Falmouth Field Guide

28 Duke Street

Located at the corner of Princess and Duke Streets, this single story, rectilinear building has a remarkable history. Its construction materials are a combination of original masonry and timber framing with poured concrete additions. The front bay of the house is made of local coquina stone and traditional timber frame, and the roof is of corrugated metal. Coquina stone is also found on the Neale Tavern, on the corner of Duke and Queen Streets, and at the Edward Barrett House, on the corner of Market and Lower Harbour, both of which are buildings with secure late eighteenth-century dates. Coquina seems to be a material used in early Falmouth construction, apparently abandoned by the mid nineteenth century. The 1844 Duperly lithograph of Falmouth from the Anglican Church tower shows this building as a two-story structure with a masonry ground floor and a wood frame upper story, now missing.

On October 10, 1793 Sarah McGhie, a free woman of color, bought this lot from Edward Barrett for ninety pounds.1 Wills or inventories for Sarah McGhie have not come to light, but she may have a connection to James McGhie, a wealthy planter who owned three estates and 353 slaves in partnership with two others.2 James McGhie was one of the executors for Thomas Neale, the wealthy free man of color who owned the tavern at the corner of Duke and Queen Streets, one block away from this house.3 The exact relationship between Sarah and James McGhie is unknown, but the location of her house on racially and socio-economically integrated Duke Street and the presence of early building materials suggest that this house was built for free woman of color, Sarah McGhie.

The house is entered through double doors centered on the five-bay front façade, which give access to a sizable three-bay chamber in the southwest corner. A sense of openness is maintained from the open-air porch, through the wide double doors, into the large entrance chamber, and through the open doorway on the back wall that leads to the next room. The front chamber once led into a central hallway, likely flanked by rear chambers like many other houses in town, as ghosting on the wall across from the front door shows an arched doorway that has since been walled over. The two front rooms have either masonry or finished board walls, the two back chambers have exposed frame walls, suggesting their subsidiary role to the front chambers.

1 Edward Barrett to Sarah McGhie, Deeds, 10 October 1793, Island Record Office volume 416 folio 68

2 James McGhie Inventory, 18 April 1807, Inventories, Jamaica Archives volume 108 folio 131

3 Thomas Neale Inventory, 15 March 1796, Inventories, Jamaica Archives volume 83 folio 262