Saint Lucia was first inhabited sometime between 1000 and 500 BC by the Ciboney people, but there is a lot of evidence of their presence on the island. There is evidence to suggest that these first inhabitants called the island Iouanalao, which meant ‘Land of the Iguanas’, due to the island’s high number of iguanas.
Some claim that Christopher Columbus sighted the island during his second voyage in 1493, while others claim that Juan de la Cosa noted it on his maps in 1499, and that the island is included on a globe in the Vatican made in 1502.
However, it is doubtful that Columbus passed St Lucia during his second voyage, as the island lies far south of his known route on that voyage; Juan de la Cosa was exploring northern South America in 1499 and it’s obvious that the claim about him naming St Lucia El Falcon refers to the state Falcón in northern Venezuela; and there is no known globe in the Vatican Library from the early 1500s.
In 1635, the French officially claimed the island but didn’t settle it. Instead, it was the English who attempted the next European settlement in 1639, but that too was wiped out by the Caribs.
In 1643, a French expedition sent out from Martinique by Jacques Dyel du Parquet, the governor of Martinique, established a permanent settlement on the island.
The first inhabitants of St. Lucia were the Arawak Indians, who were forced off the island by the Caribs. Explored by Spain and then France, St. Lucia became a British territory in 1814 and one of the Windward Islands in 1871.
With other Windward Islands, St. Lucia was granted home rule in 1967 as one of the West Indies Associated States. On February 22, 1979, St. Lucia achieved full independence in ceremonies boycotted by the opposition St. Lucia Labor Party, which had advocated a referendum before cutting ties with Britain.
John Compton, head of the United Workers Party (UWP), became the country’s first prime minister. In 2006, Sir John Compton, often called the “Father of St. Lucia,” returned to politics five years after retiring, and his UWP swept elections. He became prime minister once again, at age 82. He died in 2007 and was succeeded by Stephenson King.
There are some indications that de la Cosa may have discovered the island in 1499, although there is also evidence suggesting that he didn’t find the island until 1504. In any case, there was no European presence established on the island until its settlement in the 1550s by the notorious buccaneer Francois le Clerc, a.k.a. Jambe de Bois, or Wooden Leg.
By mid-century the French had arrived, and had even “purchased” the island for the French West India Company. Needless to say, the persevering British were less than enchanted with this idea, and Anglo-French rivalry for the island continued for more than a century and a half.
The island’s first settlements and towns were all French, beginning with Soufriere in 1746. By 1780, twelve settlements and a large number of sugar plantations had been established.