Saint Christopher (Saint Kitts)
Saint Christopher (Saint Kitts)
Saint Christopher (Saint Kitts), an island in the Lesser Antilles that was of strategic importance in colonial times. Saint Christopher is a Caribbean island just west and a bit north of Antigua, and east and slightly south of Puerto Rico. It represented the earliest nucleus of French and English colonization in the area. Thomas Warner, an Englishman, first settled the island in 1623.
Having stopped off there briefly in 1620, Warner went to England, secured capital, returned to Saint Christopher with forty to fifty companions, and quickly commenced planting tobacco. Difficulties arose with the native Carib tribe, however, and in order to secure assistance Warner agreed to the division of the island with some French settlers who had arrived shortly after he had. According to the terms of the agreement, the French would occupy the northern and southern extremities, and the English, the middle coastal strips.
In 1625 Warner obtained from the crown its letters patent, meaning that the English government officially recognized his settlement. Later, however, while in England, Warner received the news that on 7 September 1629 a Spanish fleet had taken Saint Christopher and expelled most of the French and English inhabitants. Nevertheless, after the Spanish departed some fugitives reestablished a provisional government and Warner returned.
A serious depression resulting from an oversupply of tobacco, and the growing conversion to sugar cultivation after 1630 led some colonists from Saint Kitts to move to Tortuga Island and numerous others to become buccaneers. Saint Christopher became an important buccaneering base during this era.
Although French Bourbons briefly conquered Saint Christopher early in 1782, the Treaty of Versailles later that year returned the island to Great Britain. Slave trading was abolished in 1807, and the Emancipation Act followed in 1833; Saint Christopher, however, remained predominantly a sugar producer until well into the twentieth century.
By the mid-twentieth century, many British West Indian colonies were clamoring for autonomy, and in the early 1960s these efforts accelerated. Thus, in May 1962 the British Parliament dissolved the Federation of the West Indies. In August of that year Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago achieved independence. The eight remaining states of the federation, including Saint Christopher, entered into negotiations with the United Kingdom to form a smaller federation within the empire. By 1965 the negotiations had proved fruitless, and Barbados declared independence in 1966.
Trinidad and Tobago offered the remaining seven countries statehood, but they instead chose to pursue new negotiations with Great Britain. They wanted to be self-governing while maintaining their eligibility for financial assistance from their mother country. In the course of the discussions, it was agreed in 1966 that each of the seven states would enter into a free, voluntary association with Britain. Each island-state would be fully self-governing internally, and either side could terminate the agreement at any time. Thus, in 1967, when Saint Christopher joined this association, it simultaneously became fully self-governing internally for the first time in its history. On September 19, 1983, Saint Kitts became an independent commonwealth. Though the island of Anguilla seceded in 1971, Nevis still struggles for separation.
The volcanic island has a tropical climate, and the population of 39,349 (2007 estimate) relied on sugar production into the late twentieth century. Yet, by the 1970s, economic growth in this sector fell precipitously owing to low market prices and rising costs. The government shut down the state-run sugar industry after the 2005 harvest and implemented economic diversification efforts. Though hard hit by hurricanes and tropical storms, tourism is now the economic engine of the island's economy. Export manufacturing and offshore banking also are growing sectors.
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Blake D. Patridge