History of Jamaica

"Out of Many One People"

Christopher Columbus Plaque On May 5, 1494, Christopher Columbus landed in Jamaica on his second voyage in St. Ann's Bay, which he called Santa Gloria because of the beautiful land. The Arawaks who inhabited the island did not want the Spaniards to stay. They left Columbus' men alone after the Spaniards sent a large dog out after them.  The Arawaks were treated poorly and had little resistance to European diseases. They all died quickly leaving only the Spaniards and their African slaves on the island. St. Ann's Bay was renamed to Sevilla la Nueva (New Seville) and served as a supply base. The only town that was developed was St. Jago de la Vega (Spanish Town), which was the center of government, trade, religion and slave importation.

Jamaica was kept under Spanish rule until 1655 when the British conquered Jamaica. Before the Spanish escaped, they freed their slaves who fled to the cockpit country of Trelawny Parish.  They, along with other slaves who ran from sugar plantations, called themselves Maroons. After 80 years of guerilla warfare, the British finally granted them the title to the cockpit country where they still live today.

Under British rule, Jamaica had a colorful and tumultuous past. The British destroyed much of the Jamaican forests to create huge sugar cane plantations. Old PlantationThese plantations provided much of the British Empire's wealth producing sugar which could be made into molasses and rum. Other major industries included tobacco, indigo, bananas and cocoa. 

Not only did the British governors have to contend with multiple slave uprisings, they also had to deal with buccaneering. Port Royal was an insignificant town until the buccaneers took over. It grew to become known as one of the "wealthiest and wickedest [cities] in the world."  The greatest buccaneer captain, Henry Morgan, mercilessly raided Spanish fleet and colonies.  Since he kept them busy defending their ports, they had little time to attack Jamaica. Captain Morgan was knighted by King Charles II of England and was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica in 1673 and held that title until his death in 1688.  Port Royal was destroyed in 1692 by a violent earthquake and did not gain importance again until the 18th century as a naval base.

Several slave and civil rights rebellions led to the recognition of national heroes. Sam Sharpe, Paul Bogle and George William Gordon all worked toward freedom and rights for slaves and the poor.  On January 1, 1808, the Abolition Bill was passed.  Emancipation and apprenticeship came into effect in 1834 and full freedom was granted in 1838.  Soon, Jamaica saw improvements in education, health and social services, banking, transportation and communication.  The capital of Jamaica was moved to Kingston in 1872.

In 1944, a new constitution giving Jamaica a House of Representatives, Senate, Prime Minister and its first free elections was developed. Old Spanish Ruins The only political parties were the trade unions. They included the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) and the People's National Party (PNP).  Alexander Bustamante (JLP) became Jamaica's first Chief Minister. The government subsequently went back and forth between the two parties. In 1962, Jamaica was granted independence from England. However, the country still faced political and economic hardships under the influence of nearby Castro-ruled Cuba. 

After Prime Minister Edward Seaga (JLP) expelled the Cuban consul from Jamaica, the US and the World Bank responded with positive relations. Since then, the economy is still poor, but they have had a much calmer political scene.  The current Prime Minister is Percival James "P. J." Patterson (PNP). He continues to promote non-violence and encourages the growth of business in Jamaica.