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Kingston History

When Columbus sighted Jamaica on his second voyage, in 1494, he recorded in his log: "The fairest land ever eyes beheld ... the mountains touch the sky," and that perspective set the stage for Kingston history. The English seized the beautiful island from the Spanish back in 1655. In short order the logic-minded English imposed a grid-like town plan around an open square. While Kingston saw its share of drama from hurricanes, earthquakes and a surfeit of pigs, it flourished as a port city throughout the 18th century. Kingston also became a hub in the lucrative slave trade that flourished in the Caribbean. In 1872, Kingston was tapped as the island’s capital. Modern Kingston was born when the city was devastated by an earthquake in 1907. The zeal to rebuild continued through the 1960s, and Kingston today has a forward-seeking urban edge instead of a reverence for the past. New Kingston covers the site of the former Knutsford Park Race Course, and is now an uptown district of high-rise offices, slick hotels, restaurants and stores. During the 1960s, the gap between Kingston’s haves and have-nots widened, and crime in the form of the Slickers song “Johnny Too Bad” (“with your ratchet in your waist”) prevailed. Downtown turned into a ghost town and Kingston earned a reputation as a dangerous Caribbean capital—but still an essential hub for business. Kingston is where the country’s cultural, economic and social pulse beats the strongest. Like any great capital, Kingston’s history is still being made.