Pre-Columbian Period (2900 B.C. to 1493 A.D.)
The first settlers to arrive to the islands were a pre-agricultural, pre-ceramic people, who migrated down the archipelago from Florida. These hunter-gatherers for years were mistakenly thought to be the Siboney, an Amerindian race from Cuba. However, archaeological evidence has proven that they were in actuality a group labelled "Archaic people." In a few hundred years, the Archaic people disappeared.
Around 100 B.C., the ceramic-using and agriculturalist Saladoid people came to the islands, migrating up the archipelago from the banks of the Orinoco River in Venezuela. These people were then replaced in 800 A.D. by the Igneri people, members of the Arawak tribe. They were a peace-loving pro-religious people who migrated up the same path from the Orinoco.
The First Europeans (1493 to 1623)
|The Golden Lemon Hotel
The first Europeans to arrive to the islands, were the Spanish, under Christopher Columbus. He named Saint Kitts "Sant Jago", however, map inaccuracies by further Spanish explorers caused Saint Kitts to get its Spanish equivalent name, "San Cristobal", a name which was actually given to the island of Saba 20 miles North.
The first non-Spanish settlement attempt in the Caribbean occurred on Saint Kitts, when French Jesuit refugees from the fishing town of Dieppe established a small town on a harbour on the island's North Coast, and it gave the same name, in 1538. However, only months after the founding, the settlement was raided by the Spanish and all the inhabitants deported. The remains of one of the buildings is now the basement for the Main house in the Golden Lemon Hotel.
In the early 1600s, an English captain, Thomas Warner, set sail with a crew to found a colony on the Guiana coast. His colony proved a failure as his crew was ravaged by disease, unfamiliar weather conditions, and Carib raids. A friend of Warner's then suggested that he should instead try to colonise one of the islands in the Lesser Antilles because of their favourable conditions. In 1623 Warner abandoned his Guiana post and set sail North through the archipelago. After checking each island, Warner decided that Saint Kitts would prove to be the best-suited site for a British colony, because of its strategic central position ideal for expansion, friendly native population, fertile soil, abundant fresh water, and large salt deposits. He and his family landed on the island and made peace with the local Carib people, whose leader was Ouboutou Tegremante. Warner then left his family behind and returned to England to gather more men to officially establish a colony. In 1624, he returned and established the colony of St. Christopher, the first British colony in the Caribbean. They established a port town at Old Road, downhill from Tegremante's captial village.
In 1625, a French captain, Pierre Belain D'Esnambuc, arrived on the island. He had left France hoping to establish an island
colony after hearing about the success of the British on Saint Kitts, but his fleet was destroyed by a run in with the Spanish Armada, leaving him with only his flagship. Warner felt sorry for the French settlers and allowed them to settle on the island as well, thus making Saint Kitts the site of also the first French colony in the Caribbean. They lodged themselves in the ruins of the town of Dieppe, which they rebuilt. Warner also willingly accepted the French in an attempt to out-populate the local Kalinago, to whom he was growing suspicious.
Warner's suspicions proved to be accurate. As the European population on Saint Kitts continued to increase, Tegremante grew suspicious of the foreigners. In 1626, after a secret meeting with Carib heads from neighbouring Dominica and Nevis, it was decided that in a secret raid they would ambush the European settlements. The secret plan was revealed to the Europeans however, by an Arawak woman named Barbe. Barbe had only recently been brought to St. Kitts as a slave-wife after a raid on an Arawak island. She dispised the Caribs and had fallen in love with Warner, and thus told him of the planned ambush. The Europeans acted by attacking the Caribs first. At a site now called Bloody Point, which housed the island's main Carib settlement, over 2,000 Carib men were massacred, many of whom were from Dominica, who had come overnight planning to attack the Europeans the day after. The many dead bodies were dumped in a river, on the site which housed the Caribs place of worship. For weeks, blood flowed down the river like water, giving it its nickname, Bloody River. The remaining Carib indians were deported to Dominica.
After the Carib massacre, the island was partitioned between the British and French, with the French gaining the ends, Capisterre in the North and Basseterre in the south, and the British gaining the centre. Both powers then proceeded the colonise neighbouring islands from their base. The English setteld Nevis (1628), Antigua (1632), Montserrat (1632) and later Anguilla (1650) and Tortola (1672). The French colonised Martinique (1635), the Guadeloupe archipelago (1635), and St. Barths (1648).
St. Kitts sufferred heavily from a Spanish raid in 1629, from which all of the island's inhabitants fled as the Spaniards pillaged. They returned shortly after however, and resettled the island, with intense fortifications along the Caribbean coast.
The island soon blossomed as a tobacco producer, and grew propsperous. As the colony of Virginia began to dominate world tobacco production and profits started declining however, the island switched to producing sugar cane, starting in 1640. To provide the large amounts of labour needed for the industry, African slaves were imported in large quantities. The slaves had very harsh living conditions, and thousands perished working the fields.
During the Second Anglo-Dutch War, the relationship between the French and English settlers soured, as their home countries warred. Warfare soon broke out on the island itself. The overwhelming French troops attacked the British settlements and gained control of the whole island from 1665-1667. The Treaty of Breda restored the English portion of the island to its owners.
In 1671, British St. Kitts was annexed with Nevis, Antigua and Montserrat to form the Leeward Caribee Island Government, headquartered in Antigua. The island still had full autonomy however.
In 1689, during the War of the Grand Alliance, France re-occupied the entire island, and decimated the British farms. English retaliation by General Codrington defeated the French forces and deported them to Martinique. The Treaty of Rijswijk in 1697 restored pre-war coniditons. The war crumbled St. Kitts' economic position.
St. Kitts, 1700 to 1883
St. Kitts was to face even greater devastation with the turn of the century. The French made one more major attack on British troops in 1705 during the War of the Spanish Succession, as the over 8,000 French troops on the island easily defeated the 1,000 British posts. The French held St. Kitts for 8 years, until the Treaty of Utrecht was signed. The treaty ceded the entire island of St. Kitts to the British. Upon receiving full control in 1713, the British moved the island's capital to the town of Basseterre, and St. Kitts quickly took off as a leader in sugar producation in the Caribbean.
By 1776, Saint Kitts became the new richest British colony in the Caribbean, per capita. It retained this status until the late 19th century, despite a miriad of attacks by the French throughout the 18th century. The consolidation of British rule was recognized finally under the Treaty of Versailles in 1783. In 1806, the Leeward Islands Caribee government was split into two groups, with Antigua, Barbuda, Redonda and Montserrat in one group, and St. Kitts, Nevis, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands in the other. The islands in the new grouping however, were able to keep their great degrees of autonomy. The grouping then split entirely in 1816.
Slavery was finally abolished in the British Empire in 1834. Profits from sugar began sinking even further, and this was made even worse with new countries, namely Brazil, Cuba and India beginning to dominate the market. Nevis' economy, as well as that of most Caribbean islands, suffered extensively from this. St. Kitts escaped the plight of its neighbours because of its good soils.
In 1833, the Leeward Islands were reunited as a single administrative entity, and was renamed the Federal Colony of the Leeward Islands in 1871. In 1883, St. Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla were all linked under one "presidency," based in St. Kitts. Both Nevis and Anguilla disliked the union, as they had previously had their separate presidencies. An uneasy relationship followed.
Sugar production continued to dominate the lives of the islanders. The dominance by estate owners of the island's only and extremely limited natural resource, the land, and the single-minded application of that resource to one industry precluded the development of a stable peasant class. Instead, the system produced a large class of wage labourers generally resentful of foreign influence. The nature of the sugar industry itself-the production of a nonstaple and essentially nonnutritive commodity for a widely fluctuating world market-only served to deepen this hostility and to motivate Kittitian labourers to seek greater control over their working lives and their political situation. The collapse of sugar prices brought on by the Great Depression precipitated the birth of the organized labour movement in St. Kitts and Nevis. The Workers League, organized by Robert Bradshaw in 1932, tapped the popular frustration that fueled the labor riots of 1935-36. Rechristened the St. Kitts and Nevis Trades and Labour Union in 1940, the union established a political arm, the St. Kitts and Nevis Labour Party, which put Bradshaw in the Legislative Council in 1946. The Labour Party would go on to dominate political life in the twin-island state for more than thirty years.
Saint Kitts and Nevis 1883 to present
The islands remained in the Leeward Islands Federation until they joined the failed West Indies federation from 1958 to 1962, in which St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla was a separate state. Robert Bradshaw was the Minister of Finance for the short-lived country. In 1967, the islands became an Associated State of Britain. Anguilla had a major seccession movement later that year, but was repressed. The island was able to successfully break away from the union in 1971.
During Bradshaw's long tenure, his government slowly moved into a statist approach to economic development. All sugar lands were bought by the government, as well as the central sugar factory. Opposition to Bradshaw's rule began to build, especially by the families of former estate owners, who founded the People's Action Movement party in 1964, after frustration over a failed demonstration against a raise in electricity rates. Opposition was especially great in Nevis, who felt that their island was being neglected and unfairly deprived of revenue, investment and services by its larger neighbour. Bradshaw mainly ignored Nevis' complaints, but Nevisian disenchantment with the Labour Party proved a key factor in the party's eventual fall from power.
In 1978 the labour party's longtime leader, Robert Bradshaw, died of Prostate cancer. He was succeeded by his former deputy, Paul Southwell, but Southwell himself passed a few months later, in 1979. The party then fell into a crisis of leadership. The position of premier was then handed over to Mr. Lee Llewellyn Moore, who, despite being locally recognized as a genius, seemed unfit for the leadership role. Taking advantage of the labour party's confusion, the PAM party was very successful in the 1980 elections, winning 3 seats on St. Kitts, compared to the labour party's 4. The Nevis Reformation Party, under the leadership of Simeon Daniel, won 2 of the 3 seats on Nevis. PAM and NRP then formed a coalition government, naming Kennedy Simmonds, a medical doctor and one of the founders of the PAM, premier (Simmonds had won Bradshaw's former seat in a 1979 by-election). The change in government reduced the demand for Nevis' seccession. In 1983, the federation was granted independence from Britain, with a constitution that granted Nevis a large degree of autonomy as well as the guaranteed right of seccession if the need would come along. To take advantage of this landmark, early elections were called in 1984, in which the NRP captured all 3 seats on Nevis, and the PAM party capturing 6 seats on St. Kitts, compared to the labour party's 2, despite overall the labour party winning the nationwide popular vote. The new coalition government now had a strong 9 to 2 advantage in parliament.
Economic improvement for St. Kitts followed, with the PAM party shifting focus from the sugar industry to tourism. However, much of the island's poorest people, mainly the sugar workers, were neglected. Opposition to PAM began to build from this, as well as on accusations of corruption. In the 1993 elections, both PAM and labour took 4 seats each, whilst on Nevis, a new party, the Concerned Citizens Movement, took 2 seats, beating the NRP's 1. The stalemate on St. Kitts proved unresolvable when the CCM in Nevis refused to form a coalition with PAM. Rioting of chaos soon followed in the islands, which was finally resolved in a further set of elections held in 1995, in which the labour party overwhelmingly defeated the PAM party, winning 7 seats compared to PAM's 1. Dr. Denzil Douglas became the new prime minister of the federation, and retains the post to this day.
In 2005, St. Kitts saw the closure of its sugar industry, after 365 years in the monoculture. This was stated as due to the industry's huge losses, as well as market threats by the E.U., who plan to cut sugar prices by large amounts in the near future.