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Colonies in Jamaica

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Colonies in Jamaica


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Jamaica is an island nation of the Greater Antilles, 234 kilometers (146 mi) in length and as much as 80 kilometers (50 mi) in width situated in the Caribbean Sea. It is about 620 kilometers (385 mi) northeast of the Central American mainland, 145 kilometers (90 mi) south of Cuba, and 190 kilometers (120 mi) west of the island of Hispaniola, on which Haiti and the Dominican Republic are situated. Formerly a Spanish possession known as Santiago, it later became the British West Indies Crown Colony of Jamaica.

Jamaica is the Caribbean’s third-largest island. The original inhabitants of Jamaica are believed to be the Arawaks who arrived from South America around 2,500 years ago. They named the island Xaymaca meaning ‘land of wood and water’, but by 1655 when the island was invaded by the British, the Arawaks had all been destroyed through overwork, brutality and European diseases. During the eighteenth century, British landowners made vast fortunes out of sugar and it is estimated that over a million Africans were taken to Jamaica as slaves.

After a long abolition campaign, a number of uprisings, rebellions and Maroon Wars, and a catastrophic earthquake in 1692 in Port Royal which killed thousands, slavery was finally abolished in 1834. The sugar industry however, continued and Jamaica’s plantation owners looked for another source of labor. From 1838 to 1917, over 30,000 Indians emigrated to Jamaica followed by about 5,000 Chinese from 1860 to 1893, who went as indentured laborers. After a long history of struggle Jamaica finally became independent from the British on 6 August 1962.

Today, Jamaica’s population is consisted mainly of African descent, compromising about 90.9 percent of the demographics. Other populations on the island are as follows: East Indian 1.3%, White 0.2%, Chinese 0.2%, Mixed 7.3%, other 0.1%. Immigration from countries such as China, Colombia, St. Lucia and many more areas of the Caribbean and South Asia have seen a steady rise.

Periods in Jamaican History and the Resulting Colonies

Jamaica’s recorded history maybe divided into six periods, according to historians. The first period may be said to date from Columbus’ arrival in the island in 1494 to the destruction of Port Royal in 1692. This covers nearly 200 years. But very little is known about the days when the Spaniards were masters of Jamaica. On the other hand, a good deal is known about the first fifty years of Jamaica as a British colony.

During this period, the English captured Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655. The early British colonists were constantly at war with the Spanish or the French, which is why the island is still ringed with ancient forts. During the slave trade and the English/Spanish wars, Port Royal was the Headquarters of some of the most blood thirsty pirates such as Henry Morgan and Captain Kidd and it became known as one of the richest and most wicked cities in the world. In 1692 the city was almost devastated by an earthquake and more than a quarter of the population of 8000 died. The government abandoned the port and founded a new settlement across the harbor, soon to be known as Kingston (http://www.antislavery.org/breakingthesilence/slave_routes/slave_routes_jamaica.shtml. 2007).

The second period of Jamaican history extends from the destruction of Port Royal to the abolition of the slave trade in 1807. During this time Jamaica flourished as an agricultural colony and became very rich. It reached the height of its prosperity just before the slave trade was abolished; that is, just before the British Government decided that no more slaves were to be brought from Africa and sold as private property. (http://www.discoverjamaica.com/gleaner/discover/geography/history1.htm. 2007).

But prior events in this period made renowned in Jamaican history the Maroons. The name ‘maroon’ comes from the Spanish word cimarrón roughly translated as ‘wild’ or ‘untamed’. When the British invaded Jamaica in 1655, many Africans who had been enslaved by the Spanish colonists fled into the hilly, mountain regions of the island to live a life free from slavery. Over time the Maroons came to control large areas of the Jamaican interior and they would often move down from the hills to raid the plantations. They were very organized and knew the country well. Because of this, many run-away slaves joined them and soon both the original Maroons (those who ran away when the British captured the island from the Spanish) and the runaway slaves were known as Maroons.

The two main Maroon groups were the Trelawny Town Maroons – led by Cudjoe – and the Windward Maroons – led by Queen Nanny and later by Quao. The Maroons were skilled hunters and warriors and, hard as they tried, the British Army could not control or defeat them. The first Maroon War (1730 to 1739) ended with an agreement (or treaty) that gave the Maroons control of large areas of land. However in return, they had to agree not to war with the British, to help capture and return runaway slaves, and to help the British put down revolts or outside invasions. The land given over to the Maroons was around Flagstaff in Trelawny and was named Trelawny Town, and at Accompong in St. Elizabeth. Some of the land remains Maroon territory to this day, but some was taken away by the British after the Second Maroon War (1795). Similar Maroon communities emerged elsewhere in the Caribbean (St. Vincent and Dominica for example), but none were seen as such a great threat to the British as the Jamaican Maroons.

The third period of Jamaican history covers the years between the abolition of the slave trade and the Morant Bay rebellion in 1865. During the 46 years between the abolition of the slave trade and the rebellion, the country passed through many misfortunes and there was a great deal of misery and ill-feeling among the different classes of people in the island.

After slavery was abolished in the British colonies in 1833, oppression of the Crown’s black subjects continued. One of the most notorious examples is the Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865, which was put down by soldiers from Warwickshire.

The 6th or Warwickshire Regiment had a long tradition of fighting in England’s slave colonies in the West Indies. First stationed on Jamaica in 1703, they had returned in 1742, also visiting St Kitts, fought in the Carib War on St. Vincent in the 1770s, and were stationed in Barbados, St Vincent, St Lucia, Martinique and Guadeloupe during the period 1792-96, the years when Haiti, inspired by revolution in Paris, declared itself independent from France, triggering a bloody civil war.

The soldiers of Warwickshire would have been in the Windward Islands, alongside the Worcestershire, Staffordshire and Herefordshire regiments, to ensure that the slave rebellion of Toussaint L’Ouverture and Henri Christophe, in which thousands died, did not spread to the English colonies, and to protect English interests in the region against those of other ambitious seafaring powers such as the Dutch. They helped capture Martinique, Guadeloupe and St Lucia from the French in 1794.

On 4 March 1864 the Warwickshires sailed to the West Indies again, arriving in Kingston on 18th April after stopping in St Vincent and Trinidad. Settling into garrison duty at the Newcastle barracks, high on the slopes of St. Catherine’s Mountain, the Warwickshires constructed vegetable gardens and mourned the occasional soldier who succumbed to the climate and died. (Morley, 2007 as retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/coventry/content/articles/2007/03/28/morant_bay_rebellion_feature.shtml).

In 1865, impoverished peasants on the British island of Jamaica petitioned Queen Victoria (1819-1901) for permission to use government-held lands for planting, but were denied. Discontent centered in the Jamaican parishes of St. Ann and St. Thomas, where a mob of natives stormed and set fire to the courthouse in Morant Bay while the parish council was in session; the chief magistrate and 18 other white persons were killed. Declaring martial law, Jamaica’s Governor Edward John Eyre (1815-1901) ruthlessly suppressed the rebellion, one of whose leaders, George William Gordon (d. 1865), a member of the Merchants and Free Persons of Color, was tried, convicted, and executed. Eyre, who had exaggerated the extent of the threat of native rebels to the white planters, induced the Jamaican assembly to vote itself out of existence. In 1866, he was recalled to England, and the British Parliament established Jamaica as a crown colony under a new royal governor. (http://www.onwar.com/aced/chrono/c1800s/yr65/fjamaica1865.htm. 2007).

The fourth period dates from 1865 to the end of July, 1914. This period includes several important events such as the Crown Colony form of government being adopted in 1866; the start of the banana trade in 1868; Jamaican capital moved from Spanish Town to Kingston in 1872; and the creation of a new constitution providing for semi-representative government in 1884. In the 1900s, the most remembered event in Jamaica’s colonies is the earthquake in 1907.

The fifth period began with the outbreak of the First World War on August 1, 1914 and ended on August 1962. Events in between this period include labor disputes/disorder throughout the island out of which came the Organized Labor movement, the formation of political parties linked to the trade unions in 1938; New Constitution with ministerial government – Universal adult suffrage first Elections in 1944; and Inauguration of Federal Parliament of the West Indies in Port of Spain, Trinidad in 1958 (http://www.diaspora.org.jm/content/home/StaticPages/importantdates2.asp. 2007).

The sixth period began on August 6, 1962, and records the history of Jamaica as an independent country. General elections were held in April 10 that year and the Jamaica Labour Party was victorious. Jamaica achieves Independence in August 6 with Sir Alexander Bustamante as first Prime Minister, and Sir Kenneth Blackburne as first Governor General. Sir Clifford Campbell became the first Jamaican Governor General in December 1, 1962.

Important Figures in Jamaican Colonies
During the height of the Maroon wars with the British, many personalities came about making significant contribution to the success of their fighting with the British. One of them is Nanny.

Nanny was a leader of the Maroons at the beginning of the 18th century. She was known by the Maroons and the British colonialists as an outstanding military leader who became, during her lifetime and afterwards, a symbol of unity and strength for her people. Possessing the survival sprit of her own people, the Ashanti from West Africa, she and her five brothers (Cudjoe – also a great Maroon leader, Accompong, Johnny, Cuffy and Quao) escaped from slavery soon after they arrived in Jamaica.

Nanny’s influence over the Maroons was extremely strong. Some even said it was supernatural. She was a powerful and clever leader and she was particularly important to the Maroons when they fought the First Maroon War against the British, who were trying to penetrate the mountains and overpower them. Nanny also passed down her people’s traditional legends and encouraged them to continue with the customs, music and songs that had come with them from Africa and that they were proud of. Both her brothers Cudjoe and Quao signed so-called ‘peace treaties’ with the British in 1739. Nanny is said to have disagreed with their decisions, seeing this as another form of control by the British. She did eventually agree to a truce, but only because she saw that her people were tired of war and wanted peace instead. Nanny and other freedom fighters like her, helped to bring about a quicker end to enslavement because the fear of revolution (as happened in Haiti) became a major factor that pushed the British to abolish slavery.

Another important personality in the development of Jamaican colonies was Samuel Sharpe.

Sam Sharpe was born in Jamaica in 1801. He was raised in Montego Bay on the north coast of the island and named after his owner, Samuel Sharp, Esq, who was believed to have treated him relatively kind. He became a Baptist preacher and followed the developments of the abolition movement in England by reading local and foreign papers. He had many followers and supporters and was well known for his inspirational words. It is said that those who heard him speak, never forgot his message or his voice and that he amazed people with the power and freedom with which he spoke.

As a preacher, Sam Sharpe traveled far and wide throughout the parish of St James, decrying the injustices of slavery and making the point (which he had learnt from the Bible) that the whites had no more right to hold black people in slavery, than black people had to make white people slaves.

Sharpe organized the 1831-32 rebellion when he was 31 years old. His idea was to organize a general strike against slavery in the western parishes, suggesting that the slaves didn’t go back to work after their three day Christmas holiday. Sharpe encouraged a peaceful resistance however, and that they should only fight physically for their freedom if the planters did not grant the demands of the general strike. Sharpe was knowledgeable and intelligent and probably knew it was unlikely that the strike would succeed, so he had made military preparations for the rebellion. This uprising, which began on 28 December 1831, starting in St. James and spreading throughout the entire island, is generally regarded as the greatest (and the last) acts against slavery in Jamaica before it was abolished in August 1833. The Rebellion lasted for eight days and resulted in the death of around 186 Africans and 14 white planters or overseers.

However, the white vengeance for this rebellion was terrible. There were over 750 convictions of rebel slaves, of which 138 were sentenced to death. Some were hanged, their heads cut off and placed in conspicuous parts of their plantations. Most of those who escaped the death sentence were brutally punished and in some cases the punishment was so harsh that they didn’t survive.

Considered one of Jamaica’s national heroes, Paul Bogle was born before the abolition of slavery, sometime between 1815 and 1820. (http://www.everytingjamaican.com/ channels/theisland/national_heroes.php. 2007) He grew up when slavery was ending, believing in the teachings of the Bible and was generally thought of as a peaceful and kind man. Even after slavery was abolished, there was no real freedom for the black men and women living in Jamaica. They were not given rights to fair trials, to own land or to vote. They were made to pay very high taxes and continued to be punished badly by colonialists and planters. Paul Bogle did own land – about 500 acres, and he could read, write and vote. One day in 1865, two men were on trial in the Morant Bay Court House and Paul Bogle together with some of his people went to support them. Events that took place at that trial led to the Morant Bay Rebellion, which was mentioned earlier.

The Government sent troops to put down the rebellion and they burnt thousands of houses and many of Paul Bogle’s people were killed or hurt. Eventually Paul Bogle was captured and taken to Morant Bay where he was put on trial. He was found guilty and hanged at the Court House on October 24, 1865, along with four hundred and thirty-eight other people. However this demonstration did achieve its objectives. It paved the way towards the establishment of fairer practice in the courts and it brought about a change in official attitude which made the social and economic betterment of the people possible.


From slavery to freedom, Jamaica has had one of the important economies in this present day. Among its important export crop is sugarcane, as well as, other agricultural exports that include the famous Blue Mt. coffee, bananas, citrus fruits, ginger and tobacco. It has also become one of the world’s leading suppliers of ore. Likewise, tourism is the biggest earner of exchange putting Jamaica in the center of many tourism maps.

A taste of the Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee, reveals how far Jamaican has gone from its history of slavery and bloody wars to freedom. Strawberry Hill, located in those mountains, is on the site of one of the first modern coffee farms. Local farmers supply carrots, onions, scallions, cho-cho, avocado, pear, parsley, pineapple and tomatoes, cultivated by using environmentally sensitive sprays and manures. Many of its gardens produce an abundant array of herbs, from mint, dill, oregano, cilantro, lemongrass and lemon basil, along with sweet bananas and plantains.

Jamaica has become one of heavens here on earth with the bountiful crops it produces and the beautiful tourist resorts it now boast of.


Retrieved July 10, 2007.

http://www.diaspora.org.jm/content/home/StaticPages/importantdates2.asp. Retrieved July 10, 2007.

http://www.discoverjamaica.com/gleaner/discover/geography/history1.htm. Retrieved July 10, 2007.

http://www.everytingjamaican.com/channels/theisland/national_heroes.php. Retrieved July 10, 2007.

http://www.onwar.com/aced/chrono/c1800s/yr65/fjamaica1865.htm. Retrieved July 10, 2007.

Morley, Jonathan. The Morant Bay Rebellion in http://www.bbc.co.uk/coventry/content/articles/2007/03/28/morant_bay_rebellion_feature.shtml


Cite this Colonies in Jamaica

Colonies in Jamaica. (2016, Sep 20). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/colonies-in-jamaica/

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