Jamaica Fiwi Roots

The Settlement of the English in Jamaica


The growing success of England's own sugar colonies in islands like Barbados, Nevis and St. Christopher not only confirmed the potential of the New World, but fueled the desire to control more. Oliver Cromwell's "Western Design", was implemented to attack and seize the wealthy assets of England's Catholic rivals while avoiding a direct war in Europe. Cunningham in his book, Growth of English Industry and Commerce (1890), provides an insight into the prevailing mindset of the time that drove conflicts like the Western Design and others such as the war with Ireland, which England had just completed 3 years prior to wresting Jamaica from the Spanish.

Cunningham posited the following:

The politicians of the sixteenth, seventeenth and greater part of the eighteenth century were agreed in trying to regulate all commerce and industry so that the power of England relatively to other nations might be promoted and in carrying out this aim they had no scruple in trampling on private interest of very kind.
Power depends on: (a) the accumulation of treasure, (b) the development of shipping and (c) the maintenance of an effective population.
--Cunningham: Growth of English Industry and Commerce, 1890

... and in order to promote the power of England relative to other nations, treasure (wealth) was key, so it was necessary to break through Spain's monopoly in the West Indies and gain control of Spanish America. Since the discovery of the New World, world-commerce had enormously increased and the control of it brought with it national power

1655 - A newly conquered fledgeling colony on life support

England's most important colony in the Caribbean was Barbados when English invaded Jamaica on May 10th, 1655. Jamaica, a much larger island is 25 times the size of Barbados, but it was a consolation prize; an after thought to a failed attempt at capturing Spain's most prized colony in the area, Jamaica's neighbor, Hispaniola, . The invading forces were under the leadership of Admiral Penn and General Venables.

Venables's forces fatigued and weak from the failed attempt, met little resistance when they landed at Passage Fort, north-east of today's Portmore. The Spanish settlers, hoping this was just another raiding party looking for treasure and spoils, met the English outside of St Jago (today' s Spanish Town) and offered food and supplies , which Venables happily accepted for his men who had been living on rationed supplies. The spaniards quickly realized that they were wrong. The English intended to stay.

The following day Venables entered the Spanish capital of St Jago, where he was was met by the Spanish Governor, Juan Ramirez, to sign the articles of surrender. The terms called for the Spaniards to forfeit all their properties and leave the island within 10 days. Many settlers chose to resist, along with slaves that were immediately freed, who also chose to stay. They retreated to the interior of the island where they joined forces with the Maroons, who had decided to stick with the devil they knew and fight with the Spanish to mount guerilla-like attacks on the English.

The Spanish settlers at the time are estimated to have been around 2,500, and the English invading forces at around 8,000. The food supply, designed for a population of 2,500, was woefully insufficient for the already weakened English. Dysentery soon became a problem for the malnourished men, prompting Venables to write the following excerpts from his letter to Cromwell on June 4:

...and accordingly we pitched upon Jamaica, where, through God's blessing, we now are, but in none of the happiest conditions, the enemy lurking in the woods, and keeping the cattle and other provisions from us, but only what we gain from day to day at the point of our swords.

...The want we have been in hitherto of bread... joined with the drinking of water, hath already cast both officers and soldiers into such violent fluxes, that they look more like dead men crept out of their graves, than persons living; and this so generally, that we have not above two colonels in health, three majors, some seven field officers in all; besides many have been already swept away with this disease
A Collection of the State Papers of John Thurloe, Volume 3, December 1654 - August 1655

The attacks from the Spanish and the Maroons grew more daring as the the ranks of the English diminished from illness and death. Penn departed Jamaica on June 25 with seventeen ships, leaving his Vice Admiral Goodison with a force of 12 frigates. Venables, now himself ill, left soon after on July 4th, with several commissioned officers, leaving Major-General Fortesque in charge of a very dispirited force.

Note: Both Penn and Venables were sent to the Tower of London for leaving their post without permission but they were both eventually released and dismissed from service.

Fortesque later wrote to Cromwell...

"It is a fruitful and pleasant island and a fit receptacle for honest men, our greatest want here."
"Many there are, who came out with us... big with expectation of gold and silver ... but, not finding such treasure, and meeting with some difficulties and hardships, they fret, fume, grow impatient."
The History of Jamaica, Edward Long, 1774.

Cromwell wanting to make the most of his consolation prize of Jamaica, announced that every male immigrant would receive 20 acres, and 10 additional acres allocated per woman and child. A thousand Irish boys and another thousand Irish girls under 14 were to be sent to Jamaica and sold as indentured servants [see Irish in Jamaica]. He further ordered that all known idle, male or female masterless robbers and vagabonds should be rounded up and shipped to Jamaica. He also sent out appeals to the remote colonies in America and islands such as Barbados for settlers to consider moving to Jamaica.

Fortesque, died on October 21, 1656 and was succeeded by Edward D'Oyley, who was eventually appointed Governor of the island in 1661. It took five years from the time the British first established a presence on the island to expel the Spanish from the island. The battle changed in England's favor, when D'Oyley convinced one of the Maroon leaders, Juan de Bolas, to join forces, and by 1660 the last of the Spanish had fled for Cuba.

The Restoration Era - Return of the Monarchy

It is useful at this juncture to gain some context of England up to and during this time. England was thrown into a civil war in 1642 because King Charles I and Parliament had conflicts in their perspectives. Charles believed in the divine right of Kings; i.e. Kings are chosen by God, had a right to rule and were not subject to the laws as other men are. He dissolved parliament several times, and at one point in 1629, ruled without parliament for 11 years. This did not sit well with the Parliamentarians. His quarrels with Parliament eventually threw the country into a civil war leading to the King being tried for treason and executed in January, 1649.

The Civil war pitted Catholics against Protestants and Royalists (supporters of the executed King) against Parliamentarians. Cromwell rose to power during this time. The Monarchy was dissolved and England became a republic with Cromwell being named Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland.

Cromwell set sail to Ireland, which had been at war with England, with an invading force and successfully re-conquered Ireland, ending the war in 1653. England now had firm control over Ireland. Irish rights were suppressed, lands were taken from the Catholics and given to English Protestants. Irish laborers were sent to the British colonies, some as political prisoners and criminals, and others, homeless and impoverished sent as indentured servants.

Oliver Cromwell died on Sept 23rd, 1658, during the period when the depleted forces in Jamaica were still fighting the Spanish. On the death of Cromwell, the English republican government collapsed and the tide began to turn for the Royalists. Charles II, son of the executed King, was eventually reinstated to the throne on May 29, 1660.

The Arrival of the Buccaneers

With the Spanish expelled from the island, the possibility of attacks from the Spanish and the French remained a constant threat. Governor Edward D'Oyley painted a dismal picture of what Jamaica was like in 1660

"All the frigates are gone, and neither money in the treasury, victuals in the storehouses, nor anything belonging to the State is left... the island has a sense of being deserted by their own country, which fills the minds of the people with sad and serious thoughts."
--Calendar of State Papers Volume 1 By Great Britain. Public Record Office · 1860

To pave the way for the island to transition from an undermanned military outpost to a royal colony, King Charles II ordered the formal commission confirming D'Oyley as governor of Jamaica. The commission, dated February 8, 1661, delegated to him, royal authority to form a government, with instructions to disband the army and facilitate the planting and improvement of the island.

The island's proximity to Spanish Caribbean, made it an ideal location to attack Spanish shipping lanes and settlements, so in a tactical maneuver, D'Oyley invited a group of about 250 of the buccaneers to establish base in Port Royal. With piracy and privateering now sanctioned, Port Royal grew to become a city that was rivaled only by Boston, Massachusetts, in size and importance. The presence of the buccaneers deterred attacks from other nations and offered a much-needed defense for the young colony and their plunder also helped the economy (as well as rewarded some government officials).

The downside of the deal however, was its impact on the development of the colony; new comers were being lured by the promise of quick riches instead of planting the land. Would be settlers were choosing to join the buccaneers but immigrants were not arriving in sufficient numbers to replace those who were dying of sickness.

Jamaica quickly gained a reputation for lawlessness amongst the British colonies, making it even less attractive to settlers. By 1663, Jamaica remained little more than an isolated military outpost. The census in that year showed a population of 4,205, including a small but significant number of slaves with very few plantations existing beyond the environs of Port Royal.

A Push for Settlers

Thomas Modyford, was appointed governor after spending years in Barbados helping to build the colony. He arrived in 1664, with 1,000 settlers, followed by a number of Quakers the following year. Immigrants from Surinam arrived in 1671 and the census in 1675 showed a population of 17,272. Another wave of 1,200 immigrants arrived from Surinam to start planting in St Elizabeth in 1775.

Convicts of the failed Monmouth and Argyle rebellion, to overthrow King James II (successor to Charles II), were sent to Jamaica in 1687. Attractive offers such as 30 acres of land for every male or female person over 12 years old to settle and develop plantations on the island, were made to British subjects in Britain and its colonies. These offers met with limited to moderate success throughout the rest of the seventeenth century. There was an uptick in the number of immigrants when Spain finally ceded Jamaica to the English in 1670, easing a shared concern of many that Spain would eventually return and take back control of the island. But all in all, the arrival of new settlers throughout the remainder of the seventeenth century was slow. Most new emigrants to Jamaica came from England but the extent of mortality among whites, caused by the conditions in Jamaica, was so great that Jamaica remained dominated by sojourners well into the the early part of the eighteenth century.

A term of the Treaty of Madrid signed in 1670, where Spain ceded ownership of Jamaica to the English, was to end privateering and suppress piracy but despite England's promise and the Jamaica Act of 1683 that prohibited trade with pirates, buccaneers continued to operate from Port Royal until the end of the century. The population at the end of the century was 47,365 (about 40,000 negros).

The Birth of The Plantocracy

The seventeenth century, though wild and unlawful, gave birth to the sugar plantation, which was soon to become the cash cow of the British isles. King Charles' instruction to D'Oyley to disband the army and facilitate the planting and improvement of the island, gave rise to the start of many successful plantations owned by the men who served under Venables and Penn. Some of which became rich and powerful and the envy of their contemporaries back in England.

While the growth of the Jamaican sugar economy had been relatively slow in the first fifty years under British rule, it had become the dominant West Indian center for sugar production by the 1720's . It displaced Barbados as the largest sugar exporter and slave importer in the British Caribbean.

The Barrett Family

Hersey Barrett (also spelled Hercie in some other references), served in the force that captured Jamaica from the Spanish. The first recorded land patent in the Barrett name was in 1663 in Spanish Town, granted by King Charles II to Hersey Barrett, who was also the great-great-great-great grandfather of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the poetess of 50, Wimpole Street in London.

Hersey was granted land in Spanish Town, and was later buried in the Cathedral. He also owned land in Clarendon that stretched from Carlisle bay to Milk River. He had two sons; Hersey who was born in England, and Samuel (Sr) who was born in Jamaica in 1662, and is the patriarch of the Jamaican Barretts. The Barrett family became one of, if not, the wealthiest plantation owners on the north coast, over time owning over 10,000 acres. The family owned several great houses; Cinnamon Hill, Barrett Hall, Greenwood Great House to name a few. The town of Falmouth is built on lands donated by them. More information on the Barrett family can be found here .

The Dickinson Family

Frances Dickinson, also served under Venables and Penn. He was granted 6,000 acres by the King for his service in securing Jamaica for the crown. He owned several large properties in Elizabeth; Pepper, Barton Isles, Bona Vista, Watchell and Appleton, home of todays famous Appleton Rum. Frances was also the brother of Edmund Dickinson, the personal physician to King Charles II.

Frances had three children that were born in Jamaica; Jonathan, Caleb and Mary. The family had business interests in Port Royal where Jonathan lived. Jonathan left Jamaica with his family for Pennsylvania, four years after the earthquake that destroyed Port Royal in 1692. The ship they were on got shipwrecked in Florida. They were captured by Indians and almost killed. Jonathan eventually made it to Pennsylvania where he became one of the richest men and holder of several public offices including Mayor of Philadelphia. A State Park in Florida at the location where he was shipwrecked, north of Palm Beach, is named after him.

Mary, married Ezekiel Gomersall, owner of the Cherry Garden plantation and Great House in St Andrew, which was subsequently bought by George William Gordon, a National Hero. Ezekiel was one of the largest slave owners in the Kingston/St Andrew region and a good friend and business partner of Jonathan.

Caleb, was the principal in running the family owned plantations in Jamaica. More information on the Barrett family can be found here.