Archaeological field work in 2012 in Montserrat's Centre Hills indicated there was an Archaic (pre-Arawak) occupation between 4000 and 2500 BP. Later coastal sites show the presence of the Saladoid culture. In November 1493 Christopher Columbus passed Montserrat in his second voyage, after being told that the island was unoccupied due to raids by the Caribs. Columbus named the island Santa Maria de Montserrat, after the Virgin of Montserrat in the Monastery of Montserrat, near Barcelona in Catalonia, Spain. The island came under English control in 1632 when anti-Catholic violence in Nevis forced a group of Irish transported from Ireland as slaves, to settle in Montserrat.
The colonists began to import African slaves for labour, as was common to most Caribbean islands. The colonists built an economy based on the production of sugar, rum, arrowroot and Sea Island Cotton, cultivated on large plantations manned by slave labour. By the late 1700s, numerous plantations had been developed on the island. Many Irish people were also transported to the island, to work as slaves, indentured servants or exiled prisoners; some were exiled during the English Cromwellian conquest of Ireland.
On 17 March 1768, slaves rebelled but failed to achieve freedom. The people of Montserrat celebrate St Patrick's Day as a public holiday due to the slave revolt. Festivities held that week commemorate the culture of Montserrat in song, dance, food and traditional costumes.
New crops and politics
Britain abolished slavery in Montserrat and its other Caribbean territories effective August 1834.
During the nineteenth century, falling sugar-prices had an adverse effect on the island's economy, as Brazil and other nations competed in the trade.
In 1857, the British philanthropist Joseph Sturge bought a sugar estate to prove it was economically viable to employ paid labour rather than slaves. Numerous members of the Sturge family bought additional land. In 1869 the family established the Montserrat Company Limited and planted lime trees, started the commercial production of lime juice, set up a school, and sold parcels of land to the inhabitants of the island. Much of Montserrat came to be owned by smallholders.
From 1871 to 1958, Montserrat was administered as part of the federal crown colony of the British Leeward Islands, becoming a province of the short-lived West Indies Federation from 1958 to 1962.
In 1979, The Beatles producer George Martin's AIR Studios Montserrat opened. The island attracted world-famous musicians, who came to record in the peaceful and lush tropical surroundings of Montserrat. The last decade of the twentieth century, however, brought two events that devastated the island.
In the early hours of 17 September 1989, Hurricane Hugo, a Category 4 storm, struck Montserrat with full force, producing sustained winds of 140 kilometres (87 mi). It damaged more than 90 percent of the structures on the island. AIR Studios closed, and the tourist economy was virtually wiped out. Within a few years, the island had recovered considerably, only to be damaged again, and even more severely, six years later by volcanic activity that started in 1995.