We are pleased to share day X of 540’s 2nd Annual Digital Black History Month Education Campaign
History of Jamaica | Commonwealth
Location: Island Country, Caribbean Sea
Geography: Third-largest island of the Greater Antilles and the fourth-largest island country in the Caribbean.
Official Language: Saratoga Springs, NY
Governor-General of Jamaica,: Sir Patrick Allen
Language: English & Jamaica Patois (primary spoken)
- Gained political independence August 6,1962
The original inhabitants of Jamaica are believed to be the Arawaks, also called Tainos. They came from South America 2,500 years ago and named the island Xaymaca, which meant ““land of wood and water”. The Arawaks were a mild and simple people by nature. Physically, they were light brown in colour, short and well-shaped with coarse, black hair. Their faces were broad and their noses flat. They grew cassava, sweet potatoes, maize (corn), fruits, vegetables, cotton and tobacco. Tobacco was grown on a large scale as smoking was their most popular pastime.They built their villages all over the island but most of them settled on the coasts and near rivers as they fished to get food. Fish was also a major part of their diet.
The Spaniards, when they came, tortured and killed the Arawaks to get their land. They were so overworked and ill-treated that within a short time they had all died. The process was aided by the introduction of European diseases to which the Arawaks had little or no resistance. The island remained poor under Spanish rule as few Spaniards settled here. Jamaica served mainly as a supply base: food, men, arms and horse were shipped here to help in conquering the American mainland. Fifteen years later in 1509, after their first visit to the island, the first Spanish colonists came here under the Spanish governor Juan de Esquivel. They first settled in the St. Ann’s Bay area. The first town was called New Seville or Sevilla la Nueva.
The Slave Trade
The English settlers concerned themselves with growing crops that could easily be sold in England. Tobacco, indigo and cocoa soon gave way to sugar which became the main crop for the island.
The sugar industry grew so rapidly that the 57 sugar estates in the island in 1673 grew to nearly 430 by 1739.Enslaved Africans filled the large labour force required for the industry. The colonists were impressed with the performance and endurance of the Africans, as well as the fact that African labour was cheaper and more promising. They continued to ship Africans to the West Indies to be sold to planters who forced them to work on sugar plantations. The slave trade became a popular and profitable venture for the colonists. In fact the transportation of slaves became such a regular affair that the journey from Africa to the West Indies became known as the ‘Middle Passage’. The voyage was so named because the journey of a British slaver was 3-sided, starting from England with trade goods, to Africa where these were exchanged for slaves.
Blacks in post-emancipation Jamaica lived in freedom but had no rights or access to property. They were exploited by the white ruling class and treated with contempt by British governors, whose fiscal policies were designed only to benefit whites. In 1865, the unheeded plea of the peasant masses for farm land erupted into a second major revolt, the Morant Bay Rebellion. This was led by Paul Bogle and supported by George William Gordon, Baptist leaders who became two of Jamaica’s national heroes. The suppression of the rebellion by the ruling class was ruthless. A blood thirsty Governor Eyre court-marshaled and executed almost 400 suspects, including dozens of innocent Baptist peasants. In the aftermath, the British government appointed a Royal Commission of Inquiry, which found Eyre’s penalty “excessive, barbarous, reckless, and criminal.” On December 1, 1865, the secretaries of state for the colonies tore up the Jamaican Constitution and recommended a Crown Colony government for the island. The new political system limited the powers of the governor and the Assembly and allowed Britain to retain direct control over the legislative and executive decisions of the colony. Adversely, however, the Crown Colony government inhibited national leadership and allowed the colonials to dominate and exploit the black masses.
“The history of Jamaica is a rich and vibrant one”
About the Campaign
Every day throughout the month of February 540Blog will devote space to sharing Little Known Facts About Black Americans Throughout History. For us every month is Black History Month but we recognize and support the continuous need to take time and space to put a special spotlight on the accomplishments of Black and brown Americans from all ethnicities that have literally changed the course of history and yet have legacies that are not know by the masses.