Dominica

Woodford Hill

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History

An estate and a village on the north-east coast of Dominica extending from Eden River to L’Ance Noir. A significant Amerindian village existed at the mouth of the Woodford Hill River from at least 1,400 years ago. When the French arrived here in the early 1700s they called the place La Soie, after the Bois La Soie bush. The whole parish was called Quatre de La Soie. At the British occupation of Dominica from 1763, the area was put up for sale by the crown. Three hundred acres was bought by Napleton Smith. As in other parts of Dominica, the name of the owner was more commonly used than the name given to the estate. Hence the present Creole name for the village of Woodford Hill is Simit (the ‘cockoy’ or English Creole pronunciation of Smith).

For most of the 19th century it was owned by the ‘sugar king of Dominica’ Charles Leatham and his heirs and due to its gently sloping land was one of the largest sugar producing estates on the island. Five years before emancipation, Woodford Hill was worked by 112 slaves, producing 66,000 lbs of sugar, 2,550 gallons of rum and 400 gallons of molasses. The ruins of the sugar works can still be seen by the seashore. Here there was a harbour for coastal trading ships and a small fort on La Soie Point to defend the bay. In 1795 a French invasion force landed at the bay in an unsuccessful attempt to capture the island. As in most cases along the north and east coasts, the post-emancipation village developed on hilly land between two estates, in this case Woodford Hill and Hodges. At the end of the 19th century Woodford Hill amounted to 1,123 acres and was bought by Estates Investment Trust of Dominica who owned it up to the 1930s when it was bought by Capt. Stebbings, whose widow sold it to Frobel Laville in the 1940s and who in turn sold it to Messrs Foley and Band of Antilles Products in 1948. When the Van Geest banana company bought out Antilles Products in 1954 the estate was transferred to Geest.

In 1974, a large portion of the estate along the coast was compulsorily acquired by the DLP government of Patrick John for a supposed jet airport and other projects to be developed under an agreement with a self-confessed gunrunner, Sidney Burnette Alleyne. These were not forthcoming. In the late 1970s and 1980s Geest divided the rest of the estate into farm lots, sold mainly to villagers of the northeast. The village of Woodford Hill is on the western boundary of the old estate. It is made up of different sections including Small Farm, Mount Sylvie, Lareau and Big Cedar. For a long time Woodford Hill was perceived as a depressed village of former estate workers, but since the 1970s improved services including a new government school, health centre, a Credit Union and improved private housing has changed the community.



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Last modified: October 17, 2004 Created by Petr Hloušek
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