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Jamaica

Jamaica (Xaymaca, "Land of springs"), the chief of the British West Indian islands, is about 100 miles to the south of Cuba and about the same distance west of Hayti. It is about 144 miles long from west to east, and 50 broad. The Cayman Islands, as well as Caicos Island and Turk's Island, are included in the governmental area. Discovered by Columbus in 1494, it was in a few years occupied by the Spaniards. By a treaty made in 1670 it was ceded to England, having been held by her since 1655, when Penn and Venables conquered it. The aboriginal Indians were then nearly extinct. Cromwell shipped thither many prisoners, especially those taken in Ireland. African negroes had been imported by the Spaniards to work the plantations, and the English imported many more till the emancipation of the slaves in 1834. Insurrections of the slaves, who were very badly treated, broke out in 1760, 1765, and 1795, although three years before the last movement an Act had been passed for ameliorating their condition. The British Legislature did its best, but the planters were not to be controlled, and in 1831 another movement had to be put down. In 1838, after a parliamentary inquiry, an Act abolishing apprenticeship was passed by the Imperial Parliament. In 1865 the last insurrection of the slaves was crushed with great severity by Governor Eyre (q.v.). The constitution granted in 1664 was then annulled, and Jamaica has since been a Crown colony, under a Governor, a Legislative Council, and a Privy Council. The Blue Mountains, which vary in height from 5,000 to 7,500 feet, traverse the eastern part of the island. Jamaica has a fine stretch of coast-line, and more than thirty fine harbours, of which the finest is Kingston Harbour, or Port Royal. There is great variety of climate; the coast is less healthy than the interior. Partial rains fall in the spring; the heavy rains begin in June and last two months, during which intense heat prevails. A third rainy season is in October and November. Many kinds of water-fowl are found, as well as parrots and pigeons, and a wide variety of insects, but few snakes. Land-crabs and tortoises abound, more especially the violet crab (Cancer ruricola). The chief fruits are the mango, the banana, the pineapple, cocoanut, melon, mulberry, and breadfruit. Maize flourishes greatly, and guinea-grass, which is very useful for grazing purposes, grows to a height of nearly 6 feet. Large crops are also raised of ginger, cochineal, pepper, vanilla, arrowroot, and several medicinal herbs. The chief articles grown for export are sugar, various fruits, coffee, pimento, logwood, and ginger, more than half the trade being with the United States. Many negroes have small holdings, and are the chief fruit-growers. Rising industries are horse-breeding and the curing of fish, which abound in the rivers. It is thought by experts that the chief wealth of Jamaica lies in its minerals; and gold, silver, and the chief other metals are known to exist in considerable quantities, but are little drawn upon. What were known as "Jamaica diamonds" turned out to be crystals. Jamaica is divided into three divisions or counties, of which the largest is Middlesex, the central portion; the others are Surrey, on the east, and Cornwall, on the west. The capital is Kingston (q.v.), and the chief other town is Spanish Town (St. Jago de la Vega), a little further west.

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