Independence of Jamaica

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Front page of The Daily Gleaner announcing Jamaican independence.

The Independence of Jamaica refers to the series of events which led to and the declaration of the Colony of Jamaica's independence from the United Kingdom on August 6, 1962. The aforementioned event is celebrated on the 1st Monday of August as National Day in Jamaica.


Indigenous origins[edit]

The Caribbean island now known as Jamaica was first settled by the Arawak and Taino peoples, who originated in neighboring South America.[1] Italian explorer Christopher Columbus made landfall on Jamaica in 1494 during his second voyage to the New World,[2] claiming the island for Spain. Upon his arrival, over two hundred villages, largely located on the south coast, had been established, and were being ruled by caciques, or "chiefs of villages".

Spanish rule[edit]

Main article: Spanish Jamaica

The Spanish Empire began its official governance of Jamaica in 1509, with formal occupation of the island by conquistador Juan de Esquivel and his men. The Spaniards enslaved many of the native people, overworking and harming them to the point that many had perished within fifty years of European arrival. Subsequently, the lack of indigenous opportunity for labor was mended with the arrival of African slaves.[2] Disappointed in the lack of gold on the isle, the Spanish mainly used Jamaica as a military base to supply colonising efforts in the mainland Americas.[3]

British invasion and annexation[edit]

After 146 years of Spanish rule, a substantial group of British sailors and soldiers sailed into Kingston Harbor on May 10, 1655, in the midst of the Anglo-Spanish War.[4] The Englishmen, who had set their sights on Jamaica after a disastrous defeat in an earlier attempt to take the island of Hispaniola, marched toward Villa de la Vega, the administrative center of the island. Spanish forces surrendered without incident on May 11, many of them fleeing to Spanish Cuba or the northern portion of the island.[2]

British jurisdiction over the island quickly came into fruition, with the newly dubbed Spanish Town named the capitol and home of a House of Assembly, Jamaica's directly elected legislature.[5]

Rebellions and brewing nationalism[edit]

Jamaican Maroons[edit]

Upon falling under British ownership, many formerly Spanish slaves fled into the mountainous and forested regions of the colony to join the ranks of surviving Taino villages. As interracial marriage became extremely prevalent, the two combined groups underwent cultural assimilation. The escaped slaves and their descendants, known as the Jamaican Maroons, were the source of many disturbances in the colony, raiding plantations and occupying parts of the island's interior.[6] Imported African slaves would frequently escape to established Maroon territory, known as Cockpit Country. Over the ensuing seventy-six years of British governance, skirmishes between Maroon warriors and the British Army grew increasingly common, along with rebellions by enslaved Blacks.

These insecurities culminated in 1728, when the First Maroon War kicked off between the English and Maroons. Largely owing to the easily defendable, dense forest of Cockpit Country, the British were unsuccessful in defeating the Maroons.[6] Following negotiations, the Maroons were granted semi-autonomy within their five towns, living under a British supervisor and native leader.

In 1795, building tensions between the Trelawney Town Maroons and the British Empire erupted in the form of the Second Maroon War. The conflict ended in a less favourable manner than the first did for the Maroons, with a bloody stalemate reigning over the island for five months. Following the killings of plantation owners and their families and the release of slaves by the Maroons, Major-General George Walpole had the British trap the Maroons in Trelawney Town via the use of armed posts and bloodhounds, pushing them to accept defeat in early January of 1796. Fearing British aggression, the Maroons only accepted open discussions in March. This delay was used as a pretext to have the strong majority of the Trelawney Maroons deported to Nova Scotia. These were later moved to Sierra Leone.[7]

Political activism[edit]

Slavery was abolished in the British Empire by an act of Parliament in 1834.[8] Following a period of intense debate, the native and African populace of Jamaica was granted the right to vote; as the 19th century continued the government allowed some to hold public office. Despite these accomplishments, the elitist white members of Jamaican society still continued to hold power.

With these newfound rights came outspoken native figures, most notably Marcus Garvey, a labor leader and advocate of Black nationalism. Garvey, rather than advocate independence of Jamaica and other colonies, promoted the Back-to-Africa movement, which called for those of African descent to return to the homelands of their ancestors.[9] Garvey, to no avail, pleaded with the colonial government to improve living conditions for indigenous peoples in the West Indies.

Upon returning from international travels, he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League in 1914, which promoted black rights both in Jamaica and abroad.[10] Garvey served a five year prison sentence at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary based on allegations of defrauding investors in the league, following which he was deported to Jamaica in November 1927, after having his sentence commuted by President Calvin Coolidge. After returning to his place of birth, Garvey tried and failed to be elected into public office. The latter defeat is attributed to his followers lacking the proper voter qualifications. Despite these shortcomings, Marcus Garvey is regarded as a national hero in present day Jamaica.[11] The spike of nationalist sentiment in Colonial Jamaica is primarily attributed to the British West Indian labour unrest of 1934–39, which protested the inequalities of wealth between native and British residents of the British West Indies. Through these popular opinions rose Alexander Bustamante to prominence, an eccentric Caucasian native-born moneylender[12] who founded the trade union center Bustamante Industrial. Bustamante advocated autonomy of the island, and a leveler balance of power. He captured the attention and admiration of many black Jamaican youth with his passionate speeches on behalf of the Jamaican worker. After a waterfront protest in September 1940, he was arrested by colonial authorities and remained incarcerated for the better part of two years.[13]

As Bustamante Industrial gained support, a cousin of Alexander Bustamante's,[12] Norman Manley, founded the People's National Party (PNP), a democratic socialist movement which also advocated trade unions. Although Bustamante was originally a founding member of the PNP, he resigned from his position there in 1939, citing its socialist tendencies as "too radical."

In July 1943, Bustamante launched the Jamaican Labour Party (JLP), which opponents brushed aside as a political label of Bustamante Industrial. In the following election, the JLP defeated the PNP with an 18 point lead over the latter in the House of Representatives.[14]

The following year, the JLP-ruled government launched a new constitution that granted universal adult suffrage, undoing the high voter eligibility standards put in place by British leaders. The new constitution, which was made official on November 20, 1944, put in place a two-chamber legislature and organised an Executive Council made up of ten members of the legislature and chaired by the newly minted position of Premier, the head of government. A checks and balances system was also established for this council as a precaution.[15]

Path to independence, 1945–1962[edit]

As World War II came to a close, a sweeping movement of decolonisation overtook the world. At this time, the British Government and local politicians began a long transition of converting the Caribbean island from a crown colony into an independent state. The political climate of the socially prospering colony was primarily a contest between the PNP and JLP, with the houses of legislature switching hands between the two throughout the 1950s.[14]

After Norman Manley was elected Chief Minister in 1955, he sped up the process of decolonisation via several constitutional amendments. These amendments allowed for greater self-government and established the Minister's administration as a cabinet under a premier.[16]

Under Manley, Jamaica entered the West Indies Federation, a political union of colonised Caribbean entities that, if realised, would have united ten British territories into a single, independent state. Jamaican's participation in the Federation was unpopular, and the results of a referendum held by Premier Manley cemented the colony's withdrawal from the union in 1962. The West Indies Federation collapsed later that year following the departure of Trinidad and Tobago.[17]


In the elections of 1962, the JLP defeated the PNP, resulting in the ascension of Alexander Bustamante to the premiership in April of that year. On August 6, 1962, the Colony of Jamaica became an independent country, the Union Jack being ceremoniously lowered and replaced by the Jamaican flag throughout the country. Princess Margaret opened the first session of the Parliament of Jamaica on behalf of her sister.[18]


Main article: Jamaica

Bustamante subsequently became the first Prime Minister of Jamaica. The island country joined the Commonwealth of Nations, an organisation of ex-British territories.[19] Jamaica continues to be a Commonwealth realm, with the British Monarch as Queen of Jamaica and head of state.

Jamaica spent its first ten years of autonomy under conservative governments, with its economy undergoing continuous growth over that time.[20] As it had been throughout much of its history, the independent Jamaica was once again plagued by issues of class inequality. After the global economy underwent deterioration, the leftist PNP was once again put into power in the 1972 elections. Uncertain economic conditions troubled the country well into the 1980s.

Michael Manley, the son of Norman Manley, who led what was largely the opposition party throughout the development of independent Jamaica, went on to become the fourth Prime Minister of Jamaica and maintained the People's National Party's status as one of two major political factions of the country.[21]

Legacy of Jamaica as a colony[edit]

While independence is widely celebrated within Jamaican society, it has become a subject of debate. In 2011, a survey showed that approximately 60% of Jamaicans would push to once again become a British territory after citing years of social and fiscal mismanagement in the country.[22]


  1. ^ "The Taino of Jamaica (Jamaica)". 1 April 2001. Retrieved 2009-07-04. 
  2. ^ a b c "JAMAICAN HISTORY I". Discover Jamaica. Retrieved 23 August 2013. 
  3. ^ "Brief History of Jamaica". Retrieved 23 August 2013. 
  4. ^ "The Western Design, 1655". 17 May 2010. British Civil Wars. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  5. ^ "History of Jamaica's Legislature". 8 October 2008. Ja-Pairlament. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  6. ^ a b "The maroons of Jamaica". DiscoveringBristol. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  7. ^ "Notes on the Second Maroon War". Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  8. ^ "Emancipation". The National Archives. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  9. ^ "Historian situates 'back-to-Africa' movements in broad context". 1 March 2006. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  10. ^ "Marcus Garvey". BBC. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  11. ^ "Marcus Garvey 1887-1940". UNIA-ACL. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  12. ^ a b "The Early Years". 2005. BBC. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  13. ^ "Champion of the Worker". 2005. BBC. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  14. ^ a b "The Jamaican Labour Party (JLP)". 2005. BBC. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  15. ^ "History this week:Constitutional Developments in British Guiana and Jamaica between 1890 and 1945 (Part 3)". 13 May 2010. StabroekNews. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  16. ^ "Jamaica: Self-government". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  17. ^ "The West Indies Federation". 2011. CARICOM. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  18. ^ "A Special Gleaner Feature on Pieces of the Past". 2001. Jamaica-Gleaner. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  19. ^ "Who we are". Commonwealth Secretariat. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  20. ^ "Leaders since 1962". This is Jamaica. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  21. ^ "Rt. Hon. Michael Manley". Michael Manley Foundation. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  22. ^ Wallace, Kenyon (29 June 2011). "Most residents think Jamaica ‘better off as a British colony,’ poll suggests". Toronto: The Star. Retrieved 17 December 2013.