Many British people, black and white, have ancestors who were black slaves in
the Caribbean. As such, transported slaves, slave registers and details of those
slaves freed when slavery was abolished.
Britain was one of the main colonial powers in the Caribbean, holding(at various
times): Antigua; the Bahamas; Barbados; Bermuda; Cayman Islands; Cuba; Dominica;
Grenada; Guadeloupe; Haiti; Jamaica; Monserrat; Nevis; St Kitts (St
Christopher); St Lucia; Tobago and Trinidad; Turks and Caicos Islands; British
Virgin Islands; and also, on the South American mainland, Guyana (formerly
British Guiana) and Belize (British Honduras). Bear in mind that many islands
changed hands due to wars, and therefore Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish and French
influences (and blood) are often very significant in these places’ past.
Jamaica's original inhabitants, who greeted Columbus when he stepped ashore in
1494, were Arawak Indians. Spain began colonising the island in 1509 and held it
until it was captured by Admiral Penn in 1655. The island's climate was found to
be perfect for growing sugar, but cultivating it was extremely labour-intensive.
At first, it was grown and harvested by indentured white labour, but before long
vast numbers of black slaves started to be imported from the west coast of
Africa, the ships then proceeding to England laden with sugar and then returning
to Africa to start slave-trading again. In total, some 1.5 million black people
are thought to have been carried to the Caribbean.
The 18th century saw a succession of earthquakes, hurricanes and slave revolts
in Jamaica. Many escaped slaves, called Maroons, set up villages of their own in
the more mountainous parts of the island, successfully evading recapture and, in
some cases, becoming slave owners themselves. In the end, it was political
pressure from Britain that resulted first in a ban on the import of new slaves
and finally the complete abolition of slavery in 1833.
After the abolition of slavery, and especially after the obligatory four-year‘
apprenticeship’ period that ensued, many ex-slaves marched off the plantations
where they had once been held in shackles. To replace them, the plantation
owners recruited large numbers of indentured labourers from China and India.
There are some records of these new immigrants in the NA's Colonial Office
papers and in island record offices, especially Trinidad.
Following an uprising of the now free blacks in Jamaica in 1865, a Crown
government was established and social and economic reforms instituted. Jamaica
became an independent nation within the British Commonwealth in 1962. After the
Second World War, many Jamaicans were encouraged to settle in Britain,
originally to provide cheap labour. Having largely overcome several decades of
racial prejudice they have become an important and vibrant part of British
During slavery, it was routine practice for white, male slave owners and
overseers to have sexual relations with their female black slaves. Some
relationships were based on violence and others on love and respect but the
results were the same many children of mixed race, some of whom were freed by
their fathers but most of whom lived as slaves, either on their paternal
plantations or simply sold as chattels.
Most black Jamaicans, therefore, can trace their lines of ancestry back to
Arawak Indians, African slaves, maybe some East Indians and Chinese, and very
often to white slave owners. Indeed, because many slave owners had aristocratic
connections, many modern Jamaicans are probably more closely related to British
nobility than the majority of white Britons. One mixed-race Jamaican immigrant
to Oldham whom I researched turned out to be a direct cousin of the Queen
- Navin Kumar Jaggi
- Gurmeet Singh Jaggi