English Control

1663-1700: The British in Jamaica Fight Maroons, France, and England

For nearly a century, history in Jamaica was dominated by troubles with pirates, the Maroons, and by political turbulence in England and Europe that ultimately affected the island. However, this period offered relative calm compared to the years following 1739.

In 1664, Sir Thomas Modyford was appointed to the Governorship of Jamaica. One of the most important contributions he made was promoting the cultivation of sugar. His emphasis on the development of sugar helped to turn Jamaica into a prosperous colony.

Political Beginnings

Even before Jamaica was officially ceded to the British in 1670, the English settlers made attempts at smoothing over relations with the Maroons. However, these 1663 gestures were rejected, and the settlers were harried by attacks from the Maroons throughout this period. Maroons were not the only harrowing attacks that the British faced on Jamaica.

Lord Windsor, D'Oyley's successor and Modyford's predecessor as island governor, used his ten-day stay in office to set the wheels in motion for the development of a representative government, bringing with him on the passage from England a declaration of British citizenship to all white settlers. An elected assembly would share control of Jamaica with a governor and his appointed council, all under the supervision of the British Crown. Any laws created by the government had to be approved by the king within two years, or they would no longer have force in the colony.

For more than 10 years, the Assembly in Jamaica grew more and more powerful, grasping for whatever control it could get, and the king did nothing about this. But, in 1677, the decision to check the assembly's power was made, and the king instituted the law created for Ireland called Poyning's Law. Now, instead of the island creating the laws and sending them to the king for approval, the king sent out the laws of the island for their approval.

The following year, the Earl of Carlisle brought with him 40 laws handed down by the king of England - including one granting the crown revenue in perpetuity. However, the assembly rejected all of these laws, and Carlisle's two most outspoken opponents, Jamaica's Chef Justice Samuel Long and Speaker of the House William Beeston, who was later knighted, were arrested and taken to England.

Long was summoned in front of the king in council but was able to argue for the island's cause so well that the constitutional government was reinstated on the island. This government remained in place and unharmed until 1866.

French Forces

A war between the French and British began in 1689, but its effects were not felt in Jamaica until much later, and England sent a ship to raid Martinique and other French islands in 1692, commanded by Sir Francis Wheeler. Though the attack fell apart, the effects were felt throughout the region. In fact, the Governor of French Hispaniola (now Haiti), Jean du Casse, waited until Wheeler left the region before he made his move on Jamaica.

Raiding parties were met with little resistance on Jamaica, but this was simply a precursor to the attack du Casse himself was planning. However, British Captain Elliott, who had been captured by the French, escaped from Hispaniola in a small canoe to warn Jamaica's governor, Sir William Beeston.

The attack force du Casse had gathered included more than 20 ships and 3,000 men, many of whom were buccaneers, as was du Casse himself. British King William III later rewarded Captain Elliott with a medal, a chain of gold, and money for his assistance and bravery.

Beeston knew he could not protect the whole coastline, so he declared martial law and brought what protection he could to the largest cities. Du Casse's fleet landed in 1694 at Port Morant, Cow Bay, and marched inland burning and destroying buildings, torturing, kidnapping, and murdering the island's residents.

Though du Casse sailed toward Port Royal, he landed at Carlisle Bay, with clear intentions of making his way across the land to Spanish Town. However, a militia formed of residents and slaves from Spanish Town met the French troops, and the French were forced to leave and return to Hispaniola.

While British control of the island remained intact, the island was certainly worse for the wear, with 100 killed or wounded, many plantations burnt, 50 sugar works destroyed, and about 1,300 slaves carried off. Much was looted from the Jamaicans' homes as well, though it's said that the French lost about 700 men. In 1697, the Treaty of Ryswick ended the fighting between the two islands, and the French claim to the western portion of Hispaniola was recognized by the Spanish.

Maroons on Their Own

The British and the Maroons had been at odds since the Spanish first left the island, and to this day their descendants still live in the western area of Jamaica known as Cockpit Country. However, the second group of Maroons lived closer to the East Coast in the Blue Mountains.

The name "Maroon" is probably a derivative of the Spanish "cimarrón," which means "wild" or "untamed." And although they originally were slaves released to take on the English invaders, a leader, Juan de Bolas, eventually left the Spanish and aided the British, tipping the scales in the fight. They have since become an integral part of Jamaica's history.

Jamaica's growing population actually improved the abilities of the Maroons to live outside the cities. Livestock was easy to steal by night, and runaway slaves easily joined their ranks. In an attempt to stop the troubles, an offer was made in 1663 for land and full freedom to any Maroon who turned himself in.

De Bolas and his troops were granted lands and freedom under these terms, and he was even commissioned as leader of an all-black militia, but he was one of the few. Although this cooled the tension between the Maroons and the British for a time, de Bolas was eventually ambushed and murdered by other Maroons, who disapproved of his choice.

In 1690, slaves in Clarendon escaped and joined the Maroons, who were at this time led by a man named Cudjoe. With the help of brothers Accompong and Johnny in the West and sub-chiefs Cuffee and Quao in the East, Cudjoe began a campaign known as the First Maroon War.

The British colonists worked their way through the end of the 17th century, but a few more trials awaited them in the earliest portions of the 18th century. The ascension of French King Louis XIV's grandson to the Spanish throne began the next century's tribulations.


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