Friday, November 29, 2013

Landing on Xaymaca

Christopher Columbus landed on May 14, 1494 on an island he named Santiago, after Saint James, but the island has always been known by its Taíno name Xaymaca (Ja-may-ca).  The Spanish first settled on the northern coast of Jamaica and later moved to the southern part of the island and built the town that is now called Spanish Town.  Because no gold, gems or other precious metals were found there, the Spanish colony on Jamaica was never very large and the English took over the island in 1645.  

The history of the English conquest of Jamaica is linked to the story of an ex-Dominican named Thomas Gage. Gage was born into a Catholic family in England.  Hoping he would become a Jesuit like his four brothers, his father sent him study at the Jesuit school in Spain, where political tensions between the Spanish and the English were rising.  Thomas became bitter and contemptuous of the Jesuits and chose to enter with the Spanish Dominicans. He volunteered for a mission to the Philippines in 1625, but he disembarked in Mexico and accompanied another group of bound for Guatemala City.  Once there he asked to return to England, but instead was sent back to Mexico to learn the language and ways of the Amerindians.  In 1637, still trying to get back to England he made his way through Nicaragua to Costa Rica and was captured by Dutch corsairs.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Jamaican Chocolate

Thomas Gage was instrumental in making a new confection made from cacao known in England and provided English readers with information on other delectable products and resources available in the islands.   His fabulous tales helped to foment the passion for adventure that launched the Anglo-Spanish war.  “The Spanish lore transmitted to England by reconciled recusants became an abiding cultural concern of colonial promoters upon England's acquisition of cacao-producing Jamaica later in the century.”

Dominican Turned Informant

In 1642 Thomas Gage returned to England, publicly disavowed the Catholic faith and began to persecute the Catholic clergy who had educated him.  He later testified against Thomas Holland, a Jesuit from the school where he studied in Spain. Father Thomas Holland was sentence to be hanged, drawn and quartered in December of 1642.  Gage also testified against Franciscan Francis Bell (1643), Jesuit Ralph Corby (1644) and Jesuit Peter Wright (1651).  All three were executed based on his testimony. In 1651 Gage published A Duel between a Jesuit and a Dominican: begun at Paris, gallantly fought at Madrid, and victoriously ended at London.  In this treatise he promoted the idea that the Catholic Spanish missionaries were corrupt and convinced Cromwell that an attack on their holdings was the religious duty of the English. “The thesis was that it would be possible to attack and loot Spanish possessions in the Americas, without embarking upon a costly war in Europe. The book made special mention whatever might assist an invading army -- roads, fortifications, populations, layouts of towns. It is hard to set aside the suspicion that the details in the book were the fruit of the observations of a professional spy.”

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Cromwellian Fiasco

Anglo Spanish War 1654-1660
In 1654 Cromwell put up a force of 18 warships, 20 transport vessels and 3,000 men to rid the Caribbean of Spanish Catholics and sent Thomas Gage as chaplain and guide.  When they arrived in Barbados a month later and conscripted 6,000 escaped slaves in Barbados, Montserrat, Nevis and St Kitts, “Their aim was to secure a base of operations in the Caribbean and from there to threaten Spanish trade and treasure routes in Central America and weaken Catholic influence in the Americas. Arriving off Santo Domingo on 13 April 1655, the expedition found that it had been reported beforehand and the Spaniards were ready. In shore the English forces suffered greatly from heat and drought during their march through difficult tropical terrain. Moreover, contrary to Gage's confident prediction, the Indians fought with the Spanish had taken measures of defense. Coupled with the democratic habits of the Roundheads, the result was fiasco.”

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

English Capture Jamaica

In 1655 the Cromwell’s forces landed in Kingston Harbor and marched towards Spanish Town. The original plan had been to capture the island of Hispaniola, but they failed to take the city of Santo Domingo and sailed on to Jamaica instead.  On May 11, the Spaniards surrendered. They were allowed a few days to leave the island. Some of them went to Cuba, but others secretly went to the northern side of Jamaica. 

The English General Sedgwicke arrived a few months later and took charge of the colony. General Sedgwicke died shortly after his arrival of a fever and General Brayne was sent out to take his place.  Within a year of capturing the island many of the English occupiers died of fever and disease.  General Brayne died in 1656 and Thomas Gage died that same year, probably of dysentery. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Slaves Marooned in Port Royal

Port Royal Jamaica 1692
In 1657 Don Cristobal de Ysassi led two expeditions from Cuba in an attempt to take back Jamaica for Spain but he was defeated.  In 1662 Lord Windsor became the Governor of Jamaica and brought with him a Royal Proclamation declaring that all children born of English subjects in Jamaica were henceforth free citizens of England.  There were then 4,205 free persons in Jamaica at that time.  The English captured Santiago de Cuba in 1663 and sent an expedition from Jamaica to attack the Spanish town of Campeche in Central America.  But that same year there was a major rebellion among the natives and escaped slaves on the island and the English had to leave some forces in Jamaica to suppress it.  The escaped slaves were called maroons from the Spanish word cimarron, meaning ‘wild’ were descendants of the former slaves of the Spanish. 

In 1664 the Jamaican House of Assembly was called together in Spanish Town and passed 45 laws for the government of the colony.  Sir Thomas Modyford arrived from Barbados with a thousand settlers and became Governor. Modyford encouraged agriculture, especially the cultivation of cocoa and the sugar-cane. During this time a large number of slaves were brought from Africa to Jamaica to work in the fields.  Another slave rebellion took place and was suppressed. Some of the slaves were executed while others escaped to the mountains where they joined the Maroons in Port Royal.