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Previous Years

The Timeline of Jamaica's History

A Chronology of Important Events in Jamaica's History


The Treaty of Madrid

The Treaty of Madrid officially ended the war between Jamaica and Spain that begun in 1654, and in which England had conquered Jamaica. It was signed on July 18, 1670 "for the settlement of all disputes in America" and begun the formal acknowledgement and recognition of England's sovereignty over Jamaica and also opened up trade between the two countries.

The constant threat of a Spanish invasion of the island and harassment of ships had been a major deterrent for the settlement of the island. So, with Spain no longer a threat, the island began to see growthin its economy. New investments beghan flowing into island, along with new settlers from England and other parts of the British Empire.

The treaty also had a significant impact on piracy. Under the terms of the treaty, England agreed to suppress piracy in the Caribbean, and in return, Spain agreed to permit English ships freedom of movement. In the years following the treaty, the English navy and coast guard began cracking down on piracy and public attitudes towards piracy began to change; pirates were increasingly seen as criminals rather than heroes.

The decline of piracy was a complex process with many contributing factors. Piracy did not disappear entirely, but it declined significantly and over the course of ensuing years many pirates were captured and executed. The Treaty of Madrid was a major turning point in this process. By the early 1700s, piracy was a shadow of its former self bringing an end to the Golden Age of Piracy.

Some pirates continued to operate in the Caribbean, and they often found refuge in Spanish-controlled ports. In 1671, Henry Morgan, an English Privateer who later became Governor, raided Panama City, a Spanish city in central America. This angered the Spanish who saw the raid a violation of the Treaty, leading to a period of tension between England and Spain but despite these tensions, the Treaty of Madrid was a landmark event in the history of Jamaica and the Caribbean. The treaty helped to establish England as a major power in the region, and it paved the way for the future development of Jamaica.


Formation of The Royal African Company, Jamaica Becomes a Busy Slave Market

The Company of Royal Adventurers Trading to Africa, led by the King's brother, James, that had been formed in 1660 when King Charles II was restored to the throne and had collapsed in 1667 under mounting debt, re-emerged in 1672. It was given a new royal charter and a new name, the Royal African Company (RAC).

The Royal African Company, formed in 1672, was granted a monopoly of the British slave trade. Their ships sailed from Bristol, Liverpool and London to West Africa, operating from military forts based along the coastline from Cape Sallee, now known as Morocco, to Cape of Good Hope (now South Africa). From 1680 to 1686, the company transported an average of 5,000 slaves per year, with the company's initials branded on their chests, most of which were shipped to colonies in the Caribbean and Virginia.

Jamaica became one of the world's busiest slave markets, with a thriving smuggling trade to Spanish America. African slaves soon outnumbered Europeans 5 to 1. Jamaica became one of Britain's most valuable agricultural colonies during this period. Agiculture production swelled with increasing numbers of processing centres for sugar, indigo, and cacao although a plant disease destroyed much of the cacao crop in 1670–71.

Colonists formed a local legislature, an early step toward self-government, although its members represented only a small fraction of the wealthy elite.


The 1692 Port Royal Earthquake

Port Royal became the busiest trading center of the British West Indies and was known throughout the New World for its wealth and debauchery. It rivaled Boston, Massachusetts in population and trade in the late 17th century.

Merchants and artisans flowed in, chasing the potential for success catering to the needs and desires of the pirates. The town continued to grow in strength even as piracy began to wane. England and landowers in Jamaica reaped the benefits from regualr trade with Spain and a stable economy based on agriculture. There were over 8,000 inhabitants living in fine brick houses of two and three stories in the town that had become known as the "richest and wickedest city in the New World."

On June 7th 1692, the Rector of Port Royal had gone to a meeting place where merchants gathered for drinks to meet with his friend, the President of the Council who was filling the role as Governor until a new Governor was appointed. This was meant to be a quick meeting before heading over to have dinner with another friend, but he was encouraged to stay a while to have a drink of wormwood wine. This was a fortuitous decision, because as he described it in his own words, he felt the ground rolling under his feet. "Lord, Sir, What is that"? he asked, to which his friend replied, "It's an Earthquake, be not afraid, it will soon be over". But it increased and they heard the church tower fall, so they ran to save themselves. As he ran towards Morgan's Fort thinking it was the most secure place, he described seeing the earth open and swallow a multitude of people, and the sea rose above the fortications and rushed towards him an others. He further documented that the family with which he had planned to have dinner, sunk into the earth on the first convulsion and then into the sea, along with his friend and his wife and family. "Had I been there", he reported, "I would have been been lost".

The earthquake caused the entire western end of the town, about two thirds of the city, to sink into the Caribbean Sea along with many inhabitants. The account above is taken from a series of 2 letters that were written by Port Royal's Rector, who survived the earthquake. His account describes the event as it happened and the disaster it caused across the island over the ensuing days. He recalls the stench of the bodies as they began rotting; dogs eating the heads of some of those who were swallowed by the earthquake leaving only their heads exposed; and the destruction across the island and the diseases that followed.

The 2 letters were published in a newspaper in England, the content of which can be read here .

For an archaelogical reconstruction of what Port Royal looked like before and after: .

The Creation of Kingston

Two weeks after the earthquake, the government bought 200 acres of land from Sir William Beeston to build a town called Kingston for the resettlement of the Port Royal earthquake victims. Temporary huts were to be constructed with a plan to eventually sell plots on the condition that a home would be built within three years.

Kingston's Original Boundary

Kingston's Original Boundary

The purchased land was called Colonel Barry's Hog Crawle, named after its original owner, Colonel Samuel Barry who came into its possession in 1664. He later sold it to Sir William Beeston, who the government approached for its purchase. William Beeston who later became Governor of the island, was away from the island at the time so the transaction totaling £1000, was handled by his lawyer. The plans for Kingston were developed by John Goffe, a surveyor, and submitted to the Assembly for approval.

Goffe's design for the town of Kingston was a grid system consisting of streets and lanes running perpendicular to each other. The boundaries of the town extended one mile from the southern harbor from Port Royal Street to the northern edge of North Street and half-mile across from East Street to West Street. King and Queen streets were the widest of the streets. They were both 66ft wide with King Street running north to south and Queen Street running across it from east to west giving the effect of dividing the town into four quadrants. A quadrangle was placed at the intersection of the streets to host a Parade Ground, military barracks and a church.

The street located one block north of the Parade Ground was named Beeston Street, a tribute to William Beeston, the person who sold it. And, one block south was Barry Street, a tribute to Colonel Samuel Barry, the original owner of the tract of land.


The French, led by Admiral Du Casse, launched a devastating attack on Port Royal. They plundered the town and inflicted heavy casualties. The attack was a result of longstanding tensions between France and England during the Nine Years' War. The raid left Port Royal in ruins.

Following the attack on Port Royal, the French targeted, St. Jago de la Vega (now Spanish Town), the island's administrative capital. They briefly captured the town but were soon repelled by English forces.

After the 1692 earthquake, which destroyed Port Royal, and left the island vulnerable to attack, there was concern that the French could attack the Liguanea Plain from the east. It was thought that they could avoid the guns of Port Royal which were slowly being rebuilt, and land troops to the east on the coastline of St Thomas.

In 1694, the French used this exact method to attack. The English, however, were forewarned by a Capt. Elliott who escaped by canoe from St. Domingue (what is now the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic) where he had been imprisoned by the French. The English braced themselves by refortifying Port Royal and a fort that stood where Rockfort now stands. Some three thousand French troops, led by Admiral Du Casse, anchored at Cow Bay, just north of the mouth of the Yallahs River and began to ravage the eastern parishes before regrouping and heading to Clarendon. A mere 250 Jamaican militia met them at Carlisle Bay and turned them back in an impressive display of bravery. The French, lost close to seven hundred men. Clarendon was saved from the fate of the eastern parishes which had suffered severe property damage, and many lives were spared because the Jamaican inhabitants had removed themselves from that area prior to the arrival of the French.


The 1692 Port Royal Earthquake

By the 18th century, Jamaica was responsible for producing approximately 20% of the global sugar supply but its best years were yet to come. Jamaica's sugar production reached its apogee in the 18th century, dominating the local economy and depending increasingly on the slave trade as a source of cheap labor. Many owners of the major plantations lived in England and entrusted their operations to appointed overseers. Small landowners had it more diffcult, rising production costs cut into profits. Many of these smaller landowners, diversified into coffee, cotton, and indigo production. By the late 18th century coffee rivaled sugar as an export crop. Jamaica's slave population continued to rise, and the practice of slavery creates enormous economic bounty for the English, at terrible cost to the enslaved. Civil unrest increased as the enslaved people continued to be subjected to atrocities. The possibility of invasion from France and Spain remained a constant threat.