Jamaica is an island nation of the Greater Antilles, 240 kilometres (150 mi) in length and as much as 85 kilometres (50 mi) in width situated in the Caribbean Sea. It is 635 kilometres (391 mi) east of the Central American mainland, 150 kilometres (93 mi) south of Cuba, and 180 kilometres (112 mi) west of the island of Hispaniola, on which Haiti and the Dominican Republic are situated. Its indigenous Arawakan-speaking Taíno inhabitants named the island Xaymaca, meaning either the "land of springs," or the "Land of wood and water." Formerly a Spanish possession known as Santiago, then the British West Indies Crown colony of Jamaica, the country's population is composed mainly of the descendants of former African slaves. It is the third most populous Anglophone country in the Americas, after the United States and Canada.
The original Arawak or Taino people from South America first settled on the island between 1000 and 400 BC. Although some claim they became virtually extinct following contact with Europeans, others claim that some survived.
Jamaica was claimed for Spain after Christopher Columbus first landed there in 1494. Columbus used it as his family's private estate. The British Admiral William Penn (father of William Penn of Pennsylvania) and General Venables seized the island in 1655. During its first 200 years of British rule, Jamaica became the world's largest sugar exporting nation and produced over 77,000 tons of sugar annually between 1820 and 1824, which was achieved through the massive use of imported African slave labour
By the beginning of the 19th century, the United Kingdom's heavy reliance on slavery resulted in blacks out numbering whites by a ratio of almost 20 to one, leading to constant threat of revolt.
Following a series of rebellions, slavery was formally abolished in 1834, with full emancipation from chattel slavery declared in 1838.
Jamaica slowly gained increasing independence from the United Kingdom, and in 1958 Jamaica became a province in the Federation of the West Indies, a federation between all the British West Indies.
Jamaica attained full independence by leaving the federations in 1962.