Saint Lucia - Background information

© Saint Lucia Tourist Board© Saint Lucia Tourist Board

Natural history
People and culture


800ad – The warrior Caribs overcame the peace loving Arawaks, and by 800ad Carib settlements dominated the island.

1550s – The first European to settle was Francois Le Clerc, known as Jambe de Bois or Wooden Leg. He settled himself on Pigeon Island, which he used as a base to attack passing Spanish ships.

1600 – The Dutch established a base at Vieux Fort.

1605 – The English first landed in 1605, having been blown off course on their way to Guyana aboard their ship the Olive Branch. Of the 67 settlers who landed and purchased huts from the Caribs, only 19 were left a month later. These survivors were forced to flee from the Caribs in a canoe.

1639 – Sir Thomas Warner lead a failed attempt by the British to colonise the island.

1651 – The French arrived in 1651, when two representatives of the French West India Company bought the island.

1659 – Ownership disputes between the French and the English ignited hostilities that would endure for 150 years. During this time, the island changed hands 14 times between the British and the French and was final ceded to the British in 1814.

1746 – The first town, the French settlement of Soufrière, was established as the capital.

1778 – The English first attacked Saint Lucia after declaring War on France for aiding the Americans in the War of Independence. During this skirmish, known as the Battle of Cul de Sac, the English captured the Island. They established a naval base at Gros Islet and fortified Pigeon Island.

1780 – By 1780, 12 French towns had been founded and the first sugar estates had been built. In 1780 a hurricane destroyed many plantations, but the French quickly repaired the damage with the use of slave labour.

1796 – After Castries was razed by fire, General Moore attacked the French on Morne Fortune. After two days of fighting the 27th Inniskilling Regiment forced the French to surrender.

1838 – Abolition of slavery. Saint Lucia joined the Windward Islands.

1951 – Suffrage granted to all citizens over 21.

1958 – Saint Lucia joined the West Indian Federation. The Federation collapsed after only four years.

1967 – The island was granted complete self-government.

1979 – Saint Lucia gained full independence from England on 22 February 1979. The St Lucia Labour Party won the first election following independence. Sir Arthur Lewis was awarded the Nobel Prize for economics.

1992 – Derek Walcott, a writer from Castries, was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.

1994 – Four people died and 24 were injured after Tropical Storm Debby hit the island.

2005 – The Pitons were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

2007 – 60% of the banana crop was destroyed by Hurricane Dean.

2010 – Fourteen people were killed as a result of mudslides in the Soufrière area caused by Hurricane Tomas.

Natural history

Flowers on Saint Lucia © Saint Lucia Tourist BoardSaint Lucia is 43km long and 22km wide with a combination of high mountains, forests, low lying lands and beaches. A central mountain range runs the length of the island, with peaks ranging between 300m and 950m. Forests dominate the mountains, while jasmine, scarlet chenille and wild orchids provide splashes of colour to the lush green slopes. The two towering volcanic cones on the southwest coast, Gros Piton (797m) and Petit Piton (750m) are one of the island’s most famous landmarks. The volcanic origin of the island provides visitors with an opportunity to visit the Caribbean’s only ‘drive-in volcano’ and take a dip in the reputedly therapeutic sulphur springs.

Deep in Saint Lucia’s mountainous interior lies 7,700ha of rainforest. This rainforest is a habitat for rare birds and plants, a world where elusive parrots squawk overhead, hummingbirds buzz and climbing palms encircle tall trees. Among the most enduring symbols of the rainforest is Saint Lucia’s national bird, the Amazona Versicolor, or the Jacquot as it is affectionately known. Once an endangered species, with protection the Jacquot’s numbers have risen. Other rare birds include the Saint Lucia Oriole and the Saint Lucia black finch.

The waters around Saint Lucia are home to many resident pods of whales, as well as migratory ones. Of the 33 species of whales and dolphins, more than 20 live in or visit these waters. The most commonly sighted species are pilot whales, sperm whales, humpbacks and false orcas. Orcas can also be seen occasionally. Hawksbill and greenback turtles are also common, and the beach at Grand Anse is a seasonal nesting site for the endangered leatherback turtle.

(Photo: Flowers on Saint Lucia © Saint Lucia Tourist Board)

People and culture

From the mid-17th to the early 19th centuries, the island changed hands between the French and the British an amazing 14 times. The British eventually won, and maintained control over Saint Lucia until independence was granted in 1979. However, the Gallic influence on Saint Lucia is very strong. Most villages and towns bear French names, and, even though the official language is English, a French Creole dialect, Kweyol, is widely spoken. 

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Tree to treat

Claire Strange talks of her day on the Emerald Estate, sampling some of Saint Lucia's finest chocolate.


Fuming fumaroles

Saint Lucia's drive-in volcano is situated on a 40,000-year-old crater.