American Revolution

1765-1783: Jamaica Takes Part in History During the American Revolution

While most residents of the U.S. are well versed in the historic events leading up to the American Revolutionary War, many may not know how these actions impacted the other British colonies. Both British and U.S. actions made a great impact on the Caribbean islands, including Jamaica.


Inciting Riot

Britain passed a number of acts that the colonies found unsavory. In the North American colonies the Sugar Act stopped the sugar trade with French islands and required that sugar be bought from British producers. But it was the Stamp Act that truly struck a wrong note with the colonies.

The Stamp Act required that all official documents, from deeds to receipts for money, and many other legal transactions, be written on special stamped paper that required payment of a tax. Many of the islands quietly accepted this taxation, but St. Kitts, Nevis, and the North American colonies resisted. Their rebellions caused the British crown to repeal the act.

The North American colonies shared this resentment toward the crown, but took bigger actions against these new rules. Though these colonies were unruly, Jamaica's House of Assembly wrote a petition to the King justifying the action of the American colonies, and insisted that they be allowed to make their own laws. However, when the North American colonies continued their resentment toward the crown and eventually rebelled, the Caribbean colonies were unsympathetic.

Jamaica's Worries at Home

France and Spain quickly saw the war as an opportunity for revenge against Britain, and Jamaica became nervous, as did many of the island colonies during this time. Jamaican settlers were also unnerved by the fact that their slaves now outnumbered them by nearly 15 to one.

In 1775, the population of Jamaica was 12,737 white settlers to 200,000 African slaves. This imbalance caused the Assembly to pass a bill restricting the importation of slaves to the island. However, England denied this bill, believing the slave trade too valuable to be discouraged.

Another slave uprising was caught just two years later before it could be achieved, but the conspiracy was so widespread in both Hanover and Westmoreland that Jamaicans became extremely alarmed. A convoy of ships bound for England was even detained until the Navy could help the islanders restore peace. Even so, 30 leaders of the uprising were executed.

Three Fingered Jack

This was not the only uprising Jamaica had to worry about. Bandit Jack Mansong, also called "Three Fingered Jack" is one of the best known folk heroes of the time. He was injured in a fight at Scott's Hall with a Maroon named Quashie, and thus lost two fingers. Despite his leadership of an unsuccessful rebellion at his home plantation, Jack escaped to the mountains and terrorized the island.
His murders and robberies are legendary, as are his looks. Said to be more than 2 meters - about 6 and a half feet - tall, he was also very strong. He carried with him a sword, musket, and a small obeah bag, which was said to make him invulnerable. But a reward of £300 was levied against him and his end came when he fought against Quashie a second time. This Maroon and his two friends killed the famous vagabond.

More Trouble With Murder

It was at this time that the Maroons themselves were becoming something of a concern on Jamaica. Their treaty with the British required that they hand over for trial and punishment any who committed murder. However, a Maroon guilty of two murders in Old Harbour was nearly the cause of a mutiny among the Maroons for the treatment he was given by the British.
Another story unique to Jamaica is the one of Lewis Hutchinson. The owner of Edinburgh Castle in St. Ann, Hutchinson was found to have killed many travelers passing by the area. He disposed of them in a deep sinkhole on the property, which has been called Hutchinson's Hole ever since. He was hanged in Spanish Town for his gruesome crimes.

War on the Caribbean Front

With France joining the American Revolution against England in 1778, the war quickly shifted to a Caribbean front, and the arrival of a French fleet in St. Domingue on Hispaniola in 1779 turned Jamaica upside down with fears of a French invasion.

The later-famous Horatio Nelson was then stationed in Jamaica, waiting for his new command, the Hinchinbrooke, to arrive. He was charged with the batteries at Fort Charles in Port Royal, despite his young age. (He wasn't even 21 years old yet). Since he was a Naval leader, he was not accustomed to commanding on land. But Nelson led 500 men, and thousands more were deployed throughout the colony at any and every fort.

The platform at Fort Charles is now called Nelson's Quarterdeck, because it was there that he waited for the first signs of the French fleet. However, the French never invaded Jamaica, and the Count d'Estaing and his fleet sailed to North America. Jamaica also received naval reinforcements at this time.

Nelson's command arrived the following year, and he departed on a mission for the Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica, Colonel John Dalling. His task was to take Fort San Juan, and thus Lake Nicaragua, which flows to the Caribbean and the Pacific, out of Spanish hands.

Though his mission began well, fever broke out among his troops and more than two-thirds died. Nelson also caught the fever and had to be carried into Port Royal on a cot, where he was nursed back to health.

A New Command

Admiral George Rodney began commanding the fleet in 1780, and at about the same time the French came under control of the Rear-Admiral de Guichen. Shortly afterward the French troops returned to Europe, Spanish troops withdrew to Havana, and Rodney led the British troops to reinforce the fleet outside the Caribbean - as well as to avoid the Caribbean hurricane season.

This removal of the troops proved to be a wise precaution, as Jamaica and Barbados both felt the force of an extremely destructive hurricane - one of the worst in Jamaica's history. Rivers changed courses, lakes were formed, and roads and crops were destroyed. Jamaica suffered famine and epidemics in the aftermath of this destructive storm, and would be faced with another hurricane less than a year later.

During 1781 Rodney also captured the Dutch island of St. Eustatius, often known as Statia. However, French troops under de Grasse attacked and captured Tobago, and also made a move for Statia. The island fell to the French fleet commanded by de Bouillé.

War Comes to a Close

Though the war was coming to an end in the North American colonies, battles still raged across the Caribbean, and Britain retained only three of its colonies. Commander de Grasse was determined to join with the Spanish to take Jamaica.

Few forces remained to protect Jamaica, but Rodney stayed off the coast of St. Lucia keeping watch on the French and Spanish. When the French shipped out of Martinique, Rodney had no time to warn Jamaica. However, the battle was named for the small group of islets located between Dominica and Guadeloupe where Rodney scored a decisive victory against the French troops.

This battle is perhaps the best-known in Jamaica's history. News of Rodney's win was received with such relief and glee that a statue - and a temple to house it - were built to commemorate the occasion. Further, few plays or balls went by without mention of this great Naval victory.

The victory was so important to the war that it enabled Britain to negotiate favorable terms at the Treaty of Versailles, which was signed in 1783, formally ending the war. In the end, Britain only lost the island of Tobago in the war - a territory which they later regained.

Though the war was over, its results would be long-lasting, even in Jamaica. Both supplies and government were in scarce supply on the island in the years following the American Revolution.

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