Antigua is an island in the West Indies, in the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean region, the main island of the country of Antigua and Barbuda. Antigua means "ancient" in Spanish and was named by Christopher Columbus after a church in Spain, Santa Maria La Antigua — St. Mary the Ancient. It is also known as Wadadli, from the original Amerindian inhabitants, and means approximately "our own". The island's circumference is roughly 87 km (54 mi) and its area 281 km2 (108 sq mi). Its population is about 69,000 as of July 2006. It is the largest of the Leeward Islands, and the most developed and prosperous due to its upscale tourism industry, offshore banking, internet gambling services and education services, including two medical schools.
Over 31,000 people live in the town of St. John's, at 17°6′N 61°45′W. The capital is situated in the northwest, near to VC Bird International Airport, and has a deep harbour which is able to accommodate large cruise ships. Other leading population settlements are All Saints (3,412) and Liberta (2,239), according to the 2001 census.
English Harbour on the southeastern coast is famed for its protected shelter during violent storms. It is the site of a restored British colonial naval station called "Nelson's Dockyard" after Captain Horatio Nelson. Today English Harbour and the neighbouring village of Falmouth are internationally famous as a yachting and sailing destination and provisioning centre. During Antigua Sailing Week, at the end of April and beginning of May, the annual world-class regatta brings many sailing vessels and sailors to the island to play sports.
The high rocky coast is indented by many bays and arms of the sea, several of which form excellent harbours. The surface is comparatively flat, and there is no central range of mountains as in most other Caribbean islands, but among the hills in the southwest an elevation of 1,319 feet (402 m) feet is attained on Mt. Obama . Owing to the absence of rivers, the paucity of springs, and the almost complete deforestation, Antigua is subject to frequent droughts, and although the average rainfall is 1,158 mm (45.6 in), the variations from year to year are great. The problem is partly solved by desalination of sea water.
Sugar became Antigua's main crop from about 1674, when Christopher Codrington settled at Betty's Hope Estate. He came from Barbados, bringing the latest sugar technology with him. Betty's Hope, Antigua's first full-scale sugar plantation, was so successful that other planters turned from tobacco to sugar. This resulted in their importing tens of thousands of slaves, as sugar cultivation and processing was labor intensive.
According to A Brief History of the Caribbean, many West Indian colonists initially tried to use Indians and whites as slaves. Unfortunately, these groups succumbed easily to disease and/or malnutrition, and died by the thousands. The African slaves had the misfortune of adapting well to the new environment; and thus became the number one choice of "unpaid labor." In fact, the slaves thrived physically and also provided medical services, and skilled labor, such as carpentry for their slave masters.
Today, collectors prize the uniquely designed "colonial" furniture created by West Indian slaves. Many of these works feature what are now considered "traditional" motifs, such as pineapples, fish and stylized serpents. The popular decorating magazine, Veranda, features a fascinating article on this subject; peppered with interesting photographs of the uniquely West Indian furnishings.
According to "A history of Antigua" by Bran Dyde, by the mid 1770s, the number of slaves had increased to 37,500 from 12,500 in 1713, whereas the white population had fallen from 5000 to below 3000. The slaves lived in wretched and overcrowded conditions, and could be mistreated or even killed by their owners with impunity. The Slave Act of 1723 made arbitrary murder of slaves illegal, but did not do much to ease their lives.
Unrest among the slaves became increasingly common. In 1729, a slave named Hercules was hanged, drawn and quartered, and three others burnt alive, for conspiring to kill the slave owner Crump and his family. In 1736, a slave called "Prince Klaas" planned an uprising in which whites would be massacred. Court was crowned "King of the Coromantees" in a pasture outside the capital of St. John's, in what white observers thought was a colourful spectacle, but was for the slaves a ritual declaration of war on the whites. Due to information obtained from other slaves, colonists discovered the plot and suppressed it. Prince Klaas and four accomplices were caught and executed by the breaking wheel. Six slaves were hanged in chains and starved to death, and another fifty-eight were burned at the stake. The site of these executions is now the Antiguan Recreation Ground.
The American War of Independence in the late eighteenth century disrupted the Caribbean sugar trade. At the same time public opinion in Britain gradually turned against slavery. Great Britain abolished the slave trade in 1808, and all existing slaves were emancipated in 1834.