Jamaica was first inhabited with Taino or Awarak Indians. Then the Spanish came in 1494 with explorer Christopher Columbus. By 1535 the Tainos were extinct. Their enslavement by the Spanish and capitulation to European diseases were the big contributors to that fate of the indigenous people. Some words as "barbecue" are part of their legacy.
The Spanish occupation was until 1655 when Jamaica became a British colony. The first town the Spanish built was in 1509, "Sevilla Nueva" or New Seville, in St. Ann. The next was Spanish Town in 1534, the first capital of Jamaica. When the English invaded, the Spanish fled Jamaica to neighbouring islands and the abandoned slaves escaped into the mountains and formed the Maroons.
Under the English the sugar industry in Jamaica developed. As the then local colloquialism suggested, being as rich as a "West Indian planter" means the richest person around. To grow the sugarcane, the English brought many Africans to work as slaves. Most of the slaves came from the West Coast of Africa. The majority were from the Fanti and Ashanti tribes.
The Maroons from their mountain fortress defended their freedom and resisted English rule. Their fight is the first independence struggle of Jamaica. The English signed peace treaties with them in 1739. The truce granted Maroons self-government and the mountain lands which they inhabited. Maroons towns today where there is a local chief are Accompong in the hilly Cockpit Country of western Jamaica, Moore Town in the hills of Portland in eastern Jamaica, and Scots Hall in St. Mary.
The slave trade was abolished in 1808 and slavery in 1838. The English brought in indentured labourers from China and India for the plantation workforce. The free people cultivated their own small plots of land and formed the peasantry in the new economy.
The Colonial Office clashed ideologically with the local plantocracy on the mix of individual and political freedom. In 1840 the Assembly (forerunner of the Parliament) changed the voting qualifications to allow a majority to vote. There were other changes. By 1884, some privileged Jamaicans became eligible for appointment to the councils, and limited self-rule was established. An emergent class of nationalistic and progressive local elites increasingly advocated for self-rule. The Colonial Office granted Jamaica full adult suffrage in 1944 for the election of members to the House of Representatives. Two political parties emerged - the People's National Party (PNP) led by Norman Manley and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) led by Alexander Bustamante, both of which have since dominated electoral politics in Jamaica. The JLP won the first poll in 1944. Up to the recent general elections in 2011, and since full adult suffrage, the PNP have won eight and the JLP seven of the past 15 polls.
There were struggles that pitted the conservatives against the pro change forces in politics, business and society. The journey is described in the stories of the persons Jamaica has honoured as national heroes: George William Gordon, Paul Bogle, Sam Sharpe, Marcus Garvey, Alexander Bustamante, Norman Manley and Nanny of the Maroons.
The 1865 Morant Bay Rebellion, 1938 Sugar Riots and political independence of Jamaica in 1962 were flash points for these struggles. George William Gordon, Paul Bogle and Sam Sharpe were symbols of the popular struggle for human and workers' rights. They were forerunners to Nanny, Marcus Garvey, Alexander Bustamante and Norman Manley who were leaders in the struggle for political rights.
People came to Kingston to settle after the Port Royal Fire and earthquake disasters in 1692. The government supported a scheme for people to buy lots from land proprietor Sir William Beeston. Regulations limited a purchase to one lot on the seafront and to a maximum size that a buyer owned in Port Royal. In addition, there was an order prohibiting exorbitant ferry charges between Port Royal and Kingston.
Port Royal was known for carousing, and that continued in Kingston. The town was a centre of commerce, fashion and society. In 1755 the governor passed an act to transfer government offices from Spanish Town to Kingston. In the Assembly debate, it is said that those against the move argued that life in Kingston would be bad for the "morals of Assemblymen". The decision was eventually rescinded until 1872 when Kingston was permanently instated as the capital. In 1923 the local government bodies of the parishes of Kingston and adjacent St Andrew were amalgamated to form the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation.
The resilience of Kingston to disasters was tested by a devastating hurricane in 1784, a huge fire in 1843, a cholera epidemic in 1850 and another fire in 1862 and an earthquake in 1907 that destroyed most of the city. The disaster response included an ordinance that prohibited the erection of buildings higher than 18 meters (60 feet).
Originally the city had been laid out in a compact square enclosed by North Street, West Street, East Street and the sea. There were two waves of housing development in the early history of Kingston. The first wave was by 1848 starting communities as Rae Town, Brown's Town and Hannah Town. The suburbs of Fletcher's Town, Kingston Gardens, Allman Town, Franklin Town, and Passmore Town were added between 1848 and 1889. By 1920, housing development crossed the St. Andrew border, reaching Up Park Camp and Jones Town - all the way to Liguanea. After a while, more affluent people moved homes further into the north, which is past Cross Roads and into the Liguanea plains. Part of this was reacting to political violence and crime in the original Kingston neighbourhoods. This migration trend spawned the uptown downtown spacing of Kingston. Lots of these places below the Liguanea plain remain as part of the downtown landscape today.
Some big developments took shape by the mid-19th century. The first public water supply was built in 1842. Approximately 1600 homes were supplied. By 1845 the railway to Spanish Town was commissioned. Kingston had a dockyard /coaling station around this time; this was also a site for lots of the cavorting between sailors and the local people. In the novel Children of Sisyphus, Orlando Patterson used the backdrop of the 'going ons' with the sailors to tell stories of the struggle of the people.
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