Jamaica History and Cultural Information and Travel Guide. Vacation package Book. From May 5, 1494, when Columbus first set foot on what he described as "the fairest isle that eyes have beheld," to its emergence as an independent state on August 6, 1962, Jamaica passed through three main periods. First, it served for nearly 150 years as a Spanish-held way station for galleons en route to and from the Spanish Main. Second, from the mid-1600s until the abolition of slavery in 1834, it was a sugar-producing, slave-worked plantation society. Thereafter it was a largely agricultural, British colony peopled mainly by black peasants and workers.