Christopher Columbus discovered Grenada in 1498. The island was already inhabited by Caribbean Indians who had migrated from the South American continent and killed or enslaved the peaceful Arawaks who already lived there. The Indians called their island Camerhogue, but Columbus renamed it Concepción. However, passing Spanish sailors found that the green hills were so reminiscent of Andalusia that they discarded the name in favour of Granada.
Although control of the island passed from France to Britain (and briefly back to France) over the centuries, the name has endured with only minor changes, from “Grenada” to “La Grenade” to “Grenada”.
The French were the first to settle in Grenada. Legend has it that in 1652 the last defenders of the Caribbean, rather than be ruled by the French, threw themselves into the sea from a place called Le Morne des Sauteurs, now known as Leapers’ Hill and Carib’s Leap.
First exploited for indigo (hence the name of one region “True Blue”), then for sugar production, the island flourished and, like many others in the Caribbean, attracted the attention of the British. Conquered by Admiral George Rodney in 1762, towards the end of the European Seven Years’ War (1756-63), Grenada came under French rule from 1779 to 1783, when it was returned to Britain by the Treaty of Versailles.
The loyalties of the inhabitants remained divided between the two European powers for many years, as demonstrated by the Fedon Rebellion of 1795. During this violent episode, a group of rebels under the command of the mulatto general Julien Fedon, inspired by the rhetoric of the French Revolution, devastated the island and its British settlers in an unsuccessful attempt to reunite with France.
From 1784 until independence in 1974, Grenada was a colony of the British Empire, passing through various stages of colonial status and multiple associations with other regional states. In 1967, Grenada became an “Associated State of Great Britain” within the British Commonwealth. This gave the island nation control over its internal affairs, while the British government continued to control its external affairs.
In the early twentieth century, it produced one of the region’s most notable leaders, T. Albert Marryshow. His Association for Representative Government, which inspired similar movements in other Windward Island states and Trinidad, did much to liberalise British rule in the Caribbean.
It is ironic that the achievement of universal adult suffrage in 1950, a longstanding goal of Marryshow, led directly to his ousting from Grenadian politics by a new figure, Eric Matthew Gairy. While Marryshow had been a middle class man, Gairy and his Grenada United Labour Party (GULP) appealed to the lower class, the rural population. Suddenly strengthened by the election, Gairy’s supporters swept him into the Legislative Council in 1951; he dominated island politics for almost three decades.
The most successful electoral challenge to Gairy between 1951 and 1979 was posed by Herbert Blaize’s Grenada National Party (GNP) in 1961, particularly on the issue of union with Trinidad and Tobago (the “unitary state” proposal). The GNP, once again reflecting Grenadians’ tendency to look outwards for support and viability, campaigned to accept Trinidad’s offer of union. Although Blaize’s party won the election, it later lost much of its prestige and credibility when Trinidad did not respond to the proposal. The PNB’s embarrassment paved the way for the return of Gairy, who never tired of playing the role of his country’s political saviour. Full independence was achieved in 1974 with considerable opposition under the leadership of the late Sir Eric Gairy – a charismatic and controversial figure who had been in the public eye since the early 1950s.
In 1979, following a coup, an attempt was made to establish in Grenada what the United States and other regional governments at the time considered a communist state. Four years later, at the request of the Governor General, the US (with a little help from Jamaica and the Eastern Caribbean states) intervened militarily. With their now famous “rescue mission”, the allied forces restored order and in December 1984, general elections led to a democratic government.
The last two decades have been marked by a peaceful, democratic, successful and normal existence, with many new buildings and much improved infrastructure.