The state of St. Vincent and the Grenadines consists of the island of St. Vincent and a number of island dependencies in the north part of the Grenadines archipelago. The Grenadines are a chain of about 100 islands and islets that extend from St. Vincent 110 km south to Grenada, and home to a population of 110,000, a number that swells during the tourist season. For many islands, tourism is the primary industry.
Possibly visited by Columbus in 1498, the existing Carib population aggressively resisted European settlement until the 18th century. African slaves—either shipwrecked or escaped from St. Lucia and Grenada and seeking refuge in St. Vincent—augmented the Carib population and became known as black Caribs. Beginning in 1719, French settlers cultivated coffee, tobacco, indigo, cotton, and sugar on plantations worked by African slaves.
In 1773 St. Vincent and the Grenadines became a British possession. In 1779 the territory was seized by the French, though was restored to Britain in 1783 under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. Conflict between the British and the black Caribs continued until 1796, when General Abercrombie crushed a revolt. More than 5000 black Caribs were eventually deported to Roatan, an island off the coast of Honduras. Slavery was abolished in 1834. The resulting labor shortages on the plantations attracted Portuguese immigrants in the 1840s and east Indians in the 1860s. Conditions remained harsh for both former slaves and immigrant agricultural workers, as depressed world sugar prices kept the economy stagnant until the turn of the century.
In 1871 the islands became part of the Windward Islands Colony, and in 1956 a member of the Federation of the Windward Islands. In 1958 St. Vincent and the Grenadines joined the Federation of the West Indies, and in 1969 it attained full internal self government. In 1979 it became an independent state within the British Commonwealth. In 1980 and 1987, hurricanes devastated banana and coconut plantations; 1998 and 1999 also saw very active hurricane seasons, with hurricane Lenny in 1999 causing extensive damage.