It wasn't until the 1650s that the English changed from being raiders to being conquerors. Oliver Cromwell agreed to export his Protestant Revolution outside of England's borders in the years following Parliament's victory in the Civil War. His 'Western Design' was supposed to avoid a direct war in Europe itself but to take attack and seize the economically wealthy assets of England's Catholic rivals. Cromwell was partly convinced by an ex-Dominican monk turned Protestant by the name of Thomas Gage who had, unusually for an Englishman, spent time in the Spanish West Indies and Spanish Main. Thomas Gage convinced Oliver Cromwell that the islands were teeming with wealth and were sparely defended. The growing success of England's own sugar colonies in islands like Barbados, Nevis and St. Christopher further encouraged expansion into the Caribbean. The fact that many of the English colonists in the Caribbean had declared allegiance to the Crown gave an additional motivation to send Parliamentarian forces to the region to assert control and remind them who was now in power.
This Western Design was actually the first military investment into Trans-Oceanic Empire building by the English. Hitherto, all colonisation had been undertaken with a view to establishing new colonies in virgin territories by settlers inspired by profit or religion. Oliver Cromwell gave voice to the idea of seizing Catholic colonies and converting them into Protestant ones by force if necessary. This was a step change from merely raiding and privateering in and around the Spanish settlements.
Thirty-Eight warships carrying over two and a half thousand soldiers set sail from Spithead on Christmas day 1654. They were led by Admiral William Penn and Commander Robert Venables. They arrived in Barbados a month later and raised three to four thousand additional soldiers from indentured servants and freemen from the surrounding English colonies. Most of these soldiers, however, were of very poor quality and had little formal training. Indeed, most of the 'volunteers' were motivated by plunder but were to be disappointed when told that all Spanish possessions were to be left intact in order to allow successful English colonies to supplant them. Their initial target was Hispaniola and the large Spanish settlement at Santo Domingo. However, this was repulsed with relative ease and led the commanders to consider a plan B in order to 'save face' by going on to the much less formidably defended Jamaica.
Jamaica had a Spanish population of just two and a half thousand in 1655 when the English arrived and perhaps only 500 of these were able to bear arms. There was a sizeable population of slaves. This population was concentrated on the southern part of the island and had farms and plantations to feed themselves and to ships that called in for resupply.
The English arrived off the island in Kingston Harbour on May 10th 1655. They sailed a gunboat up to 'Passage Fort' which gave covering fire to smaller vessels which poured soldiers ashore. No one was actually hit in the invasion as the Spanish defenders abandoned their positions on seeing so many ships and soldiers come ashore. The English then set off for the Spanish capital at St Jago de la Vega which was located six miles into the interior. En route they encountered a Spaniard bearing a flag of truce and gifts for the invaders. Commander Venables was keen to rest his troops who were still weakened and weary from their unsuccessful campaign in Hispaniola. He is reported to have received the flag of truce with the words that 'we have not come to plunder, but to plant'. He wished to avoid unnecessary bloodshed and destruction and so considered their offer of surrender.
On 11th May, his troops entered St Jago de la Vega, some of them got carried away and ransacked churches and important buildings but most things of value had already been taken into the interior by the fleeing Spanish. Commander Venables offered terms of surrender to the Spanish governor, Juan Ramirez. These were strict terms that replicated the Spanish terms imposed on the English to abandon their Providence Island colony back in 1641. Namely, all Spaniards had to leave the island within 10 days, forfeit all their property and their claims to the island. Furthermore, the governor was to remain as hostage and they were to provide the English with cassava bread and 200 head of cattle per day to feed the huge English force whilst they considered the surrender terms.
The Spanish were surprised at the harsh terms. Most of the inhabitants were born and bred in Jamaica and considered it their home. They provided the English with provisions but primarily to buy themselves time to retire into the interior and prepare for a guerilla war whilst awaiting rescue from Cuba where word of the invasion had been sent.
Four precious days were bought by the Spanish allowing many of the non-combatants to escape to Cuba and for them to release their remaining livestock and their slaves into the interior. The Spanish gave the slaves permission to raid and attack at will with no fear of retribution or repercussions. Some Spanish officers even remained with small groups of what became known as 'Maroons'. English soldiers who ventured out of the settlement were often attacked and mutilated in what became a vicious guerilla war in the jungles and hills of the interior.
Commander Venables had been tricked into giving the Spanish time to retreat and organise themselves in the interior. All whilst leaving the English forces with little to feed themselves or shelter his large army of occupation. English forays into the interior became fruitless expeditions as the Spanish or Maroons evaded the clumsy English who were unfamilar with the geography of the island. Nature, lack of food and disease further undermined the morale and effectiveness of the English forces.
Admiral Penn left almost immediately after capturing the island - possibly to give his version of the reasons for the failure to capture Hispaniola before Commander Venables was able to do so. Commander Venables came down with 'flux' and 'fever' and returned shortly afterwards also. Their sudden appearance back in England led to charges that they had abandoned their posts and they were both imprisoned in the Tower of London. They had left a force of 12 ships and 7,000 men which continued to harry and attack the Spanish but it was clear that the 'Western Design' had been a military and strategic failure. Jamaica was the only tangible success in what had otherwise been a dismal campaign with most troops dying of disease rather than to military action. They were now expected to survive on an island which had previously only planted food to feed 2,500 mouths.
Cromwell encouraged settlers to head to Jamaica to attempt to consolidate its control. Every male immigrant was to be allocated 20 acres and if accompanied by a woman and child was to receive an additional 10 acres. Colonists headed to Jamaica from a variety of locations. Some arrived from Caribbean islands like Bermuda and Barbados keen to find new land for themselves to grow tobacco. Indeed, the Quakers of Barbados moved en masse as they had found themselves unpopular when refusing to serve in the local militia. There was an infusion of Dutch from Brazil and from Surinam. Many of these were Jews who were expelled by the victorious Portuguese in the case of Brazil. The Dutch also brought skills and expertise in growing the new crop of sugar cane which was becoming increasingly popular and profitable. One thousand Irish boys and girls, all under the age of 14, were sent to the island as indentured servants. Additionaly, the Sheriffs of Scotland were asked to transport vagabonds and robbers to help populate the island. Less successful were pleas to the homesteads of New England and the East Coast believing. The authorities were hoping for an infusion of godly Protestants but nearly all of these New Englanders remained in the relative safety of North America. Despite all the strenuous attempts to attract settlers, they struggled to replace the disease ridden population of the early settlements quickly enough as disease, insurrection and starvation took its toll. By 1661 the population of the island was only 3,500 despite the fact that 12,000 had arrived in the previous five years hinting at the horrific mortality rate.
The new colony was also in a constant state of war being deeply embedded within the Spanish West Indies. England's nascent Commonwealth Navy, with the full encouragement of Oliver Cromwell, continued to harrass and harry Spanish ships, ports and searching for the all important Spanish Treasure Fleet. Courts of Admiralty were established so that prize money could be disbursed fairly. The twelve ships left behind by Admiral Penn were put to good use by Admiral Goodson who brought in a regular supply of prize vessels and destroyed the settlement of Santa Marta near Cartagena on the Spanish Main.
The importance of naval supremacy was quickly identified as being the key to success for the Jamaican outpost. Kingston Harbour was expanded rapidly. A fort was hurriedly constructed and fitted with guns to guard the anchorage behind the long sandy spit there. It was initially called Fort Cromwell but this would be changed to Fort Charles in due course. The small island on the spit rapidly expanded as traders sought the protection of the anchorage and the new opportunities for feeding and provisioning the new colony. Even if much of the wealth of the new colony was conditional upon the ravaging of Spanish possessions and ships in the area. Soon this port, better known by its post-1660 name of Port Royal, would be the most important English port in the Western Caribbean. Its strategic position helped ensure that despite the ravages of disease, resources and personnel would still be diverted to the new colony.
Meanwhile a small Spanish force continued to resist the English invasion from the interior of the island based in and around the inland town of Guatibacoa. The Spanish there attempted to ally themselves with the Maroons but disease and lack of supplies hampered their attempts. A Spanish force was sent from Cuba in 1657 to coordinate with the resisters but the English under Edward D'Oyley learned of the Spanish attempts to land men and equipment and intercepted and defeated them at Ocho Rios in the north of the island. A second attempt by the Spanish in 1658 was again defeated by Edward D'Oyley but this time at Rio Nuevo. The island was militarily secured for the first time. There would still be Maroons raiding and attacking from the interior for decades to come, but from this point on they would have to rely on their own resources and receive no help from the outside world.
Despite his victories against the Spanish, governor Edward D'Oyley was concerned for the long term viability of the colony in such a hostile region. One solution he came up with was to invite anti-Spanish pirates and privateers to establish themselves in Jamaica without fear of prosecution or retribution. He invited pirate groups like the largely Huguenot 'Brethren of the Coast' to operate out of Port Royal and issued them with letters of Marque to harry and raid Spanish ships as long as they left English ships alone. So began the long association between pirates and Jamaica as the authorities turned to desperate measures to help secure their isolated outpost.
The English Commonwealth only lasted until 1660 - but its brief foray into imperial expansion marked a fundamental shift in England's attitude to Empire. It may have appeared to have achieved little in its five brief years of imperial adventure but its tiny toehold would be consolidated and expanded upon by the Restoration governments that followed. England was no longer just nibbling at the successes of other imperial powers, it was prepared to take on those powers and supplant them if possible - as they showed in Jamaica.
Although Port Royal was virtually
destroyed in an earthquake in 1692, '
Jamaica's economic life was not seriously
interrupted as a new capital was speedily
built at near-by Kingston. Despite the ,
earthquake and later fires and hurricanes
Port Royal survived as a naval station
and in the 18th Century the Royal Navy's
time-honoured institution of !'grog" was
born at its quays. The wo.rd itself commemorates
Admiral Vernon, known to
his sailors as "Old Grog" from the
material of which his breeches were made,
a coarse-grained cloth called grogram.
Vernon issued an order from his flagship
Burford on August 21, 1740: because of
"the pernicious custom of the Seamen
drinking their Allowance ofRumin drams,
and often at once, which is attended by
many Fatal Effects to their Morale as well
as to their Health," the stupefying daily
allowance of half a pint per man was to be
mixed with a quart of water. This was to
be done in a "Butt kept for the purpose
and on deck, in the presence of the Lieutenant
of the Watch." The distribution
took place twice a day, and the custom
survived in the Royal Navy until 1970.
France back down.
In the War of the American Revolution,
and the wider conflict which followed,
island after island at first fell to the
Fr~nch. In the end, all was redeemed by
Rodney, by then a veteran of Caribbean
engagements. In April, 1782, in an action
fought in the Saints Passage off Dominica,
he defeated the French Admiral, de
Grasse, captured his flagship the V ille de
Paris, and saved Jamaica from invasion.
In fact he did far more. His success enabled
Britain to make a better peace than
she otherwise could have done, and
although she lost her American Colonies
she retained her precious islands in the
West Indies, from which she drew so
much revenue, direct and indirect.
Governor Edward Eyre was a man of
courage and determination. When young,
he had made journeys of almost unbelievable
hardship across part of unknown
Australia. His later experience
had included high posts in New Zealand
and in the Leeward Islands and he had
consistently shown sympathy with the
under-dog. But when he went to Jamaica
as Acting Governor in 1862 he was at once
appalled by the poverty and disorder in
the island, and was shocked at what he
saw as the laziness and lack of morals in
the people of all classes.
Hardship, which had been increasing
since emancipation, had in fact been
made still worse by the rise in prices of
foodstuffs due to the American Civil War.
This monumental struggle together with
the realization that "black" republics
had been established in Haiti in 1804 and
in San Domingo in 1844, led to a situation
which could become explosive at any
moment. The negroes hated the whites,
whom they outnumbered 27 to one and
all that was necessary was effective
agitation. This was soon supplied.
One particularly active negro, a magistrate
and a member of the Legislative
Assembly, was Williarn George Gordon.
He annoyed Eyre excessiveli by complaining
about conditions under which
peflple at St. Thomas awaited trial, and
the Governor deprived him of his magistracy.
When rioting broke out in October,
1865, after a number of negroes had prevented
the capture of a known criminal,
Eyre at onCe suspected Gordon of being
at the back of the disorder, for Gordon
had made no secret of his opposition to
almost every official action taken by the
Governor since his arrival.
Trouble came quickly. On October II
the Court House at Morant Bay was
burnt, and in the fighting customs officers,
militiamen and many more insurgents
were killed or wounded. Property was
destroyed, and outrages were committed
against white people.With their memories
of slave rebellions, war against the
Maroons, apprehensive white people felt
that a very strong hand indeed was
needed. Eyre supplied it.
The Governor at once mobilized army,
navy, European civilians, and ioyal
negroes, and between October 13 and
November 13 he imposed martial law at
Morant Bay. This did not apply at Kingston,
where Gordon was at the time of the
outbreak, but Eyre had him arrested
anyway, brought to St. Thomas in a ship
of war, tried, and executed. It was a very
high-handed act, and it was followed by
repression of the harshest kind. Over 600
negroes died, an equal nlimber were
flogged, including some women, and a
thousand dwellings were destroyed by
the combined forces of the Establishment
- and this 30 years after emancipation.
Gratitude to Eyre on the part of the
whites was so overwhelming that the
Legislative Assembly actually voted itself
out ot existence, so thankfully did it
regard the prospect of Jamaica becoming
a Crown Colony, at any rate temporarily.
But liberal feeling in England was outraged
by the severities which Eyre had
sanctioned, and a Royal Commission was
sent to Jamaica to investigate matters.
It sat from January to March, r866, and
then reported. The upshot was that the
government of the day thanked Eyre for
his prompt measures, blamed him for
excess in reprisals, and recalled him. He
lived for another 30 years but never had
another official posting. He became the
centre of controversy, and the subject of
a certain amount of persecution. There
is no doubt that Eyre acted precipitately,
not to say vindictively in the case of
Gordon ; it was on this fact that charges
against him mainly rested.
The Royal African Company was formed in 1672 with a monopoly of the slave trade in the English colonies. It was from this time that Jamaica became one of the greatest slave markets and destinations in the world. The sugar-industry was introduced about this period, the first pot of sugar being sent to London in 1673. The problem with sugar was that the cane required very heavy labour in very uncomfortable conditions to extract the necessary syrup. Native labour was in short supply and unwilling to do the hard work required. Experiments were attempted with indentured labour from England but the physical constitution of these Europeans was not up to the task. Slavery provided the solution to the planters' problem. Strong workers who were used to the physically demanding geography were imported from Africa. These slaves were denied the luxury of refusing the work. They were forced, with incredible brutality, to do the menial but harsh work. As the demand for sugar in Europe seemed insatiable, more and more plantations were established and more slaves were imported to fulfil the labour requirements.
During these years of political struggle the colony was frequently afflicted by nature. A great earthquake occurred in 1602, when the chief part of the town of Port Royal, built on a shelving bank of sand, slipped into the sea. Two dreadful hurricanes devastated the island in 1712 and 1722, the second of which did so much damage that the seat of commerce had to be transferred from Port Royal to Kingston.
The main event in the history of the island during the later years of the 18th century, was the threatened invasion by the French and Spanish in 1782 during the American Wars of Independence. However, Jamaica was saved by the victory of Rodney and Hood off Dominica. The last attempt at invasion was made in 1806 during the Napoleonic War, when the French were defeated by Admiral Duckworth.
When the slave trade was abolished by the British in 1807 the island was at the zenith of its prosperity; sugar, coffee, cocoa, pimento, ginger and indigo were being produced in large quantities. The anti-slavery agitation in Great Britain found its echo in the island, and in 1832 the slaves revolted, believing that emancipation had been granted. They killed a number of whites and destroyed a large amount of valuable property. Two years later the Emancipation Act was passed, and, subject to a short term of apprenticeship, the slaves were free.
Slaves were not compensated for their period of enslavement and yet the slaveowners were. The British government awarded them compensation at the rate of 19 pound per slave, the market value of slaves at the time being 35 pounds, but much of this compensation went into the hands of the planters' creditors, middlemen and lawyers. The economic fortunes of the island were about to decline, although more because of a shift to Free Trade policies and the growing of sugar beet in Europe rather than due to the abolition of slavery. During the era of slavery the British government had protected planters by imposing a heavy differential duty on foreign sugar; but on the introduction of free trade the price of sugar fell by one-half and reduced the profits of the already impoverished planter. Many estates were abandoned or sold at a loss. Differences between the executive, the legislature, and the home government, as to the means of balancing public expenditure on the island, created much bitterness. There was some slight improvement during the administrations of Sir Charles Metcalfe and the earl of Elgin, when Indian immigration was introduced to supply the scarcity and irregularity of labor and the railway was opened. However, this only masked the long term decline of the economic viability of the colony.
In 1865 Edward John Eyre became governor. Financial affairs were at their lowest ebb and the colonial treasury showed a deficit of 80,000 pounds. To meet this difficulty new taxes were imposed and discontent was rife amongst the black population of the island. Dr Underhill, the secretary of a Baptist organization known as the British Union, wrote to the colonial secretary in London, pointing out the state of affairs. This letter became public in Jamaica, and in the opinion of the governor added in no small measure to increased tensions. On the 11th of October 1865 rebels rose at Morant Bay and killed most of the white inhabitants there. The encounter which followed filled the island with terror, and there was no doubt that many excesses were committed on both sides. The assembly passed an act by which martial law was proclaimed, and the legislature passed an act abrogating the constitution.
The action of Governor Eyre, though generally approved throughout the West Indies, caused much controversy in England, and he was recalled. Opinion was sharply divided with some deploring his hard line tactics but others regarding him as a hero in his active defence of law and order. Prosecutions of murder were instigated against Eyre, but they petered out due to a lack of clarity in his constitutional powers. However, a direct consequence of the rebellion was that the Jamaica Assembly renounced its charter and Jamaica became a Crown Colony.
In 1868 the first fruit shipment took place from Port Antonio, this would provide a new economic lifeline to the island and shortly afterwards the immigration of indentured labour was revived. Another economic opportunity came with the cultivation of the cinchona plant was introduced which was used in the production of quinine.
In. the afternoon of the 14th of January 1907 a terrible earthquake occurred in Kingston. Almost every building in the capital and in surrounding towns were destroyed or seriously damaged. The Americans tried to supply relief with the despatch of three warships to aid the island. The US Commander, Rear Admiral Davis, had to withdraw them on the 19th, owing to a misunderstanding with the governor of the island, Sir Alexander Swettenham, over the role of US marines in trying to preserve order. The incident caused a diplomatic stir, and led to Sir A. Swettenham's resignation in the following March and being replaced by Sir Sydney Olivier. However, the destructive effect of the earthquake was a severe check to the prosperity of the island.
It became independent in 1962.