Montserrat is a small British Overseas Territory (BOT) in the Caribbean, North America. The island is in the Leeward Islands, part of the chain known as the Lesser Antilles, in the West Indies. Montserrat covers approximately 10 miles (16 km) in length and 7 miles (11 km) in width, with around 25 mi (40 km) of coastline.
Pre-colonial era of Montserrat
Archaeological survey in Montserrat’s Centre Hills indicated an Archaic (pre-Arawak) occupation between 2000–500 BCE. Later coastal sites show the appearance of the Saladoid culture (until 550 CE). The native Caribs are believed to have named the island Alliouagana, which means ‘Land of the Prickly Bush.’
Several Irishmen lived in Montserrat in 1632 CE. Most came from neighboring Saint Kitts at the urging of the island’s governor Thomas Warner, with more immigrants arriving later from Virginia. The Irish preponderance in the first wave of European settlers led a preeminent legal scholar to mention that a “nice question” is whether the original immigrants took with them the law of the Kingdom of Ireland insofar as it varied from the law of England.
The Irish constituted the most significant proportion of the white population from the colony’s founding in 1628 CE. Most were enslaved servants; others were plantation owners or merchants. The geographer Thomas Jeffrey declared in The West India Atlas (1780 CE) that the majority of those on Montserrat were either of Irish descent or of Irish, “so that the use of the Irish language is properly preserved on the island, even among the Negroes.”
Britain abolished slavery in 1834 CE. In 1985 CE, the people of Montserrat made St Patrick’s Day a ten-day public holiday to celebrate the uprising. Festivities celebrate the history and culture of Montserrat in dance, song, traditional costumes, and food.
Early Modern History
During the latter half nineteenth century, falling sugar prices harmed the island’s economy, as Brazil and other countries competed in the market.
In 1857 CE, the British patron Joseph Sturge purchased a sugar estate to prove it was economically viable to employ paid labor rather than slaves.
Many members of the Sturge family purchased additional land. In 1869 CE, the family built the Montserrat Company Limited, planted Key lime trees, began the commercial production of lime juice, sold parcels of land to the island’s inhabitants, and set up a school.
In 1995 CE, Montserrat was destroyed by the catastrophic volcanic eruptions of the Soufrière Hills, which smoked the capital city of Plymouth and forced the evacuation of a large part of the island. Many Montserratians migrated abroad, principally to the United Kingdom, though some have started coming back in recent years. The eruptions rendered the complete southern half of the island uninhabitable, and it is presently designated an Exclusion Zone with restricted access.