Jamaica

Jamaica

Jamaica, the third largest Caribbean island, was inhabited by Arawak natives when it was first sighted by the second voyage of Christopher Columbus on 5 May 1494. Columbus himself was stranded on Jamaica from 1503 to 1504 during his fourth voyage. The Spanish settled in Jamaica in 1509 and held the island against many privateer raids from their main city, now called Spanish Town, which served as capital of Jamaica from its founding in 1534 until 1872. In 1655 Jamaica was conquered by the English, although the Spanish did not relinquish their claim to the island until 1670.

Jamaica became a base of operations for privateers, including Captain Henry Morgan, operating from the main English settlement Port Royal. In return these privateers kept the other colonial powers from attacking the island. Following the destruction of Port Royal in the great earthquake of 1692 refugees settled across the bay in Kingston which by 1716 had become the biggest town in Jamaica and became the capital city in 1872. Until the early 19th century Africans were captured, kidnapped, and forced into slavery to work on plantations when sugarcane became the most important export of the island.

Many slaves had arrived in Jamaica via the Atlantic slave trade during the same time enslaved Africans arrived in North America. During this time there were many racial tensions, and Jamaica had one of the highest instances of slave uprisings of any Caribbean island. After the British crown abolished slavery in 1834, the Jamaicans began working toward independence. Since independence in 1962 there have been political and economic disturbances, as well as a number of strong political leaders.

Spanish rule: 1509–1655

The first Spanish settlement was founded in 1509 near St Anne's Bay and named Seville. In 1534 the settlers moved to a new healthier site they named Villa de la Vega, which the English renamed Spanish Town when they conquered the island in 1655. This settlement served as the capital of both Spanish and English Jamaica from its foundation in 1534 until 1872 after which the capital was moved to Kingston. In the 1640s many people were attracted to Jamaica, which had a reputation for stunning beauty, not only in reference to the island but also to the natives. In fact, pirates were known to desert their raiding parties and stay on the island. Spanish Jamaica was subject to many privateer attacks, before the final conquest of the island by the English in 1655. The English were subject to several unsuccessful Spanish counter-attacks after they occupied the island.

The 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia states, "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, Morales PadrĂ³n.

British rule: 1655–1962

17th Century
 
Spanish resistance continued for some years thereafter, in some cases with the help of the Jamaican Maroons, but Spain never succeeded in retaking the island. Under early English rule Jamaica became a haven of privateers, buccaneers, and occasionally outright pirates: Christopher Myngs, Edward Mansvelt, and most famously, Henry Morgan.
 

The English established their main coastal town at Port Royal and by 1659, two hundred houses, shops, and warehouses surrounded the fort. The town was destroyed by an earthquake in 1692, after which Kingston became the main coastal settlement.

18th Century

The cultivation of sugar cane and coffee by African slave labour 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 by a ratio of 20:1 in 1800, mounted over a dozen major slave conspiracies (the majority of which were organized by Coromantins), and uprisings during the 18th century, including Tacky's revolt in 1760. Escaped slaves known as Jamaican Maroons established independent communities in the mountainous interior that the British were unable to suppress, despite major attempts in the 1730s and 1790s. One Maroon community was expelled from the island after the Second Maroon War in the 1790s. Those Maroons, first shipped from Jamaica to Nova Scotia, eventually became part of the core of the Creole community of Sierra Leone. The colonial government enlisted the Maroons in capturing escaped plantation slaves.

19th Century

The British also used Jamaica's free people of color, 10,000 strong by 1800, to keep the enslaved population in check. During the Christmas holiday of 1831, a large-scale slave revolt known as the Baptist War broke out. It was organised originally as a peaceful strike by Samuel Sharpe. The rebellion was suppressed by the militia of the Jamaican plantocracy and the British garrison ten days later in early 1832.

Because the loss of property and life in the 1831 rebellion, the British Parliament held two inquiries. The results of these inquiries contributed greatly to the abolition of slavery as of August 1, 1834, throughout the British Empire. However the Jamaican slaves bound to their former owners' service, albeit with a guarantee of rights, until 1838 under what was called the Apprenticeship System. The freed population still faced significant hardships, marked by the October 1865 Morant Bay rebellion led by and Paul Bogle. It was brutally repressed. George William Gordon, a friend of Paul Bogle, was hanged because he was thought to have contributed to the riot even though he was not a part of its organization or execution. The sugar crop was declining in importance in the late 19th century and the colony diversified into bananas.

In 1866 the Jamaican legislature renounced its powers, and the country became a crown colony. In 1872 the capital was moved to Kingston, as the port city had far outstripped the inland Spanish Town in size and sophistication. Some measure of self-government was restored in the 1880s, when islanders gained the right to elect nine members of a legislative council.

The establishment of Crown Colony rule resulted over the next few decades in the growth of a middle class of low-level public officials and police officers drawn from the mass of the population whose social and political advancement was blocked by the colonial authorities.

20th Century

The Great Depression had a serious impact both on the emergent middle class and the working class of the 1930s. In the spring of 1938 sugar and dock workers around the island rose in revolt. Although the revolt was suppressed it led to significant changes including the emergence of an organized labour movement and a competitive party system.

Independent Jamaica

Jamaica gained a degree of local political control in the mid-1940s. The People's National Party (PNP) was founded in 1938. Its main rival, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) was established five years later. The first elections under universal adult suffrage were held in 1944. Jamaica joined nine other UK 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 of Nations. 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. He introduced socialist policies and 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 late 19th century and early 20th century, many Jamaicans migrated to Central America, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic to work in the banana and canefields. In the 1950s the primary destination was to the United Kingdom; but since the United Kingdom restricted emigration in 1962, major flow has been to the United States and Canada. The heaviest flow of emigration, particularly to New York and Miami, occurred during the 1990s and continues to the present day due to high economical crisis. About 20,000 Jamaicans emigrate to the United States each year; another 200,000 visit annually. New York, Hartford, CT, Miami, and Fort Lauderdale are among the U.S. cities with the largest Jamaican population. In New York, over half the Jamaican expatriate population resides in Brooklyn. Remittances from the expatriate communities in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada make increasingly significant contributions to Jamaica's economy.

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