St. Lucia

The Arawak Indians were well-established in St. Lucia before the Europeans ever set foot on the island. They were followed by the warrior Caribs, who overcame the peace-loving Arawaks, and by around 800 AD, Carib settlements dominated the island.

These tribes left their mark on the island. They called it "Ioüanalao" and "Hewanorra," meaning "there where the iguana is found". The name St. Lucia was first used in the late sixteenth century.

It was once believed that Christopher Columbus, on his fourth voyage to the West Indies in 1502, was the first European to set foot on St. Lucia. But historians are now almost certain that he never landed on the island.

One theory suggests that Juan de la Cosa, a little- known explorer, who travelled with Columbus on his first and second voyages, named the island. One of his maps shows a small island named El Falcon near where St. Lucia is located.

The first European to settle was Francois Le Clerc, known as Jambe de Bois or Wooden Leg. He was a pirate who set himself up on Pigeon Island. From there he attacked passing Spanish ships. The Dutch established a base at Vieux Fort around 1600.

The English first landed in 1605, having been blown off course on their way to Guyana aboard their vessel, the Olive Branch. Sixty-seven settlers landed and purchased huts from the Caribs. One month later only 19 were left and these were forced to flee from the Caribs in a canoe. A second futile attempt at colonization by the British was by Sir Thomas Warner in 1639.

The French arrived in 1651 when two representatives of the French West India Company bought the island. Eight years later, ownership disputes between the French and English ignited hostilities that would endure for 150 years. During this time, the island changed hands fourteen times. St. Lucia was finally ceded to the British in 1814.

In 1746, the first town was established: Soufrière, a French settlement. By 1870, twelve French towns had been founded and the French built the first sugar estates. Within 15 years, 50 more estates were in operation. In 1780, a hurricane destroyed many plantations but the slave labor, the French quickly repaired the damage.

Wars between the English and the French prevented the growth of large plantations and the sugar industry suffered heavily with the abolition of slavery in 1838. The industry finally died in the 1960's.

The English first attacked St. Lucia in 1778 after declaring war on France for aiding the Americans in the War of Independence. During this skirmish, known as the Battle of Cul de Sac, the English captured the island. They established a naval base at Gros Islet and fortified Pigeon Island.

The most memorable Anglo-French conflict was in 1780 when Admiral George Rodney sailed the English Navy out of Gros Islet Bay and attacked and decimated the pride of the French fleet under the command of Admiral Comte de Grasse. In 1796, after Castries was razed by fire, General Moore attacked the French on Morne Fortune overlooking the city. After two days of fighting, the 27th Inniskilling Regiment forced the French to surrender.

In 1838, St. Lucia joined the Windward Islands with its seat of government in Barbados. In 1842, English became the island's official language.

In 1863, the first steamship laden with coal called at Castries and the port soon became a major coaling station. The first shipment of indentured Indian laborers arrived in 1882 to help bail out the agricultural industry. They continued to arrive over the next 30 years and many decided to settle here.

The coal industry began to decline in 1906 when the island was abandoned as a garrisoned naval station. Other events, such as the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, World War I, the Depression in 1929 and the introduction of diesel and oil fuel in the 1940's, all combined to its demise.

St. Lucia moved towards independence in 1951 when suffrage was granted to all citizens over age twenty- one. The Windward Islands adopted a new constitution and the seat of government moved to Grenada. In 1958, St. Lucia joined the West Indian Federation which collapsed after only four years.

In 1960, the island enacted a new constitution with the appointment of the first Ministers of Government. This constitution expired in 1967 when England granted the island full self-government. On September 19, 1983 St. Kitts and Nevis gained independence from Britain. The twin island Federation remains a member of The Commonwealth and preserves many of the traditions of Britain - a passion for cricket, stable government and always driving on the left. It has also preserved much of the colonial architecture in the capital Basseterre making it one of the most beautiful capitals in the Caribbean.


Information provided courtesy of: Caribbean Association Midwest America