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Saint Lucia - History

St. Lucia's first known inhabitants were the Arawaks, believed to have come from northern South America in 200-400 AD. Numerous archaeological sites on the island have produced specimens of the Arawaks' well-developed pottery. Caribs gradually replaced Arawaks during the period from 800-1000 AD.

Europeans first landed on the island in either 1492 or 1502 during Spain's early exploration of the Caribbean. Saint Lucia was named by Christopher Columbus, who sighted the island on St Lucys day 1502. The island has been much fought over. At some time before Columbuss arrival, the Caribs ousted the Arawaks; and European powers contended with the Caribs and one another for control between 1660 and 1814; in that period the flag of Saint Lucia changed 14 times. The Dutch, English, and French all tried to establish trading outposts on St. Lucia in the 17th century but faced opposition from the Caribs.

The English, with their headquarters in Barbados, and the French, based in Martinique, found St. Lucia attractive after the sugar industry developed in the 18th century. After unsuccessful early attempts by the Spanish to take control, possession of the island was disputed, often bloodily, by the French and British. A small English group made a failed attempt to settle in 1605; another English colony, started in 1638, was annihilated by the Caribs three years later.

The Caribs resisted French settlement with equal vigor, until a peace treaty (1660) with them permitted settlement, and ensured the safety of some French settlers from Martinique who had arrived during the preceding decade. The British made further attempts to gain control, and the island changed hands again and again.

Military conflicts among the Dutch, British, Spanish, and French, both on the European continent and in the colonies, resulted in St. Lucia's falling alternately under the control of France and Brittam fourteen different times in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. During this period of constantly changing European alliances, both the British and the French sought control of St: Lucia for strategic purposes. The island's natural deep-water harbors afforded ready protection for military vessels and also served as an ideal location from which to monitor enemy military movements in the Caribbean.

The years surrounding the French Revolution were particularly violent ones in St. Lucia. Britain declared war on France following the French declaration of support for the American revolutionary effort in the late l770s. The battle for control of St. Lucia continued intermittently throughout the rise and fall of the French Republic because possession of the sugar-producing islands of the Caribbean was considered essential for raising revenue to support the ongoing war in Europe. From 1793 until Napoleon's fall in 1815, St. Lucia was captured alternately by France and Britain no fewer than seven times. Although the French permanently ceded St. Lucia to the British in 1815, it was many years before the population, whose sympathies rested with the French, accepted British rule without internal conflict.

In contrast to all other British possessions in the Caribbean in the nineteenth century except for Trinidad, St. Lucia did not have a popularly elected local assembly. Instead, the British imposed crown colony government on St. Lucia. The governor ruled the island in conjunction with an appointed Legislative Council. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the British extended crown colony government to all British Caribbean territories with the exception of Barbados.

A prosperous plantation economy developed; it was based on sugar, and worked by enslaved Africans until Britain abolished slavery in 1834. In 1838, St. Lucia was incorporated into the British Windward Islands administration, headquartered in Barbados. This lasted until 1885, when the capital was moved to Grenada.

St. Lucia continued under British rule since its surrender to General Grinfield in 1803. In 1903 it had an estimated population of 50,934 persons, all of African descent, with the exception of a very small percentage of European descent, and about 2,000 East Indian immigrants. Most of the inhabitants spoke a French patois, but English was gradually becoming more generally used. Powers were conferred on the Govenment by Ordinance No. 50 of 1854 (amended by No. 6 of 1855) for the raising of Militia; and by an Act passed in 1862 certain Volunteer corps can be enrolled. The first of these Ordinances had long been in abeyance, while the last was apparently never been utilised. A semi-military police, mustering about 50 of all ranks, was formed in 1873, but it was not classified as a Colonial land force.

Increasing self-governance marked St. Lucia's 20th-century history. A 1924 constitution gave the island its first form of representative government, with a minority of elected members in the previously all-nominated legislative council. Universal adult suffrage was introduced in 1951, and elected members became a majority of the council. Ministerial government was introduced in 1956, and in 1958 St. Lucia joined the short-lived West Indies Federation, a semi-autonomous dependency of the United Kingdom.

When the federation collapsed in 1962, following Jamaica's withdrawal, a smaller federation was briefly attempted. After the second failure, the United Kingdom and the six windward and leeward islands -- Grenada, St. Vincent, Dominica, Antigua, St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, and St. Lucia--developed a novel form of cooperation called associated statehood.

As an associated state of the United Kingdom from 1967 to 1979, St. Lucia had full responsibility for internal self-government but left its external affairs and defense responsibilities to the United Kingdom. This interim arrangement ended on February 22, 1979, when St. Lucia achieved full independence. St. Lucia continues to recognize Queen Elizabeth II as titular head of state and is an active member of the Commonwealth. The island continues to cooperate with its neighbors through the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), the East Caribbean Common Market (ECCM), the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), and the Regional Security System (RSS).





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