The islands of St. Kitts and Nevis were settled by Native Americans five thousand years before the arrival of the Europeans. The last wave of Native Americans, the Kalinago people, arrived about three centuries before the Europeans. The islands were discovered by Europeans during a Spanish expedition led by Christopher Columbus in 1493.
In 1538, French Huguenots founded a colony on St. Kitts. The colony was soon destroyed by the Spanish and the survivors were deported. In 1623, an English colony was founded. French settlements soon followed and the island was divided up by agreement between the settlers. The Spanish were superior to the Kalinagos in the means of warfare and the French and English were even more “economically aggressive and militarily determined” than the Spanish.
The French and British, intent on enriching themselves by exploiting the island’s resources, knew from the outset that the establishment of settlements on St Kitts would be met with resistance, which the Kalinagos offered during the first three years of the settlements’ existence. Throughout the process of settling St Kitts, as elsewhere in the Caribbean, the French and British, like their predecessors, intended to enslave, displace or exterminate the Kalinagos, as their clinging to land threatened the profitability of the European-controlled plantation economy. To achieve this goal, an ideological campaign was waged by colonial chroniclers, beginning with the Spanish, who produced a literature that systematically denied the humanity of the Kalinagos (a literary tradition continued into the late seventeenth century by authors such as Jean-Baptiste du Tertre and Pere Labat).
In 1626, the Anglo-French colonists combined forces to commit genocide against the Kalinago, ostensibly to prevent an impending plot by the Caribs, who, in collusion with the Kalinagos, wanted to expel or kill the European settlers who had forcibly maintained their presence on the island for three years; or, according to Tertre’s account, simply kill them.
A Spanish expedition sent to enforce Spanish claims destroyed the English and French colonies in 1629 and deported the colonists to their respective countries. As part of the settlement of the war in 1630, the Spanish allowed the English and French colonies to be restored.
With the decline of Spanish rule, St. Kitts became the first base of English and French expansion in the Caribbean. From St. Kitts, the British colonised the islands of Antigua, Montserrat, Anguilla and Tortola, and the French colonised Martinique, the archipelago of Guadeloupe and St. Barts. In the late 17th century, France and England fought for control of St. Kitts. The French ceded the territory to Britain in 1713.
Although small and separated by only 3 km of water, the two islands were considered and governed as separate states until the late 19th century, when they were forcibly united by the British with the island of Anguilla. Even today, relations are strained, with Nevis accusing St. Kitts of neglecting its needs.
St Kitts and Nevis and Anguilla became an associated state with full internal self-government in 1967. The people of Anguilla rebelled and seceded in 1971. St. Kitts and Nevis became independent in 1983. It is the youngest sovereign state in the Americas. In August 1998, a vote in Nevis on a referendum to separate from St. Kitts failed to secure the necessary two-thirds majority. In late September 1998, Hurricane Georges caused an estimated $458,000,000 in damage and limited GDP growth for that year and beyond. Georges was the worst hurricane to hit the region in a century.