The town of Rio Nuevo has historical significance for being the site of the last battle between the invading English and the defending Spaniards who finally had to flea Cuba.
A monument, appropriately bearing the names of the English leader, General Doyley, and the last Spanish Governor, Don Cristobal Ysassi, has been erected to commemorate the ‘exchange of power’.
After the English capture, the area around the town of Puerto Santa Maria became known as St. Mary, and the town itself as Port Maria.
When the three counties were created in 1758, St. Mary was placed in Middlesex. St. Mary lost some of its acreage in 1841 when the parish of Metcalfe was created out of the parishes of St. Mary and St. George, but her borders were again extended when, in 1867 the number of parishes was reduced and Metcalfe was merged with St. Mary.
From the 17th century sugarcane cultivation and slavery were the central factors in the history of Jamaica. The social structure was made up of a few sugar planters and many Negro slaves.
In 1760, the most serious rebellion in Jamaica’s history broke out around Port Maria, eventually spreading to almost the entire island. The leader of this rebellion was a Coromantee slave, called Tacky, who belonged to the Frontier Estate. Fort Haldane, now Grays Charity, was seized and ammunition taken. The rebels then moved inland. Many whites were killed.
In 1765 there was another Negro revolt in St. Mary, again led by Coromantees, however, this uprising was quickly suppressed because it got off to a false start a month early.
After Emancipation, free villages were formed in St. Mary but the parish still basically remained one with big estates. At the beginning of the 19th century there were 63 sugar factories in the parish but by the end of the century only three existed.
With the decline of sugar, banana cultivation took its place. In order to get this perishable fruit quickly from the field to the final market, many small seacoast towns and bays were used as ports of call for ships carrying out the trade. As early as 1887, bananas were being shipped from Port Maria, Annotto Bay and Oracabessa. Later, Rio Nuevo and Frankfurt also became shipping ports.
In 1916 the Western St. Mary Land Settlement was launched by the Western St. Mary Citizens Association founded by Rev. A. A. Barclay. As a result of this land settlement many independent small farmers came into being. This set an example for the rest of the island.
In the late 1930s, St. Mary played a prominent role in the creation of Jamaica Producer’s Association set up to prevent the continuation of the monopoly on bananas held by the United Fruit Company and other purchasing organisations. Under the umbrella of the Association, the Jamaica banana growers banded together to ship and market their own fruit.