The island has some remarkable tales to tell. From discovery to invasions, revolutions and occupations, coups and destruction, Grenada has it all. Unearth the colourful past of Grenada and discover what makes it a most unique corner of the Caribbean.
Early Amerindian tribes including Calvignoid, the Galibi, the Suazoids and Arawaks landed on Grenada from South America. Circa 1,400 BC, the aggressive Caribs eventually followed and soon began to drive out these early settlers by violent means. Christopher Columbus first sighted Grenada in the winter of 1498 during his third voyage to the new world. He named the island Concepción after the feast of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated on December 8th. The Spanish used the island as a refuelling stop on the way to the Spanish Main. The first attempt at settlement by Europeans was made in June 1609 by an English expedition of 24 colonisers led by Messrs. Godfrey, Hall, Lull, and Robinson, who arrived in the ships Diana, Penelope and the Endeavour at La Sagesse bay. Those not killed by Indians were evacuated six months later.
Forty years later, in March 1649, a French expedition of 203 men led by Jacques Dyel du Parquet, Governor of Martinique for the Compagnie des Iles de l’Amerique, landed at St. Georges Harbour and constructed a fortified settlement on a spit in the harbour (now yacht marina), named Fort Annunciation. Du Parquet persuaded Chief Kairouanne that the French settlement was solely to protect the Caribs against impending attack from the British. The Caribs made it clear that the French could not settle anywhere other than the land they were on. Conflict broke out in November 1649 and lasted for five years. Opposition was finally crushed when, betrayed and ambushed in a night attack at the north of the island, rather than surrender Kairouane chose to throw himself off the cliff along with those warriors that survived the initial assault. In September 1650, du Parquet purchased Grenada, Martinique, and St. Lucia from the Compagnie des Iles de l’Amerique, which was dissolved, for £1160. In 1657 du Parquet sold Grenada to the Comte de Cerrillac for £1890. King Louis XIV bought out the independent island owners in 1664, establishing the French West India Company. A decade later the company was dissolved. Briefly in 1675, 100 Dutch privateers captured Grenada, but a French man-of-war arrived unexpectedly and recaptured the island. The influential French priest/engineer Pere Labat visited the island in 1700. He wrote a detailed report about the new fort recently built on the headland at St. George harbour. It would prove to be fateful. Though in an excellent position to defend the harbour itself, he didn’t think much of its location – or its design. Fundamentally there was a serious strategic flaw: the high ground to the north and east that overlooked it. If that ground ever fell into enemy hands the fort would be compromised. Consequently between 1705 and 1706 the French built a new fort, Fort Royal (in St. George) designed by Monsieur de Callus.
France’s 113 year occupation of Grenada came to an end on 5th March 1762 with the end of the Seven Years’ War, when the island was taken by the British under the Royal Navy’s Commodore Swanton. A year later, on 10 February 1763, Grenada was formally ceded to Britain in the Treaty of Paris, with Britain returning Martinique & Guadeloupe to the French. Britain’s rule was to last 210 years. French colonists were allowed to stay. The island was rocked by a severe earthquake in 1766. A year later a slave uprising was put down. And in 1771 and 1775 the wooden town of St. George burnt to the ground – it was rebuilt in stone and brick.
HAND-COLORED 1779 ENGRAVING DEPICTING D’ESTAING’S CAPTURE OF THE HEIGHTS
After sixteen years of British rule, France recaptured Grenada on the night of the 3rd and 4th July 1779, during the American War of Independence. Having no doubt read Pere Labat’s report from 80 years prior, the Comte d’Estaing, having secretly landed at Point St Eloi north of St. George, marched up St. John’s river and launched a powerful flanking attack on the hastily erected fortifications on Richmond Hill, the high ground that dominated the harbour, key to St. George’s defence. The captured British cannons were duly turned against Fort George below and Governor Lord Macartney, outnumbered 20: 1 in regular troops, immediately opened negotiations to surrender. The frailty of the St. George defence had been predicted 8 decades earlier. The Battle of St. George took place two days later, on 6 July 1779. Rear Admiral John ‘foul-weather Jack’ Byron’s relief force of 21 ships of the line approached along the west coast from the north, fatefully underestimating the size of Comte d’Estaing’s 25 ships exiting the sanctuary and concealment of St. George’s harbour. The subsequent ‘disordered and confused’ attack, thwarted by light winds shielded by the fort’s head land and a larger than anticipated enemy, was inconclusive, but prevented the English from recapturing the island.
TREATY OF PARIS
BATTLE OF ST. GEORGE, 6 JULY 1779
Grenada became part of the British Windward Islands Administration
Slavery was abolished
Nutmeg was introduced
Electricity installed in St. George
Alert to the risk, a fort was immediately built by the French on the high ground above St.George. But the French occupation would not last long. The Treaty of Versailles, four years later, restored the island to Britain on 3 September 1783, along with the other Windward islands of St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Dominica, St.Kitts, Nevis & Montserrat. The French-built fort was immediately renamed Fort Matthew after the Island’s Governor, Edward Matthew. The British continued the fortification of Richmond Hill, building Fort Frederick in 1791 and Fort Adolphus, named after the sons of George III; and the fourth was called Fort Lucas, after William Lucas, upon whose lands these forts stand. The British too had learnt their lesson: rather than towards the sea, these ‘back-to-front’ forts all faced inland.
On the night of 2/3rd March 1795, Julien Fédon, the Creole owner of the Belvedere estate, led French Grenadians in a rebellion to supplant the island’s British government with a French one with increased civil rights. Heavily inspired by the French Revolution and subsequent war with England, Fédon launched coordinated attacks on the towns of Grenville (La Baye) killing 11 British inhabitants, and at Gouyave capturing 40 more. The rebels were encouraged to surrender with the offer of a pardon and amnesty for those not involved in the massacre. On the 8th April a failed assault on the rebel camp took place, ending tragically with Fédon’s threat to execute the 47 hostages – including almost the entire government of the island – being ruthlessly carried out. Military assistance was requested, though simultaneous French revolts in British territories meant help was slow to arrive. By the following year rebels controlled the whole island apart from St George. On 19th June 1796 General Abercromby finally arrived with reinforcements and attacked rebel positions which were duly captured. Suffering heavy losses, the rebels fled to Fédon’s mountain stronghold and awaited the final assault and inevitable defeat. Fifty rebels were subsequently tried and found guilty of high treason, 14 ‘noted brigands’ were publicly hanged, the others and their families deported to Honduras. Fédon’s fate is unknown, though 7000 slaves died, Grenada’s prosperity was destroyed, and French power and influence on the island was brought to an end. It would be years before the island recovered.
Pearls Airport was opened
Grenada held its first general elections on the basis of universal adult suffrage
The Windward Islands Administration was dissolved
Grenada joined the Federation of the West Indies
The Federation of the West Indies Collapsed
A period of stability defined the next hundred and fifty years. The booming economy was based entirely on agriculture, with nutmeg, cocoa, and sugar cane being the main crops by value accounting for 90%. In addition, bananas, cinnamon, cloves, cotton and lime oil made up the other 10%. By 1946 an impoverished, war-weary Britain would be unable and unwilling to maintain investment in the island at pre-WWII levels. As a British colony, the writing was on the wall. In 1950 the charismatic Eric Gairy founded the Grenada Manual and Mental Workers Union and its political wing the Grenada United Labour Party, (GULP) organising a general strike for better working conditions in 1951. This sparked serious unrest known as the ‘red sky’ after numerous buildings were set ablaze. On 22 September 1955, Hurricane Janet hit Grenada, killing 122 people.
PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN WITH PRIME MINISTER HERBERT BLAIZE AND GOVERNOR-GENERAL SCOON AFTER MAKING REMARKS TO THE CITIZENS OF ST. GEORGES, GRENADA. 20/2/86
Herbert Blaize’s new Grenada National Party won the 1957 general election. Blaize and Gairy’s rivalry would dominate politics for the next quarter of century. In a constitutional evolution in preparation for independence, the post of Chief Minister was created in 1960. This made Blaize, the leader of the majority party in the Legislative Council, the head of government. Eric Gairy’s GULP won the 1961 election, but the following year the Queen’s representative on the island suspended the constitution, dissolved the Legislative Council, and removed Eric Gairy as Chief Minister following allegations of financial impropriety known as Squandermania. At the rescheduled 1962 general election the Grenada National Party won and Herbert Blaize became Chief Minister again. In further preparation for impending independence, the British government granted Grenada full autonomy over its internal affairs. Herbert Blaize was the first Premier of the Associated State of Grenada until August 1967. He failed with an attempt to unite with Trinidad and Tobago. Eric Gairy won the Premiership in August 1967 and importantly again in 72 which would see him holding power at independence. He carried out the popular ‘lands for the landless’ – the breaking up of the plantations. On the eve of independence, a new radical opposition party was formed from the amalgamation of Joint Endeavour for Welfare, Education, and Liberation (JEWEL) and Maurice Bishop’s MAP party known as the New Jewel movement (NJM). There followed a period of violence, leading to a breakdown of law and order in the run up to Independence. A desperate period was about to unfold.
St. George’s University was established
On February 7, 1974, Grenada duly became an independent state, with a modified Westminster parliamentary system based on the British model with a Governor General representing the British monarch and a prime minister as both leader of the majority party and the head of government. An increasingly autocratic Eric Gairy, independent Grenada’s first prime minister, again won re-election in the first general election held as an independent state in 1976. The close-run election was tarnished by accusations of manipulation and violence by Gairy’s secret police, the Mongoose Gang. On March 13, 1979, the New Jewel Movement launched their first coup while Gairy was on an overseas visit. They suspended the constitution and established a Marxist-Leninist People’s Revolutionary Government, headed by Maurice Bishop as self-declared prime minister. All political parties, except the NJM, were banned – as were elections.
However the NJM – rebels without a cause – was an uncomfortable amateur mix of the grassroots Jewel movement working class, and urban intellectuals such as Maurice Bishop and Bernard Coard, who coat-tailed on the movement’s militancy to gain power and deliver Grenada to the Soviet Bloc with Bishop as leader for life. Bishop sought financial assistance first from the US then Cuba. Fobbed off by the former with a paltry US $5,000 as being too Marxist, and the latter as not Marxist enough, the Cubans gave him a shipment of arms just two days later. To Castro, Bishop was his “blue-eyed boy”
MAURICE BISHOP & FIDEL CASTRO
The collapse of Grenada’s estate farming system, initially via confiscation through a programme of ‘land for the landless’ from 1969, accelerated between 1979 and 1983 as the People’s Revolutionary Government promoted state farms at the expense of individual estates. More recently, the government has been divesting parcels of acquired land to ‘potentially suitable’ small farmers via a model farm scheme. From 1946 to 1988 over 70% of the island’s 125 plantation estates were lost, almost 80% of the agricultural land area. Much of the remaining estate land lay abandoned or was inefficiently worked. On 14 October 1983, Bishop’s deputy Bernard Coard, frustrated by amateurish progress, launched their second coup. Bishop was placed under house arrest by the army before many of his supporters freed him several days later. Seeking refuge at Fort St. George, Bishop and seven members of the cabinet were executed by army members. The military, with a coup within a coup, took power, forming a military government and curfew.
NEW JEWEL MOVEMENT
United States invasion of Grenada
OPERATION URGENT FURY
Operation Urgent Fury was unleashed a week later on October 25, 1983, when US forces intervened with an air and sea invasion of Grenada. In just three days the PRG forces and their Cuban allies were totally defeated. During the fighting 45 Grenadians, 25 Cubans, and 19 Americans were killed. An interim government was appointed to prepare for general elections, and democratic constitutional government was restored.
OPERATION URGENT FURY
PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN APOLOGISES TO PRIME MINISTER MARGARET THATCHER
Dr Keith Michell becomes Prime Minister
Hurricane Ivan strikes Grenada
Stability resumed under the New National Party (which evolved out of the Grenada National Party) and have been in office for 25 years of the 35 since the US intervention, with the NDC governing for the other 10. Dr Keith Mitchell has been prime minister for an unprecedented four terms.