Random country in the Caribbean: Saint Lucia

My random country script gave me Saint Lucia. One island, one country, population about 180,000. As far as I can tell no native people remain, which makes me wonder: there are a lot of islands in the Caribbean, is there even one with remaining native people? Were all the islands used for plantations run by slaveholders?

According to a page on a website for tourists and this Wikipedia page and this Wikipedia page indigenous Caribs resisted for almost 50 years attempts to conquer the island, perhaps helped by the fact that colonizers from Britain and France fought each other as well. Interestingly, several invasion attempts succumbed to disease amongst the invaders themselves (although I doubt the Caribs were spared from new diseases). The tourist webpage suggests that people of Carib descent can still be found in Saint Lucia today. Given that in 1730 only 37 Caribs remained that would be quite remarkable. As with all other such islands, the colonizers were eager to establish slave based sugar plantations.

I can’t find much about the legality of subduing foreign peoples for financial gain in the 16th and 17th centuries. Browsing the internet and Wikipedia on the topic of slavery, it seems that pure slavery (as opposed to indentured labour) had become rare in (Western) Europe itself at that time. However Europeans (especially in coastal areas and near the expanding borders of the Ottoman Empire) were at risk of becoming slaves outside of Europe through the activity of Islamic states on the coast of North-Africa and the Ottoman Empire. (this page writes that “as late as the mid 17th century, far more European slaves were held in Islamic regions ... than Africans were shipped into the Americas” (I don’t know for sure if that is correct, but I remember having seen similar claims in history books).

An exception seems to have been the Iberian peninsula, where both Spain and Portugal practiced slavery, both in Iberia itself and outside of it, on Atlantic islands where they introduced lucrative sugar plantations. This practice was exported to newly found land in the Americas (starting with Columbus himself), and later the Dutch, British and French followed the example of the Spanish and the Portuguese. The motive was pure greed, and it seems that at this point slavery got attached to racism, probably because dehumanizing the people that were being enslaved made it easier to ignore the immorality of enslaving people. While this did not prevent slavery from being controversial at home, it took centuries before opposition grew strong enough to outlaw slave trade and slavery itself. Portugal and Spain started creating slave based plantations in the 1500s. Only around 1800 opposition against slavery became viable; Britain abolished slave trade in 1807 and slavery itself as late as 1838. The Dutch were slow to follow.

Coming back to Saint Lucia. In its conquest, there is mention of several treaties with the indigenous people, but the details for those are unclear. There is mention of “a member of the French West India Company” purchasing “the land from the Caribs” in 1651. Really? Hey, I want to buy the place you live in. Here you have some, what, money? The new French “owners” where pushed out by the British, who “bought the land” in 1663. How were the Caribs compensated exactly?

Anyway, by 1779 the population of Saint Lucia consisted almost entirely of enslaved people (16,0003 unfree compared to 3227 free people).

Remarkable is that the British and the French kept fighting for control of the island. It seems that only in 1814 the British prevailed definitively. The violent history of Saint Lucia as documented on Wikipedia is breath taking. Certainly the human misery that resulted makes me think that these wars were insane, but even when discounting the human cost, I find it hard to imagine that the military costs outweighed the benefit of owning the island. And later, after 1814? More militarization, against an attack from the United States? Amazing.