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‘The paradise of the world’: conflict and society in the Caribbean

Jamaica

After Cromwell became Lord Protector in 1653 he began to formulate the so-called ‘Western Design’, a plan to attack and acquire Spanish territories in and around the Caribbean and to plant them with English settlers, and in 1654 General Robert Venables and Admiral William Penn were commissioned to begin the task.

Map of the island of JamaicaEdmund Hickeringill. Jamaica viewed ... London: printed and sold by B Bragg, at the Blew Ball in Ave-Mary-Lane, 1705 [FCO Historical Collection F1871 HIC]The 2,500 soldiers from England who sailed with the fleet to the West Indies were supplemented by 1,200 recruited from Nevis, St Kitts and Montserrat and another 3-4,000 recruited on Barbados.The recruits were not of the highest calibre, with Venables calling them ‘men kept so loose as not to be kept under any discipline, and so cowardly as not to be made to fight’.

On 14 April 1655 General Venables landed his men on Hispaniola and began to advance on the capital, Santo Domingo. However, the invasion force was ill equipped and poorly supplied, struggled with the heavily forested terrain, lost over 1,000 men to tropical disease and was harried severely by the Spanish.

Venables broke off the invasion and on 4 May the fleet set sail for Jamaica. The English invasion force landed on 10 May without resistance and marched for Villa de la Vega, the capital. They found it almost empty and the Spanish, weakened by smallpox, capitulated immediately. Some of the inhabitants fled to the north of the island and under Don Cristobal Arnaldo de Ysassi continued to harry the English until 1660, when they departed for Cuba. Jamaica was formally ceded to Britain by Spain under the Treaty of Madrid in 1670.

First published in 1661, this pamphlet contains a description of the infant colony of Jamaica by the soldier and religious controversialist, Edmund Hickeringill (1631-1708), who served on the island in its early years.

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