JAMAICA - History



It was not until 1655, however, that the Spanish were driven from the island by Admiral William Penn and General Robert Venables. The Spanish were forced to flee the island but not before freeing the slaves who took to the hills where they remained a constant thorn in the side of the English.

In an effort to settle the island Cromwell issued his famous proclamation, which granted land to British citizens who were willing to settle on the island. In 1656 approximately 1,600 immigrants arrived and settled around Port Morant. Although the Spaniards were driven out they never gave up hope of recapturing the island of Jamaica and in 1658 another Spanish force landed but was defeated at the decisive battle at Rio Nuevo.

The island began to prosper under the rule of the British. Great wealth was brought to the island by the buccaneers, who operated mainly from Port Royal, by plundering Spanish ships which transported gold and silver from South America.

By the late Seventeenth Century, Port Royal had earned the reputation of being the richest and the wickedest city in the world. In 1692 this town suffered destruction by an earthquake in which more than half of the town sank beneath the sea. This signaled the end of piracy in the West Indies.

The second half of the Seventeenth Century saw the beginning of the "sugar revolution". Large parcels of land were planted in sugar cane. The whole process of making sugar required a huge labour force. The English planters sought various groups to provide the much needed labour. African slavery was not new to the West Indies and had been introduced by the Spanish and the Portuguese. Later, the Dutch supplied slaves from Africa, and they taught the English the techniques necessary for the production of sugar.

The Africans brought in were from many tribes, although the majority were Coromantees from the Gold Coast, Eboes from the Bight of Benin and Mandingoes. The Coromantees are described as being a strong, brave, proud and fierce race. Most of the slave revolts in Jamaica were led by Coromantee slaves.

The slaves were divided into two main groups, the field slaves and the domestic/house slaves. In the case of the former they were further divided into skilled workers such as carpenters, coopers, drivers, masons, blacksmiths, and unskilled workers, that is, those who worked in the field. Punishment was a regular part of estate life and ranged from lashings, to maiming and ultimately death.

There was resistance to slavery by slaves, both passive and active. Examples of passive resistance included poisoning of masters, destruction of property, and infanticide. In the case of active resistance, there were open rebellions, and many slaves ran away and joined forces with the slaves who were set free by the Spanish or who had fled to the interior hills of the island. They were later called Maroons. In 1735 - 1739 they fought against the British in what was called the First Maroon War.

Although Jamaica's sugar industry continued to grow and provide England with great wealth it was not without its problems. For instance, wars throughout the Eighteenth Century, caused a reduction in trade between the colonies and Great Britain. The lack of supplies adversely affected the health of the slaves, and ultimately lowered the production of sugar.

The abolition of the slave trade in 1807, marked the beginning of the end of slavery and the economic power of the Jamaican planters. By 1813, the wealth of the West Indian planters could no longer muffle the cries of the abolitionists and humanitarians to free the slaves. Consequently, in 1833 slavery was abolished in the British West Indies and a system of apprenticeship was adopted. The objective of the apprenticeship system was to help the slaves adjust to their free status and to supply the planters with a source of constant labour until they could adjust to full wage labour. The abuses of the system brought about a premature end to slavery and in 1838 full freedom was given.

Although taken from their country of origin the slaves retained some aspects of their culture. In the case of their language some African words, such as "nyam", "duckunnoo", "patoo", and language patterns which include the repetition of a word, as in the case of "chaka chaka" meaning chaotic, and "little little" meaning very small, were retained.

The abolition of slavery saw a rise in the construction of Free Villages, and growth in peasant farming. There was also an increase in the membership of Nonconformist Churches and a system of education for the free blacks was introduced. In addition, the planters' fear of mass migration of ex-slaves from the plantation saw the introduction of other racial groups to replace slave labour. Groups brought in included Europeans (Germans, Scots and Portuguese), Free Africans, Chinese and East Indians.

Although many things had changed, social conditions remained more or less the same for blacks. By the 1860's the situation had worsened and gave rise to what was later called, the Morant Bay Rebellion. The Morant Bay Rebellion brought about some changes in Jamaica, firstly, the system of Government changed from Representative to Crown Colony (or direct Crown rule), secondly, the Anglican Church was disestablished, thirdly, the Institute of Jamaica was founded to encourage literature, science and art. By 1872 the capital was transferred from Spanish Town to Kingston. There was an improvement in the water supply and a number of schools were established. There was a shift from sugar to banana production.

The Great War (1914 - 1918) gave many Jamaicans the opportunity to travel which in turn helped to shape their views of the system of Government. In addition, during the early Twentieth Century, many Jamaicans left in search of employment in the Panama Canal Zone, and in Costa Rica, Cuba and Honduras to work on the plantations. The movement of people brought about a change in ideas by the 1920's. Marcus Mosiah Garvey, who promoted unity among blacks and pride in their race, became a prominent figure during this period.


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