Christopher Columbus Sights Jamaica

On May 3, 1494, Christopher Columbus sighted the island of Jamaica.

Spanish colonists settled the island fifteen years later, and it fell into British hands in 1655. Although the Spanish introduced slavery to Jamaica, the British oversaw its development. By the end of the eighteenth century, Jamaica was one of the most valuable colonies in the world, its profitable plantation economy based on the production of sugar through the labor of African slaves.

Some measure of the human cost of this economy is apparent in African Slave Trade in Jamaica, and Comparative Treatment of Slaves, an essay read before the Maryland Historical Society in October 1854. In this treatise, which includes a statistical comparison of the cost of slavery in the United States and Jamaica, Moses Sheppard attempts to undercut British criticisms of American slavery by emphasizing Britain's role in the introduction of slavery to the Americas and by recounting British atrocities in Jamaica. Sheppard's essay is featured in African American Perspectives, 1818-1907; to locate more documents on this subject, search the collection on slave trade.

The Arawak and Taino indigenous people originating from South America settled on the island between 4000 and 1000 BC. When Christopher Columbus arrived in 1494 there were over 200 villages ruled by chiefs or caciques, with the south coast of Jamaica being the most populated, especially around what is now known as Old Harbour. The Tainos were still inhabiting Jamaica when the British took control of the island. The Jamaican National Heritage Trust is attempting to locate and document any evidence of the Taino/Arawaks.

Christopher Columbus claimed Jamaica for Spain after landing there in 1494. Columbus' probable landing point was Dry Harbour, now called Discovery Bay. St. Ann's Bay was the "Saint Gloria" of Columbus who first sighted Jamaica at this point. One mile west of St. Ann's Bay is the site of the first Spanish settlement on the island, Sevilla, which was abandoned in 1554 because of numerous pirate raids.