Travel Back in Time, A History of St. Lucia
Saint Lucia is an island located in the Caribbean Sea and is part of the Lesser Antilles. It is a small island that is well known as a beautiful vacation destination but the island also has a rich history dating back thousands of years. Prior to Saint Lucia being discovered by the Europeans in the 16th century, the island was inhabited dating back to sometime between 200-400 AD. While there are claims that the island was inhabited by the Ciboney people even earlier, there is little evidence of their presence. Evidence does point to the Arawak people as being the first to inhabit Saint Lucia. At the time, it is believed that they referred to the island as Louanalao , meaning “land of the iguanas” due to the large number of animals found on the island.
The exact date of the discovery of Saint Lucia by the Europeans is disputed. Some believe that Christopher Columbus saw the island while on his second voyage which took place in 1493. It is also believed by some that the island was noted on maps by Juan de la Cosa in 1499, and that in 1502, it was included on a globe in the Vatican. Neither of these scenarios have proven to be true. Saint Lucia was actually discovered by a French pirate by the name of Francois le Clerc, or Jambe de Bois, because of his wooden leg. It was there that Francois set up a camp on the islet of Pigeon Island, a base which he used to attack Spanish ships as they passed by.
It wasn’t until the early 1600s that the first European camp on Saint Lucia was set up, by the Dutch. Few settlers survived because of disease and other reasons, and many fled the island. Throughout the 1600s the island was intermittently inhabited by the English and the French and in 1674 was declared an official French crown colony. With both the French and the British inhabiting the island, the sugar industry began to develop in the 1700s. Throughout the 18 th century the island continued to change ownership and was declared a neutral territory twelve times.
It was also during the 1700s that the Seven Years’ War took place during which time the British occupied Saint Lucia for a couple years. After the Treaty of Paris, in 1763, the island was given back to the French and again the land was developed to cultivate sugar cane. Many of the colonists who lived on the island during this time were indentured servants who worked for the wealthy merchants. Towards the end of the 18 th century, the French Revolution occurred on the island and in 1794, all slaves were declared free by the French governor. Shortly after, the island was invaded by the British who were eventually forced out.
In the early 19th century, the British regained their control over the island and quickly restored slavery. Many of the rebels that had previously fought the British escaped into the surrounding rain forest, where they established communities. In 1803, the French also withdrew all of their forces from the island. In 1807, the British abolished the African slave trade and permanently acquired the island in 1814. While the African slave trade had been abolished years before, it was only in 1834 that the institution of slavery as a whole was abolished.
During the 20 th century, Saint Lucia was increasingly self-governed and in 1924, the island got its first form of representative government by way of a constitution. On February 22, 1979, the island of Saint Lucia gained full independence however they still consider Queen Elizabeth as the titular head of state. Saint Lucia is currently an active member of the commonwealth of nations. Today, the island is a popular vacation destination with tourism being a vital part of the economy along with offshore banking. The island is full of culture due to the influence of various settlers over the years. Each year, the island celebrates their independence with a public holiday.
Additional Resources on Saint Lucia: