History of Jamaica
Obviously it will include some Pirates...
The History of Jamaica is a turbulent and colorful story. It includes war, greed, revolution, and finally, hope.
A History that is turbulent and full of interesting characters.
The Jamaican people have lived through storms, invaders, European greed, and hard economic times. They have created a culture, a cuisine, and a music all of their own, and today, the lush and beautiful island is booming with tourism, industry, and prosperity.
Pre Columbian Jamaica
The recorded history of Jamaica begins with the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1494. Prior to that time, Jamaica was inhabited by a gentle tribe of people, known as the Arawak Indians. They were a peaceful people and lived off of the land, growing cassava, corn, and sweet potatoes.
When the Spaniards arrived, they made slaves of these people and worked them harshly. The unaccustomed labor combined with the diseases brought with the Spanish – diseases for which the Arawak people had no immunity – completely erased the Arawak people in less than fifty years.
Following Columbus’ arrival in 1494, Spanish fortune hunters began arriving to Jamaica in droves. They first settled along the north coast of the island, in an area they called St. Jago de la Vega (today, Spanish Town).
Disappointed that there was no gold to be found on Jamaica, they used the island as a base for exploring, and conquering, other islands of the Caribbean and parts of Mexico. Some of the Spanish architecture from that period is still visible today, particularly around the town square.
The British and the Slave Economy
In 1655, a group of British sailors, led by Admirals Penn and Venables, captured the poorly defended Spanish outpost and expelled the Spanish. Thus began over 300 years of British rule in Jamaica. The first British settlers were buccaneers, pirates for hire, and they created a rough colonial settlement, called Port Royal.
Much has been written about this period in the history of Jamaica, but the truth is that Port Royal was a brutal town, full of vice, lust, murder, and crime. Port Royal was destroyed suddenly by an earthquake in 1692 and the capital of Jamaica was rebuilt in Montego Bay across the harbor.
Other British settlers turned to an agricultural economy and set up huge sugar plantations on the island. After briefly trying European labor for their fields, the plantation owners turned to African – slave – labor. The plantations thrived, and the entire island economy revolved around these enterprises. Occasionally a slave would escape and hide out in the dense jungle interior of Jamaica.
These former slaves, called Maroons, fought a kind of continually guerrilla warfare against the plantations owners, albeit with little effect. Descendants of the Maroons still live in the Jamaican hills today.
By the end of the 18th century, sugar was losing its economic importance. In 1883, the slaves of Jamaica were emancipated and the plantation owners were required to pay wages to their workers. One of the heroes of this movement was Sam Sharpe, for whom Montego Bay’s city square is named.
Many of the ex-slaves moved to the mountains and worked small plots of land there or eked out a living on small coastal plots. With more farmers, the economy diversified into bananas, coffee, and log-wood in addition to sugar.
The Nationalist Movement
Although the people were free, Jamaica was still a colony of England and subject to heavy taxes about which they had no vote. The history of Jamaica and its independence started early and gradually escalated. One of the early proponents of independence was Norman Manley, who founded the People’s National Party (PNP) in 1938.
Its main rival, the Jamaica Labor (Labour) Party (JLP) was established a few years later. Taking advantage of a weakened post-war Great Britain and riding the worldwide wave of nationalism, Jamaica eventually won its independence in 1962. Her first prime minister was Alexander Bustamante of the JLP.
Jamaican independence brought new challenges and this period in the history of Jamaica is a turbulent one. The new government was a relatively unstable one with administrations changing almost annually. The economy suffered during this time and unemployment soared to over 15 percent.
Tourists from the United States and Europe were reluctant to travel to Jamaica and tourism suffered. Eventually, the government stabilized, with Michael Manley, the son of PNP founder Norman Manley, elected in 1972 to be the first PNP Prime Minister.
Manley resigned in 1972 for health reasons, but the new PNP leader, Percival Patterson is continuing his policies of economic growth and moderation.
Today, Jamaica is a thriving nation with a diverse economy and a stable government.
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