Jack the donkey: A Pedro institution

Jack the donkey is a Pedro St. James fixture. - Photo: Jewel Levy

Visitors to Savannah landmark Pedro St. James looking to take in some of Cayman’s history and culture have a special ally in their quest. Jack the donkey, now a Pedro institution, made his debut at the site in 2006.

Particularly partial to carrots and ears of corn, Jack’s best friend is Pedro tour guide Stacy Eden Hurlston, who he likes to follow around the grounds.

Mr. Eden Hurlston is the seventh great-grandson of William Eden, the original owner of Pedro St. James, and brings a personal touch to the tours at the site.

“There were lots of donkeys back in the day at Pedro St. James, when it was a 335-acre plantation,” he said. “The plantation exported a lot of cotton. It also grew thatch and produce for local residents.”

Mr. Eden Hurlston gives Jack a lot of well-deserved love, care and attention each day, and ensures Jack gets regular treats of goatgrass and Guinea grass.

“Jack loves people – he likes to walk around and meet with the visitors,” said Mr. Eden Hurlston. “He walks over to them because he knows they like to take pictures with him and he likes to get hugs.”

CEO of the Tourism Attraction Board, Gilbert Connolly, purchased Jack for Pedro St. James in late 2006. Mr. Eden Hurslton noted Jack was brought from North Carolina to the Cayman Islands in 1985 by the late Edna Moyle as a Taco Bell mascot.

Jack was subsequently sold to Billy Ray Martinez, who then sold Jack to Mr. Connolly in late 2006.

“The reason for purchasing Jack for Pedro St. James was to enhance the experience for children visiting the National Historic Site, and to make it more interactive for them,” explained Mr. Connolly.

“Donkeys played a very important role in Cayman’s history and for many years they were the main mode of transport for residents on the islands.”

Stacy Eden-Hurlston with Jack at Pedro St. James.
Stacy Eden-Hurlston with Jack at Pedro St. James.

Mr. Connolly remembers a time when nearly every household in Cayman had a donkey or two to carry heavy loads.

“We had to go inland, to the farms or the bush, to cut Cayman thatch palm to make rope. We had to twist enough thatch to create a 25 fathom rope, for which we got about 25 shillings.

“We would go early, around 4 a.m. and it would still be dark,” he recalled.

“So we had to use lanterns which we attached to the donkey, to light the way. We would then mount the foods and goods, such as cassava and thatch palm, onto the donkey to carry them back home.”

Because the donkey was used to carry the load, the children had to walk across the high bluff by foot and Mr. Connolly remembers getting plenty of “buck toe” from the rugged rock.

“To solve this problem they would make ‘wompers’ – shoes made out of car tires – to protect their toes,” he said. “They would put their foot in the car tire and cut a shoe around it, leaving ample space at the top of the foot to protect their toes.

“They used rope to strap the ‘wompers’ onto their feet and used them to walk across the cliffs.”

Estimated to be about 35, Jack is getting on in years, even for a donkey, but he’s going strong.

Mr. Eden Hurlston noted Jack’s original name was Percy.

“I renamed him Jack Eden because I wanted him to become part of the Eden Family who first built Pedro Castle,” he said.

“I want him to become known as ‘Ancestor Jack.’”

He noted that these days, Jack usually gets tired around 4:30 p.m., and goes to his pen to lie down and rest.

Jack was recently diagnosed with arthritis and went through a tough stage in his life. He is now recovering, thanks to the constant help and care of the vets Kanyuira Gikonyo and Samantha Dorman and welfare officer Ronald Green at the Department of Agriculture, said Mr. Eden Hurlston, who makes sure Jack takes his arthritis tablets twice every day.

Jack’s two animal companions at Pedro St. James include an orange cat named Ginger and a black and grey cat named Lilly.