History of Jamaica

From Academic Kids

Arawaks from South America had settled in Jamaica at around 1,000AD and called the land Xamayca, meaning land of wood and water. After Christopher Columbus' arrival in 1494, Spain claimed the island and began occupation in 1509, naming the island Santiago. The Arawaks were exterminated by disease, slavery, and war. Spain brought the first African slaves to Jamaica in 1517.

The 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia wrote, "A review of the period of Spanish occupation is one which reflects very little credit on Spanish colonial administration in those days. Their treatment of the aboriginal inhabitants, whom they are accused of having practically exterminated, is a grave charge, and if true, cannot be condoned on the plea that such conduct was characteristic of the age, and that as bad or worse was perpetrated by other nations even in later years."

In May 1655, British forces in the form of a joint expedition by Admiral Sir William Penn (father of the founder of Pennsylvania), and General Robert Venables seized the island. In 1657 the Governor invited buccaneers to base themselves at Port Royal to deter Spanish aggression. In 1657 and 1658 the Spanish, sailing from Cuba, failed at the battles of Ocho Rios and Rio Nuevo in their attempts to retake the island, and in 1657 Admiral Robert Blake defeated the Spanish West Indian Fleet.

The British began full colonisation in 1661 and gained formal possession through the Treaty of Madrid in 1670. Although much of the Spanish capital, Santiago de la Vega, was burned during the conquest, the English renamed it Spanish Town and kept it as the island's capital. For some time, however, Port Royal functioned as the capital while Spanish Town was being rebuilt.

The Island was a major base for pirates, especially at Port Royal before it was destroyed in an earthquake in 1692. After the disaster, Kingston was founded in the same harbor and took over most of the commerce which had gone on at the older port city.

Sugar and slavery made Jamaica one of the most valuable possessions in the world for more than 150 years. The colony's slaves, who outnumbered their white masters 300,000 to 30,000 in 1800, mounted over a dozen major slave conspiracies and uprisings in the 1600s and 1700. Escaped slaves, known as maroons established independent communities in the mountainous interior that the British were unable to defeat, despite major attempts in the 1730s and 1790s. The colonial government enlisted the maroons in capturing escaped plantation slaves. The British also used Jamaica's free people of color, 10,000 strong by 1800, to keep the enslaved population in check. During Christmas of 1831, a large scale slave revolt (involving as many as 60,000 of the island's 300,000 slave population) known as the Baptist War broke, but it was suppressed by the militia of the Jamaican plantocracy ten days later in early 1832.

The British parliament abolished slavery as of August 1, 1834, though the Jamaican slaves remained bound to slave owners' compensation schemes (apprenticeship) until 1838. The freed slaves still faced extreme hardship, marked by the October 1865 Morant Bay rebellion led by George William Gordon and Paul Bogle. It was brutally repressed and the island was made a Crown Colony. The sugar crop was declining in importance in the late 19th century and the colony diversified into bananas.

In 1872 the capital was moved to Kingston, as the new port city had far outstripped the inland Spanish Town in size and sophistication.

Jamaica gained a degree of local political control in the late 1930s. There had been unrest and riots in anger at British policy and the People's National Party (PNP) was founded in 1938. The first election under full universal adult suffrage was held in 1944. Jamaica joined nine other U.K. territories in the Federation of the West Indies in 1958 but withdrew after Jamaican voters rejected membership in 1961. Jamaica gained independence on August 6, 1962, remaining a member of the Commonwealth. The first prime minister was Alexander Bustamante of the Jamaica Labour Party.

Initially, power swapped between the People's National Party and the Jamaican Labour Party regularly. Michael Manley was the first PNP prime minister in 1972 and he introduced socialist policies and improved relations with Cuba. His second term elections marked the start of repeated political violence. When the PNP lost power in 1980 Edward Seaga immediately began to reverse the policies of his predecessor, bringing in privatization and seeking closer ties with the USA. When the PNP and Manley returned to power in 1989 they continued the more moderate policies and were returned in the elections of 1993 and 1998. Manley resigned for health reasons in 1992 and was succeeded as leader of the PNP by Percival Patterson.

Historically, Jamaican emigration has been heavy. In the 1950s and 1960s the destination was Britain, since the United Kingdom restricted emigration in 1967, the major flow has been to the United States and Canada. About 20,000 Jamaicans emigrate to the United States each year; another 200,000 visit annually. New York, Miami, Chicago, and Hartford are among the U.S. cities with a significant Jamaican population. Remittances from the expatriate communities in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada make increasingly significant contributions to Jamaica's economy.


  • Williams, Eric. 1964. British Historians and the West Indies. P.N.M. Publishing Company, Port-of-Spain.
  • Sawh, Gobin, Ed. 1992. The Canadian Caribbean Connection: Bridging North and South: History, Influences, Lifestyles. Carindo Cultural Assoc., Halifax.

Further reading

  • Michener, James, A. 1989. Caribbean. Secker & Warburg. London. ISBN 0-436-27971-1 (Especially Chap. XI. "Martial Law in Jamaica", pp. 403-442. Semi-fictional but mainly accurate).

External links

  • History of Jamaica ( - Offers a history of the island from 1494 to the present.
  • Jamaica ( - Entry from the 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia on Jamaica.
See also : Jamaica

Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools