Out of many, one people: 350 years of Jamaican history

This year sees the 50th anniversary celebrations of Jamaican independence and in the Archives we can trace back Jamaican history over 350 years.  The earliest reference to Jamaica that we have found here in Birmingham dates from 1662 and is an accounting record of Sir Charles Littelton, Deputy Governor of Jamaica.  The Littelton family were and are still a prominent Worcestershire family with property in Halesowen, Hagley and Frankley.

Jamaica had come under Spanish rule in 1494 and its capital was established at Spanish Town.  From this date Jamaica became a centre for settlers from far and wide.  It became a refuge for persecuted Jews from Europe and the transatlantic slave trade brought many African people to Jamaica.  Black people lived in Jamaica either enslaved or independently as free men and women, having defied their oppressors and establishing their own communities in the more remote areas of the island.

In 1655 the British seized control of the island from Spanish occupation and at this time the Spanish freed those people who were enslaved on their island.

In the 1660’s, when this document was drawn up, the population of Jamaica would have been very diverse and there are references in it to “wild negroes” who are the African peoples who lived independently from the slaves on the island.  There are also references to the building of forts and defences which reflects the unstable political situation in Jamaica at this time.

You can find out more about sources for Black History in Birmingham Libraries here.  And if you want to know more about Caribbean history in general there are some great resources at the National Archives which includes some excellent links and resources.

Rachel MacGregor



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