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A brief history of Jamaica and Cayman Islands


When Christopher Columbus came to Jamaica in 1494 it was inhabited by an Indigenous people called Arawaks. During settlement by the Spanish in the 16th century the Arawaks died from disease, slavery and war. In 1655 British forces seized the island and in 1670 gained formal possession through the Treaty of Madrid. Slavery was important during settlement but was abolished in 1838, years earlier than in many parts of the New World.

After a long period of direct British colonial rule, Jamaica gained a degree of local political control in the late 1930s. During this time efforts were made to begin Jamaica’s major political parties led by Norman Washington Manley (the People’s National Party — PNP) and his cousin, Sir Alexander Bustamante (the Jamaica Labor Party — JLP). Jamaica’s first election with universal adult suffrage was in 1944, and the JLP won a majority in the House of Representatives. In 1958 Jamaica joined with nine other U.K. territories in the West Indies Federation but withdrew when, in a 1961 referendum, Jamaican voters opposed membership. Jamaica achieved independence from the United Kingdom in 1962 and remained a member of the Commonwealth.

Cayman Islands

The Cayman Islands, a dependency of the United Kingdom in the West Indies, lie in the Caribbean Sea. It is comprised of three islands: Grand Cayman, located northwest of Jamaica, and Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, located about 130 k.m. (about 80 miles) northeast of Grand Cayman. The islands are generally low-lying and of coral formation. The capital is George Town, on Grand Cayman. Sighted in 1503 by Christopher Columbus, who named them Las Tortugas (Spanish for “the turtles”), the Cayman Islands were colonized about 1734 by British settlers from Jamaica. The islands remained a dependency of Jamaica until 1959, when they became a self-governing member of the Federation of the West Indies. In 1962 they became a British dependency again.

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