Pirates and War

1700-1741: A History with Pirates Protects Jamaica from France and Spain

The British settlers held tightly to their control of Jamaica in the early 1700s, despite any political or physical obstacles in their way. The following decades would offer little more peace for Jamaica's growing population.

Spanish Succession

Though the death of Spain's King Charles II in 1700 and the subsequent ascension of Louis XIV's grandson Philip of Anjou to the Spanish crown did not directly effect Jamaica, the War of Spanish Succession caused a great deal of unrest. France and Spain were now united, and England and the Netherlands joined forces to declare war against them in 1702.

England sent a fleet led by Vice-Admiral John Benbow to the Caribbean shortly before the war ended. The fleet was based in Port Royal to defend Jamaica, and France sent its own fleet in response. The French fleet, led by the Count de Château-Renault, sought port on Hispaniola.

Château-Renault did not stay on Hispaniola long, and shortly thereafter Benbow went on an ill-fated journey to capture du Casse - the Frenchman who had fought against Jamaica earlier - and his squadron, located off the coast of Colombia. Benbow died of wounds sustained during the fight and was buried in the Kingston Parish Church, where travelers can still see his tomb. This fight is particularly historic because of Benbow's incredible determination, pressing on and commanding the fight despite a leg shattered by chain shot.

The Treaty of Utrecht ended the war, and Britain received the contract to supply slaves to Spanish settlements in the Caribbean region, a contract previously held by the French. This became a great benefit for Jamaica, since the island became the trade distribution center.

Unrest Continued

The Assembly in control of Jamaica's government had continued to gain power, and by 1710 disorder had reached riot status. Speaker of the House Peter Beckford was threatened with drawn swords during an Assembly meeting. His shouts for help brought Governor Sir Thomas Handasyde, Beckford's father, and guards to the chamber.

Meanwhile, squabbles over trade and colonies, particularly Belize, caused war to break out once again between Britain and Spain in 1718. The Treaty of Madrid ended this war three years later. Jamaica, however, was less troubled by this outside conflict than by its own inner conflict.

A particularly devastating hurricane passed through Kingston Harbour in August 1722, leaving less than one-fifth of the ships afloat in the harbor. The Maroons were also causing trouble on the island, and piracy was again growing in the region, despite a 1717 proclamation offering the King's Pardon to any pirate who turned himself in. Though a few did turn themselves in, many reestablished their old trade after doing so.

Piracy Again

This was the era of some of the most famous pirates in history, including Blackbeard and Calico Jack. Blackbeard, born Edward Teach, may have been born in Jamaica, but claims to his birth are also made in Bristol, England and in Carolina. Wherever he was born, this feared pirate is said to have led attacks with burning matches woven into his beard.

Captain Charles Vane, another notorious pirate, was captured, brought to Jamaica, and hung at Gallows Point. Jack Rackham, known as "Calico Jack," began his career as a part of Vane's crew and became more famed than Vane.

Calico Jack was also caught off the coast of Jamaica while staying too near the island after attacks on the coast in 1720. His presence near Ocho Rios was announced to the governor, Sir Nicholas Lawes, who sent Captain Barnet to capture Calico Jack.

The pirate had anchored in Negril Bay and was enjoying a rum punch party when Barnet tracked him down. He was quickly captured, and the Court of Vice Admiralty in Spanish Town was home to the trial. The trial revealed that two of Jack's most fearsome crew members were actually women disguised as men.

Both Anne Bonney and Mary Read were condemned to death. Though Bonney seems to have escaped, Read died of fever in prison. Calico Jack was also executed, and his body was displayed in an iron frame as warning to other pirates on a small islet off of Port Royal - one which is known as Rackham's Cay to this day.

Maroons Settled

For 76 years the Maroons and British fought against one another. Some 44 Acts of the Assembly were passed against the Maroons. However, none of this could stop these fierce fighters.

In some of Jamaica's least hospitable climates, the Maroons developed a unique method of fighting, which often baffled British troops. The Maroons, who knew the lands far better than their attackers, often employed surprise ambushes in forests and quickly settled battles with their extremely accurate shooting. If a battle did not quickly come to a victorious end, the Maroons easily dropped back into the forests and regrouped for another surprise attack.

Lookouts were always on the watch, and an abeng, a horn made from a cow's horn, was usually used as a signal. Some claim that the Maroons even had distinct personal "name" calls on the horn.

The tropical climate was also on the Maroons' side. British soldiers had little knowledge of the terrain and suffered in the harsh climate. Even the settlers who had grown accustomed to Jamaica's climate did not fare much better in clashes with these guerrillas.

Attacks escalated, particularly after the success of a 1734 British attack on Nanny Town in the east, led by Captain Stoddard. The attack was so successful, in fact, that the village was never re-settled, so thorough was its destruction. However, the Assembly became alarmed in 1738 and sent Colonel Guthrie to negotiate peace with Cudjoe, the Maroon leader.

Cudjoe was suspicious of Guthrie, and approached with all precautions against a surprise attack. However, a peace treaty was agreed to in 1739, and Cudjoe and Guthrie exchanged hats as a show of friendship. The tree under which the agreement was made has since been known as Cudjoe's Tree.

The treaty allowed the Maroons freedom within a 600 hectare portion of land between Trelawny Town and the Cockpits, and allowed the hunting of pigs outside of a three mile limit around towns. The Maroons, in turn, helped to capture and return escaped slaves for a payment. Two white men appointed by the Governor stayed with the Maroons to help maintain friendly relations between the two groups.

Quao, the chief of the eastern Maroons, agreed to a similar treaty three years later. This ended the war, and for more than 50 years there was peace between the British and the Maroons.

Island Improvements

Island Governor Sir Nicholas Lawes did several important things for Jamaica. He was an advocate of the printing press and presided over the island when Robert Baldwin set up Jamaica's first printing press in Kingston. This 1717 development was responsible for a pamphlet entitled "The Tryals of Captain John Rackham and other Pirates," now preserved in the Public Record Office in London, England.

Lawes also imported coffee from Hispaniola for use on his own plantation. The Temple Hill estate began growing this important plant in 1728. However, Lawes' political career ended before his most important political triumph could be achieved: passing the Revenue Act.

The Act was passed in 1729 under Governor Robert Hunter. Its terms stated that an annual sum of £8000 would be sent to the Crown. In return, the King would approve all laws passed on the island, further securing the constitutional rights of Jamaica.

The number of creole (Jamaican-born) proprietors grew in various industries, including sugar production, cattle breeding, log-wood, and coffee cultivation. Kingston also became a much more important city, and the rich began looking for high class entertainments, including theater.

The general affluence of the islanders during this period began to grow. Jamaica had been nursed through tough developmental times and was beginning to be a profitable British colony, a feat that the Spanish never achieved.


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