Jamaica is an island country situated in the Caribbean Sea, consisting of the third-largest island of the Greater Antilles. The island, 4,240 square miles (10,990 square kilometers) in area, lies about 90 miles (145 kilometers) south of Cuba, and 119 miles (191 kilometers) west of Hispaniola (the island containing the nation-states of Haiti and the Dominican Republic). Jamaica is the fourth-largest island country in the Caribbean, by area. With 2.8 million people, Jamaica is the third-most populous Anglophone country in the Americas (after the United States and Canada), and the fourth-most populous country in the Caribbean. Kingston is the country’s capital and largest city, with a population of 937,700. Jamaicans predominately have African ancestry, with significant European, Chinese, Hakka, Indian, and mixed-race minorities. Due to a high rate of emigration for work since the 1960s, Jamaica has a large diaspora around the world, particularly in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Jamaica is a Commonwealth realm, with Queen Elizabeth II as its monarch and head of state. Her appointed representative in the country is the Governor-General of Jamaica, an office held by Sir Patrick Allen since 2009. Andrew Holness has served as the head of government and Prime Minister of Jamaica from March 2016. Jamaica is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy with legislative power vested in the bicameral Parliament of Jamaica, consisting of an appointed Senate and a directly elected House of Representatives.
The indigenous people, the Taíno, called the island Xaymaca in Arawakan, meaning the “Land of Wood and Water” or the “Land of Springs”. Colloquially Jamaicans refer to their home island as the “Rock.” Slang names such as “Jamrock”, “Jamdown” (“Jamdung” in Jamaican Patois), or briefly “Ja”, have derived from this.
The Arawak and Taíno indigenous people, originating in South America, settled on Jamaica between 4000 and 1000 BC. When Christopher Columbus arrived in 1494, there were more than 200 villages ruled by caciques (chiefs of villages). The south coast of Jamaica was the most populated, especially around the area now known as Old Harbour. The Taino still inhabited Jamaica when the English took control of the island in 1655. The Jamaican National Heritage Trust is attempting to locate and document any evidence of the Taino/Arawak.
Christopher Columbus is believed to be the first European to reach Jamaica. He landed on the island on May 5, 1494, during his second voyage to the Americas. Columbus returned to Jamaica during his fourth voyage to the Americas. He had been sailing around the Caribbean nearly a year when a storm beached his ships in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica, on June 25, 1503. For a year Columbus and his men remained stranded on the island, finally departing in June 1504.
The Spanish crown granted the island to the Columbus family, but for decades it was something of a backwater, valued chiefly as a supply base for food and animal hides. In 1509, Juan de Esquivel founded the first permanent European settlement, the town of Sevilla la Nueva (New Seville), on the north coast. A decade later, Friar Bartolomé de las Casas wrote Spanish authorities about Esquivel’s conduct during the Higüey massacre of 1503.
In 1534 the capital was moved to Villa de la Vega (later Santiago de la Vega), now called Spanish Town. This settlement served as the capital of both Spanish and English Jamaica, from its founding in 1534 until 1872, after which the capital was moved to Kingston.
The Spanish enslaved many of the Taino; some escaped, but most died from European diseases and overwork. The Spaniards also introduced the first African slaves. By the early seventeenth century, when virtually no Taino remained in the region, the population of the island was about 3,000, including a small number of African slaves. Disappointed in the lack of gold on the isle, the Spanish mainly used Jamaica as a military base to supply colonizing efforts in the mainland Americas.
The Spanish colonists did not bring women in the first expeditions and took Taíno women for their common-law wives, resulting in mestizo children. Sexual violence with the Taíno women by the Spanish was also common.
Although the Taino referred to the island as “Xaymaca,” the Spanish gradually changed the name to “Jamaica.” In the so-called Admiral’s map of 1507 the island was labeled as “Jamaiqua” and in Peter Martyr’s work “Decades” of 1511, he referred to it as both “Jamaica” and “Jamica.”
Jews had been expelled from Spain in 1492 and then forcibly converted to Christianity in Portugal, during a period of persecution by the Inquisition. Some Spanish and Portuguese Jewish refugees went to the Netherlands and England, and from there to Jamaica. Others were part of the Iberian colonization of the New World, after overtly converting to Catholicism, as only Catholics were allowed in the Spanish colonies. By 1660, Jamaica had become a refuge for Jews in the New World, also attracting those who had been expelled from Spain and Portugal.
An early group of Jews arrived in 1510, soon after the son of Christopher Columbus settled on the island. Primarily working as merchants and traders, the Jewish community was forced to live a clandestine life, calling themselves “Portugals”. After the British took over rule of Jamaica, the Jews decided the best defense against Spain’s regaining control was to encourage making the colony a base for Caribbean pirates. With the pirates installed in Port Royal, the Spanish would be deterred from attacking. The British leaders agreed with the viability of this strategy to forestall outside aggression.
Spanish Town has the oldest cathedral of the British colonies in the Caribbean. The Spanish were forcibly evicted by the English at Ocho Rios in St. Ann. In 1655, the English, led by Sir William Penn and General Robert Venables, took over the last Spanish fort in Jamaica. The name of Montego Bay, the capital of the parish of St. James, was derived from the Spanish name manteca bahía (or Bay of Lard), alluding to the lard-making industry based on processing the numerous boars in the area.
The Irish in Jamaica also formed a large part of the islands early population, making up two-thirds of the white population on the island in the late seventeenth century, twice that of the English population. They were brought in as indentured laborers and soldiers after the conquest of Jamaica by Cromwell’s forces in 1655, The majority of Irish were transported by force as political prisoners of war from Ireland as a result of the ongoing Wars of the Three Kingdoms at the time. Migration of large numbers Irish to the island continued into the eighteenth century.
When the English captured Jamaica in 1655, the Spanish colonists fled after freeing their slaves. The slaves dispersed into the mountains, joining the maroons, those who had previously escaped to live with the Taíno native people. The English continued to import African slaves as laborers.
In 1660, the population of Jamaica was about 4,500 white and 1,500 black. By the early 1670s, as the English developed sugar cane plantations and imported more slaves, black people formed a majority of the population.
During the centuries of slavery, Maroons established free communities in the mountainous interior of Jamaica, where they maintained their freedom and independence for generations. The Jamaican Maroons fought the British during the eighteenth century. Under treaties of 1738 and 1739, the British agreed to stop trying to round them up in exchange for their leaving the colonial settlements alone, but serving if needed for military actions. Some of the communities were broken up and the British deported Maroons to Nova Scotia and, later, Sierra Leone. The name is still used today by modern Maroon descendants, who have certain rights and autonomy at the community of Accompong.
During its first 200 years of British rule, Jamaica became one of the world’s leading sugar-exporting, slave-dependent colonies, producing more than 77,000 tons of sugar annually between 1820 and 1824. After the abolition of the international slave trade in 1807, the British began to import Indian and Chinese workers as indentured servants to supplement the labor pool. Most were recruited beginning in the 1840s after slavery was abolished, as many freedmen resisted working on the plantations. Many ethnic Southeast Asian and Chinese descendants continue to reside in Jamaica today.
Jamaica was the first British colony to establish a post office. Gabriel Martin was appointed postmaster on October 3`1, 1671, shortly after British possession of the island was confirmed. Martin carried mail via posthorse between St. Jago and Passage Fort for several years, then disappeared from the record. In the 1680s, sea captain James Wale secured the support of the Earl of Rochester to set up a post office (against the wishes of Jamaican governor Molesworth), but the service seems to have been stillborn, and not until 1705 was a statute (9 Anne) created to legally establish a postal service in several islands of the West Indies and allow the postmaster to charge a fee for the delivery of mail. Letters were carried by a packet service until 1711, then the postal service lapsed again until re-established by Governor Nicholas Lawes in 1720.
The local planters typically preferred to entrust their letters directly to merchant ship captains, and considered the charging of fees by postmaster Edward Dismore to be tantamount to extortion. Matters came to a head in 1755, when a select committee examined the finances of the postal system, but Dismore continued as postmaster into the 1780s, eventually establishing some two dozen post offices across the island.
By the beginning of the nineteenth century, Jamaica’s dependence on slave labor and a plantation economy had resulted in black people outnumbering white people by a ratio of almost 20 to 1. Although the U.K. had outlawed the importation of slaves, some were still smuggled in from Spanish colonies and directly. While planning the abolition of slavery, the British Parliament passed laws to improve conditions for slaves. They banned the use of whips in the field and flogging of women; informed planters that slaves were to be allowed religious instruction, and required a free day during each week when slaves could sell their produce, prohibiting Sunday markets to enable slaves to attend church.
The House of Assembly in Jamaica resented and resisted the new laws. Members (then restricted to European-Jamaicans) claimed that the slaves were content and objected to Parliament’s interference in island affairs. Slave owners feared possible revolts if conditions were lightened. Following a series of rebellions on the island and changing attitudes in Great Britain, the British government formally abolished slavery by an 1833 act, beginning in 1834, with full emancipation from chattel slavery declared in 1838. The population in 1834 was 371,070, of whom 15,000 were white, 5,000 free black; 40,000 ‘coloured’ or free people of color (mixed race); and 311,070 were slaves.
British stamps were used in Jamaica from May 8, 1858, in Kingston and from November 1858 at other offices. Until 1860, the postal service was under the control of Great Britain, despite repeated efforts by Jamaican authorities to take over. Soon afterwards, British stamps were no longer accepted, and Thomas de la Rue & Company Ltd. was commissioned to produce stamps for Jamaica, featuring a laureate profile of Queen Victoria. The first issue consisted of five values ranging from one penny to one shilling, each with a different frame, inscribed JAMAICA POSTAGE, and were watermarked with a pineapple design. They were first issued on November 23, 1860. Additional stamps in the series appeared through the end of the century.
In 1863, four letter boxes were placed around Kingston. Inland delivery was increased from twice per week to three times per week in 1868. Mail carriage was originally via mule, then via railroad in the 1860s, then back to roads due to difficulties with the trains, not switching back to railroad until the railways were improved in the late 1870s. Jamaica joined the Universal Postal Union on April 1, 1877.
In 1887, the Legislative Council resolved to use a common stamp design for both postage and revenue purposes, and in 1889 Jamaica issued three key plate stamps inscribed POSTAGE & REVENUE, with the value tablet in a different color.
In the nineteenth century, the British established a number of botanical gardens. These included the Castleton Botanical Gardens, developed in 1862 to replace the Bath Botanical Gardens (created in 1779) which was subject to flooding. Bath Botanical Gardens was the site for planting breadfruit, brought to Jamaica from the Pacific by Captain William Bligh. It became a staple in island diets. Other gardens were the Cinchona Plantation, founded in 1868, and the Hope Botanical Gardens founded in 1874. In 1872, Kingston was designated as the island’s capital.
In 1900, Jamaica’s first pictorial stamp featured a view of Llandovery Falls. Originally intended as a commemorative stamp marking the adoption of Imperial Penny Postage in 1889, it was too long delayed, and is considered a regular stamp. Originally issued in red, it was redesigned and issued in red and black the next year.
For unknown reasons, Jamaica did not adopt a profile of Edward VII upon his accession. Instead, beginning in 1903, new stamps featured the coat of arms of the colony. Following a special petition in 1910, Edward VII was recognized posthumously on a two-pence gray stamp issued February 3, 1911. Stamps depicting George V were more timely, first appearing in 1912.
A pictorial series in 1919 included twelve stamps, ranging from the Jamaica Exhibition of 1891 to various statues and scenery. The series was not commemorative, but was a result of repeated requests by local philatelists to governor Leslie Probyn.
The next definitive series was issued for George VI in 1938, with low values being a profile of the king alone, and the higher values including scenes of various local industries. An issue with new scenes and a full-face portrait of George VI marked the granting of self-government in 1944, although it was not issued until August 1945.
In 1945, Sir Horace Hector Hearne became Chief Justice and Keeper of the Records in Jamaica. He headed the Supreme Court, Kingston between 1945 and 1950/1951. After Kenya achieved independence, its government appointed him as Chief Justice and he moved there.
A set of four stamps with historic scenes marked the 300th anniversary of British control in 1955, followed in 1956 by a series of 16 stamps depicting flora, fauna, and local scenery.
Jamaica slowly gained increasing independence from the United Kingdom. In 1958, it became a province in the Federation of the West Indies, a federation among the British West Indies. Jamaica attained full independence by leaving the federation on August 6, 1962.
Upon independence, the 1956 stamps were overprinted INDEPENDENCE / 1962. In 1964, a set of three depicted Miss World Carole Joan Crawford; they were soon followed by a new series of 16 with various designs. Only the one-pound value included a portrait of Queen Elizabeth; from independence on, the Queen was rarely included in designs.
Strong economic growth, averaging approximately 6% per annum, marked the first ten years of independence under conservative Jamaica Labour Party governments; they were led successively by Prime Ministers Alexander Bustamante, Donald Sangster and Hugh Shearer. The growth was fueled by strong private investments in bauxite/alumina, tourism, the manufacturing industry and, to a lesser extent, the agricultural sector.
The optimism of the first decade was accompanied by a growing sense of inequality among many Afro-Jamaicans, and a concern that the benefits of growth were not being shared by the urban poor. Combined with the effects of a slowdown in the global economy in 1970, the voters elected the People’s National Party in 1972. They tried to implement more socially equitable policies in education and health, but the economy suffered under their leadership. By 1980, Jamaica’s gross national product had declined to some 25% below the 1972 level. Due to rising foreign and local debt, accompanied by large fiscal deficits, the government sought International Monetary Fund financing from the United States and others.
Economic deterioration continued into the mid-1980s, exacerbated by a number of factors. The first and third largest alumina producers, Alpart and Alcoa, closed, and there was a significant reduction in production by the second-largest producer, Alcan. Reynolds Jamaica Mines, Ltd. left the Jamaican industry. There was also a decline in tourism, which was important to the economy.
Independence, however widely celebrated in Jamaica, has been questioned in the early 21st century. In 2011, a survey showed that approximately 60% of Jamaicans would prefer to become a British territory again, citing as problems years of social and fiscal mismanagement in the country.
Scott #130 was released on August 20, 1945, as part of a set of seven stamps marking granting of a new constitution for Jamaica on November 20, 1944. The 2-pence deep green stamp also commemorates the first meeting of the Jamaican House of Assembly on January 20, 1664, at Spanish Town. The stamp is perforated 12½x13½ and engraved.
Following 1938 disturbances in the West Indies, London sent the Moyne Commission to study conditions in the British Caribbean territories. Its findings led in the early 1940s to better wages and a new constitution. Issued on November 20, 1944, the Constitution modified the crown colony system and inaugurated limited self-government based on the Westminster model of government and universal adult suffrage. It also embodied the island’s principles of ministerial responsibility and the rule of law.
Thirty-one percent of the population participated in the 1944 elections. The newly-established Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) — helped by its promises to create jobs, its practice of dispensing public funds in pro-JLP parishes, and the People’s National Party’s (PNP) relatively radical platform — won an 18 percent majority of the votes over the PNP, as well as 22 seats in the 32-member House of Representatives, with 5 going to the PNP and five seats to other short-lived parties. In 1945, William Alexander Bustamante took office as Jamaica’s first premier (the pre-independence title for head of government).
Under the new charter, the British governor, assisted by the six-member Privy Council and ten-member Executive Council, remained responsible solely to the crown. The Jamaican Legislative Council became the upper house, or Senate, of the bicameral Parliament. House members were elected by adult suffrage from single-member electoral districts called constituencies. Despite these changes, ultimate power remained concentrated in the hands of the governor and other high officials.
Established in 1664, the House of Assembly was the legislature of the British colony of Jamaica. For many years, it was dominated by the White Jamaican planter class. A law passed in 1840 allowed most blacks and mixed-race men to vote in elections to the Assembly, though the planters continued to dominate it. As a result of the Morant Bay Rebellion, the Assembly voted to abolish self-governance in 1865. Jamaica then became a direct-ruled crown colony.