Antigua was first settled by Archaic Age hunter-gatherer Amerindians called the Siboney or Ciboney. Carbon dating has established the earliest settlements started around 3100 BC. They were succeeded by the Ceramic Age pre-Columbian Arawak-speaking Saladoid people who migrated from the lower Orinoco River.
The Arawaks introduced agriculture, raising, among other crops, the famous Antigua black pineapple (Moris cultivar of Ananas comosus), corn, sweet potatoes (white with firmer flesh than the bright orange "sweet potato" used in the United States), chiles, guava, tobacco, and cotton.
The indigenous West Indians made excellent seagoing vessels which they used to sail the Atlantic and the Caribbean. As a result, Caribs and Arawaks were able to colonize much of South America and the Caribbean Islands. Their descendants still live there, notably in Brazil, Venezuela, and Colombia.
Most Arawaks left Antigua around 1100 AD; those who remained were later raided by the Caribs. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the Caribs' superior weapons and seafaring prowess allowed them to defeat most of the West Indian Arawak nations, enslaving some and possibly cannibalizing others.
The Catholic Encyclopedia makes it clear that the European invaders had difficulty differentiating between the various groups of the native peoples they encountered. As a result, the number and types of ethnic/tribal groups in existence at that time may have been much more varied and numerous than just the two mentioned in this article. European and African diseases, malnutrition, and slavery eventually killed most of the Caribbean's native population, although no researcher has conclusively proven any of these causes as the real reason for these deaths. Smallpox was probably the greatest killer. Some historians believe that the psychological stress of slavery may also have played a part in the massive number of deaths amongst enslaved natives. Others believe the reportedly abundant, but starchy, low-protein diet may have contributed to their severe malnutrition as they were used to a diet fortified with protein from the sea.
The island of Antigua, originally called Wa'ladli by Arawaks, is today called Wadadli by locals. Caribs possibly called it Wa'omoni. Christopher Columbus, while sailing by in 1493, may have named it Santa Maria la Antigua after an icon in the Spanish Seville Cathedral. The Spaniards did not colonize Antigua because it lacked fresh water but not aggressive Caribs. The English settled on Antigua in 1632; Sir Christopher Codrington settled on Barbuda in 1684. Slavery, established to run sugar plantations around 1684, was abolished in 1834. The British ruled from 1632 to 1981, with a brief French interlude in 1666.
The islands became an independent state within the Commonwealth of Nations on 1 November 1981, with Elizabeth II as the first Queen of Antigua and Barbuda. The Right Honourable Vere Cornwall Bird Sr became the first Prime Minister.