Jamaica Gleaner - - HOSPITALITY JAMAICA - Hos­pi­tal­ity Ja­maica Writer

VIS­I­TORS TO the dis­trict of Bath in east cen­tral St Thomas, if they had not al­ready read about its his­tory, would not know that this quiet and laid-back place was once a so­cial hotspot, a lovers’ ren­dezvous, a pi­rate’s haunt, and a na­ture hos­pi­tal. Its hey­day is long gone, but peo­ple still go there in droves to the nat­u­ral balm, the sul­phuric hot wa­ters, to soothe their mind and body.

The hot springs were what made Bath fa­mous in the first place, and when Hos­pi­tal­ity Ja­maica vis­ited last Fri­day, a long line of peo­ple were seen cross­ing a bridge and trav­el­ling up the mod­er­ately steep in­cline to go to the spot where piping-hot water oozes from rocks into the cold sul­phur river.

Its dis­cov­ery was made, ac­cord­ing to oral tra­di­tions, by an en­slaved African named Ja­cob. He had run away from the in­jus­tice and hard­ship of slav­ery, and had hid­den among thick veg­e­ta­tion on lands owned by a Colonel Stan­ton, who had held him in servi­tude. Ja­cob, who had sores all over his body, came upon the hot wa­ters by chance. Some of it had col­lected in a nat­u­ral basin, in which he got the idea to soak his en­tire ul­cer­ous and tired body. This he did for a while.


Even­tu­ally, the water, now known to con­tain cal­cium, mag­ne­sium, sodium, sul­phate, bi­car­bon­ate, sil­i­cate and chlo­ride, serendip­i­tously healed Ja­cob’s sores. The joy of the ‘mir­a­cle’ was too sweet to keep, so Ja­cob risked be­ing maimed or killed for his tru­ancy by re­turn­ing to his keeper to tell him about the hot wa­ters and how it amaz­ingly healed his sores.

Af­ter the di­vul­gence of the cu­ra­tive na­ture the hot water, the springs be­came pop­u­lar among the lo­cal peo­ple. But Colonel Stan­ton sold them with 1,130 acres of land to the Gov­ern­ment in 1699. The change of own­er­ship did not stop the in­ter­est in the springs. The first decades of the 1700s saw a rise in their pop­u­lar­ity among mem­bers of the pub­lic.

The news had spread wide and far, and peo­ple trav­elled from far and wide to Bath to heal their gouts, rheuma­tism, arthri­tis, stom­ach dis­or­ders, ul­cers, skin dis­eases. Over time, the place to which Ja­cob’s dis­cov­ery had pulled the sick, the maimed and the lame had turned into a na­ture hos­pi­tal for many. Th­ese were not only peo­ple from the lo­cal gen­try, but also rich and ail­ing white Amer­i­cans and Euro­peans.

The wealthy ones, who could not get enough of the ‘medicine’, be­gan to build dwelling places not far from the springs. But the new vil­lage of Bath it­self evolved on the north­ern banks of the Plan­tain Gar­den River, which runs from west to east, by peo­ple who built town­houses on lots they had pur­chased. As hard as Hos­pi­tal­ity Ja­maica tried, no ru­ins of the orig­i­nal dwellings were seen. But the re­search has re­vealed that Bath also be­came a mecca for peo­ple of wealth, high so­cial stand­ings, and world­wide re­pute.

Paul H. Wil­liams

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