The first people to discover St. Vincent (or “Hairoun” as it was first known) and the Grenadines came in small craft from South America. First came the Ciboney, long before the ancient pharaohs held sway over the Nile; then, the peaceful Arawaks, who brought rudimentary farming and fishing skills with them. Shortly before the Europeans “discovered” the West Indies, the Caribs overtook their way north through the Caribbean Islands. There is some dispute as to whether Columbus ever laid eyes on St. Vincent, but the island’s reputation was well known.
Any Europeans unfortunate enough to set foot on the island, whether through design or disaster, were not warmly received. It took more than 200 years after Columbus for the Europeans to establish any kind of permanent settlement. St. Vincent mountainous densely forested geography allowed the Caribs to resist European settlement here longer than on almost any other island in the Caribbean. In fact, as the Caribs were defeated on other islands, the survivors made their way to St. Vincent and swelled tribal ranks even further. During that time, the Caribs were joined by slaves who had escaped bondage on Barbados and followed the prevailing trade winds westward to St. Vincent, as well as those who had survived shipwrecks near St. Vincent and Bequia.
The mixed progeny of the island warriors and the freed Africans (who became known as the Black Caribs), with their common distrust and hatred for the Europeans, proved to be a formidable foe. Reportedly, as the tribes of the Black Caribs increased, the original “Yellow” Caribs were pushed off their lands. Fearing complete domination, the Yellow Caribs allowed the French to construct a settlement on the island in 1719. With the French came slaves to work their plantations. The Black Caribs took to the thickly forested hills and continued their resistance. By 1748, St. Vincent was still considered too troublesome to deal with, and in the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle it was officially declared neutral by Britain and France.
By 1763, the British decided to claim the island (and its extraordinarily fertile soil) for themselves after the First Carib War. In 1779, the French took over the island with hardly a shot fired. Reportedly, the conquest of the island took place because all of the British soldiers were working in the northern part of the island on the Governor’s plantation, and, to compound matters, no one could find the key to the gun battery. Not surprisingly, the island surrendered in almost a matter of moments without a struggle. With the Treaty of Versailles in 1783, St. Vincent was brought back into the British fold. However, neither the Black Caribs nor the French backing, the Black Caribs went on the offensive in 1795 in what is now called the Second Carib War, or “Brigands War”.
Tribal forces under a chief named Duvalier made their way down the windward (eastern) coast of the island, burning British plantations and reportedly putting the planters themselves through the crushing gears of their own sugar mills. Meanwhile, various tribes under the leadership of a famed Carib chief, Chatoyer (also known as Chatawar), pushed British forces down the leeward (western) coast toward Kingstown. The two met in the hills above the capital. Unfortunately for the Caribs, Chatoyer was killed when British forces stormed Dorsetshire Hill, and his dream of providing an island home for the remaining Carib population died with him. However, the Black Caribs fought on valiantly for another year.
Finally, by 1797, the British had tipped the battle in their own favor and forced the remaining Black Caribs to choose between annihilation or surrender. They chose the latter. Their villages were destroyed and their crops decimated. The 5,000 Black Caribs were then rounded up and unceremoniously shipped off to what is now Honduras and Belize, where their descendants still thrive. The few Yellow Caribs left on the island withdrew into the nearly inaccessible northern region of the island, near Sandy Bay, where their descendants live today. In 1871, St. Vincent became a part of the British colony of the Windward Islands. In 1969, it became a British Associated State, which allowed for full internal autonomy, while Britain handled foreign affairs and defense. Ten years later, on October 27, 1979, St. Vincent and the Grenadines became a fully independent state within the British Commonwealth.