Saint Kitts also known more formally as Saint Christopher Island, is an island in the West Indies. The west side of the island borders the Caribbean Sea, and the eastern coast faces the Atlantic Ocean. Together with the island of Nevis, Saint Kitts constitutes one country: the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis.
The island is situated at 17°15′N 62°40′W, about 1,300 miles (2,100 km) southeast of Miami, Florida, in the United States. It has a land area of about 68 sq. miles (168 km²), being 18 by 5 miles (29 by 8 km).
Saint Kitts has a population of around 35,000, the majority of whom are mainly of African descent. The primary language is English, with a literacy rate of approximately 98%. Residents call themselves Kittitians. Author Neil Strauss gained citizenship with St. Kitts while writing his book Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life.
Saint Kitts is one of the historic centres of the Caribbean. The first successful British colony in the West Indies was founded on the island in 1624, and the island was subsequently used as a base to settle most of the neighbouring islands for Britain. It also became the site of the first successful French colony in the West Indies in 1625, and was then used to settle other Caribbean territories for France.
Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site is the largest fortress ever built in the Eastern Caribbean. The island is also home to the Warner Park Cricket Stadium, which was used to host 2007 Cricket World Cup matches. This made St. Kitts and Nevis the smallest nation on Earth to ever host a World Cup event.
The island is also an education centre, with the Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine , Windsor University School of Medicine, and University of Medicine and Health Sciences .
The capital of the two-island nation, and also its largest port, is the town of Basseterre on Saint Kitts. There is a modern facility for handling large cruise ships here. There is a ring road which goes around the perimeter of the island; the interior of the island is too steep for habitation.
St. Kitts is six miles (10 km) away from Saint Eustatius to the north and two miles (3 km) from Nevis to the south. St. Kitts has three distinct groups of volcanic peaks: the North West or Mount Misery Range; the Middle or Verchilds Range and the South East or Olivees Range. The highest peak is Mount Liamuiga, formerly Mount Misery, a dormant volcano some 3,792 feet (1,156 m) high.
The first Europeans to see and name the islands were the Spanish under Christopher Columbus. He named Saint Kitts Sant Jago (Saint James). However, misinterpretations of maps by subsequent Spanish explorers led Saint Kitts to be named San Cristobal (Saint Christopher), a name originally applied to Saba 20 miles north. Nevis was named "Nuestra Señora de las Nieves", or "Our Lady of the Snows", because the wreath of white clouds that usually covers the top of its volcanic peak reminded the Spaniards of the ancient Catholic miracle Our Lady of the Snows.
The first non-Spanish settlement attempt in the Caribbean occurred on Saint Kitts, when French Huguenot refugees from the fishing town of Dieppe established a town on a harbour on the island's north coast, which they also named Dieppe, in 1538. However, only months after the founding, the settlement was raided by the Spanish and all the inhabitants were deported. The remains of one of the buildings is now the basement for the Main house in the Golden Lemon Hotel.
The next European encounter occurred in 1607 when Captain John Smith stopped at Nevis for five days before founding the colony of Virginia. Captain Smith documented the many hot springs in Nevis, whose waters had remarkable curative abilities against skin ailments and bad health.
In the early 1600s, an English captain, Thomas Warner, set sail with a crew to found a colony on the Guiana coast. His colony proved a failure as his crew was ravaged by disease, unfamiliar weather conditions, and Carib raids. A friend of Warner's then suggested that he should instead try to colonise one of the islands in the Lesser Antilles because of their favourable conditions. In 1623 Warner abandoned his Guiana post and set sail North through the archipelago. After checking each island, Warner decided that Saint Kitts would prove to be the best-suited site for an English colony, because of its strategic central position ideal for expansion, friendly native population, fertile soil, abundant fresh water, and large salt deposits. He and his family landed on the island and made peace with the local Kalinago peoples, whose leader was Ouboutou Tegremante. Warner then left his family behind and returned to England to gather more men to officially establish a colony. In 1624, he returned and established the colony of Saint Christopher, the first English colony in the Caribbean. They established a port town at Old Road, downhill from Tegremante's capital village.
In 1625, a French captain, Pierre Belain d'Esnambuc, arrived on the island. He had left France hoping to establish an island colony after hearing about the success of the British on Saint Kitts, but his fleet was destroyed in a clash with the Spanish Armada, leaving him with only his flagship. Warner took pity on the French settlers and allowed them to settle on the island as well, thus making Saint Kitts the site of the first permanent French colony in the Caribbean as well. French settlers lodged themselves in the ruins of the town of Dieppe, which they rebuilt. Warner also willingly accepted the French in an attempt to out-populate the local Kalinago, to whom he was growing suspicious.
Warner's suspicions proved to be accurate. As the European population on Saint Kitts continued to increase, Tegremante grew suspicious of the foreigners. In 1626, after a secret meeting with Kalinago heads from neighbouring Waitikubuli (Dominica) and Oualie, it was decided that in a secret raid they would ambush the European settlements. The secret plan was revealed to the Europeans however, by an Igneri woman named Barbe. Barbe had only recently been brought to St. Kitts as a slave-wife after a raid on an Arawak island. She despised the Kalinago and had fallen in love with Warner, and thus told him of the planned ambush. The Europeans acted by attacking the Kalinago first. At a site now called Bloody Point, which housed the island's main Kalinago settlement, over 2,000 Kalinago men were massacred, many of whom were from Waitikubuli, who had come overnight planning to attack the Europeans the day after. The many dead bodies were dumped in a river, on the site which housed the Kalinago place of worship. For weeks, blood flowed down the river like water, giving it its nickname, Bloody River. The remaining Kalinago Indians were deported to Waitikubuli.
After the Kalinago Genocide of 1626, the island was formally partitioned between the English and French, with the French gaining the ends, Capisterre in the North and Basseterre in the south, and the English gaining the centre. Both powers then proceeded the colonise neighbouring islands from their base. The English settled Nevis (1628), Antigua (1632), Montserrat (1632) and later Anguilla (1650) and Tortola (1672). The French colonised Martinique (1635), the Guadeloupe archipelago (1635), St. Martin (1648), and St. Barths (1648).
Saint Kitts suffered heavily from a Spanish raid in 1629, from which all of the island's inhabitants fled as the Spaniards pillaged. They returned shortly after, however, and developed a series of fortifications along the Caribbean coast.
The island soon became a centre of production of tobacco. The planters grew prosperous. However when the colony of Virginia began to dominate world tobacco production and profits started declining, the island switched to producing sugar cane, starting in 1640. To provide the large amounts of labour needed for the industry, African slaves were imported in large quantities. The slaves had very harsh living conditions, and thousands perished working the fields.
Phillippe de Longvilliers de Poincy became governor of the French portion of the island in 1638 Owing greater allegiance to the Knights of St John, he soon refused to accept the authority of the King of France. He died on the Island in 1660.
During the Second Anglo-Dutch War, the relationship between the French and English settlers soured, as their home countries warred. Warfare soon broke out on the island itself. The overwhelming French troops attacked the British settlements and gained control of the whole island from 1665-1667. The Treaty of Breda restored the English portion of the island to its owners.
In 1671, British Saint Kitts was joined with Nevis, Antigua and Montserrat to form the Leeward Caribee Island Government, headquartered in Antigua. The island still enjoyed full autonomy, however.
In 1689, during the War of the Grand Alliance, France re-occupied the entire island, and decimated the English farms. An English retaliation by General Codrington defeated the French forces and deported them to Martinique. The Treaty of Rijswijk in 1697 restored pre-war conditions. The war devastated St. Kitts's economy.
The history of Nevis was less tumultuous. The island was colonised by Anthony Hilton and 80 settlers from Saint Kitts in 1628. The island quickly grew very profitable from tobacco trading, and was able to secure prime investment from Britain. It was able to evade much of the conflict and devastation that nearby Saint Kitts suffered, and its riches were so great it was nicknamed "Queen of the Caribees." in 1640, like St. Kitts, it switched over to sugar cane production and its wealth continued to grow. By 1660, it was officially the most profitable colony in the British crown per capita. Its gross profits were great as well, as they surpassed that of all 13 American colonies combined, up until the 19th century, despite being thousands of times smaller. Nevis' riches however, made it a target for pirates and other European nations.
In 1690, a massive earthquake and tsunami destroyed the city of Jamestown, then the capital of Nevis. So much damage was done to it that the city was completely abandoned. It is reputed that the whole city sank into the sea, but since then, the land has moved over at least 100 yards to the west. That means that anything left of Jamestown would now be underground. The capital was moved south to the town of Charlestown, and the island's successful sugar trade quickly bounced back.
Saint Kitts was to face even greater devastation with the turn of the century. The French made one more major attack on British troops in 1705 during the War of the Spanish Succession, as the over 8,000 French troops on the island easily defeated the 1,000 British posts. The French held St. Kitts for 8 years, until the Treaty of Utrecht was signed. The treaty ceded the entire island of St. Kitts to the British. Upon receiving full control in 1713, the British soon moved the island's capital to the town of Basseterre in 1727, and St. Kitts quickly took off as a leader in sugar production in the Caribbean.
Whilst St. Kitts improved however, Nevis was seeing a decline. The years of monocrop cultivation, as well as heavy amounts of soil erosion due to the high slope grade on the island, caused its sugar production to continuously decrease. A heavy French raid in 1706 further complicated the situation, and damaged the island's agriculture extensively. It proved to never fully recover.
To make up for sugar losses in Nevis, the island opened its first hotel in 1778. The first such establishment in the Western Hemisphere, the Bath Hotel was constructed over the site of one of the island's famous hot springs. The island thus became the first place in the Americas to officially practice tourism. Nevis's popularity as a destination grew, and it continued to be in the favour of the British elite.
By 1776, Saint Kitts had become the richest British colony in the Caribbean, per capita. It retained this status until the late 19th century, despite a myriad of attacks by the French throughout the 18th century, including the battle of St. Kitts in 1782. The consolidation of British rule was recognized finally under the Treaty of Versailles in 1783. In 1806, the Leeward Islands Caribee government was split into two groups, with Antigua, Barbuda, Redonda and Montserrat in one group, and St. Kitts, Nevis, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands in the other. The islands in the new grouping however, were able to keep their great degrees of autonomy. The grouping then split entirely in 1816.
Slavery was abolished in the British Empire in 1834. Profits from sugar began sinking even further, and this was made even worse with new countries, namely Brazil, Cuba and India beginning to dominate the market. Nevis' economy, as well as that of most Caribbean islands, suffered extensively from this. St. Kitts escaped the plight of its neighbours because of its good soils, and massive projects undertaken to reduce soil erosion.
In 1833, the Leeward Islands were reunited as a single administrative entity, and was renamed the Federal Colony of the Leeward Islands in 1871. In 1883, St. Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla were linked under one "presidency," based in St. Kitts. Both Nevis and Anguilla disliked the union, as they had previously had their separate presidencies. An uneasy relationship followed.
Sugar production continued to dominate the lives of the islanders. The dominance by estate owners of the island's only and extremely limited natural resource, the land, and the single-minded application of that resource to one industry precluded the development of a stable peasant class. Instead, the system produced a large class of wage labourers generally resentful of foreign influence. The nature of the sugar industry itself--the production of a nonstaple and essentially nonnutritive commodity for a widely fluctuating world market--only served to deepen this hostility and to motivate Kittitian labourers to seek greater control over their working lives and their political situation. The collapse of sugar prices brought on by the Great Depression precipitated the birth of the organized labour movement in St. Kitts and Nevis. The Workers League, organized by Thomas Manchester of Sandy Point in 1932, tapped the popular frustration that fueled the labor riots of 1935-36. Rechristened the St. Kitts and Nevis Trades and Labour Union in 1940 and under the new leadership of Robert Bradshaw, the union established a political arm, the St. Kitts and Nevis Labour Party, which put Bradshaw in the Legislative Council in 1946. The Labour Party would go on to dominate political life in the twin-island state for more than thirty years.
The islands remained in the Leeward Islands Federation until they joined the failed West Indies Federation from 1958 to 1962, in which Saint Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla was a separate state. Robert Bradshaw was the Minister of Finance for the short-lived country.
In 1967, the islands became an Associated State of Britain.
In the same year Anguilla had a major secession movement supported by St. Kitts political opposition party, The People's Action Movement (PAM). Both forces, working together, invaded the island from an Anguillian base in an attempted coup d'état. Anguilla was able to successfully break away from the union in 1971.
During Bradshaw's long tenure, his government slowly moved into a statist approach to economic development. All sugar lands were bought by the government, as well as the central sugar factory. Opposition to Bradshaw's rule began to build, especially by the families and cronies of former estate owners, who founded the People's Action Movement party in 1964, after frustration over a failed demonstration against a raise in electricity rates. Opposition was especially great in Nevis, who felt that their island was being neglected and unfairly deprived of revenue, investment and services by its larger neighbour. Bradshaw mainly ignored Nevis' complaints, but Nevisian disenchantment with the Labour Party proved a key factor in the party's eventual fall from power.
In 1978 the labour party's longtime leader, Robert Bradshaw, died of Prostate cancer. He was succeeded by his former deputy, Paul Southwell, but Southwell himself passed a few months later, in 1979. The party then fell into a crisis of leadership. The position of premier was then handed over to Mr. Lee Llewellyn Moore, who, despite being recognized regionally as a legal scholar, seemed unable to lead (He once told a PAM heckler, on Church Street in front of Government Headquarters [House of Parliament] that he will ""root like a pig in mud" in the House of Parliament."
Taking advantage of the labour party's confusion, the PAM party was very successful in the 1980 elections, winning 3 seats on St. Kitts, compared to the labour party's 4. The Nevis Reformation Party, under the leadership of Simeon Daniel, won 2 of the 3 seats on Nevis. PAM and NRP then formed a coalition government, naming Kennedy Simmonds, a medical doctor and one of the founders of the PAM, premier (Simmonds had won Bradshaw's former seat in a 1979 by-election). The change in government reduced the demand for Nevis' secession. In 1983, the federation was granted independence from Britain, with a constitution that granted Nevis a large degree of autonomy as well as the guaranteed right of secession. To take advantage of this landmark, early elections were called in 1984, in which the NRP captured all 3 seats on Nevis, and the PAM party capturing 6 seats on St. Kitts, compared to the labour party's 2, despite overall the labour party winning the nationwide popular vote. The new coalition government now had a strong 9 to 2 mandate in parliament.
Economic improvement for St. Kitts followed, with the PAM party shifting focus from the sugar industry to tourism. However, much of the island's poorest people, mainly the sugar workers, were neglected. Opposition to PAM began to build from this, as well as on accusations of corruption. In the 1993 elections, both PAM and labour took 4 seats each, whilst on Nevis, a new party, the Concerned Citizens Movement, took 2 seats, beating the NRP's 1. The stalemate on St. Kitts proved unresolvable when the CCM in Nevis refused to form a coalition with PAM. Rioting soon followed on the islands, which was finally resolved in a special set of elections held in 1995, in which the labour party overwhelmingly defeated the PAM party, winning 7 seats compared to PAM's 1. Dr. Denzil Douglas became the new prime minister of the federation, and retains the post to this day.
In 2005, St. Kitts saw the closure of its sugar industry, after 365 years in the monoculture. This was stated as due to the industry's huge losses, as well as market threats by the E.U., who plan to cut sugar prices by large amounts in the near future.