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History of St. Kitts & Nevis

It is believed that the first inhabitants of St. Kitts & Nevis arrived about 3000 BC from what is today known as Florida, however years later they died out or left the islands. The next wave of settlers came in about 1000 BC from the south, but again these people didn't last as in about 800 AD the Arawaks arrived and displaced these earlier people or intermarried. The final group to arrive to the islands prior to the Europeans were the Kalinago or Carib people, who arrived in about 1300 AD.

The islands were then spotted by Christopher Columbus and his crew in 1493, but they made no immediate settlement efforts on the islands. It was the French who first attempted to settle these islands, the first non-Spanish settlers in the Caribbean. These French were not an official mission, but rather Huguenots seeking religious freedom in 1538. The Spanish didn't welcome this attempt and soon drove them away, but not actually attempting to settle the islands themselves.

In 1607 the British arrived, but made no attempt to settle the islands until 1623 when a settlement was established in St. Kitts. This began as a friendly relationship between the British and the local people, but this soon turned to distrust. The English welcomed a ship of French sailors a few years later and soon these two groups of European outnumbered the local population. This tension came to a head in 1626 when the British massacred the local people, who were planning an attack; the rest of the local population fled the island at this time.

The English and French split the island amongst themselves, with the French taking Capisterre and Basseterre and the rest in British hands. From here the British then settled Nevis in 1628 along with numerous other islands.

In the early years of the colony the people made a living on producing tobacco and later sugarcane. These industries required a great deal of manual labor so the islands began bringing in African slaves to work the plantations. The people lived in near peace at first as both the English and French focused on economic gain. This ended in the 1660s when the countries of France and the United Kingdom went to war, leading to war on the islands as well. The French took the whole island of St. Kitts at this point and again in 1689, however never holding it for long.

In 1671 the British part of St. Kitts joined Nevis and a couple other islands to form the Leeward Caribee Island Government. From this time until 1700 the islands suffered greatly. There were regular French and English battles on St. Kitts and Nevis as the islands also suffered from an earthquake and tsunami.

These struggles continued into the 1800s as the French once more took St. Kitts, but again it was restored to British control in 1713, shortly after moving the capital to Basseterre. It was after this occupation and restoration that St. Kitts was again on a path to economic success as the sugarcane industry was solidified on the island. Nevis though struggle to get back on track as their sugarcane output decreased annually.

Nevis, in 1778 made a desperate attempt to get back on track economically by opening the western hemisphere's first hotel as they began seeking tourism, a radical idea at the time. St. Kitts meanwhile continued to prosper through the sugarcane trade, an industry that prospered and thrived until the end of slavery in the British Empire in 1834. From this point on, the islands struggled to find a sustainable income, although they continued to rely on the sugarcane industry.

The essential death of the sugar industry came in the 1930s when the Great Depression in the United States and Europe led to a decrease in demand for sugar. St. Kitts & Nevis had relied almost entirely on this crop for their income and when the industry suffered so did the people. This led to numerous uprisings and demands for greater freedoms among the workers.

Meanwhile, throughout the 1800s and into the 1900s the British regularly altered their administrative districts, changing the government of St. Kitts & Nevis, however for the most part the power remained in St. Kitts. This continued through 1971 when Anguilla finally withdrew from the association and St. Kitts & Nevis were left on their own under British rule. In the 1980s Nevis started discussing separation from St. Kitts, but instead Britain granted the islands independence in 1983, a move that gave Nevis greater rights and the option to secede from St. Kitts.

Since independence in 1983 the country of St. Kitts & Nevis has turned to tourism as the primary means of income, while maintaining a fairly stable political and economic state.

This page was last updated: March, 2013