Economic Trouble

1778-1793: Jamaica Makes its Own History Between Two Revolutions

Despite many setbacks, Jamaica continued to grow as an agricultural colony. However, its troubles in war were not yet over. The American Revolution spurred a revolution in France, and the effects of this second revolt were also felt in the Caribbean.


Tough Times

Jamaica, like many of the Caribbean islands, experienced tough times during the war. Much needed supplies from North America were no longer shipped to the British colonies, so Jamaica was forced to trade with Canada and Britain, getting fewer supplies with less frequency.

Hurricanes also caused a great deal of damage to Jamaica, with these strong storms hitting in 1780, 1781, 1784, 1785, and 1786. The destruction of crops each of these years caused famine, and by 1787 more than 15,000 slaves had died - mainly of starvation. The subsequent search for food to feed the labor force led to the importation of many new plants.

Agricultural Expansion

Plants were being imported throughout the years, but an important plant that landed during the American Revolution was ackee. Transplanted from West Africa, the slips were purchased from the captain of a slaver.

Mango was accidentally imported four years later in 1782. Admiral Lord Rodney captured a French government ship bound for French Caribbean islands and carrying mangoes. Rodney saw the value in the mango seeds and sent them to Jamaica for cultivation.

In 1793, during the French Revolution, British Captain William Bligh returned from a six year journey to Tahiti, where he had sought an alternative form of food for Jamaica's slaves. History had proven a need for better crop production. Despite a mutiny, he returned to the island with breadfruit, among other items. However, the slaves refused to eat breadfruit, and for half a century this food was given to pigs. Breadfruit is now a staple of Jamaican dining.

Bringing Back Trade

The American Revolution gave the new nation new status in regards to trade, as well. This meant that the previously favored position that Jamaica and other British islands had held in trade with the American mainland was no longer so favorable, and Britain was unwilling to negotiate similar trade agreements.

Conditions of trade were harsh. Exports of items including sugar, rum, molasses, coffee, and pimento were treated as though they were going to any other British colony. Imported goods, particularly flour, bread, grain, livestock, and wood could only be carried in on British ships. Meat and fish from the U.S. could not be imported at all.

Higher prices for importation from Canada, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and England were harsh on the British West Indies. However, prices eventually dropped on these imported goods. Fortunately, the governors of the West Indian islands, including Jamaica, were allowed to create rules as necessary to preserve their colonies. Jamaica's government made use of these provisions after a series of three hurricanes that devastated the island in the mid 1780s.

These were just a few of the events that took place between the close of the American Revolution in Caribbean waters and the outbreak of the French Revolution. In the Caribbean, the French Revolution found perhaps more support than the American Revolution had.

Back to Jamaica History Overview

History Resources, References, and Further Reading


Help us improve! We welcome your corrections and suggestions.