Brief History of St Lucia
St Lucia is one of the four Windward Islands, and has been settled by Arawak Indians since around 200 A.D., though by 800 their peaceful lifestyle and culture had been totally dominated by the neighbouring Caribs. Today there are a number of archaeological sites on the island.
There is a lot of speculation as to which European saw the island first, some say it was Columbus on his 4th voyage to the West Indies in 1502, other think it was Juan de la Cosa. Either way, perhaps due of the fierceness of the Caribs, or attacks from other pirates, there were no successful European settlement attempts for another one hundred years later.
Francois Le Clerc, a french pirate known as Jambe de Bois, or Wooden Leg. Peg-Leg le Clerc arrived in the 1550’s, and created his base, on Pigeon Island, where he could attack and raid passing Spanish ships. LeClerc had lost a leg and greatly damaged an arm in fighting for the English Queen, and was later knighted for this valor. LeClerc would later betray his French heritage by fighting against the French at Le Havre.
Around 1600, the Dutch who had an increasing presence in the Caribbean, arrived, establishing a fortified base at Vieux Fort. A few years later English colonists, reportedly heading for Guyana, on the ship Olive Branch, landed on St. Lucia after having been blown off course. After being attacked by the Caribs, the remaining survivors were forced to flee the island. They reportedly landed in Venezuela, and years later, one of them, John Nicholls wrote the story of their misadventure. Between 1605 – Aug 1640 there were many attempts made by the English to settle. Sir Thomas Warner was one of the last to make the attempt 1639, which was also unsuccessful.
Following England’s failure to settle, the French arrived in 1651 as part of the French West India Company and ‘bought’ the island. They established the first official settlement in St. Lucia – Soufrière in 1746. Despite the wars and flag changes, St. Lucia became an important sugar-producing island. The first plantation was started by two Frenchmen in 1765. African slaves were imported to supply the necessary manpower required by the huge sugar plantations. By 1780, twelve settlements and a large number of sugar plantations had been established.
Anglo-French rivalry over St Lucia continued for more than a century. From the mid-17th century until 1814 battles between Britain and France caused St Lucia to officially change hands fourteen times. The English briefly captured St Lucia in 1778, known as the Battle of Cul de Sac, and established a naval base at Gros Islet and fortified Pigeon Island. In 1796, after Castries was razed by fire, General Moore attacked the French on Morne Fortune, after two days of fighting forcing the French to surrender.
The Brigands’ War, also known as ‘The Second Carib War’, took place in the Eastern Caribbean, particularly in the Windward Islands, between 1794 and 1798. In 1802, the Treaty of Paris established France’s sovereignty over the island, but by the following year, the two nations were at war again. In 1814, after a series of long and destructive battles, the island was ceded formally to Britain. In 1842, English became the island’s official language.
Indentured Indian labourers arrived in 1882 to work in the agricultural industry. They continued to arrive over the next 30 years and many decided to settle. In the late 1800’s, as coal-fired steamships came into use the need for strategically located Coaling stations became essential. In 1863, the first steamship laden with coal arrived in Castries, and it became a major coaling station. This lasted until the English decreased their military presence on the island and the garrisoned naval station was abandoned in 1906 as the year earlier the English decreased their military presence on the island.
In a move towards independence, suffrage was granted to all citizens over age twenty-one in 1951. The seat of government moved to Grenada when the new constitution was put in place in The Windward Islands. In 1958, St Lucia joined the West Indian Federation which lasted only four years, before becoming self governing in 1967 and fully independent in 1979. Today it is a member of the British Commonwealth.