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Antigua and Colonialism


Jamaica Kincaid was born in Antigua while the island was part of the British empire. Her writing focuses on the West Indies and is generally autobiographical (see Annie John, The Autobiography of My Mother, Lucy, My Brother, or A Small Place, an excerpt of which is included in this document collection). She once said, “This is the life I have. This is the life I write about.” The images and documents that follow give a brief introduction to Antigua’s colonial culture and offer a worthwhile perspective on Kincaid’s writing.
The Europeans discovered Antigua in 1493. Christopher Columbus sighted the island on his second Caribbean voyage and named it after Santa Maria de la Antigua, a saint from the Seville Cathedral in Spain. Antigua had no natural spring water, so at first it did not attract European settlement. Britons from St. Kitts colonized the island in 1632. In 1684, Sir Christopher Codrington introduced sugar cultivation to Antigua, and his success led to the establishment of several more sugar plantations on the island. Antigua also became strategically important to the British in protecting their West Indian trade because of the island’s position within the Caribbean. The British built a large naval base at English Harbour, and Antigua became central to the British imperial sugar trade. In 1834, the British abolished slavery in their empire. The Caribbean sugar trade declined, and tourism took its place as Antigua’s economic focus. In 1981, Antigua became fully independent from Britain.

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