Jamaica’s Road to Independence – Part 3

The story of Jamaica’s Road to Independence – Part 3 continues.  If you have not already done so, please read Parts 1 and 2 in previous blogs. 


Kingston and Spanish Town – Jamaica

Kingston was founded in July 1692 on then agricultural land for survivors of the 1692 Port Royal earthquake.  The town did not begin to grow until after the further destruction of Port Royal by fire in 1703.  By 1716 Kingston had become Jamaica’s largest town and the centre of trade.  The government sold land to people with the regulation that they purchase no more than the amount of the land that they owned in Port Royal and only land on the sea front. Gradually wealthy merchants began to move their residences from above their businesses to the farm lands north on the plains of Liguanea. 

Wolmer’s Girls School Insignia

Kingston’s boom included establishment in 1729 of the first free school, Wolmers’, my alma mater.  By 1755 there was a push by the then governor Sir Charles Knowles to transfer the government offices from Spanish Town to Kingston.  Some thought Kingston an unsuitable location for the Assembly due to its proximity to the former decadent Port Royal.  Not until 1872 did government pass an act to transfer the government offices from Spanish Town to Kingston. 

The 1907 Kingston earthquake, considered by many of that time as one of the world’s deadliest earthquakes, destroyed much of Kingston.  It resulted in the death of over eight hundred Jamaicans and destroyed the homes of over ten thousand more.  This catastrophe provided the opportunity to redesign and rebuild Kingston.  

Showing Kingston Harbour
Kingston Harbour

Kingston Harbour is the seventh-largest natural harbour in the world.  It is an almost landlocked area of water approximately with most of it is deep enough to accommodate large ships, even close to shore.

From Sugar to Banana

Jamaica’s chief economic crops are sugarcane, bananas, citrus, cocoa and coconuts, none of which are indigenous. 

Sugar – Byproducts of sugarcane include cane sugar, cane syrup, molasses, wax, rum (for which Jamaica is world famous) and bagasse. 

Cutting Sugar Cane

In the 1740s, Jamaica and Haiti became the world’s main sugar producers, replacing piracy as Jamaica’s main source of income.  In 1770 sugar and rum made up 87.7% of the value of all exports from Jamaica to Great Britain, Ireland, and North America.  Jamaica’s high point of sugar production was from 1801 to 1805, with number of sugar plantations reaching a peak of 859 in 1804, prior to the abolition of slavery. 

Sugar production increased in Haiti due to French engineered irrigation systems as well as cane variety selection.  After the Haitian Revolution from 1791 to 1804, Cuba became the most substantial sugar plantation colony in the Caribbean, outperforming the British islands.

British sugar planters met with growing competition in United Kingdom (UK) markets, especially beginning in 1874 when sugar duties were completely removed.  With no cheap labour force and no preferential tariff protection, the plantation-owners in the British West Indies could not compete with Cuba and Brazil, where slavery had not been abolished.  To make matters worse, the European sugar beet was a cheap alternative to sugarcane.  These factors caused genuine distress as the price of sugar declined below the cost of production on many estates.  Fortunately sugar prices in the United States of America (USA) and Canada fell less severely, attracting increased quantities of sugar and other products from the British Caribbean colonies.

With the declined importance of sugar, the character of landholding in Jamaica changed substantially between 1865 and 1930.  As many former sugar plantations went bankrupt, some land was sold to Jamaican peasants under the Crown Lands Settlement while other cane fields were consolidated by dominant British producers such as Tate and Lyle, a sugar refining business.  Small scale agriculture in Jamaica survived the consolidation of land by sugar powers with the number of small holdings tripling between 1865 and 1930.

Banana – In 1804 bananas brought from Cuba were the first to be marketed in the United States of America (USA).  For many years bananas were regarded as a novelty.  Then in 1870 Captain Lorenzo Dow Baker made an experimental import of bananas he bought in Jamaica for a shilling and sold them in Jersey City for $2 a bunch.  After this success, Baker joined Bostonian entrepreneur Andrew Preston and created the Boston Fruit Company. This company owned a large fleet of steamships that, with time, became the largest private fleet in the world. 

Showing typical banana plantation
Banana Plantation

By 1890 bananas had replaced sugar as Jamaica’s principal export for small farmers as well as for large estates.  This shift was influenced by the British demand for Jamaican bananas rather than the country’s sugar.  Expansion of banana production was hampered by serious labour shortages, with the general exodus of up to 11,000 Jamaicans a year.  Interestingly sugar is ideally suited to the climatic conditions of the Caribbean, being far less vulnerable to the high winds from hurricanes that readily devastate banana plantations.

In 1899, the Boston Fruit Company merged with other companies to become the United Fruit Company (UFC).  UFC first experimented with refrigerated cargo holds in 1903, a technology that along with steam propulsion made the traffic in highly perishable bananas possible and profitable.  

In 1924, the Rev. A.A. Barclay of Lucky Hill in St. Mary espoused ideas that resulted in formation of the Jamaica Producers Association (JPA).  By 1929 the Jamaica Banana Producers Association (JBPA) was established as an independent cooperative under the JPA.  Soon the JBPA owned a steamship line consisting of four refrigerated ships, the first shipping line ever to be 100% Jamaican owned.  By 1937 the JBPA relentless marketing with government support resulted in banana representing 50% of the value of Jamaica’s total exports.

In 1939 the Second World War had a devastating effect on the banana industry as commercial banana sales to the UK ceased.  In 1940 the JBPA shipping fleet were pressed into war service.  By the end of the war in 1945, only one of the JBPA’s four ships survived the war, earning notoriety of having shot down a German Stuka Bomber in the English Channel while under attack.  In 1953 commercial banana exports to the UK resumed.

Citrus – Citrus fruits consists of oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, limes, and lemons.  Citrus production is not a large industry in Jamaica, but yields enough for local consumption and export. 

Coconut – Records indicate that in 1681 coconut plants flourished near harbours and coastal settlements, then later with the expansion of plantation agriculture, the crop was grown inland.  By 1869 coconut oil became the cheap raw material used worldwide for the manufacture of soap, explosives and margarine.  In 1930 the Jamaica Coconut Producers Association Ltd was manufacturing oil and by 1937 soaps.

With the end of the Second World War in 1945, the demand for coconuts decreased with advent of synthetic detergents and fibres.  The export of dry coconuts declined and ceased when the 1944 and 1951 hurricanes destroyed over 40% of all bearing palms.  Formerly coconuts constituted a major part of Jamaica’s export produce but with development of the edible oil and soap industry most of the annual crop is used in local factories.

Coffee – In 1723 King Louis XV sent three coffee plants to the French colony of Martinique.  Five years later in 1728 the Governor of Jamaica, Sir Nicholas Lawes, received a gift of one coffee plant from the Governor of Martinique.  From that one Arabica coffee plant, an exquisite coffee was introduced to the world.  

Some 85% of Jamaica’s Blue Mountain coffee is purchased by Japan. This has driven up the price of Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee to a level that many people consider excessive in comparison to other premium gourmet coffees on the world market.


UFC tourist destination in Port Antonio, Jamaica - Titchfield Hotel
Titchfield Hotel , Port Antonio

Prior to 1891 there was no such thing as a hotel industry.  Visitor numbers were small and the accommodations were, large, squalid, consisting primarily of taverns in the towns and inns in the rural areas.  The only decent accommodation available was the hospitality freely offered by the country gentleman to those who were fortunate enough to obtain introductions.  The 100 room Constant Spring Hotel was built in 1888, but the real spur to development was the Jamaica International Exhibition planned for 1891.  In order to house the visitors who were expected to come to the Exhibition, the Jamaica Hotels Law was passed in 1890 to encourage hotel construction.

With its vertical integration approach including plantations, railway, shipping and telecommunications assets UFC became a major economic and political force in the region, influencing the rise and fall of governments in the ‘banana republics’.  By 1902 UFC controlled Jamaica’s entire banana trade. 

The UFC used their banana transport ships for passenger traffic and for a long time were the only form of travel between Jamaica and other countries.  In addition guesthouses built for UFC workers and officers were also used to house their early Portland visitors.  The Titchfield Hotel, initially built by UFC in 1895 was demolished and rebuilt in 1905.  When in 1910 the Titchfield was destroyed by fire, UFC again rebuilt, expanding that hotel’s capacity and gaining reputation as one of the grandest hotels in the Western Hemisphere.

The Jamaican Government purchased the Myrtle Bank Hotel in 1889/90 and totally rebuilt it as a first class hotel in time for the 1891 World’s Fair in Kingston.  Before 1920 UFC purchased controlling interest in Myrtle Bank, Kingston and with Titchfield both hotels provided a reliable revenue stream until the 1930s.  During its peak year of 1927, UFC moved nearly 70,000 tourists on its steamships to various banana enclaves.  The shipping safety legislation of 1936 eliminated many company vessels from passenger service.  The temporary nationalisation of the fleet during the Second World War and the rise of affordable air travel after the war further distanced the UFC from tourist cruises.

Travel to Jamaica on UFC ships
UFC Tourist Advertisement

The Jamaica Tourist Association was established in 1910 to enhance the claims of the Jamaica as a health and pleasure resort at home and abroad and to give “reliable” information to both prospective visitors and those already holidaying in the island.  Undoubtedly the World Wars affected tourism, but Jamaica was increasingly viewing tourism as a tool of economic development and one way of diversifying a predominantly agricultural economy.

The mid 1950s saw Jamaica being serviced by eight international airlines with unprecedented growth in international tourist arrivals.  The Jamaica Tourist Board was established in 1955 with sales offices in the USA and London.  Jamaica gained some reputation as an exclusive resort attracting mainly a wealthy and famous clientele.  Between 1961 and 1963 however, the industry declined and the Government of newly independent Jamaica realised the necessity to revive and expand what had become an important sector of the economy.

The Crown Colony

The Jamaican assembly had effectively voted its own extinction by yielding power to the Governor, Edward John Eyre and in 1866 the British Parliament declared Jamaica a crown colony.  Its newly appointed governor, Sir John Peter Grant, wielded the only real executive or legislative power.  He completely reorganised the colony, establishing a police force, reformed judicial system, medical service, public works department, and government savings bank.  He also appointed local magistrates, improved the schools and irrigated the fertile but drought-stricken plain between Spanish Town and Kingston.

Transport and communication became essential for economic development.  The railways became government owned in 1845 and cable communication with Europe was established in 1859. 

Out of Many

So who are Jamaicans?

In 1494 Columbus and his Spanish crew invaded Jamaica with its Arawakan-speaking Tainos, bringing European domesticated animals such as pigs, horses, and cattle.  Few Spaniards settled here, with Jamaica serving mainly as a supply base to help in conquering the American mainland.

Out of Many One People crest
Jamaican Coat of Arms

The first Jews came to Jamaica from Spain and Portugal during the Spanish occupation from 1494 to 1655.  Fleeing the Spanish inquisition they concealed their identity, referring to themselves as ‘Portuguese’ while secretly practicing their religion.  With the British conquest in 1655, General Venables recorded the presence of many ‘Portuguese’ in Jamaica.  They were allowed to remain and began to practice their religion openly.

The Jews were granted British citizenship by Cromwell, which was confirmed in 1660 by King Charles, enabling ownership of property.  The Jews attained full political rights in 1831.   Jamaica’s Jewish population was never large.  However, their contribution to the economic and commercial life of the nation outstripped that of any other group of comparable size in Jamaica.

Different faces of Jamaica
Reflecting Out Of Many One People Motto

The first enslaved Africans to Jamaica arrived in 1513 from the Iberian Peninsula.  The 1833 Slavery Abolition Act did not mean that people of African origin no longer came to Jamaica.  In fact during the apprenticeship period (1834 – 1838) and in 1839 a number of persons of African descent came to Jamaica as free labourers.  In the following 25 years about 10, 000 free labourers of African origin came to Jamaica.  Jamaicans of African ancestry form the largest ethnic group.

With the British conquest Cromwell increased Jamaica’s white population by sending indentured servants and prisoners captured in battles with the Irish and Scots, as well as some common criminals.  This practice was continued under Charles II, and the white population was also augmented by immigrants from the North American mainland and other islands such as Barbados.

The Irish were accustomed to hard work, but they were unacquainted with the hot Caribbean climate.  Though their bondage was often a death sentence, enough of the Irish survived that by 1670 they already accounted for a significant part of Jamaica’s population.  The Irish is Jamaica’s second-most predominant ethnicity. 

The Germans came as indentured labourers with the hope they would create a thriving settlement and act as a model for the ex-slaves.  In 1835, Lord Seaford gave 500 acres of his 10, 000 acre estate in Westmoreland for the Seaford Town German settlement of 200 Germans.  Needless to say the programme was never a success.

Jamaica – Out of Many One People

Between 1834 and 1838 about 1, 210 German immigrants arrived in Jamaica.  They were small-trades people, a few farmers and disbanded soldiers of light Calvary regiment.  Their previous occupation meant they had to learn how to plant ground provisions and speak patois. 

East Indians are the largest ethnic minority in Jamaica.  They arrived as indentured labourers between 1845 and 1917 to work on sugar estates.  The intention was to earn a ‘fortune’ for starting a better life back in India, but for many that did not materialise.  At the end of the indentureship contract, many Indians reverted to their ancestral occupations, some became farmers or fishermen, while others returned to the trades of barber, goldsmith or ironsmith.  Others became money lenders.

The Indians introduced several plants and trees in Jamaica, the most common being betel leaves, betel nut, coolie plum, mango, jackfruit, and tamarind.

The Chinese started arriving in 1849, brought as indentured labourers to work on the sugar estates.  However they disliked the nature of the work and soon left the estates to set up small grocery shops all across the island.  Eventually they were able to develop their businesses until the small grocery shops grew into large enterprises embracing not only retailing, but also wholesaling and other types of activities.

A few hundred Chinese who worked on the Panama Canal ended up settling in Jamaica.  Establishing a migration corridor from China, by 1930 there were some 6,000 Chinese settlers in Jamaica.  In 1931 the Jamaican government issued a decree limiting the inflow of Chinese to students under the age of 14.  The restriction was in response to the demands of the Jamaican business community, which feared the rapid expansion of Chinese retail trade on the island.   

The Out of Many One
Showing the Differences

Although some Chinese went back home to marry Chinese wives who they brought back to Jamaica, others inter-married with non-Chinese Jamaicans contributing to the island’s racial mixture.  The popularity of Chinese food among Jamaicans is their lasting contribution to the island.

Cubans fled to Jamaica as political refugees during their Wars for Independence, from 1868 to 1878 and 1895 to 1898.  Despite the official position of neutrality, white and brown elites, anxious to increase the number of Europeans, welcomed the Cubans who were mainly white.  Similarities in the socio-economic structures in both Jamaica and Cuba facilitated the integration of the newcomers.  Although most refugees left Jamaica after 1898, the long-term economic impact of their fleeting presence was the establishment of tobacco as a viable export staple and the modernisation of the island’s sugar industry.

The first Lebanese/Syrian immigrants arrived by their own free will in the 1860s and 1870s fleeing religious persecution.  Britain was seen as the country of freedom and Jamaica under British rule fell into that category.  Then there was ‘chain’ migration as many of the later arrivals were joining relatives and friends rather than striking out for entirely new territory.

Stories recount that many Lebanese/Syrians first heard of Jamaica as a result of the Great Exhibition of 1891.  This exhibition drew over 300,000 visitors from around the world including some from the Middle East.  The opportunities identified in Jamaica soon attracted middle easterners from Lebanon and Palestine.  They decided to journey to Jamaica and try their luck at selling dry goods.  With no Greek Orthodox Church in Jamaica they adapted and turned to the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches.

Despite being a small percentage of the Jamaican population, the Lebanese/Syrian group has played a significant role in the commercial and industrial development of the economy.  Through their influence as well, Syrian bread has become very popular among Jamaicans.


Christianity was introduced by Spanish settlers who arrived in Jamaica in 1509, making Roman Catholicism the first Christian denomination to be established.  Later Protestant missions were very active, especially the Baptists, and played a key role in the abolition of slavery.

Church building
Church in Jamaica

Anglicanism was introduced by the British in 1664.  The first church was built on the spot of the Spanish Church of the Red Cross in Spanish Town.  It is the oldest Anglican cathedral outside of the British Isles and the oldest place of continuous worship in the western hemisphere.

By the early nineteenth century, abolitionism had propelled other denominations to the forefront, and threatened the established Anglican Church.  Thus, in 1824, the Diocese of Jamaica, which also included Belize and the Bahamas, was established.  In 1861 the Bahamas became a separate diocese, and in 1891, the same happened to Belize.  During the 1960s the Cayman Islands were added.

Emperor Hail Selassie

The Rastafari movement, an Abrahamic religion, was developed in Jamaica in the 1930s following the coronation of Haile Selassie I as Emperor of Ethiopia.  Haile Selassie I was crowned as Emperor of Ethiopia in November 1930.  This was a significant event in that Ethiopia was the only African country other than Liberia to be independent from colonialism and Haile Selassie was the only African leader accepted among the kings and queens of Europe.

Three Jamaicans who all happened to be overseas at the time of the coronation each returned home and independently began, as street preachers, to proclaim the divinity of the newly crowned Emperor as the returned Christ.

Rastafarian Bob Marley
World Renowned Rasta- Bob Marley

In December 1930 Archibald Dunkley, formerly a seaman, landed at Port Antonio and soon began his ministry.  In 1933 he relocated to Kingston where the King of Kings Ethiopian Mission was founded.  Joseph Hibbert returned from Costa Rica in 1931 and started spreading his own conviction of the Emperor’s divinity in Benoah district, Saint Andrew Parish.  His ministry, called Ethiopian Coptic Faith; moved to Kingston in 1932 to find Leonard Howell already teaching many of these same doctrines.  Howell had returned to Jamaica around the same time as Hibbert.  With the addition of Robert Hinds, himself a Garveyite and former Bedwardite, these four preachers soon began to attract a following among Jamaica’s poor.

Other popular religions in Jamaica include Islam, Bahá’í Faith Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism and Judaism.  

Representatives of the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities in Jamaica have described Jamaican as being tolerant of religious diversity, and identified the high level of interfaith dialogue as evidence to support this claim.

The story finalises in Road to Independence – Part 4 of the 4 part series at:  https://www.jamaicanproducts.com.au/2020/08/06/jamaicas-road-to-independence-part-4/

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