St. Vincent and Grenadines Association of Toronto

History of SVG

by The Vincentian

Early History

St. Vincent was first inhabited by the Ciboney, a grouping of Meso-Indians. These early inhabitants were gradually displaced by another indigenous group, the Arawaks, who entered the West Indies from Venezuela and moved gradually north and west along the island chain.

The Caribs who gave the island the name Hairouna or Land of the Blessed, arrived in St. Vincent no more than 100 years before the Europeans. They conquered the Arawaks and began a new chapter in Vincentian history.

The Caribs who were more warlike than their predecessors, were efficient at keeping unwanted settlers from the shores long after other Caribbean Islands had well-established European settlements.

Even as the island was granted to Lord Carlisle in 1627 by Charles 1 of England and to Lord Willoughby by Charles 11 in 1672, the Caribs continued to resist claims to the land while the British, French and Spanish disputed possession of it.

In 1635, the first permanent African settlers arrived on the shores of St. Vincent. The new inhabitants had survived the sinking of a Dutch ship on which they were being transported as slaves.

The escaped Africans intermarried with the Caribs and became known as the Black Caribs who are today known as the Garifuna (cassava- eating people). Today they populate Belize and Honduras.

The British, who claimed Carib land by royal grants, were more despised by the Black Caribs than were the French who were permitted to set up settlements in the early 1700's. Even though St.Vincent was ceded to the British in the Treaty of Paris of 1763, the French, with the aid of the Caribs, forcibly seized the island in1779, but restored it to Britain in 1783, under the Treaty of Versailles.

In 1795, with the country under the governership of James Seton, the Black Caribs began the two years of attack known as the Second Carib War. With the aid of French rebels from Martinique, the Caribs plotted the removal of the British. Chatoyer and DuValle (the two main Carib chiefs) planned that Chatoyer would lead the rebellion on the Leeward side and DuValle would lead on the Windward side. News came to Kingstown on March 8th that war had broken out.

Chatoyer worked his way along the Leeward, joined in battle by the French in Chateaubelair, to unite with DuValle at Dorsetshire Hill.

A battalion of British soldiers from recently arrived warships marched toward Dorsetshire Hill on March 14th. On that night, Chatoyer was wounded in battle and succumbed to his wound(s).

(Chatoyer has been named the first National Hero of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. A monument has been built at Dorsetshire Hill in his honour.)

Battles continued to rage in St. Vincent over the next year, with great losses to both sides, and the final battle took place at Vigie on June 10th, 1796. After a night of arduous fighting the Caribs approached the British with a truce flag.

Submission terms were negotiated and during the next four months, over 5,000 Caribs surrendered. They were exiled to the neighbouring island of Balliceaux and in February 1797, the defeated Caribs were loaded onto a convoy of eight vessels and transported to Roatan, an island off the Honduras Coast. The few remaining Caribs scattered to the north of the island near Sandy Bay where their descendants can still be found.

Post Slavery

Slavery was abolished in 1834; the resulting labor shortages on the plantations attracted Portuguese immigrants in the 1840s and east Indians in the 1860s. Conditions remained harsh for both former slaves and immigrant agricultural workers, as depressed world sugar prices kept the economy stagnant until the turn of the century.

From 1763 until independence, St. Vincent passed through various stages of colonial status under the British. A representative assembly was authorized in 1776, Crown Colony government installed in 1877, a Legislative Council created in 1925, and universal adult suffrage granted in 1951.

During this period, the British made several unsuccessful attempts to affiliate St. Vincent with other Windward Islands in order to govern the region through a unified administration. The most notable was the West Indies Federation, which collapsed in 1962. St. Vincent was granted Associate Statehood status in 1969, giving it complete control over its internal affairs. In 1979, St. Vincent and the Grenadines became the last of the Windward Islands to gain independence. Natural disasters have plagued the country throughout the 20th century.

Politics

The People's Political Party (PPP), founded in 1952 by Ebenezer Joshua, was the first major political party in St. Vincent. The PPP had its roots in the labor movement and was in the forefront of national policy prior to independence, winning elections from 1957 through 1966. With the development of a more conservative black middle class, however, the party began to steadily lose support, until it collapsed after a rout in the 1979 elections. The party dissolved itself in 1984.

Founded in 1955, the St. Vincent Labor Party (SYLP), under R. Milton Cato, gained the support of the middle class. With a conservative law-and-order message and a pro-Western foreign policy, the SYLP dominated politics from the mid-1960s until the mid-1980s. Following victories in the 1967 and 1974 elections, the SYLP led the island to independence, winning the first post-independence election in 1979. Expecting an easy victory for the SYLP in 1984, Cato called early elections. The results were surprising: with a record 89% voter turnout, James F. Mitchell's New Democratic Party (NDP) won nine seats in the House of Assembly.

Since the 1984 election, politics in St. Vincent has been dominated by the NDP. Bolstered by a resurgent economy in the mid-1980s, Mitchell led his party to an unprecedented sweep of all 15 House of Assembly seats in the 1989 elections. The opposition emerged from the election weakened and fragmented but was able to win three seats during the February 1994 elections under a "unity" coalition. In 1998, Prime Minister Mitchell and the NDP were returned to power for an unprecedented fourth term but only with a slim margin of 8 seats to 7 seats for the Unity Labour Party (ULP). The NDP was able to accomplish a return to power while receiving a lesser share of the popular vote, approximately 45% to the ULP's 55%. In March 2001, the ULP, led by Ralph Gonsalves, assumed power after winning 12 of the 15 seats in Parliament.

 

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