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Our Island

Early History

The Saladoid Native Americans who migrated from South America initially settled the island millennia ago. Archaeologists have found their artifacts at sites on the island. The more warlike Caribs, who gave the region its name, regularly raided Montserrat in later times and established a presence on the island prior to the arrival of the Europeans.

European Settlement. Christopher Columbus never landed on Montserrat during his travels to the Americas, but as he sailed past it in 1493 he made note of the island and named it after the monastery and mountainous region of Spain located near Barcelona.

European settlement began in 1632 with the arrival of Irish people from the adjacent island of St. Kitts. In the years immediately following the initial colonists, other Irish came to Montserrat, some as prisoners sent from Great Britain and more fleeing from the oppression they suffered in other areas of the world.

The British and French battled for control of the island throughout the eighteenth century. The treaty of Versailles signed in 1783 gave the British control of Montserrat. The island today still remains a colony of Great Britain.

African Diaspora

African slave ships arrived in Montserrat in the middle 1600’s bringing their human cargo as the sugar plantation system took root in the island as it did throughout the Caribbean. The importation of slaves from Africa continued until the abolishment of the institution of slavery in 1834 on the island.

The brutality and injustice associated with the enslavement of Africans led to several rebellions including the major slave uprising that occurred on St. Patrick’s Day in 1768. Montserratians still mark this event as part of the annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration on the island.

Natural disasters and the decline in the price of sugar led to the collapse of the sugar plantation based economy on Montserrat by the late nineteenth century. By that time the descendants of Africans formed the majority of the inhabitants of the island.

Culture & Music

The influences of the Native American, Irish and African peoples who successively inhabited Montserrat have fused to create a unique culture. The language of the island is English with a distinctive accent that draws comparisons to the Irish brogue. The cuisine, although shaped by locally grown produce present on many of the other Caribbean Islands, is distinguished by several singular dishes such as “goat water”- a type of goat stew and mountain chicken - frog legs. Christianity remains the major faith of the island inhabitants but the influence of African ancestor worship remains in the persistent practice of the Jombee religion.

Modern Montserrat

Flag_of_MontserratMontserrat remains a dependent colony of Great Britain despite a desire for independence on the part of many residents. The British appoint a governor who oversees the affairs of the island with the participation of an Executive and locally elected Legislative council. There are two main political parties; the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) and the People’s Liberation Movement (PLM).

The island of Montserrat and its people have survived in the face of several catastrophic events. In 1989 hurricane Hugo destroyed many of the homes and buildings on the island. The challenges of developing a stable, diverse and prosperous economy persist. The Soufriere Hills volcano erupted in 1995 and remains active to this day. A major eruption of the volcano in the late 1990’s led to the destruction of the capital city of Plymouth and the evacuation and relocation of many Montserratians.

Yet today, many residents displaced by the volcanic activity have returned to the island. The Southern part of the island, including Plymouth is still uninhabitable. The people of Montserrat however persevere and a significant number have relocated to and developed the Northern part of the island. The “Emerald Isle” of the Caribbean endures in the face of these adversities and several waves of emigration of many of its inhabitants in the last century.

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