The island - discovered by
Christopher Columbus in 1494 - was settled by the Spanish early in the
16th century. The native Taino Indians, who had inhabited Jamaica for
centuries, were gradually exterminated and replaced by African slaves.
England seized the island in 1655 and established a plantation economy
based on sugar, cocoa, and coffee. The abolition of slavery in 1834
freed a quarter million slaves, many of whom became small farmers.
Jamaica gradually obtained increasing independence from Britain, and in
1958 it joined other British Caribbean colonies in forming the
Federation of the West Indies. Jamaica gained full independence when it
withdrew from the Federation in 1962. English
and English patois are spoken.