When I started looking at the history of Saint Kitts & Nevis, I began to wonder who Saint Kitts was, since I can’t ever remember hearing of a church dedicated to him or her. It turns out that just as Kit is a recognised abbreviation for Christopher, so Saint Kitts is an abbreviation for Saint Christopher, the island’s formal name.
The name Nevis has an interesting origin too. You might think it had been named after a Mr Nevis, but apparently not. It seems that when there were clouds on its peak, they reminded the Spanish of the story of Nuestra Señora de las Nieves, or Our Lady of the Snows. So a Caribbean island is called ‘snow’.
Saint Kitts was not only the site of the first permanent English colony in the Caribbean, but it was also the site of the first permanent French colony in the Caribbean. Interestingly, here, the English and French worked together. This, though, turned out to be exceedingly bad news for the local Kalinago population.
In 1538, Huguenot refugees from Dieppe briefly established a colony on Saint Kitts, which they imaginatively called Dieppe. But the Spanish were none too thrilled and kicked the French off the island a few months later.
In 1607, John Smith (of Pocahontas fame) popped in for a visit but didn’t stay.
Then in 1623, an English captain, Thomas Warner, gave up trying to establish a colony on the South American mainland and decided to try Saint Kitts instead. In 1624, he established the colony of Saint Christopher. Shortly afterwards, in 1625, a French captain, Pierre Belain d’Esnambuc, turned up, having lost some of his expedition in a clash with the Spanish and, instead of trying to kick the visitors off the island, Warner helped the new arrivals settle in. Quite possibly the reason for Warner doing this was that he had decided on a European takeover of the whole island from the Kalinago, because in 1626 the English and French cooperated in killing thousands of the Kalinago at the aptly named Bloody Point.
In 1628 Anthony Hilton with eighty settlers colonised Nevis from Saint Kitts.
But there was trouble ahead for the English and the French. In 1629, the Spanish invaded and the English and French fled before managing to return shortly afterwards.
Then as relations between England and France soured, the French overran the entire island and held it from 1665–67 before the English got their half back under the Treaty of Breda. In 1689, the French overran the island again and Governor Codrington led an invasion of Saint Kitts in response. On 1 July 1690, British ships opened fire on the French defenders. That night Codrington secretly landed 600 men south of the French position and in the morning landed a further 600 in front of the French position, while those who had landed earlier attacked the French from behind. English losses were ten dead and thirty wounded and by 26 July the French surrender of the entire island was complete.
The French attacked Saint Kitts again in 1705, holding it until the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. And they attacked yet again in 1782, holding the island until 1783 and the Treaty of Paris. In 1778, the Bath Hotel on Nevis became the first official tourist destination in the Americas. Saint Kitts and Nevis became independent in 1983.