The island of Jamaica was colonized by the Taino tribes prior to the arrival of Columbus in 1494. The Spanish enslaved the Tainos, who were so ravaged by their conflict with the Europeans and by foreign diseases that nearly the entire native population was extinct by 1600. The Spanish also transported hundreds of enslaved West Africans to the island.
In 1655, the English invaded Jamaica, defeating the Spanish colonists. Enslaved Africans seized the moment of political turmoil and fled to the island's interior, forming independent communities (known as the Maroons). Meanwhile, on the coast, the English built the settlement of Port Royal, which became a base of operations for pirates and privateers, including Captain Henry Morgan.
In the 18th century, sugarcane replaced piracy as English Jamaica's main source of income. The sugar industry was labour-intensive and the English brought hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans to Jamaica, so that by 1800 black Jamaicans outnumbered whites by a ratio of twenty to one. Enslaved Jamaicans mounted over a dozen major uprisings during the 18th century, including Tacky's revolt in 1760. There were also periodic skirmishes between the British and the Maroons, culminating in the First Maroon War of the 1730s and the Second Maroon War of the 1790s. Early inhabitants of Jamaica named the land "Xaymaca", meaning "Land of wood and water".