Slavery in Jamaica Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Diane Sieverson

Diane has taught all subjects at the elementary level, was the principal of a K-8 private school and has a master's degree in Measurement and Evaluation.

When Spanish and British colonists settled on the island of Jamaica, they brought slavery with them. This lesson will teach you about these slaves, where they came from and when slavery was eventually outlawed.

The Island of Jamaica

Imagine it's a bright sunny day with a light breeze and you're sailing in a boat through clear, sparkling blue water. Suddenly you come upon a lush, green island with sandy beaches, flowers, palm trees and mountains. You're about to arrive on the island of Jamaica, which looks like the perfect place to go on vacation.

Jamaica (pronounced juh-MAY-cuh) is an island in the Caribbean Sea whose closest neighbors are Cuba and Haiti. Back in the late 1400s, the Spanish were more interested in claiming this island for their country than going on vacation.

The Spanish Arrive

In 1494, Christopher Columbus, who was exploring unknown areas for Spain, landed on the shores of Jamaica. The native people living there weren't too happy to see him, however, and attacked. But Columbus wanted the land, and after a short fight, took Jamaica and claimed it for Spain.

Spanish ships of Christopher Columbus in Jamaica
Spanish ships of Christopher Columbus in Jamaica

Soon, all the native people were gone. Some were killed for their land and others died from working too hard or caught Spanish diseases they couldn't recover from.

But besides death and disease, the Spanish also brought slavery to Jamaica. Spanish colonists brought African slaves to the island with them as they tried to settle the land, though the colony was never very successful.

The English Invade

Jamaica was only a Spanish colony for a while, however. In 1655, the English invaded Jamaica. Some slaves escaped into the mountains during the fighting. But before the Spanish bolted and ran off to Cuba, they set many of their remaining slaves free, leaving them on the island. These former slaves and their relatives that still live there today are called the Maroons.

That wasn't the end of slavery in Jamaica, though. After settling in Jamaica, the English colonists found out that they could easily grow sugar cane to make sugar that could be sold back in England. But they needed a lot of slaves to do the hard work in the plantation fields.

A slave is freed from the slave stick he was tied to.
Freeing an escaped slave from the slave stick he was tied to

The English shipped so many slaves from Africa to Jamaica and other nearby countries that the route was given the name 'middle passage'. It got the name because it was the middle route in an English slave ship's trip of trading goods, buying slaves and returning to England.

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