History of Jamaica: A Timeline

Jamaica is the third largest of the Caribbean islands, and the largest English-speaking island in the Caribbean Sea. Situated 90 miles south of Cuba, 600 miles south of Florida, USA, and 100 miles south-west of Haiti.

In pre-columbian times Jamaica was inhabited by an estimated 60,000 Arawak Indians. In 1494 Christopher Columbus "discovered" the island and claimed it at once for the King and Queen of Spain. In 1517 first Africans brought to Jamaica by the Spaniards. The British arrived in 1655, defeated the Spaniards and claimed the island for the King of England. 
By the late 17th and early 18th centuries the island was virtually divided. Colonial planters and their slaves inhabited and worked in the costal plains, while high up in the Blue Mountains there lived fugitive slaves, the free community of the Maroons.
More than 300 years later on August 6, 1962, Jamaica became an independent sovereign state and a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations. 


This timeline of Jamaican history takes you
from circa 1,000 BC - present.

Circa 1,000 BC

Original inhabitants believed to be Tainos - came to Jamaica from South America named the island Xaymaca "land of wood and water".

Only a few artifacts (examples of which are on display at the small museum at White Marl), and a few Spanish corruptions of place names (such as Ocho Rios) remain from this period.

May 4, 1494

Christopher Columbus arrived at the island of Jamaica on his second voyage. He had heard about the island from the Cubans who called it "the land of blessed gold" although Columbus found no gold.

He landed at St. Ann's Bay.

Columbus named the island Santiago (St. James) but this name didn't stick.

Few Spaniards settled here. Served as a supply base for conquering the American mainland.


Colombus' son Diego was appointed Governor of the Indies. Diego later appointed Juan de Esquivel, Governor of Jamaica.


First Spanish colonists came -- Governor Juan de Esquivel. First settled in the St. Ann’s Bay area.


First Spanish settlement was called Sevilla la Nueva or New Seville. Structures built included a fort, a fortified castle and a Catholic Church.

Later settlers moved to St. Jago de la Vega "St. James of the Plains" (the first capital of Jamaica).

A number of other towns were set up by the Spaniards across the island.

These included Ayala (Yallahs), Esquivel (Old Harbour), Guanaboa, Liguanea, Oristan (Bluefields) and Passage Fort.

Very few Spanish structures have survived but there are a number of areas including rivers such as the Rio Minho and the Rio Cobre which maintain their Spanish names.


Spain brought the first slaves to Jamaica.


Island attacked by French


Attacked by English under the leadership of Sir Anthony Shirley.


Less than half of the Taino population were alive. Exterminated by disease, slavery and war. Some committed suicide, presumably to escape slavery.


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May 10, 1655

Arrival of English -- Admiral Sir William Penn (father of the founder of Pennsylvania) and General Robert Venables led a successful attack on Jamaica.

English sailors and soldiers landed at Passage Fort, in Kingston harbour, and marched towards Spanish Town.

The Spanish fled the island to Cuba (some secretly stayed on the northside of the island) but not before freeing and arming their slaves.

Freed slaves later known as Maroons. They took to the hills and were a constant thorn in the side of the English.


Cromwell issued his famous proclamation in an effort to settle the island. Land was granted to British citizens who were willing to settle on the island. Approximately 1,600 immigrants took up the offer and settled around Port Morant.


Early British settlement relied on the buccaneers based in Port Royal to deter Spanish aggression.

Buccaneering began in Tortuga and Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic).

Within 15 years Port Royal became known as "the wealthiest and wickedest city in the world".

The buccaneers operated mainly from Port Royal and great wealth was brought to the island. The loot came by plundering Spanish ships which transported gold and silver from South America.


Although the Spaniards were driven out they never gave up hope of recapturing the island of Jamaica.

The Spanish force was defeated at the decisive battle at Rio Nuevo.



The British began full colonisation.

Although much of the Spanish capital, St. Jago de la Vega, was burned during the conquest, the English renamed it Spanish Town.

They also kept it as the island's capital. During this time Spanish Town was being rebuilt, Port Royal functioned as the capital.


Lord Windsor arrived as Governor of Jamaica.

He brought with him a Royal Proclamation which stated that all children born of English subjects in Jamaica should be regarded as free citizens of England.

In less than a year Lord Windsor retired from the Government and Sir Charles Lyttleton became Deputy Governor.


The first House of Assembly was called together. It consisted of twenty members elected by the people and met at Spanish Town where it passed 45 laws for the government of the colony.


British gained formal possession of Jamaica through the Treaty of Madrid.


Henry Morgan - greatest buccaneer captain of all time, knighted by king Charles II of England and was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica in 1673.

He died in 1688.


1,200 settlers from Suriname came to Jamaica and started sugar planting.

June 7, 1692

Port Royal destroyed by violent earthquake. More than half the town sank beneath the sea. Piracy was now dead in the West Indies.

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After this disaster, Kingston was founded across the harbour, one of the largest natural havens in the world.

At that time Kingston was a large private property and it was covered with trees and grass-pieces.

It rapidly became the major commercial centre of the island.


Duke of Portland arrived as Governor (the parish of Portland was named after him).


After two major Maroon Wars, signed treaties with the British. In the treaty of 1740 -- given land and rights as free men.

They were to stop fighting and recapture run-away slaves. Caused a rift because not all Maroons believed in returning recaptured slaves to plantations.


Easter Rebellion of 1760 led by Tacky. This was in St. Mary where they seized the town of Port Maria but they were eventually defeated.


Sir William Trelawny became Governor and died in 1772.

The parish of Trelawny was formed and named in his honour.

January 1, 1808

The Abolition Bill was passed.

This meant the trading in African slaves was declared to be "utterly abolished, prohibited and declared to be unlawful".


Simon Bolivar, the Liberator of Spanish Central America, came to Jamaica.

He came as a political refugee and remained for about seven months.

The Duke of Manchester entertained him and this was also the year of the Battle of Waterloo.


The Christmas Rebellion (also known as the Baptist War) of 1831 which began on the Kensington Estate in St. James, was led by Samuel ('Daddy') Sharpe - a Baptist Deacon. Sam Sharpe is now a National Hero.

This was the last great slave rebellion (involving as many as 60,000 of the island's 300,000 slave population).

It lasted for four months until the rebellion was crushed. The rebel leaders were hanged in Charles Square, Montego Bay, now known as Sam Sharpe Square.

August 1, 1834

The British made into law the Emancipation Act.

This act allowed all slaves under the age of 6 to be immediately freed but the older slaves remained bound to their former owners' service, albeit with a guarantee of rights under what was called the Apprenticeship System.

The huge drop in the labour force led desperate landowners to import 35,000 indentured servants from India and later China to fill this gap.

September 13, 1834

First issue of The Daily Gleaner was published. Click here to read more about Jamaica news.


Full freedom was granted to the slaves.


Calabar College in Kingston was opened.


Issuing of first Jamaican postage stamps.

October 1865

An uprising in St. Thomas, called the Morant Bay Rebellion, was led by Paul Bogle.

The Morant Bay Courthouse was stormed by Bogle and his men while it was in session. Many white people including the custos of the parish were killed.

The rebellion was quashed by the Governor, Edward John Eyre. Over 430 people were executed or shot and hundreds more flogged.

1,000 dwellings destroyed.

Two men, Paul Bogle and George William Gordon, were hanged. They are now National Heroes.

George Gordon was a prominent coloured legislator and was blamed for the trouble caused by the masses because he was sympathetic to the problems of the poor people.


First use of nickel coins in Jamaica. Click here to learn more about Jamaica currency.


Island's capital moved from Spanish Town to Kingston.

The port city had far outstripped the inland town in size and sophistication.

January 14, 1907

City of Kingston destroyed by earthquake.

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November 8, 1915

A contingent of 500 men were sent off to the Great War (World War I).

May 1, 1923

The parishes of Kingston and St. Andrew amalgamated.

Early 20th century

Marcus Garvey began his worldwide campaign for black nationalism just before the Great Depression. He was born in Jamaica, and was a publisher and journalist as well as a crusader. Click here to learn about other famous people from Jamaica.

Garvey traveled the world championing the Back-to-Africa movement. He founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and he also founded Jamaica's first modern political party in 1929, the People’s Political Party.

Marcus Garvey was declared one of Jamaica's first national heroes after his death and to this day retains a special place in the history of the island.

April 3, 1936

Inauguration of a radio-telephone service. Telephone service was now available between Jamaica and the United States, England, Canada, Mexico and Cuba.


Labour riots by sugar and dock workers around the island.

The first trade union - the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) - was formed by the strike's leader, Alexander Bustamante. Also, the creation of a political party, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) in 1943 was spawned by the Union.

Norman Manley, the island's foremost barrister, and a cousin of Bustamante formed the People's National Party (PNP) in 1938.

Manley led the country to Self Government and Bustamante later became the first Prime Minister of Independent Jamaica.

Jamaican nationalism was spurred by these events and the previous work done by Marcus Garvey in the 1920s and early 1930s.

December 1944

First general elections under Universal Adult Suffrage --- all males and females 21 years of age and over now had the right to vote. The JLP won and stayed in power until 1955 when the PNP came into power.

July 9, 1950

Commercial broadcasting started by the Jamaica Broadcasting Co. in Kingston.

It's now known as Radio Jamaica Ltd. (RJR).


Jamaica's 4x400 relay team of Arthur Wint, George Rhoden, Herbert McKenley and Leslie Laing won their event in world record time in the Olympics held in Helsinki, Finland.

Also, Rhoden captured the gold medal in the 400m - in world record time!


Jamaica and ten (10) other Caribbean countries formed the Federation of the West Indies.


Jamaica left the Federation.

August 6, 1962

The British Flag was lowered at midnight August 5, 1962 and the Jamaican Flag was hoisted for the first time. Click here to learn more about the Jamaica flag.

Jamaica was granted its independence from England.

Got its own constitution which sets out the laws by which the citizens are governed.

The constitution provides for the freedom, equality and justice for all who dwell in the country.

Sir Kenneth Blackburne was the last Colonial Governor and the first Governor General.

Afterwards, Sir Clifford Campbell became the first Jamaican Governor General. He was the former President of the Senate.

After Independence, the first two governments were formed by the JLP, which had opposed membership in the Federation.

Coventry, England twinned with Kingston, Jamaica.

September 18, 1962

Admitted membership to the United Nations.

May 1, 1966

Inauguration ceremony of Air Jamaica held at the Palisadoes Airport (now Norman Manley International Airport).

Also, departure of the first Air Jamaica flight to Miami.

February 29, 1972

The PNP came into power when Manley's son Michael Manley became Prime Minister of Jamaica. Held power until 1980.

January 3, 1975

Miss Carmen Paris was appointed Ambassador to France - first woman to be appointed Ambassador by Jamaica.

October 1980

The JLP won General Elections and held political office until 1989. Edward Seaga was the Prime Minister.

The eighties also saw large volumes of emigrants, primarily to the USA (New York, Miami, Chicago, and Hartford are cities which have a significant Jamaican population).


Canasol introduced by the Hon. Professor Manley West and the Hon. Dr.Albert Lockhart.

It was a new drug developed from cannabis (or ganja) for the treatment of glaucoma, an eye disease.

In 1987, both were awarded the Order of Merit.

February 1989 - September 2007

The PNP has held political office. Manley was forced to resign in 1992 because of failing health and his successor was Percival Patterson who won the election in 1993.

Percival Patterson also won the 1997 and 2002 elections and resigned in 2006.

He was succeeded by Portia Simpson Miller - Jamaica's first female Prime Minister.

September 2007 - present

General Election 2007 produced a change of government. After 18 years, the JLP defeated the ruling PNP on September 3, 2007. The current Prime Minister is Bruce Golding who was sworn in on September 11, 2007.