Antigua was first inhabited by the Siboney (“stone people”), whose settlements date at least to 2400 BC. The Arawaks who originated in Venezuela and gradually migrated up the chain of islands now called the Lesser Antilles – succeeded the Siboney. The warlike Carib people drove the Arawaks from neighbouring islands but apparently did not settle on either Antigua or Barbuda.
Christopher Columbus landed on the islands in 1493, naming the larger one “Santa Maria de la Antigua”. The English colonized the islands in 1632. Sir Christopher Codrington established the first large sugar estate in Antigua in 1674, and leased Barbuda to raise provisions for his plantations. Barbuda’s only town is named after him. Codrington and others brought slaves from Africa’s west coast to work the plantations.
Antiguan slaves were emancipated in 1834, but remained economically dependent on the plantation owners. Economic opportunities for the new freemen were limited by a lack of surplus farming land, no access to credit, and an economy built on agriculture rather than manufacturing. Poor labour conditions persisted until 1939, which saw the birth of the trade union movement in Antigua and Barbuda. With these developments and the determination of leaders and the formation of trade unions, Antigua and Barbuda now boasts a thriving tourism industry.