Jamaica Fiwi Roots

The Settlement of the Africans in Jamaica

The first blacks of African ancestry, were brought to Jamaica in 1517 by the Spanish. They did not come directly from Africa but were either Africans who had already been enslaved in Spain, or the descendants of Africans who were enslaved in Spain. The Spanish began bringing Africans to their colonies after King Ferdinand, in 1501, authorized the governor of Hispaniola to import slaves of sub-Saharan African descent provided that they were born in Spain.

An excerpt of the letter from the Spanish Monarchs to The Governor of Hispaniola, follows:

Because with great care we have procured the conversion of the Indians to our Holy Catholic Faith, and furthermore, if there are still people there who are doubtful of the faith in their own conversions, it would be a hindrance [to them], and therefore we will not permit, nor allow to go there [to the Americas] Moors nor Jews nor heretics nor reconciled heretics, nor persons who are recently converted to our faith, except if they are black slaves, or other slaves, that have been born under the dominion of our natural Christian subjects.

The first Africans to arrive in Jamaica, that were brought directly from Africa, arrived the following year in 1518. King Charles I who succeeded Ferdinand, signed a consent allowing an annual supply of 4,000 African slaves to enter Hispaniola, Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. This decision to ship Africans, directly to the New World, fundamentally changed the nature and scale of the practice. By 1611, Jamaica had a population of approximately 558 enslaved Africans, about half the population of Spanish settlers.

The Maroon Population

In Jamaica today, there are several locations across the island, such as Maroon Town and Accompong, that is home to Maroons. The lands they live on, were given to them by the British government "to enjoy and possess for themselves and posterity forever" (in the language of the treaty), at the end of the Maroon-British wars in the 1700s. The Maroons today, that occupy the lands that were given to them, are direct descendants of the enslaved Africans that were brought to Jamaica by the Spanish, five centuries ago.

In 1530, slaves in Mexico, Hispaniola and Panama revolted. Many fled to create independent colonies. The Spanish called these free slaves "Maroons," a word derived from "Cimarron," which means "fierce" or "unruly". Similarly, slaves in Jamaica escaped from the rule of their Spanish overlords to create camps in the mountainous interior of the island. The camps eventually became small settlements as more runaways joined, with the settlements evolving into a small communities of men, women and children living in relative freedom. The numbers were initially very small, with an estimated 107 free blacks in 1611.

The Arrival of the British

The Spanish ruled Jamaica for over a century and a half. When the British arrived in 1655, the Maroons chose to join the Spanish in fighting the British. Their knowledge of the mountainous interior of the island enabled them to mount an effective resistance that lasted five years with the British making little progress in securing the island.

There were four main Maroon polinks, or mountain farms, during the first ten years of English occupation. The main one was located in Lluidas Vale (also known as Worthy Park today), was led by a maroon named Juan Lubolo, later known to the English as Juan de Bolas. The British were able to persuade de Bolas to switch sides and fight against the Spanish and the remaining Maroons from the other polinks. The tide changed after that for the British. With the help of de Bolas they finally pushed the last of the Spanish, who fled to Cuba, off the island in 1660.

Juan de Bolas and his polink were rewarded for their alliance by the official recognition of their freedom and a grant of land, but the conflicts with the remaining factions of Maroons continued for another 80 years. Juan de Bolas met his death at the hands of rival Maroons. The number of Maroons grew during these years, as more slaves brought by the British ran away and joined their ranks.

The Africans under British Rule

Between the period of 1655, when Jamaica fell under British rule, to 1809, when the slave trade was abolished, an estimated 1,000,000 Africans were transported to the island, with ~200,000 re-exported elsewhere. Jamaica had become the single largest importer of African slave labor in the Americas. The Royal African Company was formed in 1672 with a monopoly on the British slave trade, and from that time, Jamaica became one of the world’s busiest slave market. Enslaved Africans soon outnumbered Europeans 5 to 1.

Jamaica's Slave Trade 1655 to 1809

The table below shows the number of slaves that were transported directly from Africa to Jamaica from 1655 to 1809 when the transatlantic trade was abolished. As the table shows, there was a high mortality rate, with ~16% of those who embarked dying en route.

Data source: Slave Voyages Database - Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade - Estimates

1655 - 1675 22,203 16,999
1676 - 1700 94,436 71,785
1701 - 1725 161,644 134,481
1726 - 1750 225,537 185,760
1751 - 1775 272,038 219,137
1776 - 1800 330,816 298,752
1801 - 1809 75,952 67,611
Totals 1,182,626 994,525
the slave trade route

Developed from raw data pulled from the Slave Voyages Database. Percentages are rounded, so >100 for the distribution of arrived.

Breakdown of Embarkation Regions in Jamaica's Slave Trade 1655 to 1809

The table below shows the same data broken down by the regions in Africa where the slaves embarked for the journey to Jamaica. Additional row have been added to show the mortality rate by region of embarkation and the final distribution of the origins of those who made it.

Data source: Slave Voyages Database - Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade - Estimates

and off-shore Atlantic
Sierra Leone Windward Coast Gold Coast Bight of Benin Bight of Biafra West Central
Africa and St. Helena
Africa and Indian ocean islands
1651 - 1675 0 0 0 913 2,824 9,489 726 8,250 22,202
1676 - 1700 7,850 965 0 9,592 30,109 21,802 24,055 63 94,436
1701 - 1725 7,705 1,690 681 71,310 54,178 2,819 20,993 2,269 161,645
1726 - 1750 6,415 5,044 3,930 71,340 17,079 63,407 58,322 0 225,537
1751 - 1775 5,169 14,493 29,257 82,986 29,979 85,551 24,604 0 272,039
1776 - 1800 4,007 15,211 12,404 85,510 22,385 134,413 56,886 0 330,816
1801 - 1809 0 1,636 2,617 15,476 3,651 36,799 15,772 0 75,951
Embarked 31,146 39,039 48,889 337,127 160,205 354,280 201,358 10,582 1,182,626
Deaths 12% 18% 16%14% 21%17%13% 26% 16%
Arrived 27,325 32,177 41,055289,009126,296294,812176,008 7,847 16%
Origin of Arrived 3% 3% 4%29% 13%30%18% 1% 100%

Ratio of Africans to Whites during the Plantation Era

The ratio of blacks to white was an ongoing concern in Jamaica throughout the 17th to early-19th centuries, owing to a lack of white laborers and the number of absentee owners. By 1763, the ratio of blacks to whites had grown to 30 blacks to every 1 white person.

Only a third of Jamaican planters were resident on the island in contrast to Barbados, a much smaller island, where two-thirds of its planters resided locally. The imbalance of whites to blacks in Jamaica led to the creation of deficiency laws designed to maintain sufficient number of whites on each plantation relative to the number of blacks. The law established target ratios for blacks to whites with financial penalties if broken. A 1703 statute stipulated a ratio of one white person for every ten slaves, up to the first twenty slaves, and one for each twenty slaves thereafter.

The ratio was never acheived.

These numbers were never achieved. The plantation owners found it easier to pay the fines rather than maintain compliance, relegating the law to a type of taxation. As the years progressed, the taxes anticipated from the deficiency laws figured prominently in Government's projected revenue estimates. In 1780, the parish of Westmoreland collected £1,722.05 as a deficiency tax from plantations with insufficient whites; 237 whites were supervising 7,839 slaves on 49 estates, a ratio of 1 white to 33 slaves. A shortfall of 24 whites.

African Names

It was observed by Edward Long that... "Many of the plantation Blacks called their children by the African name for the day of the week on which they are born; and these names are of two genders".

DayMale NameFemale Name

Data source: Vol II of History of Jamaica (with Reflections on its Situations, Settlements, Inhabitants, Climate, Products, Commerce, Laws and Government), by Edward Long (first published in 1774)


   The Origins and Evolution of Obeah in Jamaica: A Journey of Resistance and Adaptation  

A note about The History of Jamaica and its author, Edward Long

Edward Long went to Jamaica in 1757 when he became private secretary to his brother-in-law, Henry Moore, who was Lieutenant Governor of the Island and became a leading member of the Jamaican government.

His book, The History of Jamaica is a 1774 commentary on Jamaica, written as a study of the island's natural history, geography, history and politics. It should be noted that while it provides a valuable contempraneous and academic view of the island and life at that time, it is largely a polemic in support of the continued used of enslaved labor on plantations. His biases on the issues of race permeates.

Long profited from the enslavement and forced labor of black Africans on his plantation, at Lucky Valley in the parish of Clarendon, one of the family's properties in Jamaica. His family had been involved in Jamaica since the 1660s, and was long connected to the slave trade. He had a strong view that the blacks were an inferior race to that of the white population, so his writings should be approached with that understanding. As calls for abolition grew later in the eighteenth century, Long was a staunch advocate for its continuation.