British West Indies: Islands Location


bwiSome Events in history have a funny way of shaping modern day situations in ways most people do not realize. For example, the reason many of the islands in the Caribbean speak English as their first language is because so many of these tiny islands (used largely as vacation spots today) were once territories of the mighty British Empire.

The seventeenth-century rush for land in the ‘New World’ by European powers, like France, Spain, and Great Britain, was not solely for resources on the continent. These same powers fought over the Caribbean islands, which apart from their own resources were useful as ports and resupplying stops for ships bound for Europe. Great Britain held on to many of these smaller islands for centuries, governing many well into the twentieth century. As a result, these islands came to be known, as they still are today, as the British West Indies.

The British West Indies were the islands and mainland colonies in and around the Caribbean that were part of the British Empire. In 1912, the British West Indies were divided into eight colonies: The Bahamas,Barbados, British Guiana, British Honduras, Jamaica (with its dependencies the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Cayman Islands), Trinidad and Tobago, the Windward Islands, and the Leeward Islands.

Between 1958 and 1962, all of the island territories except the British Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, British Honduras and British Guiana were organised into the West Indies Federation. It was hoped that the Federation would become independent as a single nation, but it had limited powers, many practical problems, and a lack of popular support. Consequently, the West Indies Federation was dissolved.

Most of the territories, including all the larger ones, are now independent as separate countries, with membership to many international forums such as the Organization of American States, the Association of Caribbean States, the World Trade Organization, the United Nations, the Caribbean Community, the Commonwealth of Nations and the Caribbean Development Bank among others.

Map of the Caribbean, including the British West Indies
Map of the Caribbean, including the British West Indies

Leeward Islands

The British Leeward Islands were a colony formulated in the early nineteenth century to govern the more northern and western of the islands under British control. Though the grouping changed slightly during its century and a half of existence, it is still a term used today to describe Caribbean regions. The following is a list of the island nations or territories that once made up the Leeward Islands.

Antigua and Barbuda

Antigua and Barbuda were Spanish colonies as early as the fifteenth century, but in 1632 a group of English colonists landed on Antigua and began developing the islands’ sugar crop. The islands were grouped into the British Leeward Islands colony from the early nineteenth century until the two islands gained their independence from Great Britain, in 1981.   SEE MORE ON PAGE 2

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