Montserrat DescriptionThe island was occupied by Amerindians when Christopher Columbus sailed by in 1493. The great explorer claimed it for Spain and named it Santa María de Montserrat, after the Blessed Virgin of the Monastery of Montserrat.
It remained (for the most part) off of the radar of Europeans until the early 17th century. In 1631, the English took control, when they sent a group of Irish people from the island of Nevis to settle here.
In an effort to survive, the plantation economy soon developed and sugar and rum production began in earnest. Like other Caribbean islands, African slaves provided most of the labor.
In 1782, during the American Revolutionary War, Montserrat was briefly captured by France. It was returned to the British under the 1783 Treaty of Paris which ended America's first major war.
Across the Caribbean slaves staged a series of uprisings, and Montserrat was no different. Finally, beginning in 1834, the emancipation of African slaves occurred throughout the British Empire.
That historic event sparked wild celebrations that continue to this day, including Montserrat's annual carnival, where locals wear traditional costumes and fortunate guests enjoy the great food, song and dance.
In the mid-19th century, sugar prices began to fall, and Montserrat's sugar-dependent economy took a dive. A British businessman purchased most of the bankrupt plantations, and lime trees were planted.
With the economy still-struggling and with freedom as a goal, Montserrat became a province of the West Indies Federation in 1958, a short-lived Caribbean federation seeking independence from Britain; it collapsed in 1962.
In 1979, Beatles producer George Martin's AIR Studios Montserrat opened and the island attracted world-famous musicians who came to record in the peace and quiet and lush tropical surroundings of Montserrat.
Then sadly, Mother Nature came calling. On September 17, 1989, Hugo, a Category 4 hurricane struck the island with sustained winds of 140 miles per hour, damaging over 90 percent of the structures on the island.
Then on July 18, 1995, Soufriere Hills, an island volcano began to erupt. This was the first recorded eruption of the volcano in modern times, and that eruption spread ash across the island, completely burying the former capital city of Plymouth.
In the end, more than half of Montserrat was uninhabitable, and widespread evacuations (about two thirds of the population) left the island just to survive.
Looking at beautiful (northern) Montserrat today, it would appear to the uninformed that the eruption never happened, even though the southern two-thirds of the island is closed.
Even though Soufriere Hills remain quite active to this day, in the north, homes and commercial buildings are clean of ash and debris, roads are clear, and gardens and crops have been replanted.
In short, Montserrat is going through a complete resurgence, as this once popular (and very proud) Caribbean tourism destination is fighting to get back on its feet, and it appears to be winning the battle.
Montserrat remains a British overseas territory, however, he people of Montserrat were granted full residency rights in the United Kingdom in 1998, and citizenship was granted in 2002.
The Soufriere Hills Volcano
This page was last modified on September 29, 2015.