As a sparsely populated country of peaceful Arawak Indians, Jamaica was overrun by invading Spaniards in 1494 who later lost the island to Britain after the latter failed to take Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic) and easily took over the thinly populated and weakly defended Spanish colony in Jamaica. Established initially by the British as an outpost for buccaneers who concentrated on harassing Spanish territorial possessions in the region, the island became a sugar colony by the seventeenth century. By 1673 there were 57 sugar estates, and by 1740 some 430 sugar estates using African slave labor had been established.
Large fortunes were made from sugar in eighteenth century Jamaica but these surpluses were appropriated by mother Britain to help finance her Industrial Revolution and the local Jamaican economy remained starved for capital even in later periods despite this earlier era of high prosperity.
Internal pressures from constant slave revolts, and external pressures from declining profitability and markets, and a British abolition movement that eventually ended the African slave trade in 1807 all led to the abolition of slavery itself in 1838. The emancipation of the slaves and the decline of the plantation system that followed set the stage for the rapid growth of the peasantry, the diversification of local food production by the peasants, and a sharpening of political tensions between the privileged and powerful white planter class on the one hand, desperately seeking to preserve the status quo, and the brown or colored middle class and landowners who wished to see reforms. Increasingly, the blacks acquired both a stake in the system through a strong middle peasantry and leaders able to articulate their demands for change. A successful coalition was built around the brown middle class who wanted reforms and more power and the blacks who were largely left out of the old power structure controlled by the planters. It is this coalition between the middle and lower social classes in the society that has formed the social basis for the country's modern period of politics that emerged in the post- war period. The thrust of this push towards democracy was to transfer control over the governing institutions from the planter class to the middle class who gained political legitimacy by serving the needs of the majority classes.
In 1970 the Jamaican labor force consisted of the following main groupings broken down by percent as follows: