The demographic context of creolization in early English Jamaica, 1655-1700

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Jamaica’s plantation economy was established during the final quarter of the seventeenth century, after an initial two decades during which the economy of English Jamaica was dominated by privateering, centred around the prize market established in Port Royal. Population figures for those first two decades show a low proportion of blacks to whites, as might be expected in an economy not dependent on slave labour. The demographic make-up of the island changes rapidly as sugar is established as a dominant crop during the final decades of the seventeenth century. I argue that the final quarter of the seventeenth century should be considered the formative phase of Jamaican Creole, and that ethnic diversity was characteristic of English Jamaica’s slave population from the start. I survey the linguistic models that may have been available during this time, and argue that the early black population of Jamaica may not have provided accessible models for the slaves who were to work the plantations, as there was little continuity between the black population of the pre-1675 period and the slaves who populated the sugar plantations after 1675.


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