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The Americas

Caribbean Islands

 

Modern Antigua & Barbuda (Lesser Antilles)
AD 1954 - Present Day
Incorporating Heads of State (1954-2022), British Colony (1954-1967), Associated State (1967-1981), & Independent Constitutional Monarchy (1981-On)

The 'Independent Constitutional Monarchy' of Antigua and Barbuda, in the Caribbean region of the Americas, consists of two major islands and a few smaller ones, one of which is the usually-uninhabited Redonda. The islands sit in the central part of the Leeward Islands, part of the Lesser Antilles chain between the North Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.

Barbuda is to the north of Antigua, while both lie to the east of the Dutch-owned islands of Saba and Sint Eustatius and the independent St Kitts & Nevis, to the south-east of the French-owned island of St-Barthélemy, to the west of the Atlantic Ocean itself, to the north of the French-owned island of Guadeloupe, and to the north-east of the British-owned island of Montserrat.

The first inhabitants of Antigua were Ciboney who settled around 2400 BC. Tens of sites around the island contain their beautifully-crafted shell and stone tools. After the Ciboney had moved on, the Arawak settled around AD 1232. They were chiefly an agricultural people, and most left in time to be replaced around 1500 by the more aggressive Caribs who settled all the islands of the Caribbean.

The first Europeans to see the island were Christopher Columbus and his crew, on behalf of what was on the verge of becoming a Spanish empire. Without landing there, he saw Antigua on his second voyage to the West Indies in 1493, naming it Santa Maria la Antigua after a saint of Seville. Despite the formation of various local Spanish Colonies, those and other Europeans generally avoided settling the island due to the fierce resistance being offered by the Caribs and because there seemed to be little fresh water there.

Antigua did gain settlers in the end, in 1632 when English colonisers arrived from St Kitts. It officially became an English colony in 1667, by which time the native inhabitants were virtually extinct thanks to various diseases being spread by the Europeans. King Charles II gave the island of Barbuda to Christopher Codrington in 1680, and four years later Codrington established the first sugarcane plantation there. Sugarcane cultivation exploded over the next fifty years, with plantations being powered by African slaves, with most current Antiguans being their descendants.

By the end of the eighteen century not only was Antigua a valuable colony for its sugarcane, it was also of strategic importance along major sailing routes. Captain Horatio Nelson, head of the British Squadron of the Leeward Islands, landed at English Harbour in 1784 to construct Nelson's Dockyard.

The Hanoverian Navigation Act required British colonists to use only British-registered ships. Nelson's determination to enforce it affected the not-insignificant trade of the colonists with the newly-independent United States and earned him the enmity of the local population. He was required to remain on board his uncomfortable ship, while the future King William IV, who was serving under him, was housed luxuriously in Clarence House.

The British empire abolished slavery in 1834, but allowed a four-year apprenticeship before full emancipation. Antigua became the only Caribbean colony to immediately institute emancipation, and the event is still celebrated as a major holiday. Emancipation, however, did not mean real freedom. Most former slaves remained dependent upon plantation owners, and this condition existed until 1939. So while emancipation improved the colony's economy, the main labour force did not share in the prosperity. Gradually, the demand for sugarcane shrank, and soon the island was losing its prosperity.

Queen Victoria's United Kingdom incorporated the island of Redonda (the 'Kingdom of Redonda') into Antigua's administrative purview in 1872. Various pretenders to this day continue to claim a pretence 'throne' for the island. One year before that event, Britain had created the 'Federal Colony of the Winward Islands', with Antigua as a constituent member. This was reorganised as the 'Territory of the Winward Islands' in 1956 and was dissolved in 1960.

A 'Federation of the West Indies' was also formed to include all of the British West Indian islands in the hope that the federation would become an independent state. When Jamaica withdrew in 1962, though, the federation collapsed.

A royal commission recommended the establishment of a labour movement to improve poor employment conditions. As a result, in the 1940s, Vere Cornwall Bird, head of the Antigua Labour Party, led the rise of a labour movement which itself instigated the movement for independence. Bird led Antigua's government for almost all of the 1960s and right through into the 1980s, becoming the country's first prime minister in 1981 and serving in that position until 1994. His son, Lester, succeeded him as prime minister.

Antigua became an internally self-governing 'Associated State' with the United Kingdom in 1967. On 1 November 1981 it and Barbuda, historically a dependency of Antigua, became independent in the form of a constitutional monarchy. Sir Wilfred E Jacobs, Antigua's governor between 1967-1981, became the first governor-general of Antigua and Barbuda.

The country is a parliamentary democracy whose head of state is the monarch of the United Kingdom, represented by a governor-general. A two-house parliament consists of a senate and a 'House of Representatives'. The country is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, with a population of 68,000 as of 2014. Its people have a Creole culture, the result of the blending of descendants of African slaves, Portuguese servants, and English settlers. Temperatures are even, between the mid-twenties to low thirties Celsius, humidity is low, and the islands are the sunniest of the Leeward Islands. Tourism in the past few decades has greatly improved the country's economy.

The full list of islands which make up the Lesser Antilles chain includes Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Redonda, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad & Tobago.


Caribbean Islands

(Information by John De Cleene, with additional information from Atlas of the World (Tenth Ed, National Geographic Society, 2015), from 1969 World Almanac, Luman H Long (Ed, St Louis Post Dispatch, 1969), and from External Links: Antigua and Barbuda, and Antigua and Barbuda (Encyclopaedia Britannica), and Antigua and Barbuda (Flags of the World), and Antigua and Barbuda (New World Encyclopaedia), and Antigua and Barbuda (Rulers.org), and A Short History of Antigua and Barbuda (Studycountry.com).)

1954 - 1958

Alec Lovelace

UK administrator of Antigua.

1956 - 1960

The United Kingdom reorganises the 'Federal Colony of the Windward Islands' which has existed since 1871 and of which Antigua is a member, into the 'Territory of the Windward Islands'. That territory is dissolved in 1960, although the administrators of Antigua are subordinate to the governors of the Windward Islands.

1958

The United Kingdom authorities unite their West Indian islands into a 'Federation of the West Indies' in an attempt to form a unified independent nation. The federation does not receive the sustained support it needs. Instead, each constituent part appears to drive towards becoming a separate, independent nation.

Curtain Bluff beach on the Caribbean island of Antigua
Antigua was visited in 1493 by Christopher Columbus, who named it for the Church of Santa Maria de la Antigua in Sevilla, Spain, although it was not colonised by Europeans until the arrival of English settlers in 1632

1958 - 1964

Ian Turbott

UK administrator of Antigua.

1960

The British 'Federation of the Leeward Islands' collapses, but Antigua remains part of the autonomous 'Federation of the West Indies' which is designed to foster the independence of the West Indian islands.

1962

The 'Federation of the West Indies' collapses when Jamaica withdraws from it, so Antigua returns to the status of 'British Colony' until a fresh system can be brought into operation by the United Kingdom in 1967.

1964 - 1966

David James Gardiner Rose

UK governor of Antigua.

1967

Antigua becomes an 'Associated State' with the United Kingdom to prepare it for independence. Along with five other Leeward and Windward Islands, Antigua gains internal self-government, while the UK controls foreign policy and defence from the UK Parliament.

Edward Heath, prime minister, 1970-1974
Edward Heath, Britain's Conservative prime minister between 1970-1974, made gaining membership in the European Economic Community a key objective for the United Kingdom, as the last lingering vestiges of empire were being left behind

1967 - 1981

Sir Wilfred E Jacobs

UK governor of Antigua.

1981

On 1 November 1981, Antigua and the additional island of Barbuda which, historically, is a dependency of Antigua, become independent in the form of an 'Independent Constitutional Monarchy'. Sir Wilfred E Jacobs, governor of Antigua between 1967-1981, becomes governor-general of Antigua and Barbuda.

1981 - 1993

Sir Wilfred E Jacobs

Governor-general of Antigua & Barbuda (former governor).

1981 - 1994

Vere Cornwall Bird, leader of the Antigua Labour Party and one of the prime movers of Antiguan independence, is the state's prime minister. Under his government the country effectively becomes a one-party state until the twenty-first century.

1993 - 2007

Sir James Carlyle

Governor-general.

1994 - 2004

Lester Bird becomes leader of the Antigua Labour Party to succeed his father, V C Bird, as prime minister. In 2004, Baldwin Spencer of the United Progressive Party becomes the first opposition leader to become prime minister.

The aftermath of Hurricane Luis on Antigua in 1995
Hurricane Luis left a trail of destruction across the Caribbean islands after it had passed on 5 September 1995, with three dead on Antigua and millions of dollars of damage done

2007 - 2014

Dame Louise Lake-Tack

First female governor-general.

2009

Robert Allen Stanford, an American financier, is arrested and charged with fraud. Since he is a major investor into Antigua and Barbuda, the economy declines (he is convicted in 2012 for running a fraudulent 'Ponzi' scheme through his offshore bank in Antigua).

2014

After a decade in opposition, the Antigua Labour Party returns to power under the leadership of the new prime minister, Gaston Browne. Browne is sworn in as prime minister on 13 June 2014, having defeated Baldwin Spencer's UPP party and government.

2017

Although Redonda is unquestionably of high conservation value, feral goats and thousands of large, predatory black rats have turned much of its surface into a dusty moonscape and left the surrounding marine habitats damaged. Fauna & Flora International (FFI) now begins to eradicate the rats and relocate the feral goats to Antigua.

2014 - On

Sir Rodney Williams

Governor-general.

2022

At least two painful exchanges take place between island governments in the Caribbean and the earl and countess of Wessex during their week-long tour of the British-linked Caribbean islands. Comments during a meeting on Antigua & Barbuda makes likely a future pursuit of full independence.

Caribbean independence supporters in St Vincent in 2022
Protesters in St Vincent during the royal visit by the earl and countess of Wessex in 2022 showed that calls for independence were not going away

St Kitts & Nevis also reveals its plan to cut ties with the United Kingdom, with a growing sense of injustice around the former slave trade being used as a key point. Earlier in the year the same sentiment has already been echoed by the Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, and Jamaica.

 
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