The journey of Afro-Caribbean peoples to the United States started long ago, when enslaved Barbadians were taken by their British owners to South Carolina during the seventeenth century. Indeed, most of the earliest Africans to arrive in what would become the United States were seasoned men, women, and children from the Caribbean. This first involuntary migration was followed by a large influx of people from the British West Indies at the turn of the twentieth century. A third wave of immigrants arrived between 1930 and 1965, and a fourth movement is still going on today. The impact of these migrations upon American society, and especially upon African America, has been profound. Immigration from the Spanish-speaking Caribbean started later, but grew fast. In the year 2000, more than 5.4 million U.S. residents traced their national origins to Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. This figure represents more than one-fifth of the islands' populations. Large-scale population displacements have transformed daily life in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean - from family structure and religious practices to business enterprises and political ideology. They have also reshaped the physical and cultural landscape of several U.S. neighborhoods, cities, and states. In particular, Hispanic Caribbean migration has contributed to eroding the traditional dichotomy between black and white people that has been prevalent in U.S. history and continues to be important today.
The Colonial Period to 1900
Caribbeans and African Americans were brought together in Britain's North American colonies, in the South as well as in the North. Those enslaved in Barbados - many of them born in Africa—constituted an important portion of the black population of Virginia and the Chesapeake; and Barbadian interests developed South Carolina, which in the eighteenth century extended and broadened its trading relations with other Caribbean colonies. Jamaica soon surpassed Barbados as a market for Carolinian products. The degree of intercourse between the two areas was enormous, and the significant influence of the Caribbean on South Carolina endures to this day. Well into the eighteenth century, the majority of bondspeople in the North had either lived or were born in the Caribbean. In New York, which had the North's largest enslaved population, people from the Caribbean continued to outnumber Africans brought directly from the continent. Although those of West Indian origin gained a reputation for rebelliousness after a revolt in New York City in 1712 and although laws placed higher duties on them, the imbalance continued. One estimate puts the ratio of Caribbean to African slaves at three to one between 1715 and 1730. Of captives introduced by New Yorkers between 1715 and 1741, the largest number came from Jamaica, followed by Africa, Barbados, and Antigua. Caribbean immigrants also figured prominently among the free people of color in the North. Prince Hall, who is believed to be from Barbados, established black freemasonry in the United States and was a distinguished leader of Boston's African-American community during the eighteenth century. (As late as 1860 one in five black Bostonians had been born in the Caribbean islands.) In 1822 Denmark Vesey, who was born in Africa or in the Caribbean and had been enslaved in the Virgin Islands and Saint Domingue, organized an elaborate slave uprising in Charleston, South Carolina; it was eventually uncovered before it could be launched. In 1827 John B. Russwurm of Jamaica and his African-American colleague Samuel E. Cornish started Freedom's Journal, the first black newspaper.
Caribbean immigration to the United States was relatively small during the early nineteenth century but it grew significantly after the Civil War. The foreign-born black population, which was almost wholly Caribbean in origin, increased by 500 percent between 1850 and 1900, from four thousand to...
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