History and Culture

Antigua’s History, Art and Culture

It would be tough to overestimate the effect on Antigua’s history of the arrival, one fateful day in 1684, of Sir Christopher Codrington. A resourceful guy, Codrington had come to Antigua to discover out if the island would support the sort of large-scale sugar cultivation that already grew in other places in the Caribbean. His preliminary efforts proved to be rather successful, and over the next fifty years sugar cultivation on Antigua exploded. By the middle of the 18th century the island was dotted with more than 150 cane-processing windmills– each the centerpiece of a significant plantation. Today almost 100 of these attractive stone towers remain, although they now function as homes, bars, dining establishments and shops. At Betty’s Hope, Codrington’s original sugar estate, visitors can see a fully-restored sugar mill.

Many Antiguans are of African lineage, descendants of slaves brought to the island centuries ago to labor in the sugarcane fields. However, Antigua’s history of habitation extends as far back as two and a half millenia before Christ. The first settlements, dating from about 2400 B.C., were those of the Siboney (an Arawak word meaning “stone-people”), peripatetic Meso-Indians whose wonderfully crafted shell and stone tools have actually been found at dozens of sites around the island. Long after the Siboney had proceeded, Antigua was settled by the pastoral, agricultural Arawaks (35-1100 A.D.), who were then displaced by the Caribs– an aggressive individuals who varied all over the Caribbean.

The earliest European contact with the island was made by Christopher Columbus throughout his second Caribbean voyage (1493), who sighted the island in passing and named it after Santa Maria la Antigua, the miracle-working saint of Seville. European settlement, nevertheless, didn’t happen for over a century, mostly since of Antigua’s lack of fresh water and abundance of figured out Carib resistance. Lastly, in 1632, a group of Englishmen from St. Kitts established an effective settlement, and in 1684, with Codrington’s arrival, the island entered the sugar period.

By the end of the eighteenth century Antigua had ended up being a vital strategic port in addition to an useful commercial nest. Referred to as the “gateway to the Caribbean,” it was situated in a position that offered control over the major sailing courses to and from the region’s rich island colonies. Most of the island’s historical sites, from its many messed up fortifications to the impeccably-restored architecture of English Harbourtown, are suggestions of colonial efforts to guarantee its safety from invasion.

Horatio Nelson arrived in 1784 at the head of the Squadron of the Leeward Islands to develop the British naval facilities at English Harbour and to enforce stringent industrial shipping laws. The first of these 2 tasks led to construction of Nelson’s Dockyard, one of Antigua’s finest physical properties; the 2nd led to a rather hostile attitude toward the young captain. Nelson invested practically all of his time in the confined quarters of his ship, declaring the island to be a “vile location” and a “dreadful hole.” Serving under Nelson at the time was the future King William IV, for whom the completely more enjoyable accommodation of Clarence Home was built.

It was throughout William’s reign, in 1834, that Britain eliminated slavery in the empire. Alone among the British Caribbean colonies, Antigua set up immediate full emancipation as opposed to a four-year ‘apprenticeship,’ or waiting period; today, Antigua’s Carnival festivities honor the earliest abolition of slavery in the British Caribbean.

Emancipation in fact improved the island’s economy, but the sugar industry of the British islands was already starting to wane. Till the development of tourism in the past couple of years, Antiguans struggled for prosperity. The rise of a strong labor motion in the 1940s, under the leadership of V.C. Bird, provided the catalyst for freedom. In 1967, with Barbuda and the tiny island of Redonda as reliances, Antigua became a linked state of the Commonwealth, and in 1981 it attained full independent condition. V.C. Bird is now deceased; his child, Lester B. Bird, was elected to prosper him as head of state.

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