The indigenous Arawak and Taino peoples, originally from South America, settled the island between 4000 and 1000 BC.
Christopher Columbus claimed Jamaica for Spain after landing there in 1494. Columbus’ likely landing point was Dry Harbour, now called Discovery Bay. St Ann’s Bay was the “Holy Glory” of Christopher Columbus, who first sighted Jamaica there. The Spanish were forcibly driven out by the British at Ocho Rios in St Ann’s and in 1655 the British captured the last Spanish fort in Jamaica. The Spanish settlers fled, leaving behind large numbers of African slaves. Rather than be enslaved again by the British, they fled to the mountainous regions of the island and joined those who had already fled the Spanish and were living with the Taínos. These escaped slaves, known as Jamaican Maroons, fought the British in the 18th century. During the long years of slavery, the Maroons established free communities in the mountainous interior of Jamaica, preserving their freedom and independence for generations.
During the first 200 years of British rule, Jamaica became one of the leading sugar exporting nations and was dependent on slavery. After the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, the British imported Indian and Chinese Indentured Servants to supplement the labour pool. Descendants of Indian and Chinese indentured servants still live in Jamaica today.
In the early 19th century, Jamaica was heavily dependent on slavery and blacks (Africans) outnumbered whites (Europeans) by almost 20 to 1. Although England had banned the importation of slaves, some were still smuggled into the colonies.
In the 1800s, the British created a number of botanical gardens. These included Castleton Garden, which was created in 1862 to replace Bath Garden (founded in 1779), which was prone to flooding. Bath Garden was the site of the planting of the breadfruit brought to Jamaica from the Pacific by Captain William Bligh. The other gardens were Cinchona Plantation, founded in 1868, and Hope Garden, founded in 1874. In 1872 Kingston became the capital of the island.
Jamaica slowly gained increasing independence from the United Kingdom, becoming a province of the Federation of the West Indies in 1958 before achieving full independence in 1962 when it withdrew from the Federation.