Arawaks from South America had settled in Jamaica prior to Christopher
Columbus' first arrival at the island in 1494. During Spain's occupation
of the island, starting in 1510, the Arawaks were exterminated by disease,
slavery, and war. Spain brought the first African slaves to Jamaica in
1517. In 1655, British forces seized the island, and in 1670, Great Britain
gained formal possession.
Jamaica was discovered by Columbus on 3 May, 1494. He landed probably
at or near St. Ann's Bay, called by him Sancta Gloria, owing to the great
beauty of the environs. Nine years later his caravels were wrecked at Puerto
Bueno the present Dry Harbour. He gave the name Santiago to the island,
which was but partially colonized by the Spaniards, and was never popular
with them. They first introduced horses, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, and
domestic poultry. To the Spaniards Jamaica is also indebted for the orange,
lemon, lime, and other fruit trees; the coffee tree is due however to British
initiative about the year 1721. From the constituents of the shell mounds
throughout the island and the absence therefrom of all objects of a European
character, it would appear that these accumulations represent the kitchen
middens of the pre-Columban aboriginal inhabitants. These remains found
principally in caves, comprise: (a) crania and other bones (human), (b)
stone implements (celts, etc.), (c) objects of pottery (various), (d) ornamental
beads (chalcedony), kitchen middens containing shells (principally marine),
broken pottery, fish and coney bones, stone implements, and ashes. Their
cottages were built on stockade posts set vertically side by side in a
trench. For animal food they depended principally on the sea, and on their
festivals or barbecues the entire village went out on marine or river excursions.
Their gardens yielded arrow-root, beans, cassava, cucumbers, melons, maize,
and yams; for fruit they cultivated the guava, mammee, papaw and star-apple.
They cultivated cotton and wound it for cordage and twisted it into yarn
for making garments. The only domestic animals were probably the muysea
duck and the alca, a small dog. The aborigines were most probably a tribe
of the Arawak Indians, and not Caribs, who were cannibals. The Arawaks
were a gentle and inoffensive people as their name (meal-eaters) signifies.
They believed in a Supreme Being (Jocahuna), in a future state, and had
a tradition about a deluge. Their form of government was patriarchal. They
smoked tobacco and played a football game called bato, in which both men
and women joined.
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 the few
places where the Spaniards settled, they invariably built a church, sometimes
a monastery, and occasionally a theatre. Sevilla-Nueva (or Sevilla d'Oro)
was the capital of the island from 1510 till 1520, when Diego Columbo founded
a new capital, Santiago de la Vega, which is now known as Spanish Town.
In 1521 orders were received from Spain to cease from making the native
Indians slaves. Las Casas, deservedly called "Protector-General of the
Indians," was instrumental in inducing the pope to issue a Bull in 1542,
restoring the Indians to freedom. Unhappily this concession came too late
for the aboriginal inhabitants of the island. Soon after, Africans were
imported into Jamaica as slaves. The discreditable failure to capture San
Domingo by the expedition under Admiral Penn father of the founder of
Pennsylvania and General Venables, described by Carlyle as "the unsuccessfulest
enterprise Oliver Cromwell had concern with," ended in a successful descent
on Jamaica, which was captured in May, 1655.
To signalise the capture of St. Iago" by the English "a small leaven
of Puritan feeling and a large amount of ruffianism led the troops into
a display of energy. . . . The abbey and the two churches were demolished
and the bells melted down for shot" (Gardner). The poet Milton, secretary
to Cromwell, justified this invasion of the West Indies on the ground of
"the most noble opportunities of promoting the Glory of God, and enlarging
the bounds of the Kingdom of Christ, which we do not doubt will appear
to be the chief end of our late expedition to the West Indies." The advent
of the English adventurer gave a considerable impetus to trade with the
outside world. The chief seaport of the island, now Port Royal, soon became
"a nest of iniquity and a centre of rude luxury, the emporium of the loot
of the buccaneer. . . . no form of vice was wanting, no indulgence too
extravagant for its lawless population." But it paid the penalty of its
lawlessness, being wiped out by an earthquake on 7 June, 1692, after which
event Kingston, the present capital, was established. As a means of repeopling
the island, which was being decimated by fever, a large number of Royalists
in Ireland were seized and sent out as slaves by the English. "As a result
of Cromwell's Irish policy one thousand young women and the same number
of young men were by order of the Council of State arrested in Ireland
and shipped to Jamaica, while the sheriffs of several counties of Scotland
were instructed to apprehend all known idle, masterless robbers and vagabonds,
male and female, and transport them to the island" (Ellis). In 1660 the
population of Jamaica was about 4500 whites and some 1500 negroes. Jamaica
was ceded to England by the treaty of Madrid in 1670. On the accession
of James II, the Duke of Albemarle (a Catholic), son of General Monk, was
appointed governor of Jamaica. One of his suite was Sir Hans Sloane, founder
of the British Museum.
The war with the American colonies met with little sympathy in Jamaica.
The assembly petitioned George III to grant more political autonomy to
the struggling colonists. In 1778 France, which had recognized the independence
of the new republic, was forced into war by England, and Jamaica, like
the rest of the West Indies, suffered accordingly. Seven years later the
maroons, or half-breed negroes, rose in rebellion, repulsed both the colonial
militia and the regular troops, devastated large tracts of country, and
were not finally overpowered till 1790. Some 600 of them, men, women, and
children were deported to Nova Scotia, and subsequently to Sierra Leone.
In the eighteenth century 700,000 negro slaves were landed in Jamaica.
When, in 1807, the slave trade was abolished in the British colonies, there
were some 320,000 slaves in Jamaica. Slavery was destined to continue there
for more than another quarter of a century. The local Government, which
consisted almost entirely of slave holders and sympathizers with slavery,
was a negrophobic plutocracy, and the Anglican, or Episcopalian, clergy
were in sympathy with the assembly, as they were dependent on it for their
stipends. Ministers of other Protestant denominations were working for
the education and enlightenment of the negroes, only to be reviled, hindered,
and persecuted by the dominant party. A serious outbreak among the slaves
occurred in 1831, property to the value of $3,500,000 being destroyed.
The law emancipating the slaves passed by the British Parliament was accepted
by the Jamaica Assembly in 1833 under strong protests, and on 1 August,
1834, slavery was abolished in the island. The number of slaves for whom
compensation was paid by the British Government was 225,290, the amount
awarded having been $29,269,875. As an immediate result of the emancipation
of the negroes, the want of labourers was soon experienced. In 1844 immigration
of hill- coolies from Hindustan was sanctioned by the Legislative Council.
During the past sixty years, some 30,000 Hindu agricultural labourers have
been imported into the island, of whom over 10,000 have, during the last
twenty years, returned to India, taking back with them more than $350,000
in government bills of exchange."
Sugar made Jamaica one of the most valuable possessions in the world
for more than 150 years. The British Parliament abolished slavery as of
August 1, 1834. After a long period of direct British colonial rule, Jamaica
gained a degree of local political control in the late 1930s, and held
its first election under full universal adult suffrage in 1944. Jamaica
joined nine other U.K. territories in the West Indies Federation in 1958
but withdrew after Jamaican voters rejected membership in 1961. Jamaica
gained independence in 1962, remaining a member of the Commonwealth.
Jamaica's political system is stable. However, the country's serious
economic problems have exacerbated social problems and have become the
subject of political debate. High unemployment--averaging 15.5%--rampant
underemployment, growing debt, and high interest rates are the most serious
economic problems. Violent crime is a serious problem, particularly in
Kingston. The two major political parties have historical links with two
large trade unions--the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) with the Bustamante
Industrial Trade Union (BITU) and the People's National Party (PNP) with
the National Workers Union (NWU). The center-right National Democratic
Movement (NDM) was established in 1995 and the populist United Peoples
Party (UPP) in 2001; neither has links with any particular trade union
and both are marginal movements.
For health reasons, Michael Manley stepped down as Prime Minister in
March 1992 and was replaced by P.J. Patterson. Patterson subsequently led
the PNP to victory in general elections in 1993, 1997, and in October of
2002. The 2002 victory marked the first time any Jamaican political party
has won four consecutive general elections since the introduction of universal
suffrage to Jamaica in 1944. The current composition of the lower house
of Jamaica's Parliament is 34 PNP and 26 JLP.
Since the 1993 elections, the Jamaican Government, political parties,
and Electoral Advisory Committee have worked to enact electoral reform.
In the 2002 general elections, grassroots Jamaican efforts from groups
like CAFFE (Citizens Action for Free and Fair Elections), supplemented
by international observers and organizations like The Carter Center, helped
reduce the violence that has tended to mar Jamaican elections. Former President
Carter also observed the 2002 elections and declared them free and fair.
Historically, Jamaica has had close ties with the U.K., but trade, financial,
and cultural relations with the United States are now predominant. Jamaica
is linked with the other countries of the English-speaking Caribbean through
the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and more broadly through the Association
of Caribbean States (ACS). In December 2001, Jamaica completed its 2-year
term on the United Nations Security Council.
Jamaican History Bibliography
History of Jamaica by Edward Long, Ian Randle Publishers (March, 2003).
of Jamaica by Clinton Vane De Brosse Black, Livingstone, Churchill
in Slavery and Freedom: History, Heritage and Culture by Kathleen Monteith
(Editor), Glen Richards (Editor), University of the West Indies Press (April
Maroons of Jamaica : A History of Resistance, Collaboration and Betrayal
by Mavis C. Campbell, Bergin & Garvey (July 30, 1988).
* Portions of this text are from the public domain print edition of
the 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia.