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.
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.
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
Christopher Columbus, an Italian explorer sailing for Spain, and his crew land on Guanahani (San Salvador, Bahamas) on 12 October 1492, initiating Europe’s invasion into a region that was already inhabited by many and diverse groups of peoples who are now combined under the general term Amerindian.
Europeans and Africans captive
The Kalinago on Camàhogne reportedly hold Europeans and Africans captive, including about 30 Spanish women and children as a result of a shipwreck. An attack by the Spanish from Margarita to free them proves unsuccessful. There are reports of enslaved Africans captured from the Spanish and other Europeans escaping their Kalinago captors.
A group of “London-Dutch adventurers” sponsors a settlement of 204 British colonist in Grenada to establish a tobacco colony. It becomes the first known European attempt to physically settle the island. It fails after six months due to the attacks by the Kalinagos; the lucky survivors return to England in December 1609.
French Vs Kalinago
In early 1649, Governor du Parquet of Martinique sets in motion plans for the settlement of Grenada. He sends a fisherman, La Rivière, who knew La Grenade well, to locate a safe settlement site and make contact with the Kalinago. His chooses the Lagoon area, and on 18 March 1649, 45 colonists land and begin a settlement in the spacious harbour. The colonists clear land to plant tobacco and subsistence crops in the surrounding area.
In April, violent conflict again erupts between the French and Kalinago following continued Kalinago harassment of French settlers who had expanded up the western side of the island. The French seek shelter in their palisade forts at Fort du Marquis (in Beau Séjour) and Fort St. Jean (on D’Arbeau Hill).
On 15 September additional colonists arrive, among them the first woman. By November the French establish a settlement at Beau Séjour and a fort at Rivière St. Jean (St. John’s River). Soon thereafter, the Kalinago, from Grenada and St. Vincent, attack the settlements at the Lagoon and Beau Séjour, initiating a war of resistance that continues off and on for the next decade.
Le Morne des Sauteurs: “Hill of the Jumpers.”
Tensions had remained high between the French and Kalinago. Upon learning of a meeting of several villages, Governor du Parquet orders an ambush. On the night of 30 May 1650, French solderies attack a group of drunk Kalinago. A slaughter begins whilst 40-50 men plunge over a cliff to their deaths; the hill is later called Le Morne des Sauteurs: “Hill of the Jumpers.”
Governor du Parquet
In June 1650, Grenada, Martinique, St. Lucia and the Grenadines are officially purchased by Governor du Parquet from the Compagnie des Isles de l’Amérique. Since the 1649 settlement was technically illegal, the history written by Jean- Baptiste Dutertre changes Grenada’s founding to 1650 (hence continued confusion with the dates today).
Purchase of Grenada
Between 14-16 October Father Jean- Baptiste Dutertre visits Grenada to assess the island for purchase by the Comte de Sérillac. On 30 October a contract is signed between Governor du Parquet and de Sérillac’s representative for the purchase of Grenada and the Grenadines for 90,000 French pounds.
Caraibe and Galibis
Visit by François Blondel, French engineer, who designs Fort Royal and draws a number of maps of the island. In his description, he describes two groups of Amerindians living in mostly coastal villages scattered across the island. The Caraibe reside in villages from Black Bay, St. George to River Antoine, St. Patrick, while the Galibis, another Amerindian people recently arrived from South America, are described as occupying the east, including (Grand) Marquis and Galby Bay. He states most of the southeasternmost quadrant is vacant.
Compagnie des Indes occidentales Francaises
Between 22-29 November Prouville de Tracy, the lieutenant-general of the French Antilles, visits and takes possessions of Grenada for the Compagnie des Indes occidentales Francaises (French) West India Company); Vincent is appointed governor. A year later the count de Sérillac is ordered to sign a contract for the transfer of Grenada and the Grenadines to the West India Company.
In January, France declares war against England during the 2nd Anglo-Dutch War (1665-1667), which marks the beginning of colonial conflict in the region. Fearing attack by the British Governor Vincent retreats into the mountainous interior of the island for safety.
In August a number of French Grenadian militiamen capture Tobago from the small British garrison. Ginger is recorded as being produced as a cash crop.
Anonymous [Benigne Bresson]
Hofman, Corinne L. (editor)
Martin, John Angus