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The Americas

Caribbean Islands

 

Modern St Vincent and the Grenadines (Lesser Antilles)
AD 1955 - Present Day
Incorporating Heads of State (1955-2022), British Colony (1955-1969), Associated State (1969-1979), & Independent Constitutional Monarchy (1979-On)

The 'Independent Constitutional Monarchy' of St Vincent and the Grenadines is formed from a group of islands which are located near the southern end of the Windward Islands in the Americas, part of the Lesser Antilles chain between the North Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. The islands are neighboured to the north by St Lucia, to the east by Barbados, to the south by Grenada, and to the west by the core of the Caribbean Sea.

This nation state consists of the main island of St Vincent with its capital, Kingstown, located towards the south, along with a chain of smaller islands which together comprise the northern Grenadines (the southern Grenadines belong to Grenada). About ten of the islands are inhabited. Originally, the name St Vincent applied to all of these islands but, when the nation achieved independence, the name was changed to St Vincent and the Grenadines.

St Vincent is a volcanic island, the volcano being known as Soufrière. It is still active and has, several times, caused considerable damage to farming. The land is very fertile and agriculture is therefore easy. The economy is primarily agricultural, but tourism has become important on an island which has particularly varied and rich birdlife. The climate is tropical, while about seventy percent of the population is descended from enslaved Africans. About a quarter is of mixed African, European, and Carib ancestry. A small minority is of South Asian, European, or Carib ancestry, with people of mixed African and Carib ancestry being referred to as 'Garifuna'.

The islands were originally inhabited by the Ciboney. When the Arawak arrived from what is now Venezuela they co-inhabited until the Arawak replaced them entirely. About a century prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Caribs arrived from South America and displaced the Arawak. The Caribs fiercely resisted early modern-era French, Dutch, and English attempts to settle St Vincent but, finally, in the eighteenth century they had to yield to the less aggressive French in favour of the perceived greater aggression exhibited by the English.

It was once thought that Christopher Columbus reached St Vincent in 1498 and named the island. That view has been corrected thanks to the knowledge that Columbus was in Spain at that time. In the seventeenth century, escaped plantation slaves from Barbados or shipwrecks began to intermix with Caribs to form a group which is known as 'Black Caribs' or, again, 'Garifuna'.

The Caribs allowed the French to settle the island's west coast, but the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Seven Years War in 1763, gave St Vincent and the nearby islands to Hanoverian Britain. They became part of the British colony of the Windward Islands, which included the other British-held islands of the Windward chain. Control was exercised from Grenada. This structure soon failed, so the various islands were each given their own colonial assemblies and settlers began arriving on St Vincent despite continued Carib hostility.

The French captured the islands in 1779, but the Versailles Treaty of 1783 restored British control. Internally, it took two wars (in 1772-1773 and 1795-1796) for the British to subdue the Caribs, most of whom were eventually deported to an island off the coast of what is now Honduras. From there, they migrated to Belize and other parts of Central America. Those who remained in St Vincent retreated into the interior. In 1805, the colonial government pardoned them for their rebellion.

The Grenadines were partitioned in 1791. Most of the islands were awarded to St Vincent because they are closer to that island, while a few were given to Grenada. British territories underwent further restructuring in 1877, with St Vincent becoming a crown colony. Slavery was abolished throughout the British empire in 1834, giving former slaves greater leverage over plantation owners. The owners brought in Portuguese and South Asian labourers to increase competition with the emancipated population and reduce their bargaining position. Then sugar prices fell in the last half of the century, sparking a depression which lasted the rest of the century. Further damage was done to the economy by a hurricane in 1898 and the eruption of the volcano.

Self-government became a major goal in the twentieth century. The colony established a legislative council in 1925, but the selection process excluded most descendants of slaves. Riots during the 'Great Depression' prompted reforms, culminating in universal suffrage in 1951. Today's St Vincent and the Grenadines operate as a democratic 'Independent Constitutional Monarchy', with universal suffrage for its population of over 111,000 (in 2023) and a parliamentary form of government which is based on the British format. The head of state is the monarch of the UK, represented by a governor-general. The head of government is a prime minister, while the unicameral legislature is called the 'House of Assembly'.

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 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, Charles C Mann (Vintage, 2005), and from External Links: Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (Encyclopaedia Britannica), and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (Rulers.org).)

1955 - 1962

Alexander Falconer Giles

UK administrator.

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.

Kingstown, capital of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Caribbean
Kingstown, capital of St Vincent and the Grenadines, is located at the southern end of the main island, its chief port, with a 2004 population of about 13,000

1960

The British 'Federation of the Leeward Islands' collapses, Although 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 St Vincent returns to the status of 'British Colony' until a fresh system can be brought into operation by the United Kingdom in 1967 (although St Vincent's position does not change until 1969).

1962 - 1966

Samuel Horatio Graham

UK administrator.

1966 - 1967

John Lionel Chapman

UK administrator.

1967 - 1969

Hywel George

UK administrator. Later governor.

1969

Two years after other islands, such as Antigua and St Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla, had become 'Associated States' with the United Kingdom to prepare them for independence, St Vincent now follows suit. Along with five other Leeward and Windward Islands, it 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

1969 - 1970

Hywel George

Governor (formerly administrator).

1970 - 1976

Sir Rupert John

Governor.

1976 - 1979

Sir Sidney Gun-Munro

Governor. Later governor-general.

1979 - 1980

The associated state of St Vincent becomes the 'Independent Constitutional Monarchy' of St Vincent and the Grenadines, on 27 October 1979. The first prime minister, Milton Cato of the Saint Vincent Labour Party, is a Caribbean nationalist who favours closer ties with Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago.

However, the Soufrière volcano chooses this period to erupt, with it damaging agriculture and tourism. Further serious damage is done by Hurricane Allen in 1980, with the result that banana exports and tourism both decline.

1979 - 1985

Sir Sidney Gun-Munro

Governor-general (formerly governor).

1984

James Mitchell and the New Democratic Party come to power, working to reform agriculture by distributing land to landless agricultural labourers. Mitchell remains prime minister for sixteen years.

Petroglyphs on St Vincent island
Petroglyphs at Borrouallie on St Vincent have not yet been deciphered, but historians estimate that they date to the period between AD 300-600

1985 - 1988

Sir Joseph Lambert Eustace

Governor-general.

1988 - 1989

Henry Harvey Williams

Acting governor-general.

1989 - 1996

Sir David Jack

Governor-general.

1996 - 2002

Sir Charles Antrobus

Governor-general.

2002

Monica Dacon

(Female) acting governor-general.

2002 - 2019

Sir Frederick Ballantyne

Governor-general.

2009

Voters reject a proposed constitution which would have terminated the island's connections to the monarchy of the United Kingdom and in its place establish a republic, as well as made the Caribbean Court of Justice the highest appeal court rather than the privy council in London.

Nevertheless, many in St Vincent and the Grenadines exhibit a growing sense of injustice in relation to the former slave trade. This sense of injustice is increasingly shared with the Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, and Jamaica, all of whom raise the issue during a royal tour in 2022.

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

2019 - On

Susan Dougan

First full female 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.

St Kitts & Nevis also reveals its plan to cut ties with the United Kingdom. As mentioned above, earlier in the year the same sentiment has already been echoed by the Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, and Jamaica.

 
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