About St. Lucia
St. Lucia’s first inhabitants were the Arawak Indians, around 200 A.D. Caribs gradually replaced the Arawaks by about 800 A.D. The Caribs called the island “Hewanorra,” which means “Island of the Iguanas” and is now the name used for one of the island’s airports.
To this day, it is unclear which European was first to discover St. Lucia. It may have been Columbus in 1502, or it may have been one of his contemporaries, Juan de la Cosa, in 1499 or 1504. The French pirate Francois le Clerc (a.k.a. Jamb de Bois, or Peg Leg) used the island as an outpost for attacking Spanish galleons in the 1550s, but it wasn’t until around 1600 that Europeans attempted to settle the island.
Around 1600, the Dutch set up camp at Vieux Fort. In 1605, a British vessel on its way to Guyana was blown off course and landed on St. Lucia. Its 67 colonists bought land and huts from the Caribs. Five weeks later, their party, now reduced to 19 due to disease and fighting with the Caribs, was forced to flee the island.
The English made a second futile attempt at colonizing the island in 1639, although the French had officially claimed the island in 1635. The first successful colonization of the island took place in 1651, when a French group commanded by De Rousselan came from Martinique. The British and French would continue to fight over the island, and to use it as a bargaining chip, for the next 150 years.
In 1746, the first town, Soufriére, was established by the French. It was followed by a number of other French towns and settlements. Once the sugar industry began to develop in 1765, St. Lucia became attractive to an even greater number of colonists, both French and English. The British launched their first invasion effort in 1778, in the “Battle of Cul de Sac,” and after a long series of devastating battles, Britain finally triumphed in 1815.
Meanwhile, slavery was officially abolished in 1794, but the British soon restored slavery for the wealthy plantation owners. It wasn’t until 1838 that slavery finally came to an end on St. Lucia.
Since that time, St. Lucia has gradually become more independent and self-governing. The country remained under the British crown at some level until February 22, 1979, when it became independent within the British Commonwealth.