The current 14 parishes of Jamaica in its current form have existed since 1866, but there were many more parishes before that. Over a period of a couple centuries, parts of parishes were combined, some were eliminated, new ones created. There were 9 transformations and following is a chronology of its evolution along with a brief description of each period.
Under Spanish Rule
The island of Jamaica looked similar to the map above under the rule of the Spaniards. Yallahs and Morant were names of large Spanish ranches. Guanaboa and Liguanea were taino names. Liguanea is still used today to refer to lower St. Andrew. The capital of the island was Seville from 1510-1535. Spanish Town became the capital from 1535 to 1872, except for 1755 when Kingston became the capital for a year. Kingston became the capital in 1872 and still is today.
Under English Rule (1655 onwards)
The English applied their own system of administration once they took control in 1655. The island was divided into parishes and most places from then had the designation of "St. (Saint)" added to its name. There was originally seven parishes named after governors, important persons or places in Britain; Clarendon, St. John, St. Andrew, St. Catherine, Port Royal, St. David and St. Thomas and these became 14 parishes between 1655 and 1675. During this period Port Royal was a parish.
Between 1675 and 1692, there were 16 parishes. Three parishes that exists today - Manchester, Westmoreland and St. Elizabeth - were all one parish, St Elizabeth. There were also additional parishes during this period: St. Thomas in the Vale, St. John, St. Dorothy and St. George. The area known today as Hanover and a part of Westmoreland combined to make an unnamed parish.
During the period of 1693-1702, Kingston separated from St. Andrew, creating a 17th parish consisting of what is today known as the palisadoes peninsular where the Norman Manley airport is located,.
Between 1703-1723, the number of parishes remained at 17, but a portion of what was then St. Elizabeth was carved off and annexed to the "Unnamed" parish which was named Westmoreland.
In 1722, the Duke of Portland became Governor and a 18th parish named after him. Portland, was created in 1723 by combining parts St. George and St. Thomas. The parish of Hanover was also established on November 12, 1723 from a section of Westmoreland, making it a total of 19 parishes.
In 1758 the island's parishes were divided into three counties - Cornwall, Middlesex and Surrey.
The 20th parish of Trelawny was created in 1770, when the wealthy planters in St James and St Ann, who deemed they were too far from administrative centers, succeeded in having sections of both parishes combine to form the new parish of Trelawny. Trelawny was named after Sir William Trelawny then Governor of Jamaica, whose prominent family originated from the manor of Trelawny in the parish of Pelynt in Cornwall, England. The first capital was Martha Brae, located 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) inland from Rock Bay.
The Duke of Manchester governed Jamaica between 1808 and 1811. The parish of Manchester was created in his name in 1814, bringing the total to 21.
In 1839, Sir Charles Metcalfe became governor of Jamaica. Just before he left office in 1842, Metcalfe parish was created from St. George and St Mary, resulting in 22 parishes.
In 1867 eight parishes were eliminated through consolidation, leaving the fourteen parishes that exist today.
Vere was merged into Clarendon, St. David merged into St. Thomas , St. Dorothy, St. John and St. Thomas in the Vale merged into St Catherine and St. George merged into Portland. Most of Port Royal was absorbed by St. Andrew and a smaller portion became part of Kingston parish. Metcalfe was merged into St. Mary.