WE are still in a land of the blacks. Jamaica is a British possession, but its people are almost all negroes. It was discovered by Columbus about two years after he had first set foot upon these islands. It was settled by the Spaniards who held it for about a century and a half, when the British took possession of it by con-quest. The Spaniards oppressed the Indians so that they all died off, and at the time the British came the island was almost deserted.
The British soon began to see the value of Jamaica for sugar, and they set out plantations, importing negro slaves by the thousands to work them. There were more than three hundred thousand slaves here at the beginning of the last century, at which time the slave trade was abolished, and after that the freed slaves and their children formed the most of the population. There are about a million people in the island of Jamaica, and of these all but a few thousand are colored. There are fifteen thou-sand whites and also about fifteen thousand East Indians, who have been brought in to work upon the plantations.
Let us take a look at the map and see what a valuable position Jamaica has in the Caribbean Sea. It is just south of the Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti, where almost all the ships going between the Panama Canal and Europe, and also between the Canal and our Atlantic states, must pass. The island has excellent harbors, and it is so situated that vessels can stop here on their way for coal and supplies.
The principal harbor is Port Royal, in front of Kingston, the capital, where we now are. The water is so deep here that the largest ocean steamers can call. There at our right is a ship bound for Boston with a cargo of oranges, bananas, and pineapples, and on the left one is coming in from England with goods for the natives. It will probably take back sugar, coffee, ginger, and other native products.
Jamaica is by no means small. It is larger than Puerto Rico, and is the largest of the British possessions in this archipelago.
The island has great natural resources. It is mountainous, but the vegetation extends to the highest peaks, and there are many rich valleys and coastal plains devoted to sugar. Fine coffee is raised on the highlands, and tropical fruits are found almost everywhere. Fruit pays better than anything else, oranges, bananas, and pineapples being annually exported to the United States.
Jamaica has orchards of cacao, nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice trees. The allspice is an evergreen tree, which grows to the height of thirty feet. It has berries about the size of a pea, each of which contains two round, dark brown seeds which taste like nutmegs, cinnamon, and cloves ground up together. The berries are picked green and dried in the sun, after which they look like black pepper. They are valuable for flavoring pickles, pastry, and cake.
Another export is ginger. This plant is grown in small patches. The roots are broken up and set out much like potatoes. They sprout rapidly, sending out stalks covered with leaves from one to three feet in height. When the stalks are withered, the new roots are full grown and ready for digging. They are taken out, cleaned, and scalded in boiling water. After this they are spread out in the sun to dry and then packed up for export to our country and Europe. Ginger is valuable for medicine, for making pre-serves, and also for the gingerbread, cookies, and snaps we all like so much.
We enjoy our travels in Jamaica. Every one speaks English, and we can stop and talk to the colored boys and girls wherever we go. We stay one day in Kingston, taking a carriage and driving about the town. Many of its houses are of yellow brick, with stores on the ground floors and high steps leading to the second stories, where most of the people live. We drive out to the parade ground to watch the drill: The soldiers are fine-looking colored men, wearing red turbans, white jackets, and blue trousers.
Like all English islands, Jamaica is well governed, and its larger cities have modern improvements. Kingston has electric lights and an electric railroad, and it is connected with all parts of the island by telegraph. Jamaica has one thousand government schools where children are taught free. It has short railroads and good country roads. We can go by carriage to any part of it, and on horseback to the very tops of the mountains.
One of our pleasantest experiences is such an excursion. We leave Kingston and ride through sugar plantations, past many small farms including fields of bananas and coffee, and then climb up the hills into the clouds. The higher summits of the Blue Mountains are always veiled in clouds. There are little clouds on their sides through which we sometimes ride, coming out to find the sun shining brightly on the upper side.
The views are magnificent. As we ascend we can see the Caribbean Sea far below us, with the ocean steamers going in and out of Port Royal apparently no larger than canoes. The buildings of Kingston now look like toys, and the little farm huts are mere spots on the landscape.
The vegetation changes as we go upward. In the low-lands are groves of cocoanut palms, higher up there are forests with many orchids and long hanging creepers, while on the top are fern beds and groves of tree ferns. At this altitude most mountains are barren, but here the moisture is so great that everything is the greenest of green.
Now we have descended the mountains and are again in the lowlands. We stop at a cabin made of mud with a thatched roof, and talk with the people. They are negroes as jolly and good-natured as our negroes at home. The children bring oranges and bananas, and ask us to buy.
There are many women at work in the fields, and in some places we observe them breaking stones on the road. They seem to do more work than the men. They cut sugar cane, hoe corn, and carry great bundles.
As we return to the city we see many women bringing fruit and vegetables into Kingston on donkeys and on their heads. We visit the market to get a supply of fresh fruit before going on board. Here most of the peddlers are women, and it is a woman porter who carries our pine-apples, bananas, and oranges to the ship. She puts the whole in a basket which she lifts to the top of her head and goes off on a trot. We follow behind, and in a short time are again on the steamer, ready for our voyage to Cuba.