Europeans in Jamaica

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When did they come?
Jamaica was first colonized by a native group of South American origin who, in the early history of Jamaica, called their home a paradise of wood and water. The Arawak were there to greet Christopher Columbus when he arrived in Jamaica in 1494, beginning a long period of European colonization there. The history of Jamaica as a European outpost saw the island under Spanish rule for 150 years, during which the city now known as Spanish Town was established and flourished as the colony's economic hub.

In the 1650s, Jamaica was captured by the British. Despite turning Jamaica into a profitable colony, continued harassment by a group of ex-slaves - brought over throughout the Spanish period and set free during their retreat - and their descendants dogged the British until they relented and granted emancipation to all remaining plantation laborers in 1838. The Maroons, as this small army was known, are still revered today as some of the most brave and noble figures in the history of Jamaica.

Why did they come?

On May 10, 1655, an English expedition, commanded by Admiral William Penn and General Robert Venables, landed at the present-day coastal town of Passage Fort, in the southeastern parish of Saint Catherine. This expedition, which had failed to capture Hispaniola, proceeded to claim the island of Jamaica for England. At the time of the English conquest, the Spaniards were unable to effectively resist the invasion because only about 500 of them were armed with weapons. The English ordered the Spanish colonists to deliver all of their slaves and goods and leave the island. Some followed these orders, but a group led by Don Cristabal Arnaldo de Isasi remained and put up guerrilla resistance to the English. Isasi freed the slaves, many of whom retreated with the Spanish rebels into the hills. From there, the Spanish and the freed blacks who had joined them frequently raided and waged guerrilla warfare on English settlements. Isasi, finally overwhelmed by English forces, fled to Cuba for reinforcement. Some of the blacks who had fought with Isasi, recognizing that the Spanish case was lost, defected to the English. A black regiment fighting for the English, led by the former slave Juan de Bolas, proved a decisive factor in the final defeat of the Spanish, marked by Isasi's retreat in 1660.

How did they colonize?

Jamaica's English-appointed governor Edward D'Oyley compensated the black regiment by officially recognizing their freedom and granting them landholdings. Other formerly Spanish-owned slaves remained autonomous of the colonial administration, living in their own communities as maroons. Spain officially ceded the island to England under the Treaty of Madrid in 1670. The English established a representative system of government, giving white settlers the power to make their own laws through an elected House of Assembly, which acted as a legislative body. The Legislative Council, whose members were appointed by the governor, served an advisory function and took part in legislative debates. This system lasted until it was replaced in 1866 by the crown colony system of government, which stripped the island elite of most of its political power.

What changes did they make?

The English encouraged permanent settlement through generous land grants. In 1664 Sir Thomas Modyford, a sugar plantation and slave owner in Barbados (a Caribbean island of the Lesser Antilles chain), was appointed governor of Jamaica. He brought 1,000 English settlers and black slaves with him from Barbados. Modyford immediately encouraged plantation agriculture, especially the cultivation of cacao and sugarcane. By the early 1700s sugar estates worked by black slaves were established throughout the island, and sugar and its by-products dominated the economy. Other economic activities, including livestock rearing and the cultivation of coffee and pimento (allspice), developed as well. With the establishment of the...
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