Brief history of Jamaica summarized
A brief tour of the history of Jamaica, in a clear and summarized way.
Europeans discover Jamaica
Beginning in AD 800, a people called the Arawaks lived in Jamaica. They were farmers in the stone age, although they also hunted and fished. The Arawaks grew beans, cassava, and corn. They also grew cotton.
However, in 1494 Christopher Columbus landed in Jamaica. The Spanish and the Arawaks briefly fought, but the Spanish easily won thanks to their superior weapons. However, Columbus soon set sail and the Spanish showed little interest in Jamaica. In 1503 Columbus sailed again to Jamaica and he and his crew were marooned there for a year.
Jamaica was abandoned until 1510, when the first Spanish settlers arrived. Juan de Esquivel directed them and at first they settled in a place called New Seville, but in 1534 they moved to Villa de la Vega. The Spanish grew sugar and bananas in Jamaica, but it remained primarily a resupply stop between Central America and Spain.
Meanwhile, the native peoples were decimated by European diseases. They were also enslaved. Eventually the native population was almost exterminated. Beginning in 1517, the Spanish imported African slaves to work in Jamaica.
The British in Jamaica
Then in 1654 Oliver Cromwell, ruler of England, decided to try to capture Spanish colonies in the Caribbean. He sent an expedition with Robert Venables and William Penn. They attacked the island of Hispaniola in April 1655, but were driven off, so they sailed to the weakly defended island of Jamaica.
They landed in May 1655, and the Spanish withdrew inland. For 5 years they waged a guerrilla war against the English, but were crushed at the Battle of Rio Bueno in 1660. Meanwhile, English and Scottish settlers arrived in Jamaica and began to form plantations.
In 1664 the English joined forces with Buccaneers (pirates) against Spain and Port Royal became a Buccaneer base. However, in 1670 Spain formally handed over Jamaica to England. The Buccaneers ceased to be useful and became a nuisance. However, in 1692 an earthquake shook Port Royal and toppled it into the sea.
During the 18th century sugar plantations flourished in Jamaica. However, they depended on slavery, which caused great human suffering. Not surprisingly, the slaves frequently rebelled, but all of their rebellions were eventually crushed.
In addition to slave rebellions, the British faced the threat of people called the Maroons. When the Spanish were expelled from Jamaica, they freed their slaves. These freed slaves were known as maroons, and their numbers were increased by slaves escaping from the plantations.
In 1739 the British launched a campaign to destroy the Maroons, but failed. So in 1739 and 1740 they signed peace treaties with them. The Maroons were granted land in Jamaica, and in return they agreed to return runaway slaves and help put down rebellions. However, Jamaican slaves continued to rebel.
The most serious rebellion was the Christmas rebellion of 1831, led by Sam Sharpe. Up to 20,000 slaves participated. However, the rebellion was crushed and hundreds of slaves were killed. However, slavery was finally abolished in Jamaica in 1834.
However, freed slaves were not necessarily better off financially, as they had to work for very low wages. Furthermore, during the 19th century Jamaica’s sugar plantations declined. This was due in part to competition from sugar cane growers elsewhere and in part to the cultivation of sugar beets in Europe.
In 1865 popular discontent turned into a rebellion at Morant Bay. The rebellion was led by Paul Boge, but was soon crushed. Then, in 1866, Jamaica became a crown colony ruled directly from Great Britain, allowing certain reforms to be made. In 1872 the capital of Jamaica was moved to Kingston.
In the 1890s, tourists from the US went to Jamaica on banana boats.
Jamaica in the 20th century
At the beginning of the 20th century, Jamaica was quite prosperous, although the prosperity was not shared by all. Many people were still very poor. Then, in the 1930s, Jamaica was severely affected by the depression. There were strikes and riots and in 1938 there was a battle between the workers and the police at the West Indies Sugar Company in Frome.
Several people died. As a result, Alexander Bustamante formed a union, the Bustamante Industrial Union. Meanwhile, Norman Manley formed the People’s National Party. Both campaigned for political and economic reforms.
In 1944 all Jamaicans were given the vote and a new constitution was introduced allowing an elected government to work with the British Governor. Jamaica finally became independent on August 6, 1962.
The 1960s were boom years for Jamaica and the bauxite industry prospered. However, in 1972 Michael Manley won the election and introduced socialism. The result was a flight of capital from Jamaica. Many wealthy Jamaicans also left the country. Manley also forged ties with Cuba, which antagonized the United States.
The 1976 election was marred by violence, but Manley won again. The 1980 elections also saw violence, but this time Manley lost.
Under the leadership of Edward Seaga, prosperity returned to Jamaica to some extent. Ties with Cuba were severed. However, in 1989 Manley won the election, but this time he reinvented himself with more moderate policies. In 1992 Percival James Patterson became Jamaica’s first black Prime Minister. Patterson won the 1993, 1997 and 2002 elections.
Today Jamaica is still a poor country, but it has enormous potential for tourism. Jamaica suffered in the 2009 recession but soon recovered. Today there are reasons to be optimistic about the future of Jamaica. The current population of Jamaica is 2.9 million.
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