St. Lucia’s history is just as incredible as its natural beauty. Its first “unofficial” settlers were pirates. In the 1600’s, the famous pirate, Francois Le Clerc, nicknamed, Jambe de Bois (Wooden Leg), used St. Lucia (Pigeon Island on the northern tip of St. Lucia) as a base to attack passing ships. According to local legend, this pirate’s treasure is buried along the northern shore of Pigeon Island, near Pigeon Point.
If you were one of millions who viewed the popular movie “Pirates of the Caribbean” (starring Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom), you would have been introduced to the incredible scenery of St. Lucia. It is somewhat amusing that St. Lucia was chosen as one of the major sites to film this supposedly fictional movie, considering the fact that in real life it was a base for pirates.
The “official” settlers were the French who settled in St. Lucia as far back as 1660. They set up large plantations to cultivate sugar cane—a very valuable cash crop. These plantations, however, needed large numbers of workers—ones that could work in the unbearable tropical climate. The French settlers were too few in number and unsuitable for such hard manual labor, as they couldn’t work in the searing heat. (St. Lucia is close to the equator.) The problem was solved by importing slaves, primarily from Africa, who were used to tropical weather conditions. So many slaves were brought in that the predominant ethnic background of St. Lucia changed from European to African descent. This ethnic background of the inhabitants persists today.
The presence of sugar cane made St. Lucia a very valuable colony, and of course, aroused the interest of the British. Like many places in the world, the British fought the French to set up colonies, and St. Lucia was no exception. It passed hands between the British and the French 14 times, which explains why English and French names are used throughout the island. Finally, in 1814, the British took firm control of St. Lucia. Not surprisingly, the lives of most St. Lucian’s under the British did not change for the better—the British merely continued the plantation system with its reliance on a steady stream of African slaves. Not till 1833 did Britain finally outlaw slavery throughout its colonies. Interestingly, even though St. Lucia was a British colony till 1979 (under British rule for 165 years), it still managed somehow to retain its French heritage: many of the names of the towns and villages, the surnames of the inhabitants, the natural attractions, the various sites, and the various local culinary dishes are all in French. Even the name of the national bird is in French. It is almost as though the inhabitants just ignored the fact that they had been conquered by the British and just continued on as usual living in a French culture.
Unlike many tourist destinations, St. Lucia has tried to maintain its natural beauty. You will not find concrete skyscrapers, gaudy shopping malls, endless fast-food outlets, or over-development of condominiums. People come to St. Lucia to experience a tropical paradise, and thankfully St. Lucia has done much to preserve its natural beauty.