Like much of the island of Dominica, Portsmouth’s history is rich. Portsmouth history is an important part of Dominica history because it was first town which was declared the island’s capital. Portsmouth history makes it one of the communities in Dominica with many historical sites and buildings. Historical Portsmouth is located in St. John’s parish, one of Dominica’s administrative parishes. St. John parish is referred to as Grand Anse by the locals.
Settlers from Britain who came to Portsmouth in the 18th century realized the town’s importance and transformed it into their main settlement on Dominica. Portsmouth’s history was shaped by the settlement of the British who established forts to protect the town from attack, as well as by the French who left their mark in various aspects of the culture and history of Portsmouth.
A large part of Portsmouth history is influenced by the Indian River, a mangrove fringed river flowing into the Glanvillia Swamp. In the history of Portsmouth, the Indian River played a significant role in trade and production as it eased and quickened travel from the deep interiors of the island to the coast. The Indian River is the deepest river in Dominica and an important landmark in Portsmouth’s history. It was named after the indigenous Carib Indians who at one time in Portsmouth history lived on the higher ground up the river and used it as a route to the sea.
This aspect of Portsmouth history is seen in the variety of flora and fauna found particularly in the swamp areas and along the Indian River like shrubs and the buttressed mang tree. As part of Portsmouth history, the Indian River has become a major attraction for tourists who are taken on boat trips up river by tour guides who know the area very well. To make the experience of getting to know Portsmouth’s history while in the town, a few restaurants are setup along the river so tourists and local visitors can have a drink or meal while touring. Tours up the are done by row boats and go to an area where the river narrows and visitors get out and explore the river bank and the surrounding forest. The Bush Bar is an exciting experience and prepares some of the best rum punches and fruit juices in Portsmouth.
Historically, Portsmouth has been ideal for yachting and its natural harbor provides good anchorage and safety for ships, which are able to lay anchor even in the hurricane season. Prince Rupert Bay, a port which shares a large part of Portsmouth history was deemed the first and most significant object to be secured by fortification. Fortification began in 1763 under the Governorship of Thomas Shirley. Although the fort never saw action, it succeeded as a deterrent to attack on a number of occasions particularly during the French invasion of Dominica in 1795 and 1805. The fort, named after the Governor, was the headquarters and defense post of the British army Garrison. To preserve the history of Portsmouth, restoration of Fort Shirley began in February 2006 to return the fort to its original state. The fort is located in the Cabrits National Park is a main historical site on Dominica.
The present day Portsmouth is one of streets lined with privately owned foreign and local bars and restaurants. In Portsmouth, local residents can be seen relaxing and having fun in the evenings especially on a weekend. In addition to its history, presently, Portsmouth has exciting night life and as a result attracts residents of other communities regularly. Visitors are offered a multitude of activities such as: diving, snorkeling, river bathing, hiking and ATV riding.
The present day Portsmouth is a town which is also famous for barbeque sea food a real treat for visitors. Because of Portsmouth’s close proximity to Dominica’s longest beach, fish and other sea food like lobster come straight from the sea unto the grill. The streets of a present day Portsmouth, amidst its rich history, at night are always filled with pulsating rhythms of salsa and meringue from the Spanish nationals (from the Dominican Republic) and local bouyon artists like Triple K and WCK.
The first rural secondary school was built in the parish of St.John and some of Dominica’s well renowned persons were educated in St John’s. Portsmouth is known as the home of many important political figures in Dominica and is the birthplace of both local historian and anthropologist Dr. Lennox Honychurch and the former Prime Minister of Dominica, Honorable Roosevelt Douglas.
Present day Portsmouth is known as a popular dive site. The sea surrounding the area to the north of the Cabrits peninsula was named a marine reserve by UNESCO because of its diverse and healthy marine life. The Cabrits Dive Centre in Portsmouth presently is the only dive centre in the north of Dominica. The dive centre specializes in individual and small group diving principally to the stay over tourist and yachting community. Because historically Portsmouth’s bay off Cabrits has very good anchorage, it has been an often used stop over for yachts and cruise ships. Dominica’s Marine Association has seen the economic viability of building a marina in the Portsmouth bay, so plans are already underway.
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