The English Conquest Of Jamaica: Oliver Cromwell’s Bid For Empire, by Carla Gardina Pestana
The English conquest of Jamaica and its context and consequences is not something that is well known or understood even by those of us who are deeply interested in questions of imperialism and its origins. The English were fairly late when it came to imperialism as far as Western nations were concerned and had by the middle of the 17th century only explored a few areas in the Western hemisphere, and those generally uninhabited areas that were not in competition with others. Jamaica represented a considerable increase in the ambitions of England as an imperial nature and helped set up the template in how later imperial ventures would be dealt with. If the conquest of Jamaica was by no means as successful as undertaking as England had hoped, and even if it had some complex consequences for the regime of Cromwell, the author here is far more positive about Jamaica as being a harbinger of later imperial success for England than the conquest of Jamaica was viewed at the time or tends to be viewed at by historians who view it as a consolation prize in the face of greater failures elsewhere.
This book is about 250 pages long and it is divided into nine chapters. The book starts somewhat slow as the author discusses the preparations that were made by the English for an ambitious attack of the entire Spanish holdings of the Greater Antilles (1), as well as the massive expectations that they had in taking over territories that they viewed as being weak and easy to conquer (2). After that the author discusses the movements of the British fleet and fairly large expeditionary force for the time to Hispanola and the problems with arming and feeding such a force (3), as well as the failure that resulted from English timidity as well as poor logistics and stronger than expected Spanish resistance (4). After that the author talks about the move to seize the still weaker Jamaica (5). After that there is a discussion of how the conquest and English efforts were imagined in the light of views of divine providence (6), the struggles that the English conquerors faced in surviving in Jamaica (7), and how it was that they turned their initial victory into a conquest of the island (8). After a discussion of the settlement that followed the conquest (9), the author concludes with some comments about the importance of Jamaica for future colonial endeavors as well as abbreviations, notes, acknowledgements, and an index.
Whatever else one things about the horrible struggles of the Cromwellian army and its intense suffering in both Hispanola as well as Jamaica, where death rates were truly excessive and where conditions could be very difficult for those seeking to survive in alien territory in the face of a desire to take the island over and turn it into a plantation colony, it was a truly ambitious undertaking that set a lot of patterns for the future. England’s modest colonial logistics were tested, and the desire to economically exploit Jamaica led to the development of slave plantations that would have massive influences on the future of Jamaica. England’s development of skill in being able to take over colonies of others would later become a much more common element of British imperial behavior, and the need to balance profits as well as the inevitable costs of armies of conquest and occupation would continue to be a concern in future imperialistic endeavors. Jamaica was an early start, and if it seemed like a consolation prize for the English, as a successful colonial conquest and later a very wealthy colony it would add a lot to the well-being of England’s and later Great Britain’s empire for a long time to come, and that is worthy of recognition.