Nevis History in a Capsule

A famous American statesman was born here

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Nevis Island History


Nevis has a long and rich history and is inhabited by people with strong ties to the U.S. and the UK. Legendary names like U.S. founding father Alexander Hamilton and British Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson (who married a local Nevisian) pop up as naturally in conversation as discussions about the usually idyllic weather.

Human habitation of the island goes back at least 4,000 years. Among the artifacts uncovered here are finely-made stone implements and flint cutting tools made from non-native materials, and beautifully colored pottery unearthed from burial mounds.

The Caribs, the last Native Americans to "own" Nevis, called it "Oualie-- Land of Beautiful Waters ."

Nevis first drew public attention in 1607, when Captain John Smith visited on his way to establish the first permanent English colony in North America . Jamestown turned out to be a swampy, mosquito-ridden site, so miserable a place, that 20 years later, Smith still fondly remembered his short but enjoyable 6-day layover in Nevis.

He recorded in his diary, "In the little isle of Nevis more than twenty years ago, I have remained a good time together to wood and water, to refresh my men and replenish stocks. Also hang two mutineers on the spot now called Gallows Bay."

The Bay off Charlestown is still known as Gallows Bay, probably not a name that would be selected today by land developers.   

The British colonized Nevis in 1628. Until the 1640s, ginger, indigo, cotton and provision crops for ships were the staple crops.

The introduction of sugar cane changed the island from a peasant agricultural base to a system of great sugar plantations in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Many great houses were built (some now converted to inns) and an aristocratic planter class lived in splendid style. By 1778, the warm mineral springs of Nevis had made the island famous all over Europe, where it was called the Spa of the Caribbean.

You'll have little trouble spotting the oldest buildings, in Charlestown, with their ornate woodwork designed to create shade and collect the breezes.

Note: Alexander Hamilton--who served in the American Revolutionary War, was chief of staff to Gen. George Washington and a strong proponent of the U.S. Constitution as well as first U.S. Secretary of Treasury--was born in Charlestown, Nevis. He was killed by Aaron Burr in a famous duel of honor. His birthplace is a popular tourist attraction.

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