Out of Many, One People: The Historical Archaeology of Colonial Jamaica

Out of Many, One People: The Historical Archaeology of Colonial Jamaica

by James A. Delle

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Out of Many, One People paints a complex and fascinating picture of life in colonial Jamaica, and demonstrates how archaeology has contributed to heritage preservation on the island.See more details below


Out of Many, One People paints a complex and fascinating picture of life in colonial Jamaica, and demonstrates how archaeology has contributed to heritage preservation on the island.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This important volume compiles key historical archaeological studies from Jamaica. Chapters address central themes in Jamaican history, including Spanish colonial settlement in the 16th century, British settlement and urban life in the 17th century, slavery and plantation life, and maroon resistance. Maureen J. Brown's insightful essay sheds new light on tavern culture and merchant activities in 17th-century Port Royal. Editor Delle provides a theoretically sophisticated analysis of Jamaican plantation landscapes. Essays by editor Hauser and Matthew Reeves offer unique perspectives on internal marketing systems. The volume includes a good blend of underwater and terrestrial archaeological studies. While Jamaica has been a primary focus of historical archaeological research in the Caribbean since the underwater studies of Port Royal in the 1950s, this is the first edited volume to synthesize the broad range of historical archaeological scholarship in Jamaica. Moreover, there are only a handful of edited volumes concerning historical archaeology in the Caribbean. Although the book focuses solely on the Jamaican experience, the breadth and scope of the essays add significantly to understanding the processes shaping life in the broader Atlantic world. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries."

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University of Alabama Press
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Caribbean Archaeology and Ethnohistory Series
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1st Edition
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6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

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Out of Many, One People

The Historical Archaeology of Colonial Jamaica


Copyright © 2011 The University of Alabama Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8173-5648-4

Chapter One


Historical Archaeology in Jamaica

Mark W. Hauser, James A. Delle, and Douglas V. Armstrong

The largest and wealthiest of Britain's former Caribbean colonial possessions, Jamaica has long been a major locus of inquiry into the archaeology of the colonial experience. This volume assembles for the first time the results of nearly three decades of historical archaeology in Jamaica. Spanning four hundred years of Jamaica's colonial history, the essays in this volume consider topics ranging from the late fifteenth-century settlement of Jamaica's north coast by the Spanish, through the seventeenth-century establishment of what was once the world's wealthiest colonial entrepôt, to the eighteenth-century fluorescence of slave-based plantation agriculture, to the post-emancipation hopes and dilemmas arising in the aftermath of the nineteenth-century abolition of slavery. Through their work on Jamaica, which Christopher Columbus reputedly described as "the fairest isle eyes have seen," the archaeologists represented here have explored in microcosm the material realities of colonialism as experienced throughout the New World.

Jamaica's national motto, "Out of Many, One People," expresses a deep understanding of the diverse heritage of the population that emerged during the colonial period, a concept that has been carried over in the breadth of archaeological research conducted in Jamaica. The island nation projects a rich diversity of cultural settings and a corresponding set of archaeological remains from contact period sites linked directly to Columbus and early Spanish settlers, to the complex of colonial forts and urban settlements associated with the late seventeenth-century maritime trading center at Port Royal that was devastated by an earthquake in 1692, to an array of plantation sites relating to the British colonial period and tied to a complex set of social and economic structures built upon the labor of enslaved Africans. Jamaica's colonial history did not end with the abolition of slavery, however, and an increasing number of archaeological projects have focused on post-and extra-slavery contexts.

In this introductory chapter, we frame the historical archaeology of Jamaica through an outline of the primary temporal and topical themes that have shaped the history of the island nation. In so doing, we provide a condensed history of the colonial experience on the island, providing a context for the historical archaeological explorations that follow in the subsequent chapters.

The Archaeology of History in Colonial Jamaica

The year that Columbus first landed on Jamaica, 1494, marks the beginning of Jamaica's colonial history. Certainly it is not the beginning of the story of the Jamaican people, nor is it the likely end of the story of indigenous people on the island they called Xamaca. Rather it is the year in which the long and complex story of European colonialism, African labor, and creole life began in Jamaica. The goal of this volume is to explore the history of Jamaica through archaeological engagement with the materials and landscapes left to us by past peoples resident on this island; these material realties are reflected, revealed, and created by the artifacts, buildings, and landscapes shaped through the productive capacities, inventiveness, and perseverance of twenty generations of Jamaica's people. We hope to show through the material record that these Caribbean people cannot be defined solely through structures of inequality or resistance to colonial abstractions. While it is quite evident that social and economic inequalities have existed and continue to do so, by closely reading the material record of the indeterminacies of everyday life archaeologists can interpret and better understand the complexities inherent in the quotidian experiences of colonialism.

While there have been a number of traditional histories written about the colonial experience in the Caribbean, and of Jamaica in particular, we believe that this is the first attempt to pull together a narrative history of the island using material culture as a point of departure. The authors in this volume follow James Deetz's definition of material culture as the aspects of the natural environment that have been impacted by and in turn have shaped human agency (Deetz 1977). Material culture in Jamaica can be as dramatic as the leg irons used by planters to shackle a laborer or as unassuming as a clay pot found in the burned remains of the governor's mansion. Material culture reveals a level of tangible evidence that we can use to complement, confront, and sometimes confound the documentary record. We recognize that material culture introduces its own kinds of silences (Morrison and Lycett 1997; Cobb 2005), largely due to the sometimes arbitrary nature implicit in the exercises of typology, classification, and interpretation. However, material culture studies can give active voice to those who might seem passive in the documentary evidence, whether they be the indigenous peoples confronted by Columbus, the Africans enslaved by the British to work on sugar and coffee plantations, the sailors who made intra-island trade possible, the free and enslaved artisans who created the material realities of the Jamaican world, or the South Asian contract laborers transported across an empire to ensure the production of cheap sugar for the world market. While not necessarily going as far as calling it a democratic form of evidence as Leland Ferguson (1992) would have us do, the analysis of material culture can, in the best of worlds, expand our understanding of the past.

What enables us to mitigate silences in the documentary record and the arbitrary nature of material identification and interpretation is the archaeological perspective of scale. Ultimately archaeology is the study of the distribution of material culture in time and space. It looks at how these two axes are shaped by and continue to shape human interaction. After all, it is important to note that historical processes that make archaeological interpretations methodologically possible—such phenomena as the mass production of goods, large volume consumption, and occasional choice (agency)—are also our primary problematics, or at least questions of concern. From the perspective of archaeology, when we look at the history of Jamaica, we see continually unfolding processes transforming both the social structures of the island and the material lives of the colonizing and colonized people of the "fairest isle."

Early Colonial Jamaica, 1494–1692

While most casual observers consider Jamaica to be part of the Anglo-sphere of the colonial British West Indies, the island was a Spanish colonial possession for over 150 years. The colonial history of Jamaica begins with the fifteenth-century arrival of the Spanish, who claimed possession of the island and its indigenous people until 1655, when Jamaica was wrested away by the British. Columbus claimed Jamaica for the Spanish Crown when he landed on the island's north coast in May 1494. While Columbus was famously marooned on Jamaica for a year, it was not until 1509 that Sevilla la Nueva, the first permanent Spanish settlement on Jamaica and the first Spanish capital, was established near the modern town of St. Ann's Bay, on Jamaica's north coast. While much of the early historical archaeology on Jamaica focused on trying to locate and define early Spanish sites, the results of those efforts were sparsely reported. Fortunately, Robyn P. Woodward's studies of Sevilla la Nueva provide an important picture of social and economic systems from the early days of colonial settlement of the region (Woodward 1988, 2006a, 2006b).

Woodward's contribution to this volume (chapter 2) synthesizes her extensive research into this first capital of colonial Jamaica. Her study of a sixteenth-century mill site at Sevilla la Nueva explores the transferal of Spanish feudal systems of agricultural production to Jamaica. As was the case in more famously Spanish possessions like Hispaniola, on Jamaica the indigenous population was put to work sharecropping land patented by the crown to Spanish landlords. Their crops were processed in a central milling operation located in the town. The mill and related settlements at Sevilla la Nueva project a center of craftspersons, artisans, and agricultural producers (Woodward 2006a). It is important to note that although Sevilla la Nueva never reached the prominence of La Isabella on Hispaniola, sculptors in Jamaica were similarly trained to produce statuary and architectural detailing to provide symbolic capital for the Catholic Church and colonial administrators of Jamaica.

Woodward's research explores the beginning of many institutions that played a pivotal role in Jamaica's later economic and social development. Shortly after New Seville's establishment we see the beginning of the effect of the asiento, the legal framework that established crown approval for the importation of enslaved Africans into Spain's New World possessions. Africans were first brought to Jamaica during the sixteenth century. In 1513 Juan de Esquivel, complaining about the lack of indigenous labor, requested that the king permit him to bring three enslaved Africans to Jamaica (Cundall and Pietersz 1919:1). It was thus the Spanish that introduced African slavery to Jamaica.

Spanish governors continued to administer colonial Jamaica from Sevilla la Nueva until 1534, when the seat of power was moved from the north coast to the south coast. In that year the new colonial capital was established in Villa de la Vega, known to this day as Spanish Town. In 1540 the crown granted Jamaica to the descendants of Christopher Columbus. As a personal estate of the Columbus family, the island remained relatively underdeveloped throughout the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. As the empires of the Aztec and Inca were folded into the Spanish Empire, the crown shifted interest away from the agricultural colonies of the Caribbean to its wealthier holdings on the Spanish Main—Mexico, Central America, and Andean South America. Spanish settlement remained relatively sparse on the islands, though Jamaica was utilized to provision ships' crews with fresh water, cured pork, and a kind of cassava bread called bammy.

The Spanish occupation of Jamaica ended on May 10, 1655, when British admiral William Penn and general Robert Venebles, unable to conquer Hispaniola, landed at Passage Fort on the western shore of Kingston Harbor; within a day they secured a Spanish surrender of the island of Jamaica. While some of the Spanish settlers escaped to nearby Cuba, others stayed and fought an internecine guerilla war from the Juan de Bolas hills, located in today's parish of St. Catherine. Commanding a small guerilla force and supplied by Cuba, Don Cristobal Arnaldo de Ysassi struggled against the British for several years. In a remarkable historical moment, formerly enslaved laborers of the Spanish who had run away into the hills of St. Catherine—known as Maroons—aided the Spanish effort against the British. Indeed, much of the early success of de Ysassi has been attributed to the tactical skill and charismatic ability of Juan de Bolas, the Maroon leader. Two pitched battles were fought—at Ocho Rios in 1657 and Rio Nuevo in 1658. It was only in 1660 that de Ysassi was finally defeated when Juan de Bolas and his Maroon guerillas abandoned the Spanish to side with the English.

While British control of Jamaica was not fully consolidated until 1694, when a French effort to seize the island was repulsed, the defeat of de Ysassi and the alliance of the Maroons allowed English and native-born creole settlers to concentrate on establishing Port Royal, one of the most important colonial settlements in the seventeenth-century Caribbean. Located in the western Caribbean, along one of the largest natural harbors in the western hemisphere, the English settlement at Port Royal was one of the most important commercial centers in Anglophone America. While Spanish Town continued to be the political seat of the island, considerable settlement and investment occurred in Port Royal, perched at the end of the Palisadoes, a sandy spit protecting Kingston Harbor (Pawson and Buisseret [1975] 2000).

Given Jamaica's proximity to Cuba, Hispaniola, and the Honduran and Miskitu coasts, British colonial power was concentrated there, as Port Royal grew into one of the largest transshipment ports for enslaved Africans in the western Caribbean. Concomitant with the growth in legitimate trade was a growth in contraband, privateering, and piracy. Nuala Zahedieh estimates that 1,500 residents of Port Royal were engaged in privateering, out of a population of 8,500-9,000 (1986). The cosmopolitan population of Port Royal had mostly come from other Caribbean colonies where the land had already been claimed and prospects were limited. Seventeenth-century Port Royal was home to peoples of African descent (including creoles from Barbados and Nevis), English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, Spanish Jews, and Gypsies (Burton 1999:15), 5,000 of whom were freemen recruited from the older West Indian colonies of St. Kitts, Nevis, and Barbados (Watts 1987:216). Since sugar production required significant technological and financial investment, the early poor settlers set up less economically intensive agricultural concerns, including small-scale ranches (known in Jamaica as pens), as well as cotton and cocoa plantations, which required less infrastructural investment than sugar (see Dunn 1972:149).

At 11:43 A.M. on June 7, 1692, an earthquake struck the island of Jamaica. This massive quake wrought many changes to the island's geography, including a landslide that buried a plantation at Judgment Cliff in the parish of St. Thomas. The Palisadoes strip, mostly made of sand, experienced a geological effect known as liquifaction; some two-thirds of the city of Port Royal slumped into Kingston Harbor as a result of the earthquake. While the destruction of Port Royal is commonly used to separate Jamaica's early colonial period from the later plantation period—a convention we use here—it is simplistic to assume that the cataclysmic earthquake was the primary determinant in shifting Jamaica's economy away from trade and into plantation production. Certainly, as Pawson and Buisseret ([1975] 2000) have noted, by the time the earthquake struck, Port Royal was already in a state of economic decline. Indeed, if any causality is to be ascribed to the earthquake it is that it hastened the city's decline and the shift of the island's economic basis from commercialism to agro-industry. Indeed, as Douglas V. Armstrong highlights in his discussion of Seville Plantation (see chapter 5), the Hemmings family had already established their sugar plantation in St. Ann's Bay by the time the earthquake struck.

The earthquake that destroyed Port Royal created something of a Pompeii effect—a moment of time was captured for archaeologists when the city was destroyed. The attraction of the "Sunken City" has fostered a considerable amount of archaeological research in Port Royal for the early colonial period, ranging from amateur investigations focused on the "pirate port" to intensive and systematic investigations seeking to recover and re-create the seventeenth-century port city landscape. Most notable among this research was a multiyear project conducted by Donny Hamilton of Texas A&M University and the Institute of Nautical Archaeology. Hamilton's project resulted in a number of articles focusing on the merchants and craft producers of Port Royal, as well as theses and dissertations specializing in specific sets of material culture (McClenaghan 1988; Gotelipe-Miller 1990; Franklin 1992; Heidtke 1992; Darrington 1994; Hailey 1994; Trussel 2004; C. Smith 1995; H. DeWolf 1998; Fox 1998; Winslow 2000).


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