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British Jamaica

Golden Age of Piracy - Chapter Decoration


The territory of British Jamaica was one of the most valuable islands of the British West Indies that was captured from the Spanish during the Golden Age of Piracy and its seizure led directly to the outbreak of the Anglo-Spanish War in 1654. One of the Greater Antilles, the island of Jamaica held extreme strategic importance in the West Indies and allowed the British to make other territorial gains from there.

British Jamaica - Jamaica Map (1717)

British Jamaica Map (1717)

The island was home to the infamous Port Royal, and the entire city and history of British Jamaica is seeped in privateering and piracy. Port Royal would grow to become one of the most prosperous of all the settlements in the New World and one of the busiest seaports. It was eventually destroyed during the 1692 Port Royal Earthquake which saw the complete and catastrophic destruction of the city and the deaths of thousands. The capital was relocated at Kingston which was more inland and the island turned from a pirate haven into a place where pirates quickly met their fate.

The island of Jamaica was first claimed like all of the Greater Antilles for the Spanish Empire and known as the Colony of Santiago or Spanish Jamaica. The island was specifically claimed during the voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1494 and the island was only used to control trade routes in the region. The Spanish brought a brought of group of settlers under the leadership of Juan de Esquevil to Jamaica in 1509 to search for gold and silver. However, before the Europeans even arrived on the island there existed a tribe of Amerindians natives known as the Taino that had lived there for thousands of years.

The Spanish soon found their pursuit of mineral resources on the island fruitless and quickly turned to enslaving the local population. Esquevil had also brought sugarcane from England during the expedition and the Spanish soon established their capital inland at Santiago de la Vega. They never fortified the island and mostly claimed it just so another civilization could not have one of the Greater Antilles. Spain would control the island for 146 years until the British exploited the Spanish neglect.

British Invasion

Prior to 1655 the island of Jamaica was ruled by the Spanish Empire and is known as the Colony of Santiago or Spanish Jamaica. However, upon assuming control over England, Oliver Cromwell sent out the Royal Navy to capture territory from Spain in the Caribbean. They had initially decided to target the island of Hispaniola but it was too heavily fortified at this time and they ended up traveling to the undefended Jamaica and conquering that instead.

This was a very important territorial gain for the English as it gave them a prime staging ground to launch privateering raids at the Spanish. While the capital of Jamaica is currently Kingston, the first major British settlement in the New World was the famous pirate and buccaneering haven of Port Royal. The capture of Jamaica would lead to the outbreak of the Anglo-Spanish War and thus the roots of the island itself are steeped in pirate and privateering history.

The English expedition under the command of Robert Venables and William Penn were easily able to capture the island from the Spanish because the island had no fortifications unlike other Spanish islands like Cuba and Hispaniola. During this time there were only about 1,500 Spanish colonists on the entire island at that time.

On Wednesday morning, being the 9th of May, wee saw Jamaica Iland, very high land afar off. Wednesday the 10th our souldiers in numbers 7000 (the sea regiment being none of them) landed at the 3 forts..."

Letter of Soldier Involved in Invasion of Jamaica

The fleet approached the island on 19 May and just as it rounded Point Morant two Spanish colonists noticed the massive invasion force and ran to alert governor Juan Ramirez de Arellano. The island had no fortifications or defenses and the Spanish tried to prepare whatever defenses they could. By dawn on 21 May the British closed in on the island and transferred to smaller boats to invade.

Due to the shallowness of the water and the reefs William Penn transferred from his 60-gun flagship the Swiftsure to a smaller 12-gun galley named Martin that was in command of the other ships. As the British approached in their boats they came under fire from Spanish cannons. The British returned fire and the novice Spanish gunners led by a local hacendado owner named Francisco de Proenza ran away in fear. The British soon landed on the island and marched the six miles inland to the city of Santiago de la Veda where they sacked the city.

The British forced the surrender of Ramirez and Venables came ashore on 25 May to dictate the terms of the treaty to the Spanish. The British informed the Spanish that they had a single night to leave the island or they would be killed and that this island was to become the territory of the Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell. The treaty was signed two days later on 27 May and the Spanish sailed for Campeche. Ramirez would die en-route and Santiago de la Vega would be renamed simply, Spanish Town.

Anglo-Spanish War

The seizing of Jamaica did not sit lightly with the Spanish and was the reason behind the Anglo-Spanish War. Not all of the Spanish residents left the island either and some under the leadership of Maestre de Campo de Proenza established a stronghold at the town of Guatibacoa. They made alliances with the local maroons of the island interior who helped launch a guerrilla war against the British on the island.

During this time the English settlement on the island was not faring that well. Many of the members of the original expedition under Veneables and Penn had left with them and the remaining ones were sick and starving and hundreds were dying. Upon their return for not capturing the island of Hispaniola the two captains were thrown in the Tower of London. Within one year the English troops on the island went from 7,000 to 2,500 and this included victims such as de Proenza who went blind. His Spanish resistance would only last for three more years after he was succeeded by the ineffective Cristóbal Arnaldo de Issasi.

During this time the settlement on Jamaica did not look like it would survive. They were about to get some unlikely allies and in exchange for protection and the freedom to ply their trade the buccaneers in turn would make the island very wealthy just like they had previous at Tortuga. In fact, if it was not for the efforts of the buccaneers the French would have never been able to establish the colony of Saint-Domingue on the island of Hispaniola. Its no coincidence that both of the most infamous of the buccaneer ports of the 17th century formed when colonial powers tried to take over one of the strategic Greater Antilles.

Buccaneering Era

The Anglo-Spanish War between 1654 and 1560 was the prime impetus for many English pirates to join the French buccaneers that had been slowly waging guerrilla war against the Spanish for decades. The pirate haven of Tortuga had been going strong for almost fifteen years at this point and this really kicked off the Buccaneering Era. In 1657 the British governor of Jamaica welcomed the buccaneers to establish a base of operations at the fledgling city of Port Royal at the captured Spanish Town in order to defend the island against the Spanish.

Old Port Royal - On the Spanish Main (1902)

While the island was not seen as having much importance at the time by some people, Cromwell noticed its value and reinforced the colony with supplies. The Spanish would try and take the island back many times over the following years and the debt the British owed to the buccaneers for helping save protect their territory and interests was hardly ever paid back in kind.

During the Buccaneering Era the city of Port Royal became a West Indies boomtown and the port was crucial for pirates to recruit new crews, offload their loot and stock up on supplies. The British also began to develop lucrative sugar plantations all across the island. In addition to the economic boon the pirates brought this made the island of colony of British Jamaica very wealthy and home to a bustling maritime seaport.

Thomas Modyford

Thomas Modyford was a plantation owner and the governor of Jamaica between 1664 and 1670. He was instrumental in sponsoring the campaign of Henry Morgan. Some of his actions were seen as corrupt by the British and he was imprisoned for two years before all charges were dropped against him.

However, under his governance the Spanish attempted two separate invasions of the island. The Spanish would attempt an invasion first in 1657 which culminated in the Battle of Ocho Rios and then again in 1658 with the Battle of Rio Nuevo which saw an massive invasion force from Viceroyalty of New Spain. While he was known to have looked the other way towards the activities of the buccaneers this was because the Brethren of the Coast provided essential security for the island.

Following the unsuccessful attempts by the Spanish to retake the island they were forced to officially cede the territory to them through the Treaty of Madrid along with the Cayman Islands in 1670. Modyford ended up living out his days in Jamaica at his plantations.

1692 Port Royal Earthquake

War of the Spanish Succession

The 1700's in Jamaica were much different than the buccaneering era of the 17th century. With the destruction of Port Royal in 1692, the English moved the settlement to Kingston and the island developed with a slave and plantation economy. Piracy was strictly outlawed in the colony and the city that used to be known as a pirate haven soon became a place where pirates were execution and displayed.

Archibald Hamilton

Archibald Hamilton was the governor of Jamaica between 1711 and 1716. Hamilton was known for starting the career of Henry Jennings and many other privateers including possibly Charles Vane along with many others of the future Flying Gang.

Post Spanish Succession Period

British Jamaica Governors

English Commanders of Jamaica (1655–61)[edit] In 1655, an English force led by Admiral Sir William Penn, and General Robert Venables seized the island, and successfully held it against Spanish attempts to retake it over the next few years. Admiral Sir William Penn 11 May 1655 – 1655 General Robert Venables, 1655 Edward D'Oyley, 1655–1656, first time William Brayne, 1656–1657 Edward D'Oyley, 1657–1661, second time English Governors of Jamaica (1661–62)[edit] In 1661, England began colonisation of the island. Edward D'Oyley, 1661–August 1662, continued Thomas, Lord Windsor, August 1662–November 1662 Deputy Governors of Jamaica (1662–71)[edit] Charles Lyttleton, 1662–1663, acting Thomas Lynch, 1663–1664, acting, first time Edward Morgan, 1664 Sir Thomas Modyford, 1664–August 1671 Lieutenant Governors of Jamaica (1671–90)[edit] In 1670, the Treaty of Madrid legitimised English claim to the island. Sir Thomas Lynch, August 1671–November 1674, second time Sir Henry Morgan, 1674–1675, acting, first time John Vaughan, 1675–1678 Sir Henry Morgan, 1678, acting, second time The Earl of Carlisle, 1678–1680 Sir Henry Morgan, 1680–1682, acting, third time Sir Thomas Lynch, 1682–1684, third time Hender Molesworth, 1684–December 1687, acting Christopher Monck The Duke of Albermarle, 1687–1688 Hender Molesworth, 1688–1689, acting Francis Watson, 1689–1690, acting Governors of Jamaica (1690–1962)[edit] The Earl of Inchiquin, 1690–16 January 1692[1] John White, 1691–22 August 1692,[2] acting John Bourden, 1692–1693, acting Sir William Beeston, March 1693–January 1702, acting to 1699 William Selwyn, Jan-April 1702 (died in office) Peter Beckford, 1702, acting Thomas Handasyde, 1702–1711, acting to 1704 Lord Archibald Hamilton, 1711–1716 Peter Heywood, 1716–1718 Sir Nicholas Lawes, 1718–1722 The Duke of Portland, 1722–4 July 1726 John Ayscough, 1726–1728, acting, first time Robert Hunter, 1728–March 1734 John Ayscough, 1734–1735, acting, second time John Gregory, 1735, acting, first time Henry Cunningham, 1735–1736 John Gregory, 1736–1738, acting, second time Edward Trelawny, 1738–1752 Charles Knowles, 1752–January 1756 Sir Henry Moore, February 1756–April 1756, acting, first time George Haldane, April 1756–November 1759 Sir Henry Moore, November 1759 – 1762, acting, second time Sir William Lyttleton, 1762–1766 Roger Hope Elletson, 1766–1767 Sir William Trelawny, 1767–December 1772 John Dalling, December 1772 – 1774, acting, first time Sir Basil Keith, 1774–1777 John Dalling, 1777–1781, second time Archibald Campbell, 1781–1784, acting to 1783 Alured Clarke, 1784–1790 The Earl of Effingham, 1790–19 November 1791 Sir Adam Williamson, 1791–1795, acting The Earl of Balcarres, 1795–1801 Sir George Nugent, 1801–1805 Sir Eyre Coote, 1806–1808 The Duke of Manchester, 1808–1821 Sir John Keane, 1827–1829, acting The Earl Belmore, 1829–1832 George Cuthbert, 1832, acting, first time The Earl of Mulgrave, 1832–1834 Sir Amos Norcott, 1834, acting George Cuthbert, 1834, acting, second time The Marquess of Sligo, 1834–1836 Sir Lionel Smith, 1836–1839 Sir Charles Theophilus Metcalfe, 1839–1842 The Earl of Elgin, 1842–1846 George Henry Frederick Berkeley, 1846–1847, acting Sir Charles Edward Grey, 1847–1853 Sir Henry Barkly, 1853–1856 Edward Wells Bell, 1856–1857, acting Charles Henry Darling, 1857–1862 Edward John Eyre, 1862–1865, acting to 1864 Sir Henry Knight Storks, 12 December 1865 – 16 July 1866 Sir John Peter Grant, 1866–1874 W. A. G. Young, 1874, acting Sir William Grey, 1874–January 1877 Edward Everard Rushworth Mann, January 1877, acting Sir Anthony Musgrave, January 1877 – 1883 Somerset M. Wiseman Clarke, 1883, acting Dominic Jacotin Gamble, 1883, acting Sir Henry Wylie Norman, 1883–1889 William Clive Justice, 1889, acting Sir Henry Arthur Blake, 1889–1898 Henry Jardine Hallowes, 1898, acting Sir Augustus William Lawson Hemming, 1898–1904 Sydney Haldane Olivier, 1904, acting, first time Hugh Clarence Bourne, 1904, acting, first time Sir James Alexander Swettenham, 30 September 1904 – 1907 Hugh Clarence Bourne, 1907, acting, second time Sydney Haldane Olivier, 16 May 1907–January 1913, acting Philip Clark Cork, January 1913–7 March 1913, acting Sir William Henry Manning, 7 March 1913 – 11 May 1918 Robert Johnstone, 11 May 1918 – 11 June 1918, acting Sir Leslie Probyn, 11 June 1918 – 1924 Herbert Bryan, 1924, acting, first time Sir Samuel Herbert Wilson, 29 September 1924–June 1925 Sir Herbert Bryan, 1925, acting, second time Sir Arthur Jeff, October 1925–26 April 1926, acting, first time Sir Reginald Edward Stubbs, 26 April 1926 – 9 November 1932 Sir Arthur Jeff, 9 November 1932 – 21 November 1932, acting, second time Sir Alexander Ransford Slater, 21 November 1932–April 1934 A. S. Jeef, April 1934–24 October 1934, acting, third time Sir Edward Brandis Denham, 24 October 1934 – 2 June 1938 Charles Campbell Woolley, 2 June 1938 – 19 August 1938, acting Sir Arthur Frederick Richards, 19 August 1938–July 1943 William Henry Flinn, July 1943–29 September 1943, acting Sir John Huggins, 29 September 1943 – 7 April 1951 Sir Hugh Mackintosh Foot, 7 April 1951 – 18 November 1957 Sir Kenneth Blackburne, 18 December 1957 – 6 August 1962 In 1962, Jamaica gained independence from the United Kingdom. Since independence, the viceroy in Jamaica has been the Governor-General of Jamaica.

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