The island now known as Saint Vincent was originally named Youloumain by the native Island Caribs who called themselves Kalina/Carina ("l" and "r" being pronounced the same in their language). The Caribs aggressively prevented European settlement on Saint Vincent until 1719. Prior to this, formerly enslaved Africans, who had either been shipwrecked or who had escaped from Barbados, Saint Lucia and Grenada and sought refuge in mainland Saint Vincent, intermarried with the Caribs and became known as Black Caribs or Garifuna.
The first Europeans to occupy St. Vincent were the French. However, following a series of wars and peace treaties, the islands were eventually ceded to the British. While the English were the first to lay claim to St. Vincent in 1627, the French centered on the island of Martinique would be the first European settlers on the island when they established their first colony at Barrouallie on the Leeward side of St. Vincent in 1719. The French settlers cultivated coffee, tobacco, indigo, corn, and sugar on plantations worked by African slaves.
St. Vincent was ceded to Britain by the Treaty of Paris (1763), after which friction between the British and the Caribs led to the First Carib War. The island was restored to French rule in 1779 and regained by the British under the Treaty of Versailles (1783). Between 1795 and 1796, with French support from Martinique, the Black Caribs, led by their chief, Joseph Chatoyer, fought a series of battles against the British. Their uprising was eventually put down, however, resulting in almost 5,000 Black Caribs being exiled to the tiny island of Baliceaux off the coast of Bequia. Conflict between the British and the black Caribs continued until 1796, when General Abercrombie crushed a revolt fomented by the French radical Victor Hugues. The British deported more than 5,000 black Caribs to Roatan, an island off the coast of Honduras.
Like the French before them, the British also used African slaves to work plantations of sugar, coffee, indigo, tobacco, cotton and cocoa until full emancipation in 1838. The economy then went into a period of decline with many landowners abandoning their estates and leaving the land to be cultivated by liberated slaves. Life was made even harder following two eruptions of the La Soufriere volcano in 1812 and 1902 when much of our island was destroyed and many people were killed. In 1979 it erupted again but this time with no fatalities. In the same year, St Vincent & The Grenadines gained full independence from Britain though it remains a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.
Between 1783 and 1796, there was again conflict between the British and the Black Caribs, who were led by defiant Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer. In 1797 British General Sir Ralph Abercromby put an end to the open conflict by crushing an uprising which had been supported by the French radical, Victor Hugues. More than 5,000 Black Caribs were eventually deported to Roatan, an island off the coast of Honduras.
Slavery was abolished in Saint Vincent (as well as in the other British colonies) in 1834, and an apprenticeship period followed which ended in 1838. After its end, labour shortages on the plantations resulted, and this was initially addressed by the immigration of indentured servants. In the late 1840s many Portuguese immigrants arrived fromMadeira and between 1861 and 1888 shiploads of East Indian labourers arrived. Conditions remained harsh for both former slaves and immigrant agricultural workers, as depressed world sugar prices kept the economy stagnant until the start of the 20th century.
20th and 21st centuries
From 1763 until its independence in 1979, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines passed through various stages of colonial status under the British. A representative assembly was authorised in 1776, Crown Colony government was installed in 1877, a legislative council was created in 1925, and universal adult suffrage was granted in 1951.
During the period of its control of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the British made several unsuccessful attempts to affiliate the island with other Windward Islands. This would have simplified Britain's control over the region through a unified administration. In the 1960s, several regional islands under British control, including Saint Vincent, also made an independent attempt to unify. The unification was to be called the West Indies Federation and was driven by a desire to gain freedom from British rule. The attempt collapsed in 1962.
Saint Vincent was granted "associate statehood" status by Britain on 27 October 1969. This gave Saint Vincent complete control over its internal affairs but was short of full independence. On 27 October 1979, following a referendum under Milton Cato, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines became the last of the Windward Islands to gain independence. Independence came on the 10th anniversary of Saint Vincent's associate statehood status.
Natural disasters have featured in the country's history. In 1902, La Soufriere volcano erupted, killing 2,000 people. Much farmland was damaged, and the economy deteriorated. In April 1979, La Soufriere erupted again. Although no one was killed, thousands were evacuated, and again there was extensive agricultural damage. In 1980 and 1987, hurricanes damaged many banana and coconut plantations. Hurricane seasons were also very active in 1998 and 1999, with Hurricane Lenny in 1999 causing extensive damage to the west coast of the island.
On 25 November 2009, voters were asked to approve a new constitution in a referendum. The new constitution proposed to make the country a republic and replacing QueenElizabeth II as head of state with a non-executive President. A two-thirds majority was required, but it was defeated by 29,019 votes (55.64 per cent) to 22,493 (43.13 per cent)