JAMAICA. Jamaica is a large island of 4,470 square miles, located in the Caribbean Sea about eighty miles south of eastern Cuba. The island is 144 miles long and 49 miles wide at its widest point. Columbus discovered Jamaica on May 1, 1494. During his fourth voyage in 1503-1504, he was stranded on the north coast of Jamaica for more than a year. Spanish rule lasted until 1655. They exterminated the native Arawak Indians, and eight Spanish families took control of Jamaica. Population growth was slow. Spanish families imported African slaves* to replace the Arawaks, and by the middle of the seventeenth century, the Jamaican population totaled about 3,000 people, most of them Africans.
As Spanish fortunes declined and those of the British and Dutch rose in the seventeenth century, Spain lost the ability to maintain its Caribbean colonies. British admirals and pirates* periodically attacked Jamaican ports beginning in the 1590s, but it was not until 1655 that the British conquered Jamaica. The last Spanish resistance was wiped out by 1658. Spanish-owned slaves fled into the mountains and interior jungles and carried out guerrilla warfare against the British for more than a century. Military governors ruled Jamaica until 1662, when a legislative assembly* was established. In the Treaty of Madrid of 1670, Spain ceded Jamaica to Britain. Jamaica became a headquarters for British pirates plundering Spanish treasure ships, and, in 1672, when the Royal Africa Company* achieved a monopoly of the African slave trade,* Jamaica developed into one of the largest commercial slave markets in the world. The Jamaican economy revolved around sugar production, but islanders also produced profitable crops of coffee, cocoa, pimento, indigo, and ginger.
The Jamaican economy peaked in the early nineteenth century and then began a long decline. In 1807, Great Britain outlawed the slave trade; there were
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Publication information: Book title: Historical Dictionary of the British Empire. Contributors: James S. Olson - Editor, Robert S. Shadle - Editor. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of publication: Westport, CT. Publication year: 1996. Page number: 593.
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