port antonio

History of Port Antonio

Portland formally became a parish in 1723 by order of the Duke of Portland, who was then Governor of Jamaica and after whom it is named. The existing port was to be called Port Antonio and was slated to become a naval stronghold. To that end, by 1729, the British began to build Fort George on the peninsula separating the twin East and West harbours known as the Titchfield promontory. The fort was intended to protect settlers from attacks by sea (from the Spanish) and from the hills (from the Maroons).

In 1739 the Maroons signed a peace treaty with the British and this led to a new period of development in Portland. Settlers started pouring in, accepting the Governor's offer of free land and slaves. Many began large scale sugar cultivation. By 1779 there were 38 large.

Birth of the Banana Trade


In 1870, at age 30, Captain Baker made his first voyage to the tropics with his newly purchased ship, "Telegraph". His cargo was mining equipment for Venezuela. On his return, he picked up a cargo of bamboo in Jamaica, where he tasted his first banana. He decided to introduce the exotic fruit to northern markets and he included some bunches in his cargo. However, upon arrival in New York City, the bananas were spoiled and could not be sold. Captain Baker was not deterred. The next year, he returned to Jamaica and loaded his ship with unripe (green) bananas. This time the bananas were just ripe enough when he docked in New York to earn a substantial profit.

Baker established an office in Port Antonio and began to make an average of 5 trips a year and eventually, in 1881, moved his wife and 4 children to Jamaica. He and his family spent most of the year in Jamaica and lived in Wellfleet during the summer and early fall.
He formed the Boston Fruit Company by buying out smaller concerns. Small farmers began to buy and rent land all over the parish to plant banana. His company, through many mergers and acquisitions, made possible the giant conglomerate Chiquita brands.

Baker expanded by buying estates (including Bog, near Port Antonio and Bowden in Port Morant), more ships and building piers. He soon faced increased competition, especially from the Keith and Lindo families who were engaged in a thriving fruit trade from Costa Rica to New York. In 1885, after buying out some of his competitors (including the Keith interests) his enterprise became known as the United Fruit Company. By 1902 Baker controlled the entire island's banana trade (St. Mary had also emerged as a major producer of bananas) and he went on to supply fruit all along the east coast of the United States and later, New Orleans, Montreal and London. Regular exports to Britain had begun in 1901 with Sir Alfred Jones's Imperial Direct Steam Line (which included refrigerated machinery) employed to the United Fruit Company and later bought out by them. Some 650 tonnes of banana were shipped to the UK each month.

As Baker's trade grew, Port Antonio became the second most important town in Jamaica. Most of his workers lived in Portland. Those who did not grow bananas, reaped them or loaded them onto ships, earning some 70 cents per day. Money was new to the people of Portland and it is said that some became so rich that they used five-pound notes to light their cigarettes. Knowledge of saving was sadly lacking.


A natural entrepreneur, Baker began to use his steamships to carry tourists as well as bananas. For a long time his ships were the only form of travel between Jamaica and other countries. Guesthouses built for his workers and officers were also used to house these early Portland visitors. As the trip to Jamaica increased in popularity, Baker built the magnificent Titchfield Hotel on Titchfield Hill in the early 1900s and soon the streets of Port Antonio were filled with tourists, giving Portland claim to the title of "birthplace of Jamaican tourism." Titchfield Hotel, Port Antionio

In addition to the Titchfield which was only open during the winter season, Baker also owned a hotel back home in Wellfleet called the Chequessett which was only open during the summer season. Baker often used the same staff in both locations, thus providing year around employment for many persons both in Jamaica and Wellfleet.

In 1905 the Titchfield hotel boasted 600 feet of piazza and 400 rooms. It was said that "no other hotel this side of the Atlantic provided as many conveniences that minister to the pleasure of travellers as the Titchfield." It became known for its afternoon tea on the piazza and bathing in bath houses.

another of Titchfield Hotel's great claims to fame is that it was once owned by famous Hollywood swashbuckler Errol Flynn who died before he could execute on any of his plans to develop the hotel. In the late 1960s the hotel was destroyed by fire and today only the ruins of this great landmark still stand.


During this time, Captain Baker made every effort to improve the living conditions of citizens in both Jamaica and Wellfleet. He believed that his financial success was only a fulfillment of God's will and that it was his duty and obligation to help those who lived in his winter and summer hometowns. In Jamaica, he built a hospital and many schools; paid decent wages and provided better living conditions for his local workers and their families. In Wellfleet, he helped rebuild the Methodist Church when it was struck by lightning and burned in 1891. You can visit the present-day Methodist Church on Main Street to see stained glass windows and a magnificent pipe organ donated by Captain Baker and his family.