History of Saint Lucia

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Saint Lucia was constantly fought over by the British and the French during the 18th century, This painting depicts the Battle of St. Lucia, 15 December 1778, when 12 French ships lead by Admiral d'Estaing (left) attacked seven British ships (right) commanded by Admiral Barrington.

According to some, Saint Lucia was first inhabited sometime between 1000 and 500 BC by the Ciboney people, but there is a lot of evidence of their presence on the island. The first proven inhabitants were the peaceful Arawaks, believed to have come from northern South America around 200-400 AD, as there are numerous archaeological sites on the island where specimens of the Arawaks' well-developed pottery have been found. There is evidence to suggest that these first inhabitants called the island Iouanalao, which meant 'Land of the Iguanas', due to the island's high number of iguanas.[1]

The more aggressive Caribs arrived around 800 AD, and seized control from the Arawaks by killing their men and assimilating the women into their own society.[1] They called the island Hewanarau, and later Hewanorra. This is the origin of the name of the Hewanorra International Airport in Vieux Fort. The Caribs had a complex society, with hereditary kings and shamans. Their war canoes could hold more than 100 men and were fast enough to catch a sailing ship. They were later feared by the invading Europeans for their ferocity in battle.

16th century[edit]

When the island was first discovered by Europeans is disputed. Some claim that Christopher Columbus sighted the island during his second voyage in 1493, while others claim that Juan de la Cosa noted it on his maps in 1499, and that the island is included on a globe in the Vatican made in 1502.[1] However, it is doubtful that Columbus passed St Lucia during his second voyage, as the island lies far south of his known route on that voyage; Juan de la Cosa was exploring northern South America in 1499 and it's obvious that the claim about him naming St Lucia El Falcon refers to the state Falcón in northern Venezuela; and there is no known globe in the Vatican Library from the early 1500s.

In the late 1550s the French pirate François le Clerc (known as Jambe de Bois, due to his wooden leg) set up a camp on Pigeon Island, from where he attacked passing Spanish ships.[1]

17th century[edit]

Around 1600, the first European camp was started by the Dutch, at what is now Vieux Fort. In 1605, an English vessel called the Olive Branch was blown off-course on its way to Guyana, and the 67 colonists started a settlement on Saint Lucia. After five weeks, only 19 survived, due to disease and conflict with the Caribs, so they fled the island.

In 1635, the French officially claimed the island but didn't settle it. Instead, it was the English who attempted the next European settlement in 1639, but that too was wiped out by the Caribs. In 1643, a French expedition sent out from Martinique by Jacques Dyel du Parquet, the governor of Martinique, established a permanent settlement on the island. De Rousselan was appointed the island's governor, took a Carib wife and remained in post until his death in 1654.

In 1664, Thomas Warner (son of the governor of St Kitts) claimed Saint Lucia for England. He brought 1,000 men to defend it from the French, but after two years, only 89 survived, mostly due to disease. In 1666 the French West India Company resumed control of the island, which in 1674 was made an official French crown colony as a dependency of Martinique.[2]

Political control from 1674 to 1814[2]
Date Country
1674 French crown colony
1723 Neutral territory (agreed by Britain and France)
1743 French colony (Sainte Lucie)
1748 Neutral territory (de jure agreed by Britain and France)
1756 French colony (Sainte Lucie)
1762 British occupation
1763 Restored to France
1778 British occupation
1783 Restored to France
1796 British occupation
1802 Restored to France
1803 British occupation
1814 British possession confirmed

18th century[edit]

Both the British, with their headquarters in Barbados, and the French, centered on Martinique, found Saint Lucia attractive after the sugar industry developed, and during the 18th century the island changed ownership or was declared neutral territory a dozen times, although the French settlements remained and the island was a de facto a French colony well into the 18th century.

In 1722, the George I of Great Britain granted both Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent to John Montagu, 2nd Duke of Montagu. He in turn appointed Nathaniel Uring, a merchant sea captain and adventurer, as deputy-governor. Uring went to the islands with a group of seven ships, and established settlement at Petit Carenage. Unable to get enough support from British warships, he and the new colonists were quickly run off by the French.[3]

During the Seven Years' War Britain occupied Saint Lucia for a couple of years, but gave the island back at the Treaty of Paris on 10 February 1763. Like the English and Dutch on other islands, the French began to develop the land for the cultivation of sugar cane as a commodity crop on large plantations in 1765. Colonists who came over were mostly indentured white servants serving a small percentage of wealthy merchants or nobles.

A 1758 map of Saint Lucia

Near the end of the century, the French Revolution occurred. A revolutionary tribunal was sent to Saint Lucia, headed by captain La Crosse. Prior to this, the slaves had heard about the revolution and walked off their jobs in 1790-1 to work for themselves. Bringing the ideas of the revolution to Saint Lucia, La Crosse set up a guillotine used to execute Royalists. In 1794, the French governor of the island declared that all slaves were free, as also happened on Saint-Domingue.

A short time later, the British invaded in response to the concerns of the wealthy plantation owners, who wanted to keep sugar production going. On 21 February 1795, a group of rebels, led by Victor Hugues, defeated a battalion of British troops. For the next four months, a group of recently freed slaves known as the Brigands forced out not only the British army, but every white slave-owner from the island (coloured slave owners were left alone, as in Haiti). In 1796 Castries was burned as part of the conflict.

19th century[edit]

In 1803, the British finally regained control of the island and restored slavery. Many of the rebels escaped into the thick rain forests, where they evaded capture and established maroon communities.[4] The same year, the French withdrew their forces from Saint-Domingue after losing two-thirds of the 20,000 soldiers they had sent there against the slave revolt. The new leaders of Haiti declared its independence in 1804, the first black republic in the Caribbean, and the second republic in the Western Hemisphere.

The British abolished the African slave trade in 1807; they acquired Saint Lucia permanently in 1814. It was not until 1834 that they abolished the institution of slavery. Even after abolition, all former slaves had to serve a four-year "apprenticeship," during which they had to work for free for their former masters for at least three-quarters of the work week. They achieved full freedom in 1838. By that time, people of African ethnicity greatly outnumbered those of ethnic European background. Some people of Carib descent also comprised a minority on the island.

Also in 1838, Saint Lucia was incorporated into the British Windward Islands administration, headquartered in Barbados. This lasted until 1885, when the capital was moved to Grenada.

20th century to 21st century[edit]

Increasing self-government has marked St Lucia's 20th-century history. A 1924 constitution gave the island its first form of representative government, with a minority of elected members in the previously all-nominated legislative council. Universal adult suffrage was introduced in 1951, and elected members became a majority of the council. Ministerial government was introduced in 1956, and in 1958 St. Lucia joined the short-lived West Indies Federation, a semi-autonomous dependency of the United Kingdom. When the federation collapsed in 1962, following Jamaica's withdrawal, a smaller federation was briefly attempted. After the second failure, the United Kingdom and the six windward and leeward islands—Grenada, St. Vincent, Dominica, Antigua, St. Kitts and Nevis and Anguilla, and St. Lucia—developed a novel form of cooperation called associated statehood.

As an associated state of the United Kingdom from 1967 to 1979, St. Lucia had full responsibility for internal self-government but left its external affairs and defense responsibilities to the United Kingdom. This interim arrangement ended on February 22, 1979, when St. Lucia achieved full independence. St. Lucia continues to recognize Queen Elizabeth II as titular head of state and is an active member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The island continues to cooperate with its neighbors through the Caribbean community and common market (CARICOM), the East Caribbean Common Market (ECCM), and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d All about St Lucia: History
  2. ^ a b World Statesmen: Saint Lucia Chronology Linked 2014-01-20
  3. ^ Žemaitija. Land Court (1595). "Zemaitija Land Court Year Book for 1595". World Digital Library (in Belarusian). Žemaitija, Lithuania. Retrieved 30 June 2013. 
  4. ^ They Called Us the Brigands. The Saga of St. Lucia's Freedom Fighters by Robert J Devaux

Further reading[edit]