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History of Dominica

Perhaps the first settlers on the island of Dominica were the Arawak people. The Kalinago people, related to the Carib peoples, arrived in about the 1300s and seemed to have taken the island over or intermarried with the Arawaks.

Christopher Columbus was the first European to spot and claim the island, which he did in 1493. Columbus named the island Dominica because he spotted it on a Sunday, which in Italian is "Domenica." The Spanish didn't settle the island since the local Caribs resisted Spanish occupation and could retreat into the mountain forests.

In 1635 France claimed the island, but again didn't attempt to settle the island, although missionaries arrived in the 1640s. Shortly after this, in 1660 the British and French agreed to leave Dominica and St. Vincent as neutral territories reserved for the Carib people and this state remained into the 1700s.

In 1715 the French decided to settle the island after people from Martinique arrived and in 1727 an official French government was established on the island. The island then changed hands in 1761 when the British took it in the Seven Years' War with France. The French contested this and the island, whose population was primarily French sought French rule, but didn't permanently gain it, although they did for brief periods.

In the 1800s the island was surprisingly ruled by the black population, however wealthy British landowners sought greater control and the British government obliged. The black population's power further declined in 1871 when Dominica became part of the Leeward Island Federation, which removed nearly all power from the island; this ended in 1896. After protests among the people for a lack of representation, Dominica was transferred from the Leeward Island Federation to the West Indies Federation in 1958.

Finally, in 1967 Dominica took control over its domestic affairs, however still didn't have full independence. The island didn't gain independence until 1978, when the United Kingdom granted them this.

This independence began rough though, as in 1979 the island was struck by a devastating hurricane, which destroyed nearly three quarters of the houses on the island and killed many people; this took years to fully recover from. In addition to this, the economy struggled in the early years and this led to political changes and attempted coups, none of which succeeded.

In the 1990s the economy improved and has since stabilized as tourism has become the country's major source of income, in addition to banana exports.

This page was last updated: March, 2013