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History of St Lucia and Soufriere

St Lucia History and Culture - Insights of Soufriere and the Volcano

Since1979 St Lucia has been a stable independent democracy within the British Commonwealth.  But after a few days onthe island you'll discover some of the many influences and nuances hinting at its colorful past. 

StLucia was first inhabited by the peaceful Arawak Indians, but they were invaded and conquered by the fierce Caribs, and virtually wiped out.  By around 800AD, Carib settlements dominated the island.  The tribes left their markon the island. They called it “Io�analao” and “Hewanorra” meaning “where the iguana is found”. The name St Lucia was first used in the late 16th Century. 

It was once believed that Christopher Columbus, on his fourth voyage to the West Indies in 1502, was the first European to set foot on St Lucia, but historians are now almost certain that he never landed on the island. One theory suggests that Juan de Cosa, a little known explorer, who traveled with Columbus on his first and second voyages,named the island. One of his maps shows a small island named El Falcon near where St Lucia is located.

The first European known to frequent St. Lucia was Francois Le Clerc, a French privateer also known as Jambe de Bois or “Peg Leg” for his wooden leg.  He was a Pirate who established a base on Pigeon Island from where he attacked passing Spanish treasure ships in the1550s.  St. Lucia continued to beutilized as a base for pirates for over 100 years, and legend has it that eventhe notorious Edward Teach, better known as “Blackbeard”, hid some of histreasure near Vieux Fort, in an area known today as Black Bay. 

The first European settlement occurred when the Dutch established a base at Vieux Fort around 1600. The English first landed in 1605, having been blown offcourse on their way to Guyana aboard their vessel, the Olive Branch.Sixty-seven settlers landed and purchased huts from the Caribs. One monthlater, only 19 were left and these were forced to flee from the Caribs incanoes. There was a second futile attempt at colonization by the British in1639 which was wiped out by the Caribs. 

TheFrench arrived in 1651 when two representatives of the French West India Company bought the island. Eight years later, ownership disputes between the French andthe English ignited hostilities that would endure for 150 years. A third British attempt to colonize St. Lucia and “defend her from the French” was launched in 1664 under Sir Thomas Warner, but after two years only 89 of theoriginal 1000 men under Warner were still alive. During the next 150 years, the island changed hands fourteen times and was finally ceded to the British in1814. St. Lucia is sometimes referred to as “Helen of the West Indies” or “LaBelle Helene” because the French and British fought so long and bitterly to win this beautiful island that the conflict was likened to the Trojan War with thelegend of the lovely and desirable Helen of Troy being “the prize” who would“belong” to the victor. 

The English attacked St Lucia in 1778after declaring war on France for aiding the Americans in the War ofIndependence. During this skirmish, known as the Battle of Cul de Sac, theEnglish captured the island. They established a naval base at Gros Islet andfortified Pigeon Island.  The most memorable Anglo-French conflict was in 1780 when Admiral George Rodney sailedthe English Navy out of Gros Islet Bay and attacked and decimated the pride ofthe French fleet under the command of Admiral Comte de Grasse.  In 1796, after Castries was razed by fire,General Moore attacked the French on Morne Fortune overlooking the city andafter two days of intense fighting, the 27th Innis killing Regiment forced the French to surrender.

The century and a half war between the British and the French for control of St. Lucia left many fortresses and relics behind.  For example, Pigeon Island National Park andFort Rodney were both integral in the ongoing battles between the then superpowers.  From the former British officers' mess, it is easy to imagine the cannons firing at French warships asthey tried to slip past the fortified hilltop. You can also visit Morne Fortune, a site of a key battle, and Marigot Bay, once a vital wartime base and now a beautiful yacht haven.  Today, many visitors still enjoy Diamond Falls and Mineral Baths, which were originally built by  French King Louis XVI, to refresh and heal his troops stationed on St Lucia.

 In1746, the first town in St. Lucia was established and it was named Soufriere,which was the capital of the island while it was under French control.  By 1780, twelve French towns had been founded and the French built the first sugar estates. Within 15 years, 50 more estates were in operation. In 1780, a hurricane destroyed many plantations but with slave labour, the French quickly repaired the damage.

With the last years of that century came the French Revolution; its effectswere felt throughout the French Antilles. In Martinique and Guadeloupe, many royalists were beheaded. It is said that the first ship carrying the guillotine to St. Lucia sailed into Soufriere Bay. This terrifying and awesome machine was taken ashore and set up in the Town Square in front of the church, to continue its work. The revolutionaries declared that slavery in the French islands wasat an end. But under Emperor Napoleon slavery was reintroduced. Then Britishtook the island for what would be the last time. Many of the freed slaves, aswell as French soldiers who had deserted, took to the hills. From their hideouts they organized raids on the town of Soufriere. They destroyed or damaged many buildings including the baths on the Diamond Estate. 

Slavery was a fact of life in the 17th, 18th and 19thcenturies.  Although the Island changed hands fourteen times between the British and the French, most of the early estates remained in the lands of descendants of the French immigrants. They brought in slaves from Africa to work the land. Large areas of land were cleared to plant crops like cotton and tobacco to be sold and shipped overseas. Sugar was introduced later and soon became the island’s most important crop. In1838 Emancipation freed the slaves and they were able to own their own propertyand land. Many, however, continued to work on the estates where they had oncebeen slaves.

In 1838, St Lucia joined the Windward Islands with its seat of government in Barbados. In 1842, English became the island’s official language. 

In 1863, the first steamship laden withcoal called at Castries and the port soon became a major coaling station. The first shipment of indentured Indian labourers arrived in 1882 to help bail outthe agricultural industry, which used indentured workers to replace the former slave labourers. The workers from India continued to arrive over the next 30 years and many decided to settle here.

The coaling industry began to decline in 1906 when the island was abandoned asa garrisoned naval station. Other events such as the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, World War I, the Depression in 1929 and the introduction of diesel and oil fuel in the 1940’s all contributed to St. Lucia’s demise as a major coaling station.

In 1960, the island enacted a new constitution with the appointment of thefirst Ministers of Government. This constitution expired in 1967 when England granted the island full self-government. St Lucia became completely independent from England on February 22,1979, electing John George Melvin Compton as its first Prime Minister.  In 1997 “Daddy Compton”, who had spearheaded St. Lucia’s independence, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in recognition ofhis services to the Commonwealth and the world.

About 160,000 people reside in St. Lucia, with approximately 60,000 living inits capital, Castries. Although it is a fully independent nation, St. Lucia remains a member of the British Commonwealth.

Asa Commonwealth realm,Saint Lucia recognizes Queen Elizabeth II as the Head of Stateof Saint Lucia, represented on the island by a Governor-General. Executive power,however, is in the hands of the Prime Minister and his cabinet. The Prime Minister is normally the headof the party winning the elections for the House of Assembly, which has 17 seats. The other chamber of Parliament, the Senate, has 11 appointed members. 

Saint Lucia is a full and participating member of the CaribbeanCommunity (CARICOM) and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States(OECS).

We still have many British characteristics and although English is the official language, French patois is widely spoken by the locals. In spirit, the island is influenced by many cultures. St Lucians drive on the left and have a passion for cricket. The Caribbean’s influence surfaces in the drinks - rum and locally brewed beer; in the music - calypso, soca, reggae; inthe foods -- richly flavoured creole cuisine, and southwest asian spicedcurries; in the carnivals, festivals and days of national pride, and in the open-air markets which bring together the various cultures and peoples of this beautiful island.

You'll find St Lucia a colourful, unique mixture of history and charming multicultural influences.

 History of Soufriere Region

During Soufriere’s history, the town has been shaken by storms many times. There was the Great Hurricane of 1780,followed by others in 1817, 1831 and 1898. In 1839, an earthquake severely damaged the church steeple and more recently, in 1955, half the town was destroyed by fire. Hurricane Allen in 1980 was another blow. 

Soufriere shows signs of Amerindian occupation. Untilrecently however, there was little evidence to show that they had been there inany numbers. The discovery of the terraces and carved rocks at Belfond and the exciting new find of a petroglyph near Jalousie, indicate that Soufriere was perhaps one of the most important sites of all. After the Amerindians, the first permanent settlers to arrive were the French who came around the end ofthe 17th Century. Already well-established in Martinique, they realized that the rich fertile soil of Soufriere would be ideal for farming. In 1746,Soufriere was officially recognized by France as St Lucia’s first town. 

Inspite of all these upheavals, Soufriere continues to grow. It will never be theisland’s capital but it has produced men who have been important in the fields of law, commerce and politics.

Towards the end of George Charles’ long term as Prime Minister of Saint Lucia (1960 –1964) more than half of the House of Assembly were Soufriere men, including him. Soufriere is still a centre for agriculture but tourism has gained equal importance.

Queen Elizabeth II, when she set foot on St Lucian soil for the first time in 1966, landed not in Castries, but on theSoufriere Jetty.

Famous St .Lucians

Nobel Laureates

St.Lucia boasts the highest ratio in the world for number of Nobel laureates produced with respect to the total population of the nation. Two winners have come from St. Lucia: Sir Arthur Lewis won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1979, and Derek Walcott received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992. Both were born on January 23rd,but in different years.

Sir William Arthur Lewis (January 23, 1915 –June 15, 1991)was a Saint Lucian economist well known for his contributions in the field of economic development. He was awarded the Order of the BritishEmpire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II in 1963 and in 1979, he won the Nobel Prize in Economics, becoming the first black person to win a Nobel Prizein a category other than peace.

Sir Arthur’s main interests were in the Theory of Growth, Cyclical Growth of theWorld Economy, Economic Development and Planning, and especially Economic Development of the Commonwealth Caribbean. His was the Economic Model of Industrialization by Invitation, a model adopted by countries like Jamaica,Malta, Singapore, Hong Kong and Maurititius. In 1985, Sir Arthur returned toSt. Lucia and was welcomed with a grand home coming celebration during which the Morne Educational Complex was renamed the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College byan act of Parliament.  

DerekAlton Walcott (born January 23, 1930)is a West Indiespoet, playwright, writer and visual artist who writes mainly in English.Born in Castries, St. Lucia,he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992.

His work, which developed independently of the schools of magic realism emerging in both South America and Europe at around the time of his birth, isintensely related to the symbolism of myth and its relationship to culture.He is best known for his epic poem Omeros, a reworking of Homeric story and tradition into a journey around the Caribbean and beyond to the American West and London.


Dunstan St. Omer,sometimes called “the Michelangelo of the Caribbean, has for many years beenregarded as St. Lucia’s leading artist. Among his numerous works are manymurals, some of which are on display in many churches in St Lucia.  St. Omer’s church murals inter weave the daily life of the Caribbean with renderings of Saints and the Holy Family as people of color. The altarpiece of the Roseau Valley church secured Dunstan St Omer's reputation as one of the foremost artists in the Caribbean and earned him aVatican medal from the Pope. 

St.Omer has a secure place in the history of St Lucia as designer of his country's national flag. St. Omer worked in the Ministry of Education as an art instructor for over 30 years, and embraced the opportunity to inspire generations of young St. Lucian artists. In 2004, he was a recipientof the St. Lucia Cross, the nation’s highest award.

LlewellynXavier, is an artist of international repute, who began paintingin Barbados, then studied in England, and the US.  After a period as a Cistercian monk in Montreal, Xavier left the monastery, married and moved back to St. Lucia in1987.

Probably Xavier's most important work to date is a large cycle of collages created around 1993. Titled Global Council for Restoration of the Earth's Environment, the collages incorporate all manner of recycled materials, including naturalist prints from the eighteenth and nineteenthcenturies and postage stamps from many countries. They also include signatures of various world leaders of environmentalism and of a number of conservationists. Xavier received the OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) in 2004 in recognition of his contributions to the art of the Commonwealth. Xavier's work is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History,and the Smithsonian Institution as well as in various European museums.

Sports in St. Lucia

Football (known as Soccer in the United States) is the most dominant sport in Saint Lucia.The Saint Lucia national football team is controlled by the St. Lucia Football Association. Cricket is also a major sport. Darren Sammy was the first and only St Lucian to becalled up to the West Indies Cricket Squad and was the first St Lucian to play Test cricket in the West Indies. Tennis and basketball are rapidly becoming popular around the island. St. Lucia is also an annual competitor in the Davis Cup, and international tennis competition, with its head player Kane Easter. St Lucia is also home to Levern Spencer, who is a high jumper and holds the St Lucian record of 1.94 meters.

Some Famous St. Lucians from Soufriere

Some famous St Lucians have ties to the town of Soufriere:

Josephine Tascher de la Pagerie, who spent most of her childhood in Soufriere, married a young soldier named Napoleon Bonaparte and became Empress of France.

Dr Beausoliel, the island’s first doctor came from Soufriere.

R Belizaire, who wrote St Lucia’s first geography book, also came from Soufriere.

Some Why not come and visit and see yourself?

You can visit Pigeon Island and have a local Piton Beer in the Jambe De Bois Bar, or climb to the top of the old English fort and take in the spectacular view of the Caribbean Sea and on a clear day the island of Martinique, so you can truly appreciate why Jambe De Bois made Pigeon Island his base.

* The Iyanola Exhibition is a great place to learn more about theisland’s history – with a great animated view of the island through the centuries, as well as knowledgeable guides and interesting artifacts situated in La Place Carenage, Castries, on the top floor.



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FAQ's St Lucia is the official site of the Multiple Listing & Real Estate Services of St. Lucia (MLRES), with real estate offices located in Soufriere & Dennery. Multiple Listing & Real Estate Services is a member of the Realtors Association of St Lucia , Inc.