THE STORY OF THE HOT-WATER BATH
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