A Brief History of the Caribbean

Zegrahm Contributor|June 15, 2015|Blog Post

The Caribbean. A conglomerate of more than seven thousand islands, islets, cays, and reefs. To simplify things, the islands have been divided into three main groups: The Greater Antilles, the Lesser Antilles, and the Bahamas. On our Hidden Gems of the Caribbean expedition, you’ll have 12 days to explore 13 islands in the Grenadines, a sub-grouping of islands in the Lesser Antilles. The area seems too gorgeous to be real—aquamarine waters house schools of brilliantly-colored fish; emerald tropical forests seem bejeweled with exotic birds, perched in the branches overhead; towering volcanoes—agents of both creation and destruction—rise up from the deep blue ocean. But the Caribbean’s history is just as rich as its landscape. For centuries after Columbus first “discovered” the Caribbean, the islands were the cause of much fighting between many European nations. Through it all, however, the people of the islands never forgot what they wanted—freedom. Here is an abbreviated timeline of the Caribbean’s history: 



Christopher Columbus first steps foot on a small island in the Caribbean. This footfall sets off a powerful chain of events: The age of exploration and cross-Atlantic expansion begins. European nations, particularly Spain and Portugal, race to claim as many islands as they can. 


In an attempt to create peace, the Pope creates The Treaty of Tordesillas, which divides the Caribbean between Spain and Portugal.


Spain claims the entire Caribbean. Colonies in Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Jamaica, and Trinidad are firmly settled.


Enriquillo, a Taino Indian leader on the island of Hispaniola, leads a decade-long rebellion against the Spanish. He’s victorious; he and his people are given their freedom.


Spain’s grip on the Caribbean begins to weaken. The Dutch, French, and British begin seizing territories for their own. Many islands change hands at a dizzying pace. Just how dizzying did things get? St. Eustatius passed back and forth between British and Dutch ownership ten times between 1664 and 1674!


The sugar, coffee, tobacco, cotton, and rice industries of the Caribbean prosper. Trade between colonies and other world nations intensifies, as does slave ownership.


The Haitian Revolution begins. Toussaint L’Ouverture, a slave also known as “The Black Napoleon,” leads a revolt against the French. In 1803, Saint Dominque, as Haiti was known at the time, becomes the world’s oldest free, black republic. Ironic as it seems, when France makes the decision to emancipate all slaves in 1794, L’Ouverture acts as a military leader for France, and helps fight against Spain and England. 


Haitian revolutionaries take back all of Hispaniola. 


Haiti becomes an officially-recognized free nation in the eyes of the entire world, including France.


For more information, visit Hidden Gems of the Caribbean.

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