History of St. Lucia

St. Lucia was first settled by Arawak Indians around 200 A.D., though by 800 their culture had been superceded by that of the Caribs.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 Christopher 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 Christopher 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.The two nations gained and lost the ownership of the island 14 times, However, the French culture is still present, in particular in the denomination of the villages and the heritage of the creole patois. In 1782, the admiral George Rodney who had established the base of the English fleet in Gros Islet bay, launched a victorious attack on his French enemy De Grasse in Dominica passage. This episode was called the battle of the Saints. During the hostilities, the main part of the villages were destroyed, including Castries, the capital, entirely devastated by fire in 1796. In the same year, another English victory was gained by the General Moore.

Castries was again devastated by fire in 1812, and another cyclone made terrible damages in 1817. The English trading law was introduced in 1827. After the abolition of slavery in 1838, the island was attached to the English government of Barbados and English became the official language in 1842.

The industry of coal began in 1863 in Castries which became the most important coal port in this part of the world during nearly one century. This industry declined during the second half of the 20th century. In 1929, an airport was built, reducing the dependency of the island to maritime transport. During the second world war, the island was used by the Americans and two airports were built close to Castries and Vieux Fort.

In 1951, the citizens of Saint Lucia acquired the voting right and a new constitution was founded for the Windward Islands. 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.


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