On this day in Caribbean history, January 3, 1958, Jamaica becomes a founding member of the West Indies Federation, a group of Caribbean islands that formed a unit within the Commonwealth of Nations.
Various islands in the Caribbean that were colonies of the United Kingdom, including Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica, and those on the Leeward and Windward Islands, came together to form the Federation, with its capital in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. The expressed intention of the Federation was to create a political unit that would become independent from Britain as a single state—possibly similar to the Canadian Confederation, Australian Commonwealth, or Central African Federation; however, before that could happen, the Federation collapsed due to internal political conflicts. The territories of the federation eventually became the nine contemporary sovereign states of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago; with Anguilla, Montserrat, the Cayman Islands, and Turks and Caicos Islands becoming British overseas territories. British Guiana (Guyana) and British Honduras (Belize) held observer status within the West Indies Federation.
The total population of the West Indies Federation was between 3 and 4 million people, with the majority being of black West African descent. Minorities included Indians from the subcontinent (called East Indians), Europeans, Chinese, and Caribs. There was also a large population of mixed descent (mainly mulattos, but also Afro-Indian, Euro-Indian and mixed-Chinese). In terms of religion, most of the population was Protestant, with significant numbers of Catholics and some Hindus and Muslims (both almost exclusively from the East Indian population).