Britain captures Jamaica

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Britain captures Jamaica

The 10th of May 1655 AD

With Cromwell established in London as Lord Protector , and the country more or less at peace, he turned his eyes towards the distant horizon of the Caribbean. As a devout, some may say fanatical, Protestant, he viewed Catholic Spain as a natural enemy. The prospect of attacking Spain herself was not to be contemplated, but honour could be served, and trade also, by attacking Spanish colonies in the West Indies. The English had genuine grievances the Spanish in the Caribbean did not allow English Protestant merchants the freedom of worship, and many English merchant ships had been attacked and robbed in the region but they were a fig-leaf to cover colonial ambitions.

Thus Cromwell created the policy called his Western Design, a grand title for what amounted to an expedition to raid and if possible conquer Spanish possessions in the Caribbean. Plans were put in train in August 1654 with a view to capturing the island of Hispaniola. Admiral William Penn, at just 33 a youthful and yet experienced leader after his service in the Parliamentary navy during the Civil War , and General Robert Venables were put in charge of the affair, though it was handicapped from the start by poor oversight by the political leadership in England, and by the military using the expedition as a method of clearing out their worst performers both officers and men. They sailed from England in December 1654.

The attack on Hispaniola failed miserably, but after that failure Penn and Venables turned towards Jamaica, 100 miles away. The fleet arrived in Jamaica on May 10 1655, landing at Kingston Harbour. Strength and surprise worked in their favour, and the Spanish surrendered the next day. The majority were allowed to depart the island, heading for the safety of Cuba, but others were more determined to continue the resistance and eventually they hoped expel the English; these headed to the north of the island.

Spanish resistance on the island of Jamaica was led by the defeated governor, Don Cristobal Arnaldo de Ysassi. Over the next five years he attacked where he could, and on two occasions was supported by ships from Cuba. The English ran through governors at a rapid rate: General Sedgwicke arrived and died in 1655, General Brayne replaced him and died in 1656, and then General Doyley who was already on the island took the reins. It was he who defeated Ysassi in battles at Ochos Rios in 1657 and Rio Nuevo in 1658. Ysassi kept the struggle up until he was finally defeated in 1660, finally having to escape Tower Hill and flee to Cuba by canoe with his remaining supporters. Under British rule Jamaica soon became a hugely profitable possession, producing large quantities of sugar for the home market and eventually for other colonies.

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