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A Failed Settler Society: Marriage and Demographic Failure in Early Jamaica

Trevor Burnard
Journal of Social History
Vol. 28, No. 1 (Autumn, 1994), pp. 63-82
Published by: Oxford University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3788343
Page Count: 20
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A Failed Settler Society: Marriage and Demographic Failure in Early Jamaica
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Abstract

The development of a plantation system was not inevitable in early Jamaica. Jamaica was intended in the seventeenth century to be a genuine settler society similar to early Barbados and the eighteenth-century Chesapeake. There were many opportunities besides plantation agriculture for whites to make a good living. But Jamaica did not become a settler society. The reason for this failure was primarily demographic disaster. White settlers were unable to establish a growing native, born population. A study of marriage patterns in the parish of St. Andrews from 1666 to 1750 clearly demonstrates the extent of demographic failure by white settlers in early Jamaica. The average length of marriage was astonishingly short and declined over time, and the number of children produced in each marriage far too few to sustain population increase. Marriage itself became increasingly uncommon over time as the incidence of marriage and the likelihood of remarriage decreased. This had deleterious consequences for women in particular. The result of demographic failure in Jamaica led to Jamaican experience diverging considerably from mainland experience. The process of anglicization that occurred in British North America in the eighteenth century was not matched in Jamaica because white settlers did not achieve enough of a presence in Jamaica to make anything more than a temporary impression on the numerically overwhelming slave majority.

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