A Five-Room Hotel overlooking Marigot Bay – St. Lucia
St. Lucia – History
St. Lucia’s exquisite beauty and serenity belie a history marred by constant war and bloodshed. Even before the advent of the European conquest of the New World, St. Lucia had already been victimized by the ongoing struggle between bellicose Amerindian tribes for control of the island.
The original settlers of the island migrated from the northeastern shores of the South American continent between 1000 and 500 B.C. These people were simple farmers and fishermen. Today, over 12 archaeological sites on the island bear witness to this ancient civilization. Remains of their culture consist primarily of domestic and ceremonial artifacts, ceramic objects and enigmatic cave drawings.
By the ninth century A.D., the Carib Indians had begun to advance through the southern Caribbean islands. These fierce warriors also migrated from South America, but their rapid rise to supremacy was achieved in a relatively short time. When the first Europeans arrived, it was the Caribs who greeted them. These encounters were rarely amicable.
Just which European discovered St. Lucia is still in question. Christopher Columbus has traditionally been given credit for the discovery, supposedly made during his fourth voyage in 1502, but recently uncovered evidence suggests otherwise.
There are two new theories. One claims that the island was actually discovered by Juan de la Cosa, one of the Great Admiral’s lieutenants, in 1499.
Another version attributes the discovery to the French. According to local tradition, a group of shipwrecked French sailors landed here on December 13, 1502, the feast day of St. Lucia. The fact that throws everyone off is that the island of St. Lucia appears on a Vatican globe dated 1502.
Jambe de Bois (“Wooden Leg”), a French pirate, used the island as a base for his attacks on Spanish ships in the early 1550s. Later, the Dutch established a fortress at Vieux Fort. However, the first real attempt at colonizing the island occurred in 1605, with the arrival of 67 English settlers aboard the ship Olive Branch.
The ship had in fact been on its way to Guiana when it was blown off course and landed in Vieux Fort. At first, the Caribs welcomed the new settlers and sold them several huts. Tensions soon rose between them, however. In less than five weeks there were only 19 settlers left alive; the survivors barely managed to escape in a canoe. They landed in Venezuela, and years later, one of them, John Nicholls wrote the story of their misadventure.
A subsequent attempt at colonization was made in 1639 by Sir Thomas Warner. Some 400 settlers arrived, but in less than 18 months the colony was exterminated by the Caribs.
With this second failure, the British decided to give up trying to settle St. Lucia. But no sooner did they do so than the French moved in.
At her head of the expedition was a man named the Rousselan, a French officer married to a Carib woman. He made peace with the Caribs and established the first permanent settlement on the island.
After the Rousselan’s death in 1654, the Caribs resumed their attacks on the colony. Nevertheless, it soon became apparent to them that the Europeans had come to stay.
Jealous of the French success on St. Lucia, the British again laid claim to the island in 1659, initiating almost two centuries of continuous warfare. The island changed hands a total of 14 times before it was finally ceded to the English in 1814.
Despite the wars and flag changes, St. Lucia became an important sugar-producing island. The first plantation was started by two Frenchmen in 1765.
Fifteen years later, there were nearly 50 estates in operation. One of these, Paix Bouche, is reputed to be the birthplace of Napoléon’s first empress, Joséphine, born on June 23, 1763.
The ruins of the estate case still be seen today. It should be noted that most historians believe the future empress was born in La Pagerie on the island of Martinique.
African slaves were imported to supply the necessary manpower required by the huge sugar plantations. When the slaves were finally emancipated in 1838, they accounted for almost 90% of the population.
Once it was firmly in British hands following the Napoleonic Wars, St. Lucia became part of the Windward Islands, with the seat of government on Barbados. Though English was established as the official language, it was impossible to eradicate the influence of French culture on the island.
Even today, almost every St. Lucian speaks a patois, a Creole version of French. Many of the names of the island’s cities and villages are French. And unlike that of most former British colonies, the population is still primarily Roman Catholic.
In 1979, the last colonial link between Great Britain and St. Lucia was severed when the island achieved full independence. In that same year it became a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations.