St. Lucia was first settled by Arawak Indians around 200 A.D., though by 800 their culture had been superseded by that of the Caribs. These early Amerindian cultures called the island "Iouanalao" and "Hewanorra," meaning "Island of the Iguanas."
The history of the island's European discovery is a bit hazy. It was long believed that Columbus had discovered St. Lucia in 1502, but recent evidence suggests that he merely sailed close by. An alternative discoverer is Juan de la Cosa, a lesser-known explorer who had served at one time as Columbus' navigator. There are some indications that de la Cosa may have discovered the island in 1499, although there is also evidence suggesting that he didn't find the island until 1504. In any case, there was no European presence established on the island until its settlement in the 1550s by the notorious buccaneer Francois le Clerc, a.k.a. Jambe de Bois, or Wooden Leg. Peg-Leg le Clerc set up a fine little base on Pigeon Island, from whence he issued forth to prey upon unwitting and treasure-laden Spanish galleons. Around 1600, the Dutch arrived, establishing a fortified base at Vieux Fort.
The first attempt at colonization occurred just a few years later, in 1605. An unfortunate party of English colonists, headed to Guyana on the good ship Olive Branch, landed on St. Lucia after having been blown off course. In all, sixty-seven colonists waded ashore, where they purchased land and huts from the resident Caribs. After a month, the party had been reduced to only nineteen, and those were soon forced to flee from the Caribs in a canoe. A few decades later, in 1639, a second party of English colonists under Sir Thomas Warner also failed in their settlement attempt.
By mid-century the French had arrived, and had even "purchased" the island for the French West India Company. Needless to say, the persevering British were less than enchanted with this idea, and Anglo-French rivalry for the island continued for more than a century and a half. The island's first settlements and towns were all French, beginning with Soufriere in 1746. By 1780, twelve settlements and a large number of sugar plantations had been established. Two years earlier, the British launched their first invasion effort at the "Battle of Cul de Sac." By 1814, after a prolonged series of enormously destructive battles, the island was finally theirs.
Over the next century St. Lucia settled into the stable democracy and multicultural society that it is today. The country remained under the British crown until it became independent within the British Commonwealth in 1979. Despite the length of British rule, the island's French cultural legacy is still evident in its Creole dialect.