First seen by Christopher Columbus in 1493, St. Eustatius, commonly called Statia (stay-sha) changed hands more than 20 times during its European colonial history.
In 1595 the island was named by Francis Drake and John Hawkins, an English merchant, navigator, and slave trader. The name pays tribute to a Christian martyr of the same name.
During the latter part of the 17th century and throughout the 18th century, St. Euatatius was a major trading center with some 20,000 inhabitants and thousands of ships calling at her shores.
In the 1770s, because of its favorable geographical position, large harbor and status as a port were no custom duties were paid, the island became a supplier of arms and ammunition to anyone that could pay, including the upstart British Colonies in North America.
In fact, as a result of the British blockade during America's Revolutionary War, most goods destined for the new colonies flowed in and out of St. Eustatius, and it was not uncommon to see hundreds of supply ships anchored off of Oranjestad.
Because St. Eustatius totally ignored Britain's trade embargos posted for its colonies, the British went to war with the Dutch; they all but destroyed its economy and their powerful fleet took the island on February 3, 1781.
Not to be outdone by the Brits, the French saw opportunities on St. Eustatius and conquered the island in November of 1781. In the end the Dutch prevailed and they took the island back in 1784, and it's remained under their control since then.
At the turn of the 19th century St. Eustatius began to loose its importance as a trading center as regional military conflicts had ended; merchants and farmers soon left the island and the economy all but faltered.
Like most islands in the Caribbean, it also turned to tourism in the 20th century as the island's rich history and attractive landscape were (and are) major draws.
Long a valued part of the Netherlands Antilles, that organization of islands dissolved on October 10, 2010, and like Bonaire and Saba, St. Eustatius is now considered a public body of the Netherlands, which means it's under the direct administration of that country.
Tourism is the major industry today, and the island is a favorite of scuba diving aficionados and nature lovers.