Grenadines, hundreds of islets, rocks, and reefs that comprise the top of a volcanic ridge between Saint Vincent and Grenada in the Windward Islands of the eastern Caribbean. Collectively they cover about 35 square miles. Ten are populated, having a population of about 12,000 in 1980. The Grenadines are dependencies of two independent nation-states: Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada. Those between Grenada and Carriacou are dependencies of Grenada; the largest is Carriacou (pop. 7,000). The remainder are integral parts of Saint Vincent, the largest being Bequia (pop. 2,600).
Archaeologists surmise that the aboriginal Ciboney were followed and perhaps displaced by migrations of Arawak and Carib peoples from the South American mainland. Strong Carib resistance made European occupation a difficult process until late in the eighteenth century. The Caribs named these islands Begos; the Grenadines later were renamed by either the Spanish or the French, although Bequia and Canouan are linguistic corruptions of Carib names. The French claimed the Grenadines in 1664 as extensions of their holding of Grenada. In 1675 a slave ship sank in the Bequia-Saint Vincent channel. Surviving slaves swam to both islands, where Caribs took them in—the origins of the "Black Caribs," the descendants of the mixing of these two peoples.
These small islands changed hands often from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries as European conflicts spilled over into the West Indies, and the Caribs strenuously fought all comers. As a result of the Seven Years' War, Saint Vincent, Grenada, Dominica, and the Grenadines were ceded to Britain and formed into a Windward Islands Federation. For easier administration, the Grenadines were divided between Grenada and Saint Vincent. In 1770 the British made concerted efforts to colonize these islands by surveying and distributing land. The Windward Federation ended by 1776. Between 1779 and 1783 Saint Vincent and its Grenadines were under French rule, after which they returned to British control; colonists began to plant sugarcane, using African slave labor on large plantations. The Caribs rebelled one last time in 1795; their defeat led to their deportation to British Honduras.
The postemancipation period in the Grenadines was a difficult one. For all the efforts of British planters, final emancipation in 1838 effectively marked the steady decline of both cotton and sugar production, and the latter ultimately ended. The emigration of whites and blacks in the postslavery period was both a cause and a consequence of a decline of all cash crops for export. The resident population was left relatively free to develop its own Creole culture without many elite whites, and the small island economies were redirected to livestock raising for export, whaling, fishing, and subsistence agriculture. Somewhat isolated, Grenadine populations developed strong separate identities and customs that fueled suspicion of the larger, dominant islands of which they were political dependencies.
The first half of the twentieth century brought additional problems from a large eruption of Soufrière on Saint Vincent, trade disruptions from two world wars, and social unrest during the mid-1930s. During the post-World War II period, there was some economic development as a result of money sent home by those who had emigrated to look for work. Many Grenadine men found work as sailors as world trade recovered. In recent years, some of the Grenadines have become popular with tourists arriving by yacht, and the foreign exchange earned from tourism has increased, supplementing more traditional agriculture, fishing, whaling, and boat building.
In general, Grenadine inhabitants are descended from African slaves, from indentured European labor imported in the early period of European colonization, and from a mix of these two groups (ethnic proportions and economic activities vary depending on the island). Portuguese Madeirans and East Indian immigrants are also represented.
Michael G. Smith, Kinship and Community in Carriacou (1962).
Clive A. Frank, History of Begos: The Grenadines from Columbus to Today (1976).
Dana Jinkins and Jill Bobrow, St. Vincent and the Grenadines: A Plural Country (1985).
Robert B. Potter, comp., St. Vincent and the Grenadines (1992).
Gordon, Suzanne. Searching for Sugar Mills: An Architectural Guide to the Caribbean. Oxford: Macmillan Caribbean, 2005.
Grossman, Lawrence. The Political Ecology of Bananas. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.
Potter, Robert. St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Santa Barbara, CA: Clio Press, 1992.