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2 - Spanish Jamaica, 1509–1655

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 November 2023

Kenneth Morgan
Affiliation:
Brunel University
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Summary

Beginning with Columbus’s visits to the island, Spain established political authority in Jamaica from 1509 onwards, sending out various governors appointed by the Spanish Crown. Jamaica became a Spanish royal colony in 1534. The Spanish treated the Tainos harshly, forcing them into submission under the repartimiento de Indias labour system and removing their lands under an encomienda labour regime. The Taino were also affected by a range of diseases through contact with the Spanish intruders. By 1600 there were very few Taino left living in Jamaica.

Spanish settlement in Jamaica never escalated. The population of Jamaica amounted to no more than 1,600 in the first half of the seventeenth century. Consequently, most of the island remained uncultivated. Spanish settlers supported their daily lives by growing crops and tending livestock, and they introduced numerous new foodstuffs to Jamaica, including sweet potatoes, cassava bread and cane sugar. Institutions of the Roman Catholic Church were introduced to Jamaica by Spanish settlers. The Spanish period in the island ended abruptly through an English military takeover. Cromwell’s Western Design of 1655 invaded, captured and consolidated Jamaica in English hands. The English then colonised the island as its major possession in the western Caribbean.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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