St. Vincent's Complex History

Historians believe that the Ciboney people were the first to journey from South America to St. Vincent, which they called Hairoun (Land of the Blessed). The Ciboney ultimately moved on to Cuba and Haiti, leaving St. Vincent to the agrarian Arawak tribes that journeyed north from coastal South America. Not long before Columbus sailed by in 1492, the Arawaks succumbed to the powerful Caribs—who had also paddled north from South America, conquering one island after another along the way.

St. Vincent's mountains and forests thwarted European settlement, one reason why many Caribs fled to St. Vincent as colonization advanced elsewhere in the Caribbean. In 1626, the French did establish a colony, but their success was short-lived; the British took over a year later. As "possession" of the island seesawed between France and England, the Caribs continued to make complete European colonization virtually impossible until a rift in the Carib community itself finally enabled the Europeans to gain a foothold.

In 1675, African slaves who had survived a Dutch shipwreck were welcomed into the Carib community. Over time, the Carib nation became, for all intents and purposes, two nations—one composed of the original "Yellow Caribs"; the other, a mix of the original Caribs and African slaves, were called "Black Caribs" or Garifuna. Relations between the two groups were often strained. In 1719, tensions rose so high that the Yellow Caribs united with the colonial French against the Black Caribs in what is called the First Carib War. The Black Caribs ultimately retreated to the hills but continued to resist the Europeans.

The French established plantations and imported African slaves to work the fertile land. In 1763, the British claimed the island yet again, and a wave of Scottish slave masters arrived with indentured servants from India and Portugal. Communities of direct descendants of the Scots still live near St. Vincent's Dorsetshire Hill and on Bequia.

Meanwhile, the determined French backed the Black Caribs, their previous foe, against the British in 1795 in the Second Carib War (also known as the Brigands War), during which British plantations were ravaged and burned on the island's windward coast. Black Carib chief Chatoyer managed to push the British troops down the leeward coast to Kingstown. Subsequently, on Dorsetshire Hill high above the town, Chatoyer lost a duel with a British officer. The 5,000 surviving Black Caribs were rounded up and shipped off to British Honduras—present-day Belize—where their Garifuna descendants remain to this day. The few remaining Yellow Caribs retreated to the remote northern tip of St. Vincent, near Sandy Bay, where many of their descendants still live. A monument to Chatoyer has been erected on Dorsetshire Hill, where there's a magnificent westward view over Kingstown and the Caribbean.

The issue of the "possession" of St. Vincent has long since been resolved; the nation has been fully independent since 1979 (but remains a part of the British Commonwealth). The various ethnic groups have mixed considerably over the years, creating a unique heritage simply described today as "Vincentian."

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