As is the case with many Caribbean islands, European explorers were not the first people to set foot in Antigua. The island was first settled by amerindians at least as far back as 900AD and it is likely there were settlers far earlier. The peaceful Ciboney Indians were probably the first there, followed by the Arawaks and later by the far more aggressive Caribs. Europeans wandered (literally) on to the scene in in the shape of Columbus in 1493 on his 2nd voyage to the New World. He called the island Santa Maria de la Antigua after a miracle-working saint from the Seville Cathedral in Spain.
|Antigua had no natural spring water and was populated by none-too-friendly Caribs, so it was generally avoided until a group of Englishmen from nearby St. Kitts landed in 1632 and, as was the fashion, claimed the island for the English Crown. The Caribs had other ideas. They proceeded to launch numerous attacks on the new colonials but failed to dislodge them. The English settlers strengthened their foothold and cultivated cash crops such as tobacco, indigo and ginger. In 1674 Sir Christopher Codrington came to Antigua from Barbados and set up the island’s first sugar plantation and called it Betty’s Hope (shown right) after his daughter. His success led to many more sugar plantations being established and over time some 150 sugar mills came into being. Along with Betty’s Hope, many of the mills are still standing today. Sugar prospered whilst it had cheap slave labour and a subsidised high price in the english market place. With the abolition of slavery in 1834 cheap slave labour was no longer readily available and sugar became far less profitable. This, added with the increasing pressure for a free trade sugar market forced many sugar estates to collapse. Sugar still however remained Antigua’s main source of income well into the 20th Century.|
|To ensure the safety of the lucrative sugar industry in the 17th and 18th Century in the Caribbean the English established their strategic naval base at English Harbour (shown left) in Antigua. Admiral Horatio Nelson spent a good deal of time here but, by all accounts, had a torrid time due to an inadequate mosquito net. Soldiers had 3 main challenges at English Harbour – illness, rum and lots of women. Not surprisingly it became known as “The Grave of Englishmen”. Today things are far less potentially volatile and hazardous. The extensive naval facilities and fortifications built to accommodate the garrisons established there are still visible today and have been beautifully restored at Nelson’s Dockyard National Park, Shirley Heights Lookout and at Monk’s Hill.|
In the 1960′s Antigua & Barbuda pushed for greater autonomy from Britain and in 1967 they became an Associated State with entirely independent internal affairs, foreign affairs and defense led by V.C. Bird. On November 1st, 1981 Antigua and Barbuda became fully independent with V.C. Bird as Prime Minister. Since this point Antigua has grown as a tourist destination with a healthy number of quality resorts, hotels and villas making the most of its beautiful coves, bays and inlets and (reputedly) 365 white sand beaches. Antigua is also prospering as a centre for offshore banking and has a stable economy bolstered by a stable political environment. Antigua has always reflected the various political and economic changes occurring in the Caribbean over the last 300 years and still continues to be an important player in the region – hence its name “The Heart of The Caribbean”.