Journey to a Mission
Chronology Leading to the Arrival of the Sisters of Providence in Washington Territory, 1856
9. Arrival: Kingston, Jamaica, November 13, 1856
Founded in 1693 as a refuge for earthquake survivors from nearby Port Royal, Kingston was named in honor of the British king, William of Orange. The settlement saw more growth in 1703 after a major fire that unleashed further destruction in Port Royal. By 1716 Kingston had become the island’s largest town and trade center. It became the administrative capital in 1872.
In 1844, twelve years prior to the sisters’ arrival, Jamaica’s total population consisted of about 14,000 whites, 81,000 “coloreds” or mixed-race, and 346,000 blacks. On November 13, 1856, the sisters’ ship made its first port-of-call since leaving New York in Kingston. As recorded in their journal, the town itself was mainly black:
Negroes make up the population of this city. There were about fifty Negro women who carried coal on their heads, in big wooden vases; they were being led by Negro [men], and were walking one after the other, some happy and others sad, some singing, others laughing, finally each, though in the same vocation, fulfilled the duties much differently, which provided us ample material to reflect upon. All day the Negroes carried fruit of all kinds that were beautiful and a very good price, this is the food of these poor people. We look everywhere and we can not refrain from admiring the infinite goodness of God. These poor creatures destitute of everything, our Divine Savior makes grow in abundance, without the help of their labor, the most beautiful fruits and all that contributes to their existence. We also see trees whose branches quite resemble those of the palm tree, which made us think a lot of the passage of Our Lord through the streets of Jerusalem. There were also the most magnificent flowers, like in the month of July in Canada. We said to ourselves: if we could send some to our dear Sister of the Nativity for her flower garden; and then Our Lady of [Seven] Sorrows would be so happy if Sister Rose of Lima offered her a pretty bouquet of these magnificent flowers, but these were again little sacrifices that had to be put on the list of others.
| An artistic rendering of a 19th century Jamaican port and environs. (Illustration by James Hakewill, A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica, published 1825, National Library of Jamaica.)
The sisters noted the abundance of fruit, and indeed, the island was host to many varieties, including mango, star apple, breadfruit, banana, coconut, custard apple, avocado and pineapple.
The rain poured down that day, preventing the sisters from visiting the city. However, Bishop Blanchet, Father Rossi and Mr. Handy (a young Irish deacon who was making the voyage with them as far as San Francisco) visited Jesuit priests evangelizing in the area, having been present in Jamaica since 1837. The sisters were encouraged in their own sacrifice by them:
It was for us a great subject of consolation to learn that these good missionaries were spread as far away as this city, which restored our courage and increased our desire to work towards the salvation of our separated brothers.
And so the next morning, with renewed courage and vision, they set their eyes westward, and on toward Panama.
Departure: New York, Nov. 6, 1856
Arrival: Aspinwall, Nov. 18, 1856
Journal and Letters of the Five Foundresses,1856. Record Group 13: Mother Joseph Collection. Providence Archives, Seattle, Washington.
The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. VIII. New York: Robert Appleton Co., 1910.
Six Years on the West Coast of America 1856-1862 by the Rev. Louis Rossi, translated and annotated by W. Victor Wortley, Ye Galleon Press, Fairfield, Washington, 1983.