|St. Vincent and the Grenadines gained independence on the 10th anniversary of its associate statehood status, 27 October 1979. This module provides an overview of the key events on St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ road to independence.
Road to Independence
From 1763 until its independence in 1979, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines passed through various stages of colonial status under the British. A representative assembly was authorized in 1776, Crown Colony government was installed in 1877, a legislative council was created in 1925, and universal adult suffrage was granted in 1951.
The country’s first known inhabitants were Arawaks, who were later driven out by Caribs; the latter put up a strong resistance to European colonization. Christopher Columbus sighted the principal island on 22 January 1498 and named it after the saint whose feast falls on that day. No immediate European immigration followed this discovery. In 1627 Charles I of England granted the island to Lord Carlisle, but no settlers arrived. Charles II granted it to Lord Willoughby in 1672; possession was disputed by the British, French and Spanish. All these claims were resisted by the Caribs. The Caribs did not, however, oppose the settlement of a shipload of enslaved Africans who escaped after a shipwreck in 1673, and in due course seem to have merged with the Carib community through intermarriage. In 1773, under an Anglo/Carib treaty, the Caribs were allowed to continue to live independently in the north of the island. France took the island in 1779, but restored it to Britain in 1783, under the Treaty of Versailles. In 1795–96, the Caribs rebelled, aided by the French in Martinique; when this had been crushed, the rebels were deported to the island of Roatan in the Bay of Honduras. A plantation economy, based on slave labour, developed, producing sugar, cotton, coffee, and cocoa. But in 1812 La Soufrière erupted and devastated much of the island. After the emancipation of slaves by Britain in 1834, indentured labour from the East Indies and Portugal was brought in to remedy the labour shortage.
St Vincent and the Grenadines was a member of the Federation of the West Indies. After its dissolution in 1962, and the move of larger Caribbean countries to independence individually, the transition towards independence began in St Vincent. At first, the smaller Eastern Caribbean countries attempted to set up a federation of their own, but negotiations among them were unsuccessful. Universal adult suffrage had already been established (and the executive council became partly elective) in 1951. Internal self-government was achieved in 1969 and full independence in October 1979.
On 27 October 1979, following a referendum under Milton Cato, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines became the last of the Windward Islands to gain independence. Independence came on the 10th anniversary of Saint Vincent’s associate statehood status. Milton Cato became the first Prime Minister and Sir Syndey Gun-Munro was the first Governor-General.
Meaning of Independence
St. Vincent and the Grenadines becoming an independent nation, now meant that Britain, no longer controlled the affairs of the country. It was now the responsibility of the newly elected Prime Minister and the locally elected Cabinet. Independence also meant that a Constitution, symbols, emblems, an army, and passports had to be developed for the country. As an independent nation, St. Vincent and the Grenadines assigns Ambassadors overseas who represent the country. They sign treaties on behalf of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and become members of various international organizations. This is important, as it gives the country equal rights on various issues relating to international trade, policies, and treaties.
Symbols of Independence