While the English were the first to lay claim to St. Vincent in 1627, the French were the first European settlers on the island when they established their first colony at Barrouallie on the leeward side of St. Vincent shortly before 1700. Caribbean Indians aggressively prevented European settlement of St. Vincent until the 18th century. African slaves, whether shipwrecked or escaping from St Lucia or Grenada and seeking refuge on St Vincent, mixed with the Caribs. St. Vincent was ceded to Britain by the Treaty of Paris in 1763), returned to French rule in 1779 and regained from the British by the Treaty of Versailles in 1783.
Slavery was abolished in 1834; the resulting labour shortage on the plantations attracted Portuguese immigrants in the 1840s and East Indians in the 1860s. From 1763 until independence, St Vincent went through various stages of colonial status under the British, and on 27 October 1969 was granted the status of an associated state, giving it complete control over its internal affairs. Following a referendum in 1979, St. Vincent and the Grenadines became the last of the Leeward Islands to gain full independence.
Natural disasters have plagued the country throughout the 20th century. In 1902, the Soufrière volcano erupted and killed 2,000 people. Much farmland was damaged and the economy deteriorated. In April 1979, the Soufriere erupted again. Although no one was killed, thousands had to be evacuated and there was great damage to agriculture. In 1980 and 1987, hurricanes devastated banana and coconut plantations; 1998 and 1999 also saw very active hurricane seasons, with Hurricane Lenny in 1999 causing major damage to the west coast of the island.