Jamaica History

The first inhabitants were the Arrawak or Taino Indians who were originally from South America.

The Arawaks were a peaceful people who lived in simple communities based on fishing, hunting, and small scale cultivation of cassava.

Christopher Columbus first visited Jamaica on May 04, 1494. He traveled on the Pinta, the Nina and his flag ship the Santa Maria.

Jamaica became a private estate of the Columbus family but they never developed it.

The Spaniards enslaved the Arawaks and forced them to plant sugar and tobacco. In about 60-70 years after Columbus arrived all 100,000 of the Arawak Indians died because of the harsh treatment meted out by the Spanish.

After the Arawaks died the Spanish began to import African slaves.


The Spanish ruled Jamaica for more than 160 years. Under their rule Seville de la Neuva (New Seville) became the first Capital. They then moved further inland and established St Jago de La Vega (Spanish Town) as the second capital in 1534. Kingston became the capital in 1872.

Led by Admiral William Penn and General Robert Venables, the British captured Jamaica from the Spanish on May 10, 1655.

After England seized the island, a plantation economy based on sugar, cocoa, and coffee was established.

Henry Morgan was the most notorious of the Buccaneers who operated from Port Royal which was once known as the richest and wickedest city in the world.

Located on the south east end of the island, Port Royal was destroyed by earthquake in 1692.

Through the massive use of imported slave labor from Africa, Jamaica under the British became the world’s leading producer of sugar cane.

After a number of slave rebellions, slavery was finally abolished on August 1, 1834. Full emancipation was granted in 1838.

In addition to slave revolts the British also had to contend with attacks from the Maroons-a band of run away slaves who lived in the hills. The word maroon is from the Spanish word Cimarron which means “wild” or “untamed”. They were granted independence to live in the hills in 1739. Their descendants still live in the hilly interior of Jamaica in Accompong, Nanny Town and Moore Town.

With the abolition of slavery, many of the ex-slaves became small farmers. As a result indentured workers from China and India were brought to Jamaica to continue the production of sugar. Migrations of indentured workers have contributed to Jamaica’s culture.

On May 5, 1953, Jamaica gained internal autonomy, and, in 1958, it led in organizing the West Indies Federation. Jamaica later withdrew from the organization.

Jamaica became independent on August 6, 1962.