Jamaica, from the Arawak Indian word Xaymaca, meaning "land of springs" or "land of wood and water", became a colony of Spain in 1494. The Spanish ruled until 1655 when they were expelled by the British who turned Jamaica into a strategic member of their empire. The British seizure of Jamaica was a direct consequence of the increasing involvement by the British crown in matters of colonization, and Jamaica became an early and vital link in the British overseas empire. The economics of Jamaica centered on its pivotal role in the "triangle trade", exchanging sugar, rum, molasses and slaves for products from Britain and other colonies, and served to fuel British imperial expansion elsewhere. Jamaica proved to be an overwhelming colonial success, combining crown and private enterprise with a strategic naval anchorage to form an example that was emulated throughout the Caribbean.
The islands forming the Caribbean stretch in an arc from Venezuela to Florida, and are divided into two groups: .
1. The Greater Antilles: Are composed of four northernmost large islands, Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica and Puerto Rico.
2. The Lesser Antilles: The smaller islands constituting the eastern portion of the Caribbean, they include the Leeward Islands of St. Kitts, Nevis, Anguilla, Antigua, and Montserrat, as well as the Windward Islands of Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and Dominica. The southernmost islands of the Lesser Antilles are Barbados, Trinidad, Tobago, Martinique and Guadeloupe. .
Jamaica lies in the center of the Caribbean Sea, 90 miles south of Cuba and 100 miles west of Hispaniola. Jamaica is the largest of the "West Indies", having an area of 4,411 square miles, a length of 146 miles east to west, and a width of 51 miles at the greatest point. Jamaica belongs to a group of islands created by the summits of a submerged mountain range connecting Central America to present day Venezuela.