Caribbeans and African Americans were brought together in Britain's North American colonies, in the South as well as in the North. Those enslaved in Barbados - many of them born in Africa—constituted an important portion of the black population of Virginia and the Chesapeake; and Barbadian interests developed South Carolina, which in the eighteenth century extended and broadened its trading relations with other Caribbean colonies. Jamaica soon surpassed Barbados as a market for Carolinian products. The degree of intercourse between the two areas was enormous, and the significant influence of the Caribbean on South Carolina endures to this day.
Well into the eighteenth century, the majority of bondspeople in the North had either lived or were born in the Caribbean. In New York, which had the North's largest enslaved population, people from the Caribbean continued to outnumber Africans brought directly from the continent. Although those of West Indian origin gained a reputation for rebelliousness after a revolt in New York City in 1712 and although laws placed higher duties on them, the imbalance continued. One estimate puts the ratio of Caribbean to African slaves at three to one between 1715 and 1730. Of captives introduced by New Yorkers between 1715 and 1741, the largest number came from Jamaica, followed by Africa, Barbados, and Antigua.
Caribbean immigrants also figured prominently among the free people of color in the North. Prince Hall, who is believed to be from Barbados, established black freemasonry in the United States and was a distinguished leader of Boston's African-American community during the eighteenth century. (As late as 1860 one in five black Bostonians had been born in the Caribbean islands.) In 1822 Denmark Vesey, who was born in Africa or in the Caribbean and had been enslaved in the Virgin Islands and Saint Domingue, organized an elaborate slave uprising in Charleston, South Carolina; it was eventually uncovered before it could be launched. In 1827 John B. Russwurm of Jamaica and his African-American colleague Samuel E. Cornish started
the first black newspaper.
Caribbean immigration to the United States was relatively small during the early nineteenth century but it grew significantly after the Civil War. The foreign-born black population, which was almost wholly Caribbean in origin, increased by 500 percent between 1850 and 1900, from four thousand to more than twenty thousand.
Distinguished Caribbean migrants populate the annals of nineteenth-century black America. A significant number were skilled craftsmen, scholars, teachers, preachers, and doctors. Jan Earnst Matzeliger, the inventor of a revolutionary shoe-making machine, had emigrated from Suriname. Edward Wilmot Blyden, a major contributor to Black Nationalism, was born in the Virgin Islands. Joseph Sandiford Atwell, a Barbadian, became the first black man after the Civil War to be ordained in the Episcopal Church; and the famous comedian Bert Williams was born in Antigua.
Robert Brown Elliott, U.S Congressman and Attorney General of South Carolina; W. E. B. Du Bois; poet, songwriter, and activist James Weldon Johnson and his brother, John Rosamond Johnson; and poet and educator William Stanley Braithwaite were among the most distinguished sons of these early immigrants.
By the end of the century, Cubans had established sizeable immigrant colonies in Key West, Tampa, New York City, and New Orleans, mostly as a result of political and economic turmoil in Cuba. In the mid-1880s, more than 20 percent of the émigrés were black or mulatto, many of whom worked in the cigar-making industry, especially in Key West and Ybor City, Florida.
Puerto Rican migration began in the last third of the nineteenth century, when hundreds of political exiles, such as Eugenio María de Hostos, Ramón Emeterio Betances, Lola Rodríguez de Tió, Sotero Figueroa, and Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, lived in New York City. Many supported the island's independence from Spain. In 1895, they created the Puerto Rican Section of the Cuban Revolutionary Party, which advocated an "Antillean Confederation" of the Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Dominican republics. The majority of the expatriates were white, affluent, and well-educated professionals such as physicians, teachers, and journalists. After the end of the Spanish-Cuban-American War of 1898, when the United States occupied Puerto Rico, many returned home.