| Jamaica History
The Arawak Indians, early residents who arrived
from South America around 650 AD, named the island Xaymaca or “land
of wood and water.” They lived peacefully on the land and the sea’s
Jamaica, the Caribbean’s third-largest island, was visited by
Christopher Columbus in 1494 on his second voyage to the New World.
When the Spanish arrived later, they were welcomed by the Arawaks,
inventors of the hammock. In return, the Indians were executed
or taken as slaves. The only thing that remains of this race the
name they gave to the island.
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In 1692, an earthquake struck the city of Port Royal, located on
a peninsula near Kingston, and the entire city was lost to the sea.
Today, efforts are underway to recover artifacts of what had been
termed “the richest, wickedest city in Christendom.”
The Spanish lost the island in 1655 to the English. Soon, slavery
increased as sugar became a booming industry. During these years,
the English tried to tame an area of the island in the Blue Mountains
that they nicknamed “the land of look behind.” In this little-traveled
region of Jamaica’s interior, soldiers feared attack by the Maroons,
descendants of slaves who had escaped from the Spanish. Soldiers
always rode two to a horse, one looking forward and one backward,
in order to protect themselves. In 1739, the British gave the Maroons
autonomy, and even today they retain a separateness from Jamaican
In 1834, slavery was abolished, but the the sugar industry continued.
Later it was joined by the banana industry, and at the turn of the
century visitors began to arrive aboard those banana boats. The
tourism business grew to become Jamaica’s most important form of
After the abolition of slavery, Jamaica’s plantation owners looked
for another source of labor. From 1838 to 1917, over 30,000 Indians
immigrated to Jamaica, followed by about 5,000 Asians from 1860
to 1893 who came as indentured laborers. They were also joined by
immigrants from the Middle East, primarily what is now Lebanon (although,
in Jamaica, these residents are known as “Syrians.”)
Jamaica has been an independent nation since 1962.
600-1000 AD: Arawak Indians arrived in Jamaica from South America
1494: Columbus made his first visit to Jamaica
1503-1504: A shipwreck strands Columbus on the island’s north coast
during the explorer’s fourth expedition. The explorer stays at Santa
Gloria, now St. Ann’s Bay.
1509: The first Spanish colony is established in Jamaica in what
is now St. Ann’s Bay.
1513: Enslaved Africans arrive in Jamaica.
1520: Jamaica begins to cultivate sugarcane.
1598: The Spanish governor proposes a separate area for the Arawak
Indian population, which was quickly diminishing due to disease
and hard labor conditions. The proposal fails.
1655: British troops invade and take over Jamaica. No Arawaks remain
alive on the island.
1656: British colonists settle at Port Morant; most die from disease.
1670: Peace of Madrid officially puts Jamaica under British rule.
1678: First mention of slave uprising.
1690: First significant slave uprising in Clarendon; many slaves
escape into Cockpit Country.
1690-1739: First Maroon War fought across the island as British
1692: Port Royal suffers a catastrophic earthquake and thousands
1760: Slave uprising in St. Mary led by Tacky, a runaway slave.
1795: Second Maroon War.
1831: Hanging of Sam Sharpe, leader of last great slave rebellion,
in Montego Bay.
1834: Slavery brought to an end. For four years after this event,
slaves had to work without pay.
1835: Small groups of Germans arrive in Jamaica in Seaford Town.
1838: Slavery officially abolished in Jamaica.
1838-1917: Large migration of Indians into Jamaica.
1860-1893: Large migration of Chinese into Jamaica as indentured
1960: Tourism industry begins.
1962: Jamaica becomes independent country.
1980: Elections result in hundreds of deaths in violent protests
1988: Hurricane Gilbert hits Jamaica.
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