When peace was eventually established, the Maroons were granted semi-autonomous territory both in Portland and Trelawney, to the west of the island. It was in Moore Town that the great Maroon queen, Nanny, honoured today as a national hero of Jamaica, was buried. Jamaica has always been tough. The Arawak Indians had to ward off invasions by the cannibalistic Caribs, who were taking over most of the neighbouring islands. Jamaica was an Arawak island when Christopher Columbus discovered it in the fifteenth century, claiming it to be "the fairest island that eyes have beheld; mountainous and the land seems to touch the sky" - although he may have felt differently nine years later, on his fourth voyage to the New World.



Columbus was driven ashore by a storm, and his rotting vessels filled with water until they sunk to the sea-bed. He was stranded on the island for a year before being rescued. Later the Arawaks were placed into slavery by the Spaniards, and were shockingly abused, many committing suicide; others were tortured to death in the name of sport. By 1655, when the English captured the island, the Arawaks had been completely wiped out. Even after the 1692 earthquake, piracy remained such a powerful force in the region that in 1717 a King's pardon was offered to all who would give up the trade.

Sugar Plantations Drive Slave Trade
Those Jamaican settlers who wished to trade legally could also make fortunes. It was soon discovered that sugar, which had been brought to the New World by Columbus on his first voyage, was the most profitable crop that could be grown on the island. Because of their importance as sugar-producing islands, the British West Indies had far more political influence with the English government than all the other thirteen American mainland colonies. Sugar requires a large labour force, and it was this that led to the large-scale importation of African slaves.

For the rest of the eighteenth century Jamaica's wealth was secured with the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht which terminated the War of Spanish Succession: one of its terms was that Jamaica became the distribution centre of slaves for the entire New World. The first slaves shipped to the West Indies had been criminals or prisoners of war, purchased from African chiefs in exchange for European goods. When demand increased, raiding parties used the pretext of tribal wars to launch attacks all along the West Coast of Africa. Slaves had to endure the horrors of the middle passage before they were auctioned, 25-75 being the average price.

Although the money that could be earned was considerable compensation for the white settlers, life in Jamaica was often troublesome. There were slave revolts and tropical diseases; war broke out frequently, which left the island vulnerable to attacks by the French or the Spanish (Horatio Nelson, when still a midshipman, was stationed on the island). Hurricanes, which invariably wiped out crops, were not infrequent, and earthquakes not unknown.


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