would be difficult to overestimate the impact on Antigua's history of the
arrival, one fateful day in 1684, of Sir Christopher Codrington. An
enterprising man, Codrington had come to Antigua to find out if the island
would support the sort of large-scale sugar cultivation that already
flourished elsewhere in the Caribbean. His initial efforts proved to be
quite successful, and over the next fifty years sugar cultivation on
Antigua exploded. By the middle of the 18th century the island was dotted
with more than 150 cane-processing windmills--each the focal point of a
sizeable plantation. Today almost 100 of these picturesque stone towers
remain, although they now serve as houses, bars, restaurants and shops. At Betty's Hope, Codrington's original sugar
estate, visitors can see a fully-restored sugar mill.
Most Antiguans are of African
lineage, descendants of slaves brought to the island centuries ago to
labor in the sugarcane fields. However, Antigua's history of habitation
extends as far back as two and a half millenia before Christ. The first
settlements, dating from about 2400 B.C., were those of the Siboney (an
Arawak word meaning "stone-people"), peripatetic Meso-Indians
whose beautifully crafted shell and stone tools have been found at dozens
of sites around the island. Long after the Siboney had moved on, Antigua
was settled by the pastoral, agricultural Arawaks (35-1100 A.D.), who were
then displaced by the Caribs--an aggressive people who ranged all over the
Caribbean. The earliest European contact with the island was made by
Christopher Columbus during his second Caribbean voyage (1493), who
sighted the island in passing and named it after Santa Maria la Antigua,
the miracle-working saint of Seville. European settlement, however, didn't
occur for over a century, largely because of Antigua's dearth of fresh
water and abundance of determined Carib resistance. Finally, in 1632, a
group of Englishmen from St. Kitts established a successful settlement,
and in 1684, with Codrington's arrival, the island entered the sugar era.
By the end of the eighteenth century Antigua had
become an important strategic port as well as a valuable commercial
colony. Known as the "gateway to the Caribbean," it was situated
in a position that offered control over the major sailing routes to and
from the region's rich island colonies. Most of the island's historical
sites, from its many ruined fortifications to the impeccably-restored
architecture of English Harbourtown, are reminders of colonial efforts to
ensure its safety from invasion.
Nelson arrived in 1784 at the head of the Squadron of the Leeward Islands
to develop the British naval facilities at English Harbour and to enforce
stringent commercial shipping laws. The first of these two tasks resulted
in construction of Nelson's Dockyard, one of
Antigua's finest physical assets; the second resulted in a rather hostile
attitude toward the young captain. Nelson spent almost all of his time in
the cramped quarters of his ship, declaring the island to be a "vile
place" and a "dreadful hole." Serving under Nelson at the
time was the future King William IV, for whom the altogether more pleasant
accommodation of Clarence House was built.
It was during William's reign,
in 1834, that Britain abolished slavery in the empire. Alone among the
British Caribbean colonies, Antigua instituted immediate full emancipation
rather than a four-year 'apprenticeship,' or waiting period; today,
Antigua's Carnival festivities commemorate the earliest abolition of
slavery in the British Caribbean.
actually improved the island's economy, but the sugar industry of the
British islands was already beginning to wane. Until the development of
tourism in the past few decades, Antiguans struggled for prosperity. The
rise of a strong labour movement in the 1940s, under the leadership of V.C.
Bird, provided the impetus for independence. In 1967, with Barbuda and the
tiny island of Redonda as dependencies, Antigua became an associated state
of the Commonwealth, and in 1981 it achieved full independent status. V.C.
Bird is now deceased; his son, Lester B. Bird, was elected to succeed him
as prime minister.
This page, and all contents
of this Web site are Copyright (c) 1996-2010 by interKnowledge
Corp., New York, NY. All rights reserved.