Jamaican Family Search Genealogy Research Library


This is a look at some of the historic events in Jamaica and elsewhere, especially those that had an effect upon, record-keeping, status of individuals, or immigration to the island.

1494 May 3. Christopher Columbus discovered Jamaica.

Among the settlements or townships established by the Spaniards were: Savanna-la Mar, Puerto Anton (Port Antonio), and Oristan (Bluefields).

1653-1658 Oliver Cromwell was Lord Protector of England.

1655 May 10. The English army arrived in Jamaica. Articles of capitulation were signed by the Spanish within one week, but it was five years before guerrilla warfare ended and the English conquest was complete. Cromwell used several methods to colonize the island. Grants of land were given out. Prisoners taken in Royalist uprisings were sent out as servants of the state. In October 1655 it was ordered that 1,000 Irish girls and 1,000 Irish boys 14 years of age or under be sent to Jamaica, and in 1656 1,200 men from Ireland and Scotland. About 300 settlers arrived from North America, and some from Bermuda and Barbados. Few of the early settlers succeeded, due to indiscipline and intemperance.

1660 Restoration of King Charles II. The king and his councillors recruited investors and planters for Jamaica. Most of the land grants on record at the Archives in Spanish Town were dated during this period. Sugar would become the main crop during his reign. In the early stages white laborers, most of them indentured servants, were used. Transportation to the islands became a regular punishment for political prisoners, vagrants, and convicted felons. Charles was king of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1660-1685.

1661 The file of land records starts in 1661. It includes over 5,000 patents for the seventeenth century.

1662 October. Population 3,653 whites (English and Portuguese Jews), and 552 Negroes, 150 of whom were estimated to be free.

1663 Charles II and the royal family backed a slave-trading company, to avoid having to buy slaves from foreigners. The slave trade grew.

1664 At this time there were 7 established parishes: "the town and parish of St. Katherine's, St. John's, the town and parish of Port Royal, Clarendon, St. David's, St. Andrew's and St. Thomas, which are very large, and in them all but one church, that at St. Katherine's." (according to Sir Thomas Modyford, 1664)

1667 600 British refugees arrived from Montserrat when it was taken by the French.

1670 A hurricane drove the English fleet ashore, except for Morgan's ship.

1671 A map of Jamaica, produced as the result of a survey ordered by Sir Thomas Modyford, shows, in addition to the parishes he had cited in 1664, the parishes of St. George, St. Mary, St. Ann, St. James, St. Elizabeth, and two unnamed areas in the areas that are now Hanover and Manchester.

1673 There were 7,768 whites and 9,504 slaves, a total of 17,272 inhabitants. The chief products were cocoa, indigo, and hides. The cultivation of sugar had just begun.

The parish of Vere was formed from a portion of Clarendon.

1674 The file of inventories starts in 1674. It includes the appraisal of non-real property held by persons who had died.

1675 1,200 British refugees arrived from Surinam when it was ceded to Holland. The refugees settled in St. Elizabeth. This section, which was called Surinam Quarters, later became a part of Westmoreland.

An act was passed for dividing the island into parishes. St. Thomas-in-the-Vale was taken from St. Catherine; St. Dorothy was taken from Clarendon. This made a total of 15 parishes.

1683 According to Governor Lynch, 3,000 patents had already been issued for 1,080,000 acres (Blathwayt Papers, XXIV.) Very little of this land had been put under cultivation by the year 1700.

1692 June 7. An earthquake destroyed Port Royal which had become the headquarters of buccaneers.

1693 The city of Kingston was laid out. Kingston was established as a parish.

1698 Population 47,365, of whom 40,000 were black.

1703 The parish of Westmoreland was formed from a portion of St. Elizabeth.

The first Deficiency Law was passed by the island legislature. It tried to place the responsibility for securing white settlers on the individual plantation owners by requiring them to maintain a certain proportion of whites on their plantations (usually 1 white to 10 or 20 Negroes). Failure to meet the ratios subjected the planter to a fine. The law was renewed annually until emancipation. The estate owners found it less expensive to pay the fines than to make up the "deficiencies."

1712 There was a severe hurricane.

1714 The island suffered from a severe gale, and several men-of-war were driven ashore.

1718 The first printing press was set up in Jamaica. The first newspaper was issued.

1722 The island produced 11,000 hogsheads of sugar. There was a severe hurricane. The first page of the earliest extant Kingston Baptismal Register states that it contains "Persons Christened . . . since ye dreadful storm which happened on the 28th day of August 1722."

1723 The parish of Hanover was formed from a portion of Westmoreland. Portland was created from parts of St. George and St. Thomas-in-the-East. It was named after the Duke of Portland, who was then Governor.

1726 October 22. A severe hurricane destroyed several houses and about fifty vessels in various ports.

1734 There were 7,644 whites and 86,546 slaves, a total of 94,190. There were 76,011 head of cattle on the island. A hurricane did great damage.

Some mountainous portions of St. Elizabeth and Clarendon were added to Vere.

1739 - 1760 55,000 acres of land were forfeited to the crown as a penalty for not opening the land up to cultivation, or for non-payment of quit-rent due to the crown.

1744 October 20. Hurricane and earthquake. Savannalamar was destroyed, and Kingston and Port Royal were damaged. Eight men-of-war and ninety-six merchant vessels were stranded, wrecked, or foundered. The hurricane lasted for twenty-four hours.

There were 9,640 whites, 112,428 slaves, and 88,036 head of cattle. The island produced 35,000 hogsheads of sugar, and 10,000 puncheons of rum.

1750 and ff. 108 families, a secondary class of planters, were introduced to the island. White laborers could not survive in the lowlands, and the scheme was a failure.

1754 Moravian missionaries arrived in Jamaica. They were the first missionaries to the island.

1760-1820 George III was king of Great Britain and Ireland.

1765 There were 132 landed proprietors in St. James, holding 106,352 acres, which indicates the land was under-used.

1768 There were 17,000 whites, 166,914 slaves, and 135,773 head of cattle. 55,761 hogsheads of sugar, and 15,551 puncheons of rum were produced.

1770 The parish of Trelawny was formed from a portion of St. James. Martha Brae was the first parochial capital, but the capital soon moved to the coast to the new town of "Barrett Town", later renamed Falmouth. By 1774 there was a rector for the Falmouth Anglican church.

1774 The island produced only 654,700 lbs. of coffee.

1775 Population 209,617, made up of 12,737 whites, 4,093 free colored, and 192,787 slaves.

May 6, the foundation stone was laid for the St. James Parish Church, Montego Bay.

1780 By this time less than half of the 4 million acres in Jamaica had been patented from the crown, but a large proportion of the unpatented land was rocky, mountainous and of little value.

October 2 to 3. The south-western part of the island was hit hardest by a hurricane, and Savanna-la-Mar was completely destroyed. On October 2 there was an unusual elevation of the sea, which then broke suddenly in upon the town, and on its retreat swept every thing away with it. There were no buildings left standing in the town or in the area for 30 to 40 miles around it. On the next day this was succeeded by the worst hurricane they had ever experienced, followed by an earthquake, which almost totally demolished every building in the parishes of Westmoreland, Hanover, part of St. James and some parts of St. Elizabeth.

1781 August 1. A hurricane again desolated the island. Several men-of-war and merchant vessels were lost.

October 19. In the American War of Independence British troops under General Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington at York Town. The last battles were yet to be fought--in West Indian waters.

1784 On July 30, 1784, a hurricane was accompanied by two earthquake shocks. Numerous lives were lost, and vessels in the harbor were foundered or stranded.

1785 - 1786 Two hurricanes that hit the island were followed by famine. The first, was on August 27, 1785, and the second on October 20, 1786.

1788 At this time Falmouth was regarded as being an unimportant village.

1789 The French Revolution.

1790 The island produced 1,783,740 lbs. of coffee.

1792 The first installment of freedom of worship was granted to the Roman Catholics in Jamaica. The first Catholic records in the archives of the Holy Trinity Cathedral, Kingston, date back to this year. The first priest was Anthony Quigly, and most of the Catholics under his care were French or Spanish.

1793 Dr. Coke, a Wesleyan missionary, opened a Mission in Martha Brae, Trelawny.

Captain Bligh brought breadfruit and other plants to Jamaica.

1796 The building of the Falmouth Parish Church was complete. There is a gravestone dated 1783, so the churchyard was already in use as a cemetery.

1795 - 1799 There was a flow of refugees and French prisoners of war from St. Domingue. The newly-appointed Lieutenant Governor, Lord Balcarres, wrote to England that on his arrival in Jamaica, in April, 1795, he found a vast number of French emigrants, who had recently fled from the horrors of Saint Domingue. They were people of all ranks and colors. Many were of the French nobility. Some of the aristocratic ladies had lost all their fortunes, but their female slaves and a few trusty male domestics had saved their lives while endangering their own. There was a multitude of slaves and of handicraft men of color, with great numbers of brown women. On ships anchored near the shore there was also a large number of French prisoners of war of the most alarming description, some of them being bands of incendiaries who were held responsible when on August 2, 1795 Montego Bay was destroyed by fire.

1804 Two hurricanes.

1805 A hurricane was reported in the latitude of Jamaica.

1808 A large part of Falmouth was consumed by fire.

1812 A hurricane and an earthquake.

1813 July 31, a hurricane blew with great violence. A number of vessels sank or were stranded in Port Royal. During the storm there was a severe earthquake.

1814 The Baptist Mission was founded.

The parish of Manchester was created out of the hill districts of Vere, Clarendon and St. Elizabeth. It was named after William Duke of Manchester the then Governor.

1815 October 18 and 29, there was a severe storm which was particularly destructive in the county of Surrey. Several vessels were stranded and some lives lost.

1816 The Methodist conference was started.

1818 Hurricane.

1819 The first Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, a branch of the Established Church of Scotland, opened for worship April 4, 1819 in Kingston.

1822 March 11, a severe gale blew in Montego Bay.

1823 Falmouth was now larger and more populous than Montego Bay. There was more produced and shipped from there than from any other part of the island, except for Kingston. The town had been rebuilt in a better style, many buildings being of Georgian architecture.

1824 The first Presbyterian mission station was founded in Jamaica by the Scottish Missionary Society at Hampden, near the St. James and Trelawny borders.

There was an insurrection in Portland and St. Mary.

1825 The Office of the Registrar of the Diocese (Anglican) was established. Rectors sent copies of existing registers of baptisms, marriages and burials, and annual transcripts thereafter.

1827 August, a violent hurricane.

1830 Hurricane.

June. William Knibb arrived in Falmouth as Baptist minister.

1831 December 28. Slave uprisings in western Jamaica.

1834 August 1. Passage of the Emancipation Act which abolished slavery and provided for a system of apprenticeship, which was slated to last for 12 years and then give way to freedom.

1836 German settlement established at Seaford Town.

1838 August 1. Apprenticeship, which had worked very badly, was abolished. All freedmen were unconditionally free.

This was a difficult financial period in Jamaica. Most planters were heavily in debt. Their properties had been heavily mortgaged even before emancipation, and their properties had a negative cash flow. The planters could not find the cash to pay wages and to purchase labor-saving equipment. See Abandoned Properties

1841 The last parish, Metcalf, was created from St. Mary and St. George. It was named after Governor Sir Charles Theophilus Metcalfe. This made a total of 22 parishes.

1839 - 1841 Drought. Indentured laborers were brought in in limited numbers from Europe, including Portugal.

Kettering Village (now called Duncans) was established. William Knibb was instrumental in forming the Duncans Baptist Church in the area .

1842 East Indian or coolie labor was imported under contract.

1843 Birth and death registration was mandated by law. The law was largely ignored and was repealed within a few years.

1844 The census showed a population of 377,433. There were 15,776 white, 68,529 colored, and 293,128 black.

1844 - 1845 For 18 months Bluefields was the temporary home of the celebrated naturalist Philip Henry Gosse. At that time the original Bluefields estate house was in an advanced state of ruin. A lithograph of the Bluefields House in which he stayed forms the frontispiece of his book "Naturalist's Sojourn in Jamaica."

By this time many of the sugar estates throughout the Island were half desolate. Many planters had defaulted on their mortgages or tax payments, and others had either ceased to reside in their mansions or had cut back on their expenditure.

1845 The first railway was opened; it went from Kingston to Spanish Town.

1846 A law was passed in England to equalize the tariff on sugar, and to eventually eliminate protective duties which favored the colonies. This led to a rapid decline of the British West Indies. Sugar prices fell alarmingly; the planter as a class was ruined. Some plantations were abandoned (see Abandoned properties); some were divided into lots and sold to Negro peasants.

One article from the Jamaican paper, "The Daily Advertiser" of January 19th, 1852, reported a meeting in the parish of St. George. A report was given of the decline of produce in the island. Sugar export had fallen from 150,000 hogsheads to 36,000; coffee had fallen from 34,000,000 lbs to 5,000,000 lbs. A Mr. Dunbar described the island as exhibiting widespread desolation instead of luxuriant fields and people busily working. Landowners had been driven from their homes by financial distress, the jungle had retaken the cane fields, buildings were decaying, and the island was on the brink of a disaster created by Britain.

In the same meeting, the 'collecting constable' of the parish (the tax collector) reported on properties that had been abandoned, grown up in brushwood, or were falling into decay. The taxes were now lower on properties, since they had fallen so far in value, yet the proprietors could not pay. The constable said, he had often been obliged to give the finishing stroke by levying upon the stock of those properties.

Not only were the estates in Jamaica nearly all going out of cultivation, but the inhabitants themselves, ruined financially, were leaving the island in quest of employment.

On October 10th a destructive swell of the sea was felt on the east end of the island, and on the west end on the 11th. There had been a severe hurricane in Havana, Cuba.

1850 Asiatic cholera epidemic in which 32,000 on the island died. In the burial registers there are entries that just state "Unidentified persons" followed by numbers--25, 75, or more at one time. Some entries stated that the victims were buried in the dead of night. They were being buried as fast as possible to try to stop the spread of the disease. In the last weeks of the year the cholera, which had already taken a dreadful toll, especially in Kingston, advanced towards the west of Jamaica. It devastated Black River, and began to attack Montego Bay.

The Roman Catholic church of St. Peter and Paul at Matilda's Corner, St. Andrew, was built under the direction of Father Dupont. The congregation was mostly of French and Spanish origin.

1854 Over 1,000 Chinese laborers were brought to the island.

1858 East Indian immigration resumed.

1865 An economic turning point. Sir John Peter Grant, who was governor until 1874, pushed through many reforms. The 22 parishes were reduced to 14 (see below), Parochial Boards replaced the Vestries, the judicial system was overhauled, and an up-to-date police force was formed to replace the almost useless local forces. The Anglican church, which as the Established Church had been financed by the government, was disestablished and had to support itself. The government no longer paid the Anglican clergy. Transport was greatly improved by the building of roads and railways, and the establishment of a street car service in Kingston.

1867 As part of a reorganization, the parishes were reduced to 14. The parish of Port Royal was absorbed by Kingston and St. Andrew. The Manchioneal District of St. Thomas-in-the-East, and St. George, were absorbed by Portland. St. David was merged into St. Thomas-in-the-East. Kingston was increased by taking in parts of St. Andrew and all of the town of Port Royal. St. Andrew absorbed the rest of the parish of Port Royal. Metcalf was absorbed by St. Mary. St. Thomas-in-the-Vale, St. John and St. Dorothy all became part of St. Catherine. Vere was reabsorbed by Clarendon.

1869 - 1895 East Indian laborers were brought in under the indenture system. Many of them left the island when the term of their indenture expired.

1872 Kingston became the permanent capital, replacing Spanish Town.

The telegraph service was opened at Savanna-la-Mar. By this date steamships regularly plied the town.

1880 Civil registration of births, marriages and deaths replaced the diocesan registers.

1889 Population 639,491.

1897 Roman Catholic Mission opened in Falmouth by Father Emerick.

1899 600 more East Indian laborers were introduced.

1900 Father Emerick, who had been visiting the Catholic mission in Alva, St. Ann, extended the work to Murray Mount. A new church was dedicated there on February 13.

1900's A wave of immigration to Panama, to work on the Panama Canal or in construction.

1905 The new Roman Catholic church building opened at Alva, St. Ann.

1914-1918 World War I.

1939-1945 World War II.

1939 A hurricane.

1944 August. Hurricane.

1951 Hurricane.

1962 August 6. Jamaica became an Independent member of the British Commonwealth.

1988 September 12. Hurricane Gilbert struck the island.

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