Jamaica was chartered on November 7, 1780. Its name is from the Natick word for "beaver" and is not connected to the Caribbean island nation of the same name. Jamaica contains Jamaica State Park, which is noted for its scenic camping spots and various swimming holes. Jamaica also contains the villages of East Jamaica and Rawsonville. The nearest large town is Brattleboro.
There were 416 households out of which 27.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 50.0% were married couples living together, 6.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 40.9% were non-families. 30.0% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.27 and the average family size was 2.88.
In the town the population was spread out with 22.3% under the age of 18, 6.0% from 18 to 24, 31.7% from 25 to 44, 26.7% from 45 to 64, and 13.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females there were 113.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 109.4 males.
The median income for a household in the town was $34,917, and the median income for a family was $43,333. Males had a median income of $26,818 versus $23,417 for females. The per capita income for the town was $22,052. About 5.6% of families and 10.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 6.7% of those under age 18 and 9.8% of those age 65 or over.
The earliest settlement of the town was along the West River near the Wardsboro Bridge, now called East Jamaica. It was here that the first school was established in 1791. The step-by-step building of roads and bridges pointing towards Manchester to the northwest moved settlement westward so that by 1800 it appeared that the town center was moving. Within the forty-two square-mile township of Jamaica there developed as many as ten separate hamlets surrounded by outlying farms, all linked to Jamaica Village by a network of roads. Eventually there were as many as 14 one-room schools which served the families in the outlying areas.
In the first quarter of the 19th century Jamaica Village assumed increasing importance as a center, largely for topographical reasons. Located near the confluence of the West River and Ball Mountain Brook, the area offered a strategic location for bridges, dams and mills. Along Ball Mountain Brook alone there were numerous dams, each providing power for at least one mill. The first store “Noon House” was built in 1803. The popularity of “Noon House” led to the building in 1814 of Jamaica House, which provided a convenient overnight spot for travelers at the mid-point between Manchester and Brattleboro.
The economy of Jamaica, like that of so many Vermont communities, prospered with the introduction of Merino sheep in the early 19th century. The Spanish sheep flourished on the rocky hillsides, and as their numbers increased, open land and bare hillsides replaced the forests which had characterized the earlier landscape.
But prosperity did not last. The depression that followed the Civil War and the decline in the wool market took their toll on the local economy. Population decreased. The rivers that had propelled the economy also ravaged its infrastructure. In 1869 a great flood carried away “a mile of bridges” and damaged every dam on Ball Mountain Brook. During this period Jamaica and other towns in the West River Valley bonded together in a venture that was seen as the salvation of the area’s economic woes, the West River Railroad. Originally chartered in 1867, the proposed railroad was to run from Brattleboro to Whitehall, NY. In 1877, financing provided by the valley towns moved the languishing project forward with the first segment from Brattleboro to Londonderry. Although it was never extended farther, the railroad provided valuable public transportation for the lower West River Valley until the 1930’s, by which time automobile ownership had become almost universal.
The five-person Board of Selectmen is responsible for the general supervision of the town, with executive and legislative responsibilities. The Town Clerk is the custodian of town records (namely land records).