European Invasion

Colorized Version of Theodore de Bry's 16th Century Drawing of Columbus' 1492 landing

Unlike the Greater Antilles, much of the Lesser Antilles (particularly the Windward Islands) remained in the control of indigenous (“Amerindian”) peoples for the first ~150 years of European contact. Thus, although Columbus arrived in 1492 and sited Grenada in 1498, we only have brief snippets about the island prior to French settlement in 1649.

On his third voyage in 1498, Columbus named Grenada either “La Conception” or “Ascension” (the latter is typically assumed to be Tobago but he only says that he passed two islands that he gave names) (Columbus 1969). To the Kalinago, however, it was called Camahogne (Breton 1999). “La Conception” never appeared on any map, the earliest of which known is from 1501 by the former pilot of Columbus’ Santa Maria, Juan de la Cosa. De la Cosa sailed with Columbus on his first three voyages, followed by voyages with Amerigo Vespucci, Alonso de Ojeda, and others. It is thus notable that his 1501 map does not use the name Columbus assigned, instead apparently labeling Grenada “Mayo.” This is the only map that uses the name.

Magnified Section of Juan de la Cosa Map (courtesy J Angus Martin)

De la Cosa’s map incorporated information from other explorers who had begun to venture across the Atlantic, following the Crown’s renunciation (in 1498) of Columbus’s ownership of the lands he discovered. On Columbus’ first voyage, Vincent Yanez Pinzon was pilot of the Nina (not to be confused with his older brother, Alonso, who captained the Pinta). Like de la Cosa, Vincente Pinzon made several trips on his own, laying claims to parts of Brazil, the Amazon, and possibly an island north of Trinidad he called Mayo (Anghiera and MacNutt 1912). De la Cosa and Amerigo Vespucci also pillaged some Lesser Antillean islands in 1499, but most believe it to be Margarita. The fact that de la Cosa uses “Mayo” on his 1501 map suggests he or Pinzon renamed it on one of these trips. (It’s also worth mentioning that Peter Martyr appears to have labelled Grenada “Isle de Verde” in his 1511 map and other writings, suggesting another explorer renamed it as well.)

Convinced “Caribs” could not be converted to Christianity, the Spanish Crown gave conquistadors permission to raid the Lesser Antilles and capture Caribs as slaves in 1502. 

In 1609, a British attempt to settle Grenada ended in catastrophe after the Spanish sent friars from Trinidad to stoke Carib unrest, leading them to attack and destroy the nascent British settlement (Sloane MSS 3662). The fact that the friars knew where to go suggests they knew the island and perhaps had some relationship with some of the occupants. Indeed, the various interactions with Spanish ships are supported archaeologically by the Spanish coin found at La Poterie/Artiste Point, a Cayo village (see Kalinago page (Hofman et al. 2016). It’s also worth noting that the only description of the 1609 settlement’s location is “a grand bay”, which could be anywhere (but perhaps most likely Grand Anse or Conference). Thus, despite the popular belief today, there is no evidence to suggest that the early French town of Megrin was the location of the 1609 British settlement. Megrin was founded well after the French took the island in 1649.

Plan of the French Settlement in 1670 (author unknown)

In the 1640s, there were several failed attempts to settle Grenada by the French, though none of them ever landed on the island. The first permanent European settlement on Grenada began on the 15th of September 1649 (Anonymous 1975). 

In 1674, the French crown took control of those colonies owned by French proprietors.  The last census to mention “Caribs” was in 1735, with an indigenous population of 120 (Martin 2013). 

In 1762 Grenada was ceded to the British through the Treaty of Paris. In 1779 the French forcibly regained control of the island, adding leverage to the 1782 Treaty of Versailles that returned it to the British.

European Invasion Timeline of Grenada


Anghiera, Pietro Martire d’, and Francis Augustus MacNutt
  • 1912 De Orbe Novo: The Eight Decades of Peter Martyr d’Anghera; Translated from the Latin, with Notes and Introduction, by Francis Augustus MacNutt. G.P. Putnam, New York.

    Anonymous [Benigne Bresson]
  • 1975 Histoire de l’isle de Grenade En Amérique 1649-1659. Edited by John Angus Martin and Jacques Petitjean Roget. Translated by Jacques Petitjean Roget. Presses de l’Université de Montréal, (unpublished 2015 English translation on file at the Grenada National Museum). Original French version available online:

    Breton, Raymond
  • 1999 Dictionnaire Caraïbe-Français [1665] Edited by Marina Besada Paisa and Jean Bernabé. Karthala: Editions de l’IRD, Paris.

    Columbus, Christopher
  • 1969 The Four Voyages of Christopher Columbus. Translated by Joel Cohen. Penguin UK.

    Hofman, Corinne L. (editor)
  • 2016 Fieldwork Report: Grenada 2016.  Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University, The Netherlands.

    Martin, John Angus
  • Island Caribs and French Settlers in Grenada: 1498 – 1763. Grenada National Museum Press, St George’s, Grenada.

  • Sloane MSS 3662, British Library, folio 53b-49f. (see Martin 2013 for a discussion of this text)