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Form of Government: governor and locally elected
Size: 102 sq. km.
Topography: Mountainous; narrow coastal plain
Climate: Tropical, wet
Total estimated in 1986: 12,000
Annual growth rate (in percentage) in 1982-85: 0.6
Life expectancy at birth in 1982: 70.2
Adult literacy rate (in percentage) in 1981: English
Ethnic groups: Primarily black; some white
Religion: (33 percent), Methodist (25 percent);
remainder other Christian denominations
Currency: Eastern Caribbean dollar(EC$)
Exchange rate: EC$2.70=US$1.00
Gross domestic product (GDP) in 1985: US$37.1 million
Per capita GDP in 1985: US$3,130
Distribution of GDP (in percentage) in 1985:
Manufacturing and industry 15
Armed forces personnel: 0
Paramilitary personnel: 0
The Leeward Islands British dependencies lie east of Puerto
Rico in the region where the Greater Antilles and Lesser Antilles
meet. The British Virgin Islands, immediately east of their United
States counterparts, consist of more than forty islands, rocks, and
islets, the most important of which are Tortola (containing the
capital of Road Town), Virgin Gorda, and Anegada (see fig. 16).
Anguilla (pronounced "an-GWIL-a") lies some 120 kilometers east of
the British Virgin Islands (see fig. 17). It is small, but its
territory includes several even smaller islands. Montserrat, also
a small island, lies 180 kilometers southeast of Anguilla, not far
Christopher Columbus discovered the Virgin Islands and
Montserrat on his second voyage to the West Indies in 1493. He
named the former "Las Virgines" in honor of St. Ursula, an
Englishwoman who is alleged to have traveled to Germany with virgin
attendants and to have been martyred there. Columbus named
Montserrat after the mountain in Spain on which Ignatius Loyola
established of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits).
Whether or not Columbus also sighted Anguilla during this 1493
voyage remains uncertain. Historian Thomas Southey made the first
known mention of the island in 1564, after a French expedition
passed it on a voyage from Dominica to Florida. The island
apparently received its present name from its long, narrow shape
and serpentine shoreline. Anguilla means eel in Spanish.
In the early years of European settlement, buccaneers and
pirates roamed what are now the British Virgin Islands, providing
what later would be the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's
Treasure Island. These buccaneers owed allegiance to no one
in particular, although a Dutch group apparently held the island of
Tortola when a band of English adventurers took over in 1662. The
islands were annexed by England in 1672. In 1680 a few planters
moved with their families from Anguilla to Virgin Gorda, starting
a steady stream of settlers. By 1717 the white population of that
island totaled 317, with an additional 159 on Tortola. The early
1700s also saw the establishment of a Quaker colony, which, for a
while, tried to create a separate island government under the
auspices of the British crown. During the eighteenth century,
extensive cultivation--mainly by slave labor imported from
Africa--led to the formation of sugar, indigo, and sea island
cotton plantations (see The Sugar Revolutions and Slavery, ch. 1).
In 1773, upon their second petition to the crown, the planters were
granted civil government and constitutional courts with a
completely elected twelve-member House of Assembly and a partly
elected and partly appointed Legislative Council, or "Board," which
met for the first time on February 1, 1774.
Anguilla was colonized by English settlers in 1650 and has
remained a British colony ever since. There were, however, several
raids. Carib Indians from Dominica attacked in 1656, and Irish
raiders landed in 1698. A few of the Irishmen settled on the island
and left descendants with Irish names. The French attacked
unsuccessfully in 1745 and again in 1796.
The English first colonized Montserrat in 1632. The island fell
into French hands in 1662 for a four-year period and again in
1792-93. It has remained British ever since, however. The early
settlers tried to make Montserrat a prosperous plantation island.
They brought African slaves to the island to cultivate sugar,
limes, and vegetables, but the terrain was simply too rugged to
yield these crops in great quantities. The island never became the
agricultural success that the settlers envisioned.
After the British established firm control over their
territories in the Leeward Islands, they combined and recombined
them into various colonies and federations. In 1816, for example,
St. Christopher (hereafter, St. Kitts), Nevis, and the British
Virgin Islands were made into one colony with its own captain
general and governor. In 1871 St. Kitts and Anguilla were made a
single unit in the new Leeward Islands Federation. Soon after,
Anguilla, St. Kitts, and Nevis were united into one unit of the
federation and called the Presidency of St. Christopher and Nevis.
The British Virgin Islands and Montserrat also were separate
presidencies within the federation.
During the 1950s and 1960s, political arrangements changed
rapidly. In 1956 the British government dissolved the Leeward
Islands Federation, and each presidency became a separate colony.
In 1958 the British established the new West Indies Federation,
with St. Kitts, Nevis, and Anguilla as one unit and Montserrat
another. The British Virgin Islands did not join the federation and
became an individual crown colony (see Glossary), with a British
"administrator" (later governor) who reported directly to the
British government. When the British dissolved the West Indies
Federation in 1962, Montserrat also became an individual British
crown colony. Both the British Virgin Islands and Montserrat have
since remained crown colonies. Under this arrangement, the British
government has control not only over the islands' defense and
external relations but also over the internal police force and
administrative and budget matters.
Anguilla's situation was even more complicated. When the West
Indies Federation dissolved in 1961 and various attempts at a new
federation failed, Britain formed the Windward and Leeward Islands
Associated States. Under British law, associated states (see Glossary) have full internal self-government, while Britain retains
control of defense and external affairs. This meant full internal
self-government for the new association, including the unit of St.
Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla. When St. Kitts and Nevis became an individual
associated state in 1967, a further step toward self-rule,
Anguillians attempted to dissociate themselves from that entity.
Under the leadership of Ronald Webster, a local businessman and
leader of Anguilla's only political party, the People's Progressive
Party (PPP), Anguillians strongly objected to internal rule by St.
Kitts. On May 30, 1967, the Anguillians evicted the St. Kitts
police force and began to run their own affairs through a local
council. Six weeks later, Anguilla held a referendum in which all
but 5 of over 1,800 voters rejected continued ties with St. Kitts
and Nevis. This overwhelming sentiment may have influenced the
initial low-key British response aimed at negotiating a compromise.
In 1969, however, Webster led a bid to secede from the St.
Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla union; the Anguillians made a "unilateral
declaration of independence" under the "rebel" British flag.
Economic concerns were at the root of the 1969 secession.
Anguillians claimed their island was the poor cousin of the union
and received little from St. Kitts and Nevis. The Anguillians
believed that colonial status meant a legal obligation on Britain's
part to help with development aid.
After attempts to repair the breach between St. Kitts and
Anguilla failed, St. Kitts requested that Britain land troops on
Anguilla. The British did so in March 1969 and installed a British
commissioner. Britain reluctantly accepted Anguilla's request for
a return to colonial status.
In July 1971, the British Parliament passed the Anguilla Act,
which provided that should St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla decide to end
its associated status, Anguilla could be separated from the other
islands. As independence for St. Kitts and Nevis approached,
Anguilla formally separated from the state. The island became a
British dependent territory in December 1980. In the late 1980s, it
was still a separate dependency, an associated state administered
under the terms of the British government's Anguilla Constitution
Order of 1982. In accordance with this legislation, a new
Constitution took effect in Anguilla on April 1, 1982. Britain also
contributed considerable financial aid.
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