Antigua & Barbuda’s History

At the northeastern curve of the West Indies, Antigua (an-TEE-ga) is one of eleven links of the chain of Leeward Islands. Christopher Columbus’ first impression adequately describes this tropical paradise:”What beautiful lands the sun lights up in the distance”. The seascape alternates rocky coves with white, sunny beaches punctuated by gentle salt breezes. Thirty miles (48 km) north, in the tiny coral island of Barbuda (bar-BEW-da), a heaven for seabirds. The rocky volcanic islet of Redonda is an uninhabited dependency. Antiguans are charming people, reserved but cordial. Their expressive English patois with its musical intonation enchants visitors. While engaged in daily affairs, the locals form a vivid tableau. Sitting around a warri board, taxi drivers play an ancient game, waiting for a fare. Dressed for school in distinctive uniforms, that vary according to school and grade, Antiguan children add their smiles and colors to the scene. In equally vivid dress, member of Antigua’s many steel bands parade during Carnival in St. John’s, where the colorful activities contrast with the more traditionalist english atmosphere of the island’s capital.


Christopher Columbus sighted Antigua in 1493, naming it after Santa Maria de la Antigua, a church in Seville, Spain. An attempt to colonize the island was not made untill almost a century and a half later, perhaps due to the unwelcoming population of Carib Indians. Antigua became a British possession in 1632, when English planters from nearby St.Kitts successfullysettled the area despite Carib resistance. African slaves were imported to clear forests for the planting of tobacco, cotton, ginger and indigo. In 1666 French raiders claimed the island, but the Treaty of Breda in 1667 restored the land to the British. In 1674 Sir Christopher Codrington, a former governor of Barbados, established the first large sugar plantation on Antigua. Codrington’s accomplishments encouraged other ladowners to become involved sugar industry and by the early 1700s the landscape was dotted with some 170 sugar mills; the ruins of many of these structures can be seen throughout the island. Codrington and his brother settled on Barbuda four years prior to cultivating sugar on Antigua.Ruins of the Codrington estate, Highland House are on the islands highest point.

The economy suffered a severe blow when slavery was abolishedin 1834 and a labor shortage ensued. Due to mounting pressure for a free trade market, sugar prices steadily declined and forced several plantations out of business. Three natural disaster in the mid-1800s – a hurricane, a fire and an earthquake – also contributed to the economic decline. Antigua was granted status as an associated state of the United Kingdom as a result of the West Indies Act of 1967. This provision allowed Antigua to be self-governing with regard to internal matters, while the United Kingdom controlled defense and foreign affairs. On Nov. 1, 1981, Antigua graduated its status as an Associated State of the British Commonwealth and became an independent country with Barbuda. The twin island nation is governed by a prime minister and an upper and lower house of Parliament. Barbuda has often talked of secession, but remains for now with its own governing council. Antigua’s strategic position in the middle of the Antilles’ chain, as well as its natural harbors, , made it the chief British naval base in the West Indies during the Napoleonic Wars and a prime U.S. base during World War II. The main sources of income for most islanders are tourism, light manufacturing and agriculture.


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