St. Lucia is the second largest island of the British Lesser Antilles. Located roughly in the center of the Windward island chain, it is nestled between Martinique to the north and St. Vincent and the Grenadines to the south. Castries, the capital city, is situated on the northwest coast and known for its magnificent harbor. St. Lucia, said to be named for the patron saint of the day on which it was discovered, has an uncommon heritage of mixed cultural and historical influences, including Amerindian, European, and African.
St. Lucia was inhabited by the Carib (Amerindian) Indians when sighted by the Spanish in the first decade of the sixteenth century (see The Pre-European Population, ch. 1). Many believe that Columbus viewed the island in 1502; however, the sighting is not accepted by all historians. St. Lucia remained uncolonized until the mid-seventeenth century. Earlier attempts by the British in 1605 and 1638 had met with disaster; would-be colonizers were either forced from the shores of the island or killed by its inhabitants. The first successful attempt at appeasing the Caribs followed the ceding of the island by the King of France to the French West Indian Company in 1642. Permanent French settlement occurred in 1660, after an armistice had been agreed to by the indigenous population.
St. Lucia, however, was not to enjoy a lengthy period of peace. 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 Britain 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 1770s. 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.
St. Lucia was administered as a crown colony from 1838 until 1885. Executive authority remained in the hands of the British monarch, and control was exercised by a colonial proxy who resided in Barbados. Executive and legislative councils were created to administer local affairs.
The twentieth century saw St. Lucia's gradual transition to self-governance. Representative government was introduced in 1924 when a constitution was established; however, there was only incremental progress toward the development of a locally-controlled political system for the next thirty-four years. In 1958 St. Lucia joined the short-lived West Indies Federation, which was dissolved by the British Parliament in 1962 (see The West Indies Federation, 1957-62, ch. 1).
Following the dissolution, St. Lucia immediately agreed to become an associated state of Britain, which entailed a mutually sanctioned relationship that could be dissolved at any time by either party. St. Lucia was granted full control over its local government, with Britain retaining responsibility for foreign affairs and national defense. This arrangement lasted until 1975, when members of the West Indies Associated States chose to pursue independence at their discretion and convenience (see The West Indies Federation, ch. 1). Following three years of planning and deliberation, St. Lucia gained independence on February 22, 1979.
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