History of St. Kitts

The history of St. Kitts consists of a struggle to become its own nation

Photo credit: © Jukk_a

The History of St. Kitts

The dual-island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis shares a similar history with many of the islands in the rest of the Caribbean. Both islands fell under the influence of colonization and were heavily fought over by European nations seeking to gain supremacy in the sugarcane industry and to establish colonies in the name of their countries. Now, St. Kitts has overcome slavery and war to become a beautiful Caribbean vacation spot that has preserved its rich culture and heritage.

Indigenous People

The first people to inhabit St. Kitts and Nevis were the Siboney who arrived on the islands from Central America about 2,100 years ago and were succeeded by the Arawak Indians. The Arawaks were from the Orinoco River region, which is considered modern-day Venezuela. The Arawaks left behind many artifacts as evidence of their existence, which included pieces of pottery, shells, rock drawings, and flint tools. These artifacts were much more abundant than those discarded by the Siboney, who left very few remnants of their civilization.

Prior to British exploration, and even before 1493 when Christopher Columbus named St. Kitts after St. Christopher, the Carib Indians inhabited nearby Antigua, which they called Liamuiga, or fertile island. Nevis was called Oualie. The Carib people were known to be ruthless warriors, and when Europeans began establishing settlements on the island around 1624, the Caribs waged war against them, launching vicious attacks against the French and English.

European Colonization

Thomas Warner landed on the island still known as St. Christopher in 1623, when it became the first British colony in the West Indies. In 1625, a French privateer named Pierre Belain landed on St. Kitts to make repairs to his ship after the vessel was damaged in an altercation with the Spanish. The English settlers accepted the French's arrival on the island, and the French began to cultivate tobacco and clear land, but the Carib indians were not as welcoming to the French and British settlers, and the Caribs planned attacks on the interlopers.


The French and English settlers signed a treaty in May of 1627, in response to the Carib attacks, that divided the island between the French, who got the north end of the island, which was called Capesterre, and the south end, which was named Basseterre, and the English who got the remaining areas of the island. This created amiability between the French and English for the early part of the century, but their interactions with the indigenous Carib people were not so peaceful. The French and English joined together in nightly attacks on the Caribs, massacring many of the natives in the twilight hours. One such vicious attack earned an area of the island the name Bloody Point. In response, the Caribs waged all-out war against the settlers, but it was the colonies that triumphed in the end.

After the French and English conquered the Caribs and sustained a brief period of peace, the Spanish attacked both the French and English settlers on St. Kitts. Following the attacks, the Spanish left the island, and the French and English returned but became rivals fighting over who would become the base for settlement of neighboring islands. The English and French rivalry lasted for more than 100 years, and possession of St. Kitts and Nevis was passed back and forth between British and French forces. This period of fluctuation saw various wars and treaties. Then, in 1782, the islands came under permanent British control with the English victory over the French at Brimstone Hill.

Servitude and Slavery

Irish servants began arriving on St. Kitts, and soon there was conflict between the Irish Catholics and Protestant English, mainly because England's enemies, the Spanish and French, were Catholic. In fear of Irish rebellion, which was fueled by the revolt of Irish servants on St. Kitts in 1666 and on Montserrat in 1667, anti-Irish sentiment spread through the British colonies. Many Irish servants believed that their situation on the islands was as bad as the black slaves', and as a result of the discord among the British and Irish, in 1701 an anti-Irish legislation came into effect on Nevis to prevent papists from taking a public office or settling on the island.

When the number of indentured servants from Europe began to dwindle, the English began exporting slaves from Africa. The Spanish and Portuguese had been capturing and shipping African slaves for many years, so the British, too, joined the Atlantic Slave Trade for about 200 years until slavery was abolished in August 1834.

Colonial Matters

In 1671, St. Kitts and Nevis became part of the Leeward Caribbee Islands Government under a British governor, along with Montserrat, Barbuda, and Redonda. In 1871, the islands were conglomerated under one administration as a single colony with Dominica added to the group. St Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla was established as a presidency in the Leeward Islands Federation in 1882, and in 1956 the triple island administration became a separate colony. A couple of years later, the West Indies Federation came into existence and remained for about four years until about 1962 when the Federation came to an end.

St. Kitts' first movement toward becoming a self-governing country came when the island nation volunteered to become a state associated with Britain in February of 1967. On Sept. 18, 1983, St. Kitts finally achieved its independence, and Dr. Kennedy Simmonds was the first prime minister.


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