History of Jamaica, Queens
In 1656, Peter Stuyvesant, the Dutch Governor, granted a group of English settlers a grant to settle in the land that we now call "Jamaica." At first, Stuyvesant dubbed the town "Rustdorp," which is Dutch for "rest town." However, the English gained control of the settlement in 1664, and began referring to the land as "Jameco," after the Canarsie tribe's word for "beaver." Over time, "Jameco" became "Jamaica." While the country "Jamaica" shares the same name, their origins are different, as the country gets its name from the Taino word "Xaymaca," meaning "land of wood and water."
Dutch Church in the 1700s
In its early days, Jamaica was settled by a group of English families. The economy was mostly supported by agriculture, as upon settlement, each family was granted lots for housing, farming, wood, and livestock. Also, the settlers frequently used beaver skins as currency, as there used to be a body of water called "Beaver Pond," where there was an abundance of beavers. There was also a horse race track around beaver pond that was popular at the time.
Map of Jamaica, 1873 Beaver Road, 1909
The economy was also supported by trade. The colonists realized the value of a settlement close to major bodies of water and built docks or landings for commerce, some of which still exist today, such as Jamaica Bay. Farmers would be able to support themselves past subsistence due to the existence of these docks, as they were able to trade produce.
Jamaica Bay Today
During the Revolutionary War, a group of 56 minutemen from Jamaica played a big part in the Battle of Long Island (although they lost the battle).
Battle of Long Island, 1776
Jamaica had major development all through the 1800s. In 1814, it was officially incorporated as a village, and in 1815, the public school system was founded (although there were schools in Jamaica prior to this in the 18th century). In 1834, the Brooklyn and Jamaica Railroad Company made a line that went into Jamaica. Tracks were laid for a horse car line in 1866 on Jamaica Avenue. By 1870, the South Side Railroad (which later merged with the LIRR) went from Jamaica to Babylon. F.W. Dunton advocated for good roads in Jamaica in c. 1890, and in the same time period, transportation was facilitated by the transformation of horse cars into trolley cars.
Trolley car in Jamaica
After the Civil War (1861-1865), most likely due to the ease of transportation as well as former slaves fleeing the south, the population of Jamaica was growing at a rapid rate. In 1875, the population was 780, but when Queens became a county in 1898, the population was 6500-- an 833% increase in only 23 years.
In the 20th Century, Jamaica grew commercially and in terms of infrastructure. The Long Island Railroad station was completed in 1913, and in 1918, there was an extension of elevated transit lines. Travel from Jamaica to Manhattan and Brooklyn was facilitated by the construction of the IND subway line under Hillside Avenue.
Jamaica LIRR Station
Department stores and large retailers created branches in Jamaica between 1920 and 1940, as Jamaica became a hub for transportation and goods.
Immigration was mostly from northern and western Europe, as it had been for many regions in the northeastern United States in that time period, however, in the late 1900s, immigration came largely from Hispanic and West Indian countries (especially from the country with the same name).
Jamaica remains a major hub of transportation and business. Major retailers such as Old Navy and Gap take residence there, however, many small businesses run by immigrants are flourishing.
Jamaica Center today