other Barretts.
As was typical of the day, the kitchen is built as a separate building away from the main house. This was done as a safety measure to prevent the risk of fires in the main building, as well as reduce the heat. A covered walkway, called the "whistling walk", links the kitchen to the back porch of the house. The slaves were required to whistle as they carried the food from the kitchen to the house. A practice used to prevent stealing bites of foods as they carried the food from the kitchen to the main house.
Today, the kitchen is used as a small cozy bar for visitors. It contains many historical artifacts and posters.
This Great House maintains a historical museum, with much of its original furniture, family portraits, and rooms still intact.
Greenwood has one of the finest collection of antique furniture on the island, and possibly the Caribbean. The house still holds the original Barrett family library, the largest and oldest still-intact plantation library on the island containing over 300 books, such as a Barrett’s Eton diary of 1832, a signed first edition of Dickens’ “Domby and Son”, William Cobbett’s “Rural Rides”, Thomas Carlisle’s “French Revolution”. The oldest book dates back to 1697, with the average age of the collection being over 200 years. Many are signed by members of the Barrett family.
Other historical pieces include a harp made in London by Sebastian Erard in 1862 and a piano that belonged to King Edward VII who gifted it to his wife Queen Alexandra of Denmark. It was made by the famous piano maker, John Broadwood, who presented Beethoven with a piano that became one of Bethoven's most cherished possessions. The Greenwood piano is inlaid with thousands small pieces of wood glued together to form an intricate mosaic of patterns.
Among the collection are desks with secret compartments, paintings, handwritten letters and rare musical instruments such as the polyphon, an upright music box that plays a metal disk. There is also a grandfather clock that tells the date and time, a time punch clock, clothes press as well as artifacts of the slave era; ankle irons, mantraps for runaways and more.
The first Barrett, Hersey Barrett (also spelled Hercie in some other references), settled in Jamaica in the 1660s after being granted lands by the King of England for his service in the British Navy. He was an officer in the unsuccessful raid of Hispaniola (current island of Haiti and the Dominican Republic), led by Admiral William Penn and General Robert Venables in 1655. Later that same year, being much less fortified, Jamaica was captured by the British from the Spaniards and Hersey Barrett was granted lands in Jamaica, by the King of England.
The first recorded land patent in the Barrett name was recorded in 1663 in Spanish Town, granted by King Charles II to Hersey Barrett, who was also the great-great-great-great grandfather of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the poetess of 50, Wimpole Street in London. Hersey Barrett had two sons; Hersey who was born in 1650 in England, and Samuel who was born in Jamaica in 1662, and from whom the lineage of Jamaican Barretts sprung.
Richard Barrett, was the son of Samuel Goodin Barrett (who was uncle of the poetess Elizabeth Barrett-Browning's father). The Barretts as a family, had become wealthy sugar plantation owners. Richard lived in Jamaica for most of his life overseeing the management of his slave-run properties and participating in public life. He owned two sugar plantations in St James; Greenwood and Barrett Hall. He became magistrate in 1816, before being promoted to Chief magistrate (or custos) in 1825. He was a member of the Assembly in both St James (1815-1819 and again in 1826) and Trelawny (1822-1824). He was elected Speaker of the House in 1830 and remained a prominent figure in politics until his death in 1839.
Richard was chosen to represent the Jamaica legislature before parliament on the issues of emancipation. Even though he himself was an owner of slaves, at heart it appears he was an abolitionist. He had been kind and considerate to his slaves and in 1826 had used every effort in the Assembly to abolish the use of the cart whip in the chastisement on the slaves.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
With Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
With I shall but love thee better after death.