History of St. Vincent

St. Vincent and the Grenadines constitute an independant nation in the Windward Islands at the southern end of the Caribbean chain. With about 110,000 occupants, its capital is Kingstown with a population of about 23,000. The Grenadines are a chain of 32 islands, rocks and islets between St. Vincent and Grenada. Geology has it that St. Vincent rocked in its emergence from the sea, producing great depths off its leeward coast and inland sea cliffs with shells, and a second more recent coastline on the windward coast.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines is believed to have first been discovered and inhabited as long as 7000 years ago by the Ciboney, a race of primitive hunter-gatherers. They came in small crafts from South America and called St. Vincent “Hairoun.” About the time of Christ, they were displaced by the Arawaks who originated in the Orinoco Basin area of South America and migrated northward throughout the Antilles. The Arawaks were peaceful people who settled in village communities. They were accomplished at agriculture and pottery.

Later the Caribs moved in around 1000 A.D. They overran the Arawaks, killing the men and incorporating the women into their families. The many petroglyphs, like the famous twenty-foot stone at Layou, chronicle the history of the Arawaks and the Caribs. There are examples of these artifacts which can be viewed in the St. Vincent National Museum.

Because St. Vincent was one of the chief Carib strongholds, it was one of the last of the lesser Antilles to be colonized by the Europeans. In fact, in order to gain a foothold there at all, the early French and British settlers had to make treaties with the Carib inhabitants. In 1626 the French were in possession of St. Vincent. In 1627 the British took over. Would-be colonists were thwarted by the Caribs.

In 1675, a slave ship sunk in the Bequia/ St. Vincent channel. Some slaves managed to reach St. Vincent and Bequia. The Black Caribs who had evolved from the intermarriage of Caribs and escaped slaves from adjoining islands held the colonists at bay until 1795. The original “Yellow Caribs” allowed the French to construct a settlement on St. Vincent in 1719. The Black Caribs took to the hills and continued their resistance.

By 1748, St. Vincent was declared neutral by Britian and France, in the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. The island was again reclaimed in 1763 by the British. The French again took over in 1779, but returned to British rule with the Treaty of Versailles in 1783. Fort Charlotte and Fort Duvernette were important military bases for the Europeans.

In the 19th century, the British colonized St. Vincent, developing an extensive sugar cane industry. Arrowroot soon became an important crop and boat-building and whaling became key industries in Bequia. In 1871, St. Vincent became a part of the British colony of the Windward Islands.

During the 20th century the sugar industry has declined, and the agricultural industries have diversified. Bananas are a staple of the local economies, along with arrowroot, nutmeg, exotic tropical fruits, and many vegetables, spices and roots. St. Vincent and the Grenadines became a British Associated State in 1969 with full internal autonomy, and an independent nation on October 27, 1979.