For centuries, Negril was cut off from the rest of the island by bad roads and a large swamp, it lay undiscovered and sparsely populated. Unlike most other places in Jamaica it has very little history except as a haven for shipping. A navy squadron mustered here in 1702 to sail against the French. In 1814 fifty warships and 6600 men sailed from Negril to tackle the American rebels and were put to fight the Battle of New Orleans. And it was at Negril that an infamous pirate, Calico Jack Rackham, was captured, then taken to Spanish Town for trial and executed near Port Royal at a place known thereafter as Rackham's Cay.
One of the first people to realise Negril's potential was Norman Washington Manley whose administration cut canals to drain the swamp and built a highway. The Negril Land Authority was established in 1958 to supervise development of the area and has functioned intermittently and ineffectually ever since. Regulations enacted to preserve Negril's unspoiled beauty have been honoured more in the breach than the observance and even the oft-quoted rule that no building must be taller than the tallest tree is disregarded nowadays.
Initially, development was very slow. Then in the 1960's the American "flower children" discovered Negril. Accommodation was very limited and the few establishments on the beach did not appreciate or encourage "the hippies". So these young foreigners, college kids, draft dodgers, Vietnam veterans, gravitated to the West End and The Rock and lodged in the humble homes of the local people, renting a room, a bed, or a space for their sleeping bags and eating out of the family pot.
It was a beautiful example of symbiosis. As a result the landlords in Redground and along Lighthouse Road prospered, extended their houses and put in modern conveniences as the hippies came in ever-increasing numbers. In the early days the more affluent landowners were worried about Negril becoming a "Hippie Haven" and set up a committee to deal with the problem of "long haired, ganja-smoking, loose-moralled foreign visitors", but the reply from the villagers was "let those that have the problem deal with it".
Only a few decades ago, telephones and TVs were unheard of. Telegrams delivered from the Negril Post Office provided communication. Few hotels existed. The main road was the beach, known today as Negril's "second high-way".
Despite progress, you won't find much hustle and bustle. Growth has been on the march in a controlled manner since the halcyon days of the early 1970s. More than three dozen quaint guest houses, tropical resorts and upscale hotels share the beachfront with coconut palms.
A dozen or so distinctive properties hug the cliffs. More cottages and hotels can be found east of West End Road . Even so, buildings cannot be constructed higher than the tallest palm tree. When it comes to protecting the environment Negril is a leader. Marine parks have been established to keep reefs alive with tropical fish and coral. Energy management and coastal-water cleanup are among environmentally friendly projects.
Negril's powdery white beach is Jamaica's most famous and among the best in the entire Caribbean. The sand slopes gently into a placid sea with waters so warm it feels like a saltwater jacuzzi. The waters are so clear it is sometimes possible to see small yellowtail snappers as they glide by.