The first people that are known to have lived in Antigua are the SIBONEY or 'stone people' who were here in 1775 B.C.. They had stone and shell tools, and lived on whatever natural resources they could find. Traces of them are found at Jolly Beach, Deep Bay and North Sound.

The ARAWAKS date from the time of Christ, coming to these islands in paddled canoes from South America. They introduced agriculture into Antigua and Barbuda, bringing such crops as pineapples, corn, sweet potatoes, peppers, guava, tobacco and cotton. They mostly lived on the north and east sides of Antigua, where the reefs provided good fishing. Some of the places they lived are at Indian Creek, Marmora Bay, Half Moon Bay, Mill Reef, Green Island, Cloverleaf Bay, Long Bay, Coconut Hall, Galley Bay, Hawksbill and Curtain Bluff. They left Antigua about 1100 A.D., but some remained, who were then raided by the CARIBS, another Indian people based in Dominica. The Caribs named Antigua "Waladli", Barbuda "Wa'omoni" and Redonda "Ocanamanru". 


Columbus named this island "Antigua" in 1493, as he sailed past. It is named for the Cathedral in Seville, Spain, "Santa Maria La Antigua". He is said to have prayed in this church before the Voyage. From then on, several explorers came to Antigua, as well as Buccaneers, who exploited the island for its timbers, medicinal and dye plants, and the cattle which they had introduced as a source of meat.


The English settlers arrived in 1632 from St. Kitts, under Edward Warner, their leader and Governor. They produced cash crops of tobacco, ginger, indigo and sugar.


The French landed at Deep Bay in 1666 and occupied Antigua for eight months until it was given back to the English in the 'Treaty of Breda'. The other islands changed hands many times, but Antigua remained English from that time on.


Sugar became the main crop from about 1674, when Christopher Codrington resettled 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 a huge increase of slaves, as sugar requires so much labour.


The first forts were built in 1672, one on Blake Island in Falmouth Harbour, and the other on Rat Island in St. John's Harbour. From then until 1815, forty forts were built around Antigua's casts to protect the valuable sugar industry. 


Monk's Hill or Fort George was started in 1689. It was to defend Falmouth, which was then the main town of Antigua, with the only church, which also served as the Court House. Fort George was built to be a place of last refuge, in case of invasion by the French or the Caribs. The whole population of the Island, about 1200 people (half whites and half blacks), could be accommodated inside. Today there are still remains of very large cisterns in the complex.


By 1736, so many slaves had been brought in from Africa that their conditions were crowded and open to unrest. An uprising was planned by "Prince Klaas" (whose real name was Count) in which the whites would be massacred, but the plot was discovered and put down.


The Dockyard was started in 1725, to provide a base for a squadron of ships patrolling the West Indies and maintaining England's sea power. The present docks were formed by blasting away a small hill and spreading it on the surrounding reefs, a remarkable piece of engineering. Ships were brought alongside to be careened, which means pulling the vessel on its side so the bottom can be scrubbed and painted. Many ships and famous Admirals have been stationed at the dockyard, including Rodney, Hood and Nelson. It was given up by the Royal Navy in 1889, and is now administered by the National Parks Authority as an historic monument, yacht centre and tourist attraction.


Nelson was Senior Naval Officer of the Leeward Islands from 1784 to 1787 on H.M.S. Boreas, based in the Dockyard. He was a young and zealous Officer, who tried to enforce the Navigation Acts, prohibiting trade with the newly formed United States of America. As most of the merchants in Antigua depended upon this trade, he was very unpopular here, and was unable to get a promotion for some time after.


Shirley Heights was named after Governor sir Thomas Shirley, who on November 26th, 1781 ordered fortifications to be built around English Harbour in order to further protect the Naval Dockyard. Some of the buildings here were also used to billet the soldiers coming and going in the Troopships calling at the Dockyard. The last soldiers stationed at Shirley Heights were the 67th Regiment, who left in 1854. There was also a Signal Station here at the Lookout, the highest point (487 ft.). Hoisted flags sent messages to the fort at Monk's Hill, which then relayed them to other forts and St. John's. Today the Historic sites commission is relying on visitor donations to help clean up and maintain the ruins, so they can be a pleasure and recreational area for all.


* 1807 Total abolition of the slave trade
* 1834 Emancipation of the slaves
* 1850's Decline of the sugar industry
* 1981 Independence.

D.V. Nicholson Historic Sites & Conservation Commission




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