Isla de Providencia

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Providencia Island
Native name: Isla de Providencia or Old Providence
Playa Manzanillo Providencia.jpg
Manzanillo beach
Providencia Island
Isla de Providencia
Providencia Island
Providencia Island
Providencia Island is located in Colombia
Providencia Island
Providencia Island
Location in Colombia
Coordinates: 13°20′56″N 81°22′29″W / 13.34889°N 81.37472°W / 13.34889; -81.37472
Country Colombia
Department San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina
Elevation 360 m (1,180 ft)
Population (2007)
 • Total 5,011
Aerial view towards Manzanillo beach on the East coast of Providencia Island

Isla de Providencia or Old Providence is a mountainous Caribbean island part of the Colombian department of Archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina and the municipality of Providencia and Santa Catalina Islands, lying midway between Costa Rica and Jamaica. Providencia's maximum elevation is 360 m above sea level. The smaller Santa Catalina Island is connected by a 100 metre footbridge to its larger sister Providencia Island. The island is served by El Embrujo Airport.

The island was the site of an English Puritan colony established in 1629 by the Providence Island Company, and was briefly taken by Spain in 1641. The infamous pirate Henry Morgan used Providencia as a base for raiding the Spanish empire, and rumours suggest that much of his treasure remains hidden on the island. Many parts of the island are named after Morgan. Forts and cannons dating back hundreds of years can be found scattered all over Santa Catalina Island.

Early times of the colony[edit]

Popularly considered a failed colony due to poor planning, internal strife (seen in faulty leadership and slipping focus on the original purpose) and economic woes, it was founded in efforts to curb Spanish buccaneers in the West Indies and to found a colony based on Puritan values. It was expected to be the more profitable and successful of the colonizing efforts in comparison with the Plymouth colony. Though the small colony was English, the island was also populated by the Dutch. The colony is now known for its involvement in the slave trade. The slaves were sold and traded in exchange for tobacco, but not for profit, per their Puritan values.

Some of the more famous characters were the governors Nathaniel Butler and Philip Bell, Bell’s father-in-law Daniel Elfrith, William Rous and Thomas Gage. Philip Bell was the first governor and was replaced by Robert Hunt, due to conflict with another colonist resulting in ungodly behavior. Nathaniel Butler later replaced Hunt. Many of these men had already had experience with England’s colonizing and economic expeditions with the Virginia Company and the Somers (Bermuda) Company.

It is possible to infer what life was like on the island based on the accounts of slaves and letters written by the colonists. They reported that some of the Englishmen who wanted to leave did so by saying, “this place is no way to live.” Life included church services, trade with English ships and hopes for corsair raids against the Spanish. The slaves say that they were considered heretics on account of their Catholicism and their rosaries were destroyed. They grew a lot of tobacco on the island and traded it in return for slaves, clothing, shoes, liquor, beer, fabric, and other household goods like ribbons. Occasionally ships from England would bring women. Before the English had adequate ships for raiding the Spanish, they traveled around the island’s freshwater streams and surrounding waters for fishing and finding turtles. They sometimes brought back Indians from their expeditions. The principal trading port had about nine small forts and several little fortresses along the bay’s entrance. There was one inside the mouth of the bay and one also by the governor’s house. These testimonies are presumed to have provided the Spanish with key information of the colony’s logistics and defenses that enabled the attack on the island.


Due to the economic difficulties the colony was having, they had to turn to privateers to make money. This is surprising to many because it seems in conflict with Puritan values. Yet, the colonists were eager to do good for England and for their attempts at reformed religion in the West Indies, and as such they needed money. Though England and Spain were not at war, the desire to protect the respective countries’ interests in the West Indies only increased tensions between the two nations. While Nathaniel Butler was governor, much of his time was spent looking after the needs of privateers. He was hoping to revitalize the colony’s hurting economy, which in turn would improve the morale and hopes of the disgruntled colonists. In addition, he was worried that the English and Dutch activity in a heavily Spanish-controlled area would attract unwanted attention.

The island’s focus turned to defense and by 1638 the colony expected a Spanish attack within a year. Several men were sent on privateering expeditions themselves and a council of war was created. This is one major difference between the Providence Island colony and other English colonies; as Karen Kupperman observes, in the New England colonies, “success was accompanied by lodging such issues firmly under civilian control. In the threatening world of the western Caribbean, such amateurism was not seen as possible.” However, the privateering expeditions proved unsuccessful due to inexperience and lack of general sailing or West Indies knowledge.


The 995-hectare national park Old Providence McBean Lagoon is located on the island's northeast side, between Maracaibo and Rocky Point. This National Park consists of coral reefs, small Cayes, mangroves, lagoons and tropical dry forest. The National Park has a tiny visitor centre on Crab Caye, from where there are spectacular views towards the barrier reef and the multi-colored turquoise waters that surround the caye.

A local population of Black Land Crabs is noteworthy for its breeding migration, which occurs every April/May.[1] These crabs live in the hills of the island and descend (en masse) to the sea once a year to lay their eggs.

Providencia is the centre point of the UNESCO Marine Protected Area the Seaflower Biosphere Reserve, which forms 10% of the entire Caribbean Sea. This ecologically important reserve contains some of the world's greatest marine biodiversity, and incorporates the Archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina, in addition to the remote uninhabited cayes at Roncador Bank, Serrana Bank, as well as distant reefs that include Quita Sueño Bank, Rosalind Bank and Alice Shoal.

A unique sign language is signed on the island.



External links[edit]

Coordinates: 13°20′56″N 81°22′29″W / 13.34889°N 81.37472°W / 13.34889; -81.37472