Jamaica was inhabited by the Arawak when Coumbus found it (1494). He named it St. Iago. Columbus was marooned on Jamaica during his last voyage. It was first settled by his son Diego (1509). The Spanish wiped out the native Taino population. Here both mistreatment and disease were factors. They began importing Africans as slaves for labor. The colonial economy was based on sugar. The English tried to take the island (1596 and 1643). The English finally gained possession (1655). The Spanish formally ceded it to Britain (1670). Jamaica was the only one of the large Caribbean islands that Britain managed to seize from the Spanish. Buccaneers operated from island, especially Port Royal. Jamaica was a basec for captain Henry Morgan, one of the most famous Bucaneers. Port Royal was destroyed by an earthquake (1692). It became the largest and most profitable British island in the Caribbean. The slaves endured horendous conditoions on the island's plantations. British planters were harassed by the Maroons, armed bands of escaped slaves attacking isolated plantations. The British outlawed the slave trade during the Napoleonic Wars (1807). The British put down a slave rebelion, but at great cost (1831). While the slaves failed to win their freedom, the Jamaican revolt had a frofound impact on Britain's abolition movement. The great loss of property and life promted two Parliament inquiries. The difficuly of mauntaining slavery on the island combined with Wilberforce's Christian-based crusade eventually led to British abolition (1833). A decline in sugar prices led to a depression that caused an uprising (1865). Jamaica became a Crown colony (1866) Conditions for the freed slaves gradually improved. The introduction of bananas helped increase food production and reduced the dependence on sugar. Britain granted internal autonomy (1958). Jamaica participated in the West Indies Federation (1958). Nationalist politicans like labor leader, Sir Alexander Bustamente, pushed to withdraw from the Federation and declare independence. Jamaica conducted a referendum for independence. Britain granted independence (1962). Michael Manley, of the socialist People's National Party, became prime minister (1972). For a time it looked like Jamaica might persue a radical left-wing parth. The economy declined under Manly which affected his popularity. The Labour Party defeated Manley in an intensely partisan campaign (1980). Labour's free market-oriented leader, Edward P. G. Seaga, was elected prime minister. Seaga encouraged private investment and initiated an austerity program.
Jamaica was inhabited by the Taino, an Arawak people. The Taino originated in northeaster South America (Guyana/Venezuela), but no one know how the Taino on Jamaica arrived. The Taino were spread throughout the Caribbean. The population of Tainos on Jamaica seems smaller thn that of Cuba and Hispaola to the north. Some historins estimte the Taino popultion at about 60,000. The Taino y constructed huts in a style that can still be foiund in Jamaica. They wove hammocks for sleeping. They were a primitive stone age people who had not yet developed bows and arriws. The made spears tipped with stone or shark teeth. The men were skilled fishermen. They made basic pottery baking them in fires. Basic agriculture was generally done by women. Crops included cassava, corn and sweet potatoes. The Taino essentially went naked, but there was some fabric covering and adornments. Cotton was a wild plant which the Taino gathered. They twisted the fibers into strips which they wore around their waists. They also wore strings of beads and shells for adornment.
Columbus found Jamica on his Second Voyage to the Americas (1494). He claimed it for Spain and named it St. Iago. Columbus entered St. Ann's Bay, which he named "Santa Gloria" (May 5, 1494). He declared the island to be "the fairest that eyes had beheld". No attempt was made tosettle the island. He returned to Jmaica during his ill-fated fourth and last voyage (1502). After sailing along the coast of Central America (1502-03), Columbus discovered that his caravels were beginning to rot. Appararently organisms encountered during his exploration in coastal waters ate into the hulls. He tried to return the Spanish settlement on Hispaniola, but the surviving vessels also battered by storms could not make it. He managed to beach the ships at Santa Gloria. He sought rescue, but animosity between him and the govenor of Hispaniola left him and his men marooned on Jamaica for a year. They almost died there. Many of the men mutinied. Finally they were rescued. The Admiral had to purchase a passage back to Spain (1504). It was a humiliating final voyage for the famed explorer and the end of his explorations. Diego Colon, Columbus's eldest son, was appointed pointed Governor of the Spanish West Indies. He laid personal claim to Jamaica by founding the town of Sevilla la Nueva near where his father had been marooned (1509).
Jamaica was first settled by Columbus' son Diego (1509). Juan de Esquivel arrived from Santo Domingo (1509). The Spanish enslaved the Taino, killing those that resisted. Here both mistreatment and disease were factors. The Taino population was largely destroyed by 1560. The Spanish began importing Africans as slaves for labor. The number imported, however, was small because of the limited agricultural development.
The Spanish first settled along the northern coast (St. Ann Parish). The major settlement was Sevilla Nueva. Subsequently they setlled the south where the major town was St. Jago de la Vega. This is the modern Spanish Town. The Spanish Criwn gave the island to the Columbus family (1540). They did very little to develop it. The Spanish did not settle Jamaica to the extent they did the other large islands (Cuba, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico). The Spanish population on Jamaica was small. The island never attracted substabtil numbers of Spanish settlers, in part because so lille gold was found there. As a result, it was more vulnerable than the other islands with larger Spanish populations. Most Spanish settlers were subsistence farmers, cultivating domestic produce. They were more interested in finding gold and other precious metals. Thus one estimate reveals that only about 1 percent of the potential agricultural land had been developed. The Spanish ventured into the interior looking for gold and hunting (wild hogs and cattle). Jamaica did play a role in the Spanish conquest of Central America. Farmers on Jamaica provided foodstuffs and animals to the Conquistadors. Because of settler activities, the slaves on Jamaica rather than being mostly field hands on plantations learned hunting and backwoods skills. These skills and knowledge of the terraine gave them the skills needed by guerilla fighters. The Spanish slaves when the English arrived ran off to the interior (1655). This was the beginning of Maroon society.
A new outlet for Aftrican slaves appeared in the 15th century. Portuguese explorers began voyages south along the Atlantic coast of Africa. The Portuguese were looking for a route to Asia, but as they moved south they began setting up trading posts. First the Portuguese established trading posts along the coast of West Africa, but gradually moved further south along the coast. Other European maritime powers followed suit. This was the beginning of the African slave trade. The Europeans differed from the Arabs in that they did not normally conduct raids themselves, but usually bougth slaves from Arab slave brokers and African chiefs. Europeans built trading post and forts all along the coast of West Africa. From Senegal south to Cameroons there were about 60 forts that served as trading posts for the slave trade. The Europeans exchanged rum, cloth, guns, and other trade goods for their human cargo. The slaves were transported across the Atlantic Ocean primarily to Brazil, the West Indies and the English colonies in North America. Imense fortues were made in the trade. As the demand for slaves expanded, whole areas of Africa were depopulated. Scholars estimate that 10-15 million Africans were transported to the New World. The European African slave trade began during the mercantalist era. It continued well into the industrial era. In fact because African slaves played a major role in the industrial revolution in Europe. The ememse profits from West Indian sugar islands helped to finance the industrial revolution. And the raw material for the first real modern industry, cotton textiles, was produced by slaves.
Carinnean sugar islands were very valuab;e possessions. The English tried to take the island (1596 and 1643). After vicyory in the English Civil War, Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell dispatched an expendition commanded by Admiral Penn and General Venables to seize Hispaniola (1655). The English were unable to take the well-defended port of Santo Domingo. Rather than return to England defeated, they decided to attempt to seize more lightly settled Jamaica. They attacked Spanish Town along the southern coat (May 10). They lseized Passage Fort in Kingston harbour and then marched towards the main settlement--Spanish Town. The Spaniards surrendered (May 11). The English gave them a few days to leave. Some of the Spanish departed for Cuba. Many of the Spanish, however, instead set up a base along the northern coast. General Sedgwicke arrived in Spanish Town with reinforcements and authority to act as governor. He took command of the English force (October). Many of the English, including Sedgwicke, perished from disease a short time after reaching the island. General Brayne, who arrived with more reinforcements, was the next govenor. He expected a Spanish attack from Cuba, the principal Spanish Caribbean colony. He began fortifying positions in Kingston Bay. General Brayne died (1656). General Doyley, an officer in the English army on Jamaica, became the next Governor. Spanish colonist Don Cristobal Arnaldo de Ysassi was the last Spanish govenor. He organized guerrilla operations in the interior where the English forces were weak (1657). The expeditions from Cuba arrived to support Ysassi's operations. General Doyley attacked the Spanish positions in the north by sea. Doyley attacke Ysassi near Ocho Rios (1657) and at Rio Nuevo (1658). The battle of Rio Nuevo was the biggest battle ever fought in Jamaica. Ysassi continued to resist the English, but finally had to conceed the island when Maroon allies defected. He and his men escaped to Cuba in canoes (1660). The Spanish formally ceded Jamaica to Britain (1670). Jamaica was the only one of the large Caribbean islands that Britain managed to seize from the Spanish.
An English Commission arrived and formally appointing Doyley as Governor (1661). He was ordered to set up a Council to assist in the government of the colony. The new Council was to be elected by the colonists and thus the beginning of representative government on the island. Lord Windsor is sent from England to become the next governor (1682). King Charles II through a Royal Proclamation declares that all children born of English subjects become free citizens of England. Lord Windsor resigns his position. Sir Charles Lyttleton became Deputy Governor. The population of Jamaica was about 4,205 persons. Admiral Myngs commabnds an expedition which sizes and loots Santiago in eastern Cuba (1662). The English launch another expedition (1663). This one targeted Campeche along the western coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, It was a difficult expedition, but they succeed in seizing and looting the port as wll as the ships in the port. The Maroons in the interior posed a challenge to the English. An initial effort is made to supress them. Juan de Bolas, a former Maroon, leads the expedition. The Maroons defeated the English force and the English were forced to make peace. The House of Assembly was convened for the first time (1664). There were 20 members. It met at Spanish Town and passed 45 laws in that first session. One of the most important figures in Jamaican history, Sir Thomas Modyford, arrived in Jamaicafrom Barbados (1664). He was accompained by 1,000 settlers. Modyford was a Barbadian planter who had master sugar cultivation. Modyford had been the governor of Barbados before being apponted governor of Jamaica. Modyford promoted agriculture, especially cocoa and the sugar-cane. The expanding planter class on the island began importing slaves in large numbers. The Spanish had begun importing slaves, but the English imported much larger numbers.
With the destruction of the Native American population, the Caribbean islands were depopulated. On some of the islands an odd asortment of people lived outside the colonial structure. They included deserters, castaways, escaped slaves, criminals, religious non-conformers, and others. They made a living by selling supplies to sailing vessels. Livestock such as cattle and hogs roamed wild. The early Buccaneers would kill lve stock and cure the meat. (The French word for cured meat is the orgin of the word Buccanee.) They were important in areas like Haiti where Spanish colonial authority was weak. They dominted Tortol off the northern coast of Haiti. Gradually the Buccaneers shifted from selling supplies to taking over the ships of treasure-laden ships. Their operations were limited by a base where they could enjoy their captured treasure. An opportunity presented itself when the English seized Jamaica. The English fleet could not permanently protect the islands and at first there was only a small English force. It is at this time that the English governor invited the pirates of Tortola to base themselves in Port Royal. Buccaneers were thus able to operate from a secure port. It as this time that Henry Morgan becomes interested in privateering. Jamaica became a base for captain Henry Morgan, one of the most famous of the Caribbean pirates. Governor Modyford cooperated with the English buccaneers under Henry Morgan. Morgan primarily preyed on Spanish ships. The Buccaneers not only helped protect Jamaica for the British, but Morgan launched audacious attacks on the Spanish. First he struck Santiago in wastern Cuba. The most ambitious attack was on Portobello in Panama. This was a transhipment point for the Spanish treasure fleet. There take was mind-boggeling.
The pirate plunder brought riches beyond belief into Port Royal. It became one of the wealthiest cities in the Caribbean. The pirates spent with reckless abandon. The developing sugar industry broufht more wealth. Port Royal was destroyed by an earthquake (1692). This was the beginning of the decline of Caribbean piracy.
The Spanish had not imported large number od slaves. This began with the English after they secured possession of the Island in the late 17th century. The number of slaves and sugar plantations grew rapidly anf by the 18th century the number of slaves reached subsantial numbers. Jamaica became the largest and most profitable British island in the Caribbean. Planters made huge profits. The primary crop was sugar, but coffee was also of some importance. The Island's economy was almost entirely based on plantation agriculure and a slave labor force. The population came to be about 95 percent black slaves (1800). The slaves endured horendous conditoions on the island's plantations.
British planters were harassed by the Maroons, armed bands of escaped slaves attacking isolated plantations. The Maroons established communities in the mountainous interior. The rough teraine here was not suitable for plantation agriculture and thus not developed by the British. The British launced two major efforts to subsue the Maroons (1730s and 90s). These efforts are known as the Maroon Wars. Jamaican slaves carried out more than ten major conspiracies and uprisings during the 18th century as more and more slaves were brought to the colony. The most serious was Tackey's Revolt (1760). The British suceeded in deporting one Maroon community to Sierra Leopne during the Second Maroon War (1790s). The British colonial government also attemted to buy off the Maroons by paying them to return escaped slaves. The white population was so small that the Government also attempted to use freed slaves to control the Island's slaves. One estimate reported about 10,000 feeed slaves (1800). The fact that the population of Jamaica became so heavily slave made the colony especially vulnerable to slave revolts. The existence of the Maroon holdouts in the interior also aided these revolts.
The British outlawed the slave trade during the Napoleonic Wars (1807). The British did not, however, take the step of abolishing slavery in its colonies. The abolitionist novement pushed for it, but entrenhed interests resisted.
The greatest slave revolt was the Baptist War. Rainfall was below normal in 1831. Some plantations experenced drought conditions. This reduced the crop yields. Some planters to make up for falling revenue reduced rations. The slaves as a result of the missions supported by the anti-slavery movement in Britain were aware of efforts to end slavery. It was here that ideas about emancipation and the white preachers at the missions were so different than the planters. Religious meetings also gave slaves the opportunity to plot abd exchange pans with slaves on other plantations. This provided an element that was never available to slaves in the United States. [Reckord, p. 108.] the white missionaries preached a message of patient obedience and resignation. There was also a native Baptist church with led by blacks which preached a more activist message. The revolt began during the Christmas holiday (1831). Samuel Sharp, a domestic slave and Baptist deacon, organized a peaceful general strike to achieve emancipation and a living wage. The signal to begin the strike was a fire on the Kensington Estate in St. James Parish. The strike, however, soon got out of hand. Here the actual course of events are not entirely known. It is clear that from the beginning that the plantrs saw the strike as rebellion pure and simple. Rebellion swept the western parishes. The Revolt becamne known as the Baptist War because of the role of the missions. The slaves destroyed 106 sugar plantations in St. James Parish alone. A militia force organized by the planters and the small British garrison supressed the strike after only 10 days. The authorities reported killing 201 slaves, the actual total was probably about 400. Missionaries were arrested. Hunting down escapee slaves continued for weeks after. Sharpe was hung. An estimated 20,000 slaves participated in the rebellion. They killed planters and ruined crops. The British and planters convinced them to lay down their revolt with promises of abolition. These romises were not met. The Britsh hung 3440 slaves were were identified as leaders. Large numbers were punished in various ways such as whippings. The British Parliament held two inquiries to assess the property damage and loss of life.
While the slaves failed to win their freedom, the Jamaican revolt had a profound impact on Britain's abolition movement. The great loss of property and life promted two Parliament inquiries. Military testimony indicated that a future slave revolt may well suceed. Henry Bleby said of the revolt, “The spirit of freedom had been so widely diffused … if the abolition of slavery were not speedily effected by the peaceable method of legislative enactment, the slaves would assuredly take the matter into their own hands, and bring their bondage to a violent and bloody termination.” It was clear that a substantial and costly military force would have to be maintained on the Island to preserve slavery. The difficuly of maintaining slavery on the island combined with Wilberforce's Christian-based crusade eventually led to Parliament's decesion to abolish slavery throughout the Empire (1834). This did not meam immediate abolitin.
Jamaican slaves remained bound to their former owners' service for a few more years, although they were granted some basic rights. This was called the Apprenticeship System which continued until 1838. Limited employment opportunities and lack of education and land meant that the freed slaves continued to be dependant on the plantation owners.
Emancipation eased the job of the Royal Navy in the Caribbean, but did not end it. The British abloished the slave trade three decaded earlier (1807), but this did not end slavers trying to land slaves illegally at British islands. And slavery was still legal on the Spanish islands (Puerto Rico and Cuba). There was a ready mnarket for slaves on Cuba. And from Cuba, it was a relatively short run to American ports. The foreign slave trade was illegal in the United States, but there was a ready market for slaves that could be sucessfully smuggled into the southern states. And because of the cotton economy, prices were very high because of the demand for slaves. Slavers intercepted by the Royal Navy in the Caribbean were brought into Caribbvea ports like Kingston. Here the freed slaves commonly became edentured workes. They were not reurned to Africa. The Ameriucan Civil War ended the snuggling of slaves to the United States, but slsacers still attempoted to reach Cuba until Spain abolished slavery in Cuba and Puerto Rico.
A decline in sugar prices led to a depression that caused an uprising (October 1865). The rebellion was led by George William Gordon and Paul Bogle. Colonial authorities brutally repressed it.
Jamaica became a Crown colony (1866) Conditions for the freed slaves gradually improved. Falling prices reduced the profitability of sugar. The sugar crop thus declined in importance during he late-19th century. Plabntrs began to diversify, especially into bananas. The introduction of bananas helped increase food production and reduced the dependence on sugar.
Jamaica like other British colonies was immediately involved in World War II when after Germany invaded Poland, Britain declared war on Germany (September 1939). Britain applied the the Defence of the Realm Act. This gave the Governor the authority to regulate prices of all commodities to prevent profiteering from war time shortages. The Governor also imposed press censorship as well as controls on mail and telegraph and cable messages. Jamaica was far from the war in Europe and Germany's small U-boat fleet was not at first active in the Caribbean. The U-boats were, however, a major concern for Britain's over streached Royal Navy. The War did not go well for the Allies and after the fall of France (June 1940), it looked for a time that Britain itself might also fall. America at the time was neutral, but President Roosevelt moved to help Britain as much as possiblents of the Neutrality Acts and public opinion. One of those steps was the Bases for Destroyers deal (August 1940). Britain gave the United States the right to build bases in British possessions in return for 50 moth-balled World war I destroyers. This arrangement was more for U.S. public consumption than a real deal as Britain at the time welcomed American deployment to its overseas possessions. President Roosevelt could justify this aid to Britain as a step in protect the outer perimeter of the United States. The bases in the Caribbean were primarily air and naval bases. The two major American bases were Vernamfield Air Base and Goat Island Naval Base. Some of the other Caribbean islands proved of more strategic importance than Jamaica. Even as the German U-boat fleet grew, the Caribbean was not well suited for U-boat operations. Jamaica also benefitted from Lend Lease (March 1941). The American servicemen deployed to Jamaica was the first major contact beyween Jamaicans and Americans. Jamaicans volunteered for military service. They served with British units. Some trained in the United States. There were some problems as both the British anand American military at the time was segregated. Some British civilans refugees from the Mediterranean were cared for in Jamaica.
Britain granted internal autonomy (1958). Jamaica participated in the West Indies Federation (1958). Nationalist politicans like labor leader, Sir Alexander Bustamente, pushed to withdraw from the Federation and declare independence. Jamaica conducted aeferendum for independence. Britain granted independence (1962). This occurred just as neigboring Cuba became a Communist dictatorship. There ws some sympathy for radical Cuban-style approches among Jamaicans.
Michael Manley, of the socialist People's National Party (PNP), became prime minister (1972). For a time it looked like Jamaica might persue a radical left-wing parth. The economy declined under Manly which affected his popularity. The Labour Party defeated Manley in an intensely partisan campaign (1980). Labour's free market-oriented leader, Edward P. G. Seaga, was elected prime minister. Seaga encouraged private investment and initiated an austerity program. Jamaica along with other Caribbean countries was affevted by a recession (1981-82). The Government devalued the Jamaican dollar which made Jamaican products more competitive on the world market and attracted tourists. The economy rebounded reporting record growth in the important tourism and agriculture sectors. Prices for stapled like food increased sharply, adversely affecting many Jamaicans.
Manley was reelected (1989), but persued moderate policies as the BNP evolved into a more moderate centet-left party.
Drugs and crime and increasing domestic violence has become and increasigly severe problem in Jamaica.
the government signed a “Ship-Rider Agreement” with the United States. This gave the U.S. Coast Guard and other units the authority to enter Jamaican waters to persue drug traficers. Serious violence between gangs associated with poltical parties flared in Kingston (2001). Officials worried that this would drive away foreign tourists, vital to the national economy.
Jamaican politics for two decades were dominated by the political contests between Manly and Seaga. This era ended with Manley's resignation (1992). He was replaced by P. J. Patterson. Patterson won a third term in office (2002). The governing center-left People's National Party (PNP) voted Portia Simpson Miller to the post of prime minister, the country's first female prime minister (2006). The opposition Jamaica Labour Party narrowly defeated the center-left PNP (2007). Bruce Golding became prime minister.
The Caribbean is affected by the annual Hurricane Season (late summer/Fall). Usually the hurricans muss most of the islands. Occassionally a large storm will hit one or more of the islands dead center, causing enormous damage to these mostly small islands. Hurricane Ivan slammed into Jamaica (September 2004). It was one of the worst storms ever to hit the Island. Modern meterology and warning services have allowed for measures to limit loss of life even in the largest storms. There is no way, however, to protect property. Thousands of Jamaicans lost their homes.
Reckord, Mary. "The Jamaica Slave Rebellion of 1831," Past and Present, No. 40 (July 1968), pp. 108-125.
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