History of Grenada

Columbus first sighted Grenada in 1498 and the island was already inhabited by Carib Indians. Columbus named the island Concepción but that name did not stick; passing Spanish sailors watching the green hills were reminded of Granada in Spain, and when the French arrived they adapted the name to Grenade. The British gave the island its current name of Grenada (pronounced Gren-nay-da).


In 1650, a French expedition from Martinique bought extensive land from the indigenous Caribs for a few beads, knives and hatchets. However, fighting soon broke out between the Caribs and the French resulting in one group of 40 Caribs in 1651 jumping to their death, rather than surrender, in the north of Grenada. The French named the place le Morne de Sauteurs, or Leapers Hill. It is now named Caribs’ Leap. Here is a paper on the history of the Carib peoples in Grenada, the Windwards, and the Orinoco Delta.


For the next 90 years the French and English battled for possession of the island. Fort George and Fort Frederick overlooking St George’s harbour are relics of that struggle.


The island remained under French control until its capture by the British in 1762, during the Seven Years’ War. Grenada was formally ceded to Great Britain in 1763 by the Treaty of Paris. Although the French regained control in 1779, the island was restored to Britain in 1783 by the Treaty of Versailles. Although Britain was hard pressed to overcome a pro-French revolt in 1795 Grenada remained British for the remainder of the colonial period. In 1877 Grenada became a Crown colony and in 1967 an associate state within the British Commonwealth before gaining her independence in 1974. Although British for many years its French ancestry is evident in the French names and buildings.


During the 18th century, Grenada’s economy underwent an important transition. Like much of the rest of the West Indies it was originally settled to cultivate sugar, which was grown on estates using slave labour. But natural disasters paved the way for the introduction of other crops. In 1782, Sir Joseph Banks, the botanical adviser to King George III, introduced nutmeg to Grenada. The island’s soil was ideal for growing the spice and because Grenada was a closer source of spices for Europe than the Dutch East Indies the island assumed a new importance to European traders.


The collapse of the sugar estates and the introduction of nutmeg and cocoa encouraged the development of smaller land holdings, and the island developed a land-owning yeoman farmer class. In 1833, Grenada became part of the British Windward Islands Administration. The governor of the Windward Islands administered the island for the rest of the colonial period. Slavery was outlawed in 1834. In 1958, the Windward Islands Administration was dissolved, and Grenada joined the Federation of the West Indies. After that federation collapsed in 1962, the British Government tried to form a small federation out of its remaining dependencies in the Eastern Caribbean.


Following the failure of this second effort, the British and the islands developed the concept of associated statehood.



Under the Associated Statehood Act of 1967 Grenada was granted full autonomy over its internal affairs in March 1967. Full independence was granted on February 7, 1974. After obtaining independence, Grenada adopted a modified Westminster parliamentary system based on the British model with a governor general appointed by and representing the British monarch (head of state) and a prime minister who is both leader of the majority party and the head of government.


New Jewel
On March 13, 1979, the new joint endeavour for welfare, education, and liberation (New Jewel) movement ousted their prime minister at the time, Sir Eric Gairy in a nearly bloodless coup and established a people’s revolutionary government (PRG), headed by Maurice Bishop who became prime minister. His Marxist-Leninist government established close ties with Cuba, the Soviet Union, and other communist bloc countries. In October 1983, a power struggle within the government resulted in the arrest and subsequent murder of Bishop and several members of his cabinet by elements of the people’s revolutionary army. Following a breakdown in civil order, a US-Caribbean force landed on Grenada on October 25 in response to an appeal from the governor general and to a request for assistance from the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States. US citizens were evacuated, and order was restored.


An advisory council named by the governor general administered the country until general elections were held in December 1984. The New National Party (NNP) led by Herbert Blaize won 14 out of 15 seats in free and fair elections and formed a democratic government. Grenada’s constitution had been suspended in 1979 by the PRG but it was restored after the 1984 elections.


Today sees many new developments and changes to Grenada. Although its natural beauty remains unspoilt, new hotels are being erected and older ones extended and lavishly refurbished. A great deal of attention is being paid to the development of National Parks and the protection of the environment, the saving of the rain forests and the coral reefs.


As Grenadians say: “It is God’s own country”, and when you visit it you can only agree!