Sunday, May 23, 2004

Occasional Notes on Jamaica's Colonial History [I]

extract from Le Page, R. B., and Andrâee Tabouret-Keller. Acts of Identity: Creole-Based Approaches to Language and Ethnicity. Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

[p. 45] Aspects of settlement history. The settlement history of Jamaica has been told in Jamaica Creole (Le Page 1960). The expeditionary force which sailed under General Venables in 1655 contained, according to his own account, 2,500 men raised from various regiments and from the streets and gaols of England, and 1,200 seamen; also 1,851 horse and foot volunteers from St. Kitts, Nevis and Montserrat. Thus about one-third of the total force had been raised in the Leewards and Barbados. It is probable that a high proportion of these were men from the West of England or from Ireland, with some Scots: men whose indentures or sentences had run out and who were landless. About 1,000 of the force were lost in the fruitless attack on Hispaniola, the capture of which had been the original object of the expedition; and remainder reached Jamaica. There the Spanish colonists and their Negro slaves fled to the hills, and for the most part the survivors subsequently made their way to Cuba; they left behind them fewer than 40 Spaniards and a few hundred Negroes, most of whom (about 250) were in three isolated Maroon settlements in the interior. Some Portuguese settlers and Portuguese-Jewish merchants may possibly have submitted to the English forces and stayed in the island, but they could not have been very many.

The indigenous Arawak Indians of Jamaica had all been killed or had died some years before the English invasion. Their few legacies to modern Jamaica, transmitted via the Spaniards, are some place-names, a few rock-carvings and a number of middens. We have at present no means of knowing where the Negro slaves who replaced them under the Spanish came from. As has already been noted, the Spanish colonies did not at this time normally import slaves in their own ships, but where supplied by the Portuguese. The Spaniards in their turn left behind them place-names, their small towns such as their capital of Santiago de la Vega (modern Spanish Town), the abandoned north coast harbour of Sevilla la Nueva (St. Ann's Bay), Las Chorreras (Ocho Rios) where the Spanish defender Yssassi was finally defeated; and their hatos or grazing lands and arable farms. What language the Maroon Negroes in the mountains used among themselves we do not know, but it is quite possible that they had some knowledge of Portuguese Creole, and among those very few modern Maroon words which we have identified as having a special provenance, [p. 46] bracho 'pig' seems to be from Portuguese via the Gold Coast. Otherwise one must assume that they spoke their African languages and some form of Spanish. But the small Spanish element in the modern Jamaican vocabulary is most frequently due to migrant workers returned e.g. from Panama or Cuba or the Spanish-speaking areas of Belize or from Costa Rica within the present century.

Within a few weeks of their arrival about half of the British expeditionary force in Jamaica were sick. The high mortality rate from tropical diseases and high excesses was one of the constant factors in the demography of the Caribean until very recently; it affects Blacks and Whites - the excesses effecting the Blacks, however, being mainly those of white behavior towards them.

At the end of 1655, 780 fresh soldiers came out of England. The next year 1,000 settlers and their slaves came from Nevis to plant lands assigned to them at Port Morant, under th guard of Scottish and Irish soldiers. By 1658, according to the Jamaican historian Edward Long, the populatuion was about 4,500 Whites and 1,400 Negroes. In 1660 it was decided to encourage men from all the other Caribbean islands to move to Jamaica to take up land; women were to be sent out from England as planters' wives; King Charles was to contract with the African Company to deliver 100 Negroes. An Act of Parliament of 1661 require the arrest of Gypsies for shipment to Virginia, Jamaica and Barbados, and there is evidence that many were so deported over the next half-century.

Inter-island movement. The movement of men around the various colonies at this period is worth noting, as are many of the other implications of this quotation from a petition to King Charles from the Barbadians in 1667:

[The island contains] not above 760 considerable proprietors and 8,000 effective men, of which two-thirds are of no reputation and little courage, and a very great part Irish, derided by the negroes as white slaves; and indeed except their proprietors, merchants tradesmen, officers, and their dependents, the rest are such as have not reason to discern their abuses, or not courace to leave the island, or are in dept and cannot go; for 12,000 good men at least formerly proprietors are gone off, and tradesmen, wormed out of their small settlements by greedy neighbors, are thus computed: - Between 1643 and 1647, to New England, 1,200; to Trinidado and Tobago, 600; between 1646 and 1658, to Virginia and Surinam, 2,400; between 1650 and 1662, to Guadaloupe, Martinique, Mariegalante, Grenada, Tobago, and Curacao, 1,600; with Col. Venables to Hispaniola and since to Jamaica, 3,300...Of men born on the island few are gone off... (CSP Col. 1661-8, No. 1657)

In Jamaica by 1673, according to Long (1774), the white population was 8,564; the slave population for the same year has been estimated at [p. 47] 9,500. By 1746 there were approximately 10,000 Whites and 112,000 slaves. The low ratio of Whites to slaves was so alarming to the Jamaican House of Assembly that it regularly passed Deficiency Acts, fining those planters who failed to keep a due portion of the white servants so as to meet the extra soldiers as guards against slave rebellions.

extract from Le Page, R. B., and Andrâee Tabouret-Keller. Acts of Identity: Creole-Based Approaches to Language and Ethnicity. Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

The most complete (and infamous) account Jamaican historical geography is Long, Edward. The History of Jamaica; or, General Survey of the Antient and Modern State of That Island: With Reflections on Its Situations, Settlements, Inhabitants, Climate, Products, Commerce, Laws, and Government. 3 vols. New ed. London: F. Cass, 1970 [originally published in 1774].

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