Spanish Empire > Colony of Santiago

Colony of Santiago

Golden Age of Piracy - Chapter Decoration


The Colony of Santiago, also known as Spanish Jamaica refers to the period of history when the island of Jamaica was under control of the Spanish Empire before it was seized prior to the Anglo-Spanish War in 1654 and when it was officially turned over to the British Empire in 1670 following the signing of the Treaty of Madrid. The island of Jamaica is one of the Greater Antilles and one of the largest islands in the West Indies. One of the main reasons the British were able to capture the island so easily was that the Spanish had not spent many resources in colonizing and settling the island. In fact by the mid 17th century it was the only major Spanish colony that did not have any real fortifications on it due to a lack of precious metals.

The Spanish began arriving on Jamaica in 1494 when Christopher Columbus arrived on the island in search of gold. Despite the Amerindian name of Xaymaca for the island which means "place of gold blessed" the crews of Columbus would never find any precious metals on the island. Under his leadership the island was named Santiago and he founded some settlements including Santa Gloria which is now the Bay St. Anne. Following Columbus in 1505 the Spaniard Juan de Guzman, Duke of Medina Sidonia proposed a Spanish project to populate the island but it was turned down by Ferdinand II of Aragon because he was worried about the growing power of the nobiliaria.

Overall the Spanish failure to populate and fortify the island of Jamaica was one of the most significant strategic blunders of the Spanish Empire and allowed the English to gain a major foothold in the New World. This all was occurring around the same time the Spanish were losing a third of Hispaniola which was to become the French controlled colony of Saint-Dominigue. The island of Jamaica would never return to Spanish control throughout the Golden Age of Piracy.

Pre-Columbus Period

Around 650 CE the island of Jamaica was populated by the Ostionoid culture which is believed to have come from South America. Archaeologists have found their earliest settlements near Alligator Pond in Manchester Parish and along Little River in St. Ann Parish. The Ostinoid were known to have lived along the coast and subsisted by hunting turtles and fish. Around 950 CE the Meillacan culture settled on both the coast and interior of the island and either absorbed or co-habituated with the Ostinoid.

Eventually the Taino would populate the island around 1,200 CE where they would bring the process of raising yuca known as conuco. To add nutrients to the soil the Taino would burn bushes and trees before piling the ash into massive mounts which the yuca cuttings were planted into. Most of the Taino lived in circular buildings known as bohios which were constructed with wooden poles, woven straw and palm leaves. The Taino spoke an Arawakan language and did not have a known system of writing.

Christopher Columbus

After departing Europe on 24 September 1493 Columbus would land on the island of Dominica on 3 November 1493 on his second voyage. Following this on 22 November he would land on Hispaniola where he searched the interior of the island for gold or other precious metals. Following this he would depart Hispaniola on 24 April 1494 before arriving on the island of Cuba on 30 April and eventually Jamaica on 5 May of the same year.

From here Columbus would explore the southern coast of Cuba before returning to Hispaniola on 20 August. Following this he would stay on the western end of Hispaniola before finally returning to Spain. Columbus would return to Jamaica on his fourth voyage to the New World. He would sail around the Caribbean for almost a year before being shipwrecked on Jamaica on 25 June of 1503 at St. Ann's Bay.

Columbus would spend about a year stranded on Jamaica until Diego Mendez and some Amerindians were able to paddle over to Hispaniola to request aid. However, Governor Nicolás de Ovando y Cáceres hated Columbus and halted any efforts to rescue him. Eventually Columbus and his crew would be rescued on 29 June 1504 and then return to Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Castile, on 7 November 1504.

Spanish Settlement

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. Esquivel had accompanied Columbus in his second trip to the Americas in 1493 and participated in the invasion of Hispaniola. A decade later, Friar Bartolomé de las Casas wrote Spanish authorities about Esquivel's conduct during the Higüey massacre of 1503. The first Spanish settlement was founded in 1509 near St Ann's Bay and named Seville. In 1534 the settlers moved to a new, healthier site, which they named Villa de la Vega, which the English renamed Spanish Town when they conquered the island in 1655. This settlement served as the capital of both Spanish and English Jamaica from its foundation in 1534 until 1872, after which the capital was moved to Kingston. 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.[5] Disappointed in the lack of gold on the isle, the Spanish mainly used Jamaica as a military base to supply colonizing efforts in the mainland Americas.[6] The Spanish colonists did not bring women in the first expeditions and took Taíno women for their common-law wives, resulting in mestizo children.[7] Sexual violence with the Taíno women by the Spanish was also common.[8][9] Although the Taino referred to the island as "Xaymaca," the Spanish gradually changed the name to "Jamaica."[10] In the so-called Admiral's map of 1507 the island was labeled as "Jamaiqua" and in Peter Martyr's work "Decades" of 1511, he referred to it as both "Jamaica" and "Jamica."[10]

In 1509 the first settlement on the island was founded named New Sevilla which was located near Santa Gloria. In 1510 the first governor named Juan de Esquivel was appointed and the territory was incorporated into the Viceroyalty of New Spain. In 1524 the settlers would leave New Sevilla and around 1534 the would settle in Santiago de la Veda which was founded by Jamaica Francisco de Garay and which the British would give the name Spanish Town when they took over in 1655. It would be here that the oldest cathedral in Jamaica is constructed.

Eventually the Spanish would settle across the island in towns called Las Chorreras or the Eight Rivers along with Santa Cruz. The settlers took the island crops of sugar cane and bananas and cultivated them as well as adopted use of local dogs, cats and horses. Despite the presence of agriculture throughout the early 16th century the first Spaniards to arrive on the island were mostly interested in precious metals such as gold and silver. In the absence of gold and silver like was found throughout the rest of the Americas the Spanish never really settled the island except the coasts and never built any real fortifications to defend the island.

However, this was a mistake and by 1595 pirates including English and French privateers and buccaneers who began to attack the Spanish Main with increasing frequency throughout the Privateering Era and the Buccaneering Era. These English, French and eventually Dutch pirates were attacking the Spanish and Portuguse hegemony that was established by the Treaty Of Tordesillas. Following the attack in 1595 the island of Jamaica would be sieged again in 1603, 1640 and 1643 before the island was finally captured for the English.

English Capture

In late 1654, English leader Oliver Cromwell launched the Western Design armada against Spain's colonies in the Caribbean. In April 1655, General Robert Venables led the armada in an attack on Spain's fort at Santo Domingo, Hispaniola. However, the Spanish repulsed this poorly-executed attack, known as the Siege of Santo Domingo, and the English troops were soon decimated by disease. [11] [12][13] Weakened by fever and looking for an easy victory following their defeat at Santo Domingo, the English force then sailed for Jamaica, the only Spanish West Indies island that did not have new defensive works. In May 1655, around 7,000 English soldiers landed near Jamaica's Spanish Town capital. The English invasion force soon overwhelmed the small number of Spanish troops (at the time, Jamaica's entire population only numbered around 2,500).[14] In the following years, Spain repeatedly attempted to recapture Jamaica, and in response in 1657 the English Governor of Jamaica invited buccaneers to base themselves at Port Royal on Santiago, to help defend against Spanish attacks. Spain never recaptured Jamaica, losing the Battle of Ocho Rios in 1657 and the Battle of Rio Nuevo in 1658. For England, Jamaica was to be the "dagger pointed at the heart of the Spanish Empire", although in fact it was a possession of little economic value then.[13]

The Spanish would be finally forced off the island in 1655 by the British William Penn and Robert Venables. The seizure of the Colony of Santiago from the Spanish would result in the immediate onset of the Anglo-Spanish War which lasted between 1654 and 1660. It would be in 1660 the British would appoint the first governor of Jamaica named Edward D'Oyley. The Spanish did not recognize the English rule as legitimate and attempted to resist the British rule under Juan Francisco de Leiva but were ultimately unsuccessful.

In 1660 the island of Jamaica as well as the rest of the West Indies became a safe haven for the Jews who were fleeing persecution in Europe at the time. The Jewish community on Jamaica mostly consisted of merchants and traders who called themselves the "Portugals" which increased the Hispanic community on the island.

Treaty of Madrid (1670)

The Spanish would refuse to acknowledge British sovereignty over the island until following the signing of the Treaty of Madrid in 1670 the Spanish officially gave Jamaica along with the Cayman Islands to the British. Following the official transfer to the British the Spanish colonists freed their slaves and fled he island. These freed slaves would later go onto become the Maroons who were slaves that had previously escaped Spanish rule to live with the native Taino. The Jamaican Maroons would later fight the British in the 18th century.

Following the British seizure of the island the Jews that were residing there from Spain and Portugal decided that the best defense for the island to prevent it from being recaptured by the Spanish was to create a pirate haven at Puerto Real which would become home to the buccaneers that would later be known as the Brethren of the Coast. The British agreed to this strategy and within a few decades the island would be home to the leading pirate haven of the world known as Port Royal.


The Spanish left a considerable legacy on the island despite its significant development under the British.

According to JG Bruton, apart from Santiago de la Vega, other places named by the Spaniards during this time, and extending across the island are eight rivers (also known as Robert Wallace Thompson, Las Chorreras by Spanish coloniales5) Rio Bueno, Santa Cruz, 6 Miño7 River and Port Antonio (also known as Thompson, during the Spanish era, Puerto Antón5) .6 Also, the name of Montego Bay, the capital of St. James Parish, could lead according Bruton, the Spanish name Bay butter, referring to the large number of pigs used there in the industry butter, 12 and the people Oracabessa derived surely the Spanish word Cabeza de Oro with which would be designated the people during the Spanish domination of all, due to the existence of a nearby hill to the region, whose summit is covered, at certain times of the year, yellow flowers. For its part, the names of other places, according to the author, are a translation of the names by which the Spaniards called it: Thus Bay Dry Harbour (Puerto Seco) was a place where he entered Colón for water when he sought refuge with two caravels already in bad shape and partially destroyed. Runaway Bay (Bay Escape), meanwhile, is a bay from which fled in 1665, the Spanish governor of the island, Ysassi, bound for Cuba. On the other hand, the town's name derive from the Spanish Moneague The adjective Monte de Agua (the name by which the Spaniards called it because it is a village surrounded by hills, one of which emanates a creek) 7 or, as Yates, La Manigua, word much used in Cuba to refer to a dense forest and impenetrable.5 Some Spanish gentilicios of the island, however, have been lost, such is the case of the Río de la Villa (Current Copper River name appointed to the region by the British, probably as HP Jacobs, after seeing the word copper on a map, pointing at one point there, and believe that was the name of the Rio5) and river near Spanish Town, Boca Water, river is now called Bog Walk (Paseo del Pantano) .7 However, Robert Wallace Thompson rejects the idea of Bruton on the relationship between the current names of Jamaican places mentioned the names designated by the Spanish in the same the absence, according to him, documents and colonial sources indicating, if you like, the existence of those names during the Spanish era of the island, indicating that such names derive from Indian words (Orocabezzas, perhaps Orocavis, word found in Santo Domingo) or English (Ocho Rios, Port Antonio maybe) .5 The Spanish introduced many crops Jamaica as sugar cane, bananas and citrus. Also it was they who apparently introduced most of the pets that are currently on the island, such as pigs, horses, goats, cats, dogs and chickens.

Spanish Governors

Governor NameReign (CE/AD)
Juan de Esquivel1510-1514
Francisco de Garay1514–1523
Pedro de Mazuelo1523–1526
Juan de Mendegurren1526–1527
Santino de Raza1527–1531
Gonzalo de Guzman?–1532
Manuel de Rojas1532–?
Gil González Dávila1533?–1534?
Manuel de Rojas1536–?
Pedro Cano1539?
Francisco de Pina1544?
Juan González de Hinojosa1556?
Pedro Cano1558?
Blas de Melo1565?
Juan de Gaudiel1567?–1572?
Hernán Manrique de Rojas1575?
Iñigo Fuentes?–1577
Rodrigo Núñez de la Peña1577–1578
Lucas del Valle Alvarado1578–1583?
Diego Fernández de Mercado1586?
Lucas del Valle Alvarado1591?
García del Valle1596?
Fernando Melgarejo Córdoba1596–1606
Alonso de Miranda1607–1611
Pedro Espejo Barranco1611–1614
Andrés González de Vera1614–?
Sebastián Lorenzo Romano1620?
Francisco Terril1625–1632
Juan Martínez Arana1632–1637
Gabriel Peñalver Angulo1637–1639
Jacinto Sedeño Albornoz1639–1640
Francisco Ladrón de Zegama1640–1643
Sebastián Fernández de Gamboa1645–1646
Pedro Caballero1646–1650
Jacinto Sedeño Albornoz1650
Francisco de Proenza1650–1651
Juan Ramírez de Arellano1651–1655
Francisco de Proenza1655–1656
Cristóbal Arnaldo Isasi1656–1660

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