It is believed Anguilla was first settled by Amerindian tribes that migrated from South America using dugout canoes or rafts to cross an expanse of ocean known today as the Caribbean Sea. At the time Anguilla was a lush island covered in dense rain forest that the Amerindians called “Malliouhana”, which translated means narrow-shape sea serpent.
The Amerindian settlers established villages, farms and ceremonial sites to their gods. Amerindians artifacts, such as; shell axes, conch shell drinking vessels, flint blades and stone objects have been uncovered on Anguilla that are as old as 3300 years. How long this first group of Amerindians lived on the island is unknown.
Anguilla was settled next by people adept at pottery making, that were also fishermen and farmers. They settled in a number of villages situated next to the sea and salt ponds, where they built ceramic griddles, probably used to cook flat bread using processed flour from cultivated crops of manioc or cassava. These new settlers originated from South America, migrating from the Orinoco River region of Venezuela and up the Lesser Antillean archipelago around 500 B.C.
There are sources that claim Columbus was the first to have sighted Anguilla in 1493. However, Columbus makes no note of a sighting of land where Anguilla is, nor an island that looked like it. It’s likely that with a maximum elevation of only 213 feet, Columbus sailed by without realizing the island was there.
European discovery most likely didn’t occur until 1565. Anguilla is believed to have been by French explorer Pierre Laudonnaire who called the island “Anguille” or “eel” for its long, thin shape. After European discovery of the island the indigenous population quickly disappeared due to a combination of introduced diseases, persecution, enslavement and outright genocide.
Anguilla was first colonized in 1650 by English settlers from Saint Kitts. The colonization was successful however, and by the 1680s most of the English settlers has abandoned their sugar plantations and moved to the British Virgin Islands and St. Croix. Anguilla’s poor soil quality and lack of water made sugar plantations impractical.
In the early 17th century Europeans settlers brought African slaves to the region to work the sugar plantations. It is well documented that in 1626 Africans from Senegal were living on St. Christopher, today St. Kitts, and that by 1672 a slave depot operated on the island of Nevis. When exactly African slaves arrived in Anguilla is unknown. What is known from archival evidence is that by 1683 at least 100 African slaves were on the island.
The French twice attacked Anguilla. 700 Frenchmen were defeated by 150 militia members at Crocus Bay in 1745. Forty years later 400 Frenchmen raided the island at Rendezvous Bay, making their way across the island to Sandy Hill Fort. Anguilla envoys to St. Kitts and Antigua seeking help, which came in the form of an English frigate. The French managed to temporarily take control of the island in 1666, but under the Treaty of Breda it was returned to English control.
In June, 1967, news broke that there had been a revolt in Anguilla. At the time few people knew where Anguilla was, let alone what the revolt was about. However, the fact a revolt had succeeded in toppling the government of the British associated state of St Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla was news heard around the world.
The associated state of St Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla was formed by the British government on February 27, 1967. In Anguilla the opposition against including the island in an associated state administered by St Kitts was fierce. British government employees were expelled and violence disrupted the State Queen Show, an event organized by the government of St Kitts to celebrate the creation of the new state. Anguillians, led by Ronald Webster and Atlin Harrigan, made it clear to the British, and to Anguillian Premier Robert Bradshaw, that they would not accept being grouped together in an associated state, especially one administered in St Kitts. No one seemed willing to listen, so Anguillians took matters into their own hands.
Anguillian demands were made on May 29, 1967. That day, 17 policemen from St Kitts who were garrisoned on Anguilla requisitioned transportation to take them home. By the following day they had left the island and the Anguilla revolution had begun.
Invasion from St Kitts seemed imminent so Angullians took the initiative. On the morning of June 10, 1967 Anguilla embarked upon what has to be the poorest battle plan ever conceive in the history of military aggressions, the conquest of St Kitts. Unbelievably though, it achieved its goal. Believing he was facing an armed uprising, Prime Minister Bradshaw spent the next month focused on turning St Kitts into a fortress rather than invading Anguilla.
While fortress St Kitts was being constructed, Anguilla’s 15 man provisional government and peacekeeping committee hastily set up institutions to govern the country. By July 11, only one month and a day after the attempted attack on St Kitts, Anguilla had a standing army of 50 troops, a new national anthem, its own constitution, and a revolutionary leader who was also the country’s president.
The provisional government organized an internal referendum on the question of secession from the State of St Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla. Out of 2,554 registered voters, 1,813 voted in favour of secession, with just 5 against. The course of Anguilla’s destiny was forever changed. Ironically, Anguilla’s purposed secession from St Kitts was not a declaration of independence. Instead, it was to return to direct association with the UK.
Constitutionally Britain could not interfere in the internal affairs of St Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, but the situation forced the British government to at least appear to be trying to ease tensions between the two parties. An interim administrator to the rebel island was appointed but nothing changed. The Kittitian government held to its position that the Anguilla’s secession was illegal.
With no solution to the conflict in sight Britain stepped up diplomatic efforts by sending one of its most incompetent envoys to ever hold office to the island. William Whitlock who was no diplomat, nor particularly bright arrive on Anguilla March 11, 1969. Whitlock was to present perfectly reasonable proposals, but chose to deliver them in such an undiplomatic and brutish manner as to leave the Anguilla administration with no choice but to force him to leave the island at gunpoint. Eight days later, the British invaded.
135 paratroopers and 40 members of the Scotland Yard were assembled to launch Operation Sheepskin. By the time they arrived in Antigua on the afternoon of March 18 the London Daily Express and Evening News had divulged that the invasion would take place for another 12 hours.
Two British frigates, the HMS Minerva and the HMS Rothesay, reached Anguilla in the early hours of March 19. Penetrating the island simultaneously from Crocus Bay and Road Bay. The British were greeted by indignation but they met no resistance at all. Of course the presence of the “Mafia-like gangster elements” and armed militiamen the British government used as justifications for the invasion were nowhere on the island.
The invasion of the island succeeded in returning it to Britain, which was the point of revolting in the first place. British troops landed fully prepared to fight an armed population to regain a British overseas possession. Instead they delivered Anguilla exactly what they sought, making the invasion an Anguilla victory that was won without a single casualty on either side.
The invasion of Anguilla was a public-relations nightmare for the British. The British press dubb the operation the “Bay of Piglets”, which was picked up and published in news papers and used in television and radio news reports around the world. The operation cost British taxpayer almost £1,000,000, and rightly so, William Whitlock was fired, his ministerial career finished. The invasion even contributed to Harold Wilson’s defeat in the 1970 general election.
Operation Sheepskin sparked criticism at the time, but forty years on ties between the governments of Great Britain and Anguilla remain strong.
~Post Revolutionary Anguilla~
Tony Lee returned as Commissioner in 1971 and worked out another “interim agreement” with the islanders. Effectively, Anguilla was allowed to secede from Saint Kitts and Nevis, but it was not until December 19, 1980 that Anguilla was formally disassociated from Saint Kitts. Saint Kitts and Nevis gained full independence from Britain in 1983, but Anguilla happily remains a British overseas territory.
Today Anguilla is a thriving tourist destination, and the island’s economy has grown exponentially, especially over the past decade. The nation is also recognized as a world class tax haven, with no taxes on either personal or corporate income, which will surely be a further boost to the Anguilla economy.