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Anguilla History

Evidence of Anguilla's earliest history is seen in several caves on the island and on nearby cays. Pre-Columbian sites are reminders of Anguilla's earliest inhabitants: the peaceful Arawak Indians. These first residents called the island "Malliouhana."

Anguilla is one of the richest prehistoric sites in the region, and studies are ongoing by archaeologists. The earliest known Amerindian site yielded conch shells broken into drinking vessels as well as axes made from ground shells, flint blades, and tools dating to about 1300 B.C. Other sites dating to the 4th century A.D. have also been identified. Archaeologists believe the island then was inhabited by Amerindians, Arawaks of the Saladoid culture. These farmers made settlements at Rendezvous Bay and Sandy Ground by the sixth century. The Arawaks are credited with carving the Jocahu stalagmite that was found at the Fountain (see Eco-tourism later in this chapter), one of the most important archaeological sites on the island. Jocahu or the "Creator-Giver of Cassava" was probably a spiritual figure that was carved on the cave's stalagmite along with several petroglyphs at the cave and freshwater source.

Did Columbus Ever See Anguilla?

Although Columbus came near this island on his 1493 voyage to Guadeloupe, Montserrat, Antigua, St. Martin, St. Croix, Puerto Rico, and Hispaniola, no record exists of the explorer sighting flat Anguilla. With a maximum elevation of just 213 feet, Columbus probably sailed right on by, probably without ever realizing the island existed.
European discovery occurred in 1565, most likely by French explorer Pierre Laudonnaire who deemed the island "Anguille" or "eel" for its long, thin shape. (There is some dispute about the nationality of the European discoverer, however, because the word for eel in French, Spanish, and Italian is nearly identical.) After European discovery of the island, the Arawak population quickly died off due to disease and enslavement.

Colonization of the island began about a century later when the first English settlers came to Anguilla from St. Kitts, about 70 miles to the southeast. Their attempts were not completely successful, though. By the 1680s, most settlers abandoned their sugar plantations because of a lack of water and poor soil. Most moved to the British Virgin Islands and St. Croix.

Twice the island was attacked by the French. In 1745, a group of 700 Frenchmen were stopped by 150 militia members at Crocus Bay. Forty years later, 400 Frenchmen tried another raid at Rendezvous Bay. The fight worked its way across the island to Sandy Hill Fort. Anguilla sent a boat to St. Kitts and Antigua for help, which came in the form of an English frigate.


Continued development of Anguilla, with its very limited freshwater supply, came slowly. Some settlers attempted to grow crops and a limited plantation system developed, with fields worked by West African slaves until 1834 when slavery was abolished throughout the British colonies.

The governmental structure of Anguilla changed during these years as well. In the mid-1600s, Anguilla had become part of the Leeward Islands and was administered from Antigua. In 1825, however, the situation changed and Anguilla was united with St. Kitts. By 1871, the island was placed in a federation with St. Kitts, an unpopular move that was protested to Britain. Nevis was later added to the federation but the name of Anguilla was never added until 1951. The relationship between the islands was always a tumultuous one, with claims from Anguilla that St. Kitts ignored the much smaller isle in terms of representation and aid.

The ill feelings rose in intensity until a 1967 rebellion brought about independence from St. Kitts. The rebellion caught the attention of the world and the tiny island was given the nickname "The Mouse that Roared." The secession became formal in 1980. Today Anguilla is happy to exist as a British colony and problems with St. Kitts have long been mended. Many Anguillians have relatives on St. Kitts and say that the former problems were political, not between the people of the islands.

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