History of Anguilla

After various historical struggles, Anguilla finally won its independence

Photo credit: © Alan Turkus

Anguilla History

Early European explorers could have easily overlooked the island of Anguilla due to its out of the way location. But even if they had, the island would not have been deserted. Amerindians had inhabited the island in some form or another for thousands of years before the first British settlers arrived on Anguilla. This uniquely shaped Caribbean destination boasts a rich history that is similar in many aspects to neighboring islands, but also has a past that makes this beautiful island one-of-a-kind.

Pre-Columbian History

About 4000 years ago, magnificent, lush, tropical rainforests covered Anguilla. Amerindians from South America discovered the island about 3500 years ago, long before Christopher Columbus and other European explorers even set eyes on Anguilla. These indigenous people came to Anguilla in dugout canoes and rafts. They were attracted to Anguilla for its prime fishing among the extensive coral reefs that surround the island. These people of the "Preceramic Period" lived in temporary camps and moved around the island gathering food. The Amerindians called the island Malliouhana, which means "arrow-shaped sea serpent" in their native language.

During the fourth century, the Amerindians that were living on Anguilla were of the Salidoid culture. The Saladoids came from the Orinoco Valley region of Venezuela in South America and were farmers, basket weavers, and pottery makers. The Arawak Indians also lived on Anguilla, and were a peaceful group of farmers and hunters who founded much of their work and day-to-day life on their religious beliefs, which were based on the moon, the sun, and two sacred caverns which they believed to be the birthplace of humans.

The Amerindians that settled on Anguilla were deeply ceremonious. Archaeologists have discovered numerous religious artifacts left by the Amerindians, including evidence of religious ceremonies at Big Springs and the Fountain, the two sacred caverns on the eastern side of the island. The most well preserved ceremonial artifacts in the Eastern Caribbean are found at The Fountain. Many other artifacts such as conch drinking vessels, shell axes, flint blades, and stone objects also indicate the existence of Amerindians on the island.

European Exploration


Around 1493 Columbus sailed passed Anguilla, but never actually set foot on the island. European explorers changed the island's name to Anguilla, which means "eel," apparently because of its elongated shape. It has been documented that the first European explorers to settle on the island were the Dutch. They are said to have built a fort on Anguilla in 1631, but the remains of the fort have never been found. About twenty years later, British settlers from the neighboring island of St. Kitt's colonized Anguilla. When the Europeans discovered that the soil on Anguilla was rich enough to grow small crops of corn and tobacco, they began to establish plantations. However, the Carib Indians, a warrior people from South America, destroyed the explorers' settlements in 1650. The Caribs had also overtaken the population of Arawak Indians who previously resided on Anguilla.

For the most part, the island remained a crown colony. In 1666 French forces overtook Anguilla, but the island was returned to British rule the following year under the Treaty of Breda. The French made several more attempts to invade the island, but most of their efforts were short-lived, and the British maintained control of Anguilla. The struggle for power between the British and French, which dominated Anguilla's history for about 150 years, took its toll on the island and its economy.

Anguilla also launched some assaults of its own and took over the French half of Martinique in 1744. The Anguillans held control of the island for just a few years until the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle returned it to the French in 1748.

Plantation Life

Following in the footsteps of the rest of the Caribbean, Anguilla had a plantation-based economy. Rum, sugar, cotton, indigo, fustic, and mahogany were the island's main exports. But, because of the Anguilla's arid conditions, the plantations on the island were small and could not support the large number of African slaves brought to work the land. Many of the slaves were forced to focus on maintaining self-sustaining food plots, which created a form of independence among the African slaves even before their official emancipation.

The British passed the Emancipation Act in on August 1, 1834, and slavery on the island ended by 1838. Anguilla society became one of peasants who took advantage of the fertile soil. After the end of slavery on Anguilla, economic conditions on the island were harsh for about 70 years, and many people left to find work on neighboring Caribbean islands. Those that stayed on Anguilla helped to create a population of hardworking and independent people.

British Rule

Because it was difficult for England to rule Anguilla effectively from London, Britain made the island a federation in 1871. But Anguilla was not happy with this arrangement and petitioned British council for direct British rule. Anguilla declared its independence in 1967 when it was granted statehood.


Help us improve! We welcome your corrections and suggestions.

About Food