Growing Fears and Frustrations

by eobermanns

With just a few short weeks left in the semester, I find myself digging further into the rise of turmoil within the Jamaica colony.  Aggravated by privateers and inadequate communication between the central government in London and the colonial assemblies, Jamaica grew increasingly frantic.  Since the peace between England and Spain in July of 1670, relations between the two countries had grown increasingly strained.  A petition was made to the King by merchants and traders operating in Jamaica regarding the Spanish, who continued to target and torment the English in the West Indies.  An act had been passed by King Charles II to prohibit transporting goods, such as sugar and tobacco, to any dominions in the West Indies other than those under English possession; this was a direct attempt to circumvent the actions of the Spanish, including “the intolerable injuries, unheard of cruelties, innumerable depredations and bloody murders committed by the Spanish upon His Majesty’s subjects in the West Indies since the peace with Spain” (Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America, and West Indies: Volume 10, September 1678).  

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(Spanish Privateers defeated by Henry Morgan at Lake Maracaibo in 1678)

In August of 1679, Henry Morgan was called upon to aid in the planning of defense for the Jamaica colony under the governorship of Lord Carlisle.  He recommended a, “strengthening of the breastwork, arming the new works, providing for fire-ships,” (Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America, and West Indies: Volume 10, August 1679) aimed at better preparing the colonies for the imminent attack of both the Spanish and uncontrollable privateers.  It seemed as though the British government had created a monster it could no longer control, legalizing privateering only to villainize the men it once lauded when the practice became too unpredictable for government benefit.  Jamaica was constantly at the ready to combat privateers, yet the colonial officials were more delicate with the Spanish considering the treaty of “peace” they shared with the English.  It was written that the Governor, “had always men-of-war with him, so you will keep him fully informed as to these privateers and their movements” (Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America, and West Indies: Volume 11, October 1683).  

Issues with the monopoly granted to the Royal African Company caused an inadequate supply of slaves to be brought to Jamaican plantations.  On October 3, 1683, a petition written by the Planters and Merchants of Jamaica reached the Lords of Trade and Plantations.  Frustrated by declining trade relations with the Royal African Company, the colonists wrote that they were not “empowered by the island to agree to any discontinuance of the contract of the Royal African Company to furnish Jamaica with negroes” (Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America, and West Indies: Volume 11, October 1683); essentially, they were requesting that the Lords of Trade and Plantations allow for colonists to acquire an adequate amount of slaves through means other than the Company.  The letter, written by our own William Beeston, remarked upon the corrupt nature of the Royal African Company; they sought to break their contract with the Jamaica colony and find the highest bidder for their slaves to gain the most profit (which would inevitably benefit the King himself).  

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(Diagram of the composition of a typical Atlantic slave ship; profit was clearly valued over the respect of basic human rights)

In March of 1684, members of the Royal African Company were called to the Lords of Trade and Plantations to supply Jamaica with the promised 5,000 slaves, as outlined in their contract with the colony.  On March 4th, it was “recommended further that you signify your intention to uphold the company’s rights and that you direct the company to take care to provide the island with five thousand negroes within a year” (Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America, and West Indies: Volume 11, March 1684).  In May of the same year, it was decided that the Lords of Trade and Plantations would grant the Royal African Company their petition to be re-heard before the council regarding the supply of slaves to Jamaica; it seems highly unlikely that the King would allow the monopoly he created for his favorites to be undermined, even if the Company grew to be increasingly unpopular with the colonists in Jamaica.  Profit was of the utmost importance in the colonies, and no person understood this ideal better than the King.  

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(Map of English Plantations in America and the West Indies, ~1700)

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