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West Indies

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West Indies Collection

History Archive - West Indies Collection

The West Indies is a region of the North Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean that includes the island countries and surrounding waters of three major archipelagos: the Greater Antilles, the Lesser Antilles and the Lucayan Archipelago.

The region includes all the islands in or bordering the Caribbean Sea, plus The Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, which are in the Atlantic Ocean. Depending on the context, some references to the West Indies may include some nations of northern South America that share the history and culture of the West Indian islands.

Indigenous peoples were the first inhabitants of the West Indies. In 1492, Christopher Columbus became the first European to arrive at the islands, where he is believed by historians to have first set foot on land in the Bahamas. After the first of the voyages of Christopher Columbus to the Americas, Europeans began to use the term West Indies to distinguish the region from the East Indies of South Asia and Southeast Asia.

In the late sixteenth century, French, English and Dutch merchants and privateers began their operations in the Caribbean Sea, attacking Spanish and Portuguese shipping and coastal areas. They often took refuge and refitted their ships in the areas the Spanish could not conquer, including the islands of the Lesser Antilles, the northern coast of South America including the mouth of the Orinoco, and the Atlantic Coast of Central America.

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In the Lesser Antilles they managed to establish a foothold following the colonization of St Kitts in 1624 and Barbados in 1626, and when the Sugar Revolution took off in the mid-seventeenth century, they brought in thousands of Africans to work the fields and mills as slave laborers. These Africans wrought a demographic revolution, replacing or joining with either the indigenous Caribs or the European settlers who were there as indentured servants.

The struggle between the northern Europeans and the Spanish spread southward in the mid to late seventeenth century, as English, Dutch, French and Spanish colonists, and in many cases their slaves from Africa first entered and then occupied the coast of The Guianas (which fell to the French, English and Dutch) and the Orinoco valley, which fell to the Spanish. The Dutch, allied with the Caribs of the Orinoco, would eventually carry the struggles deep into South America, first along the Orinoco and then along the northern reaches of the Amazon.

Since no European country had occupied much of Central America, gradually the English of Jamaica established alliances with the Miskito Kingdom of modern-day Nicaragua and Honduras, and then began logging on the coast of modern-day Belize. These interconnected commercial and diplomatic relations made up the Western Caribbean Zone which was in place in the early eighteenth century. In the Miskito Kingdom, the rise to power of the Miskito-Zambos, who originated in the survivors of a rebellion aboard a slave ship in the 1640s and the introduction of African slaves by British settlers within the Miskito area and in Belize, also transformed this area into one with a high percentage of persons of African descent as was found in most of the rest of the Caribbean.

From the 17th through the 19th century, the European colonial territories of the West Indies were the French West Indies, British West Indies, the Danish West Indies, the Netherlands Antilles (Dutch West Indies), and the Spanish West Indies. In 1916, Denmark sold the Danish West Indies to the United States for US $25 million in gold, per the Treaty of the Danish West Indies. The Danish West Indies became an insular area of the U.S., called the United States Virgin Islands.

Between 1958 and 1962, the United Kingdom reorganized all their West Indies island territories (except the British Virgin Islands and the Bahamas) into the West Indies Federation. They hoped that the Federation would coalesce into a single, independent nation. However, the Federation had limited powers, numerous practical problems, and a lack of popular support; consequently, it was dissolved by the British in 1963, with nine provinces eventually becoming independent sovereign states and four becoming current British Overseas Territories.

West Indies or West India was the namesake of several companies of the 17th and 18th centuries, including the Danish West India Company, the Dutch West India Company, the French West India Company, and the Swedish West India Company. West Indian is the official term used by the U.S. government to refer to people of the West Indies.

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Available Books

Related Images

Image Name
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Natoliae / Aegypti, Recentior Descriptio / Carthaginis Celeberrim Sinus Typis (1570)
The Pirates of Panama - The Man-of-War gave them chase (1914)
An Account of the Botanic Garden in the Island of St. Vincent - A Diagram of the Botanic Garden in the Island of St. Vincent (1825)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Vista general de la Ciudad y Montanas de Baracoa (Costa del Norte) (1855)
Views of the Island of Dominica - Back Wrapper (1849)
Bilder ans Westindien - Bethel auf St. Kitts (1861)
Views of the Island of Dominica - The Savannah (1849)
The Pirates of Panama - Morgan dividing the treasure taken at Maracaibo (1914)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - On the Road to Market, Jamaica (1905)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Hut on a Plantation, Jamaica (1905)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Cardiff Hall, St. Annes (1825)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Cascade on the Windward Road, near Kingston (1825)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Rose-Hall, St. James's (1825)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Corrida de Toros (1855)
Ten Views in the Island of Antigua - Exterior of a Boiling House, on Weatherell's Estate, Antigua (1823)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Descriptio Germaniae Inferioris (1570)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Rosie, a Jamaican Negress (1905)
Narrative of the Voyage of H.M. Floating Dock
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Back Cover (1860)
Narrative of the Voyage of H.M. Floating Dock
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Castries Bay, St. Lucia (1905)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Tropical Rain (1905)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Kingston and Port Royal from Windsor Farm (1825)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - St. Thomas in the Vale, from Mount Diablo (1825)
Narrative of the Voyage of H.M. Floating Dock
An Account of the Botanic Garden in the Island of St. Vincent - Front Cover (1825)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Holland Estate, St. Thomas in the East (1825)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Tartariae Sive Magni Chami Regni (1570)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Curaçao - Het Fort Nassau en Een Gedeelte van Het Shcottegat (1860)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Ducatus Mediolanensis (1570)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Post Gelderland en Joden Savannah (Rivier Zijde) (1860)
The History of Barbados - St. Johns Church and Hackleton's Cliff (1848)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Monument of the Late Thomas Hibbert Esq, at Agualta Vale Penn, St. Mary's (1825)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - St. Martin - Baai en Stad (1860)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Thusciae (1570)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Teatro de Tacon y parte del Paseo de Isabel II. Vista tomada des de la puerta del Monserrate (1855)
The Pirates of Panama - Morgan commanded the religious men and women to place the ladders against the walls (1914)
The History of Barbados - The Caribee Islands Traced from a Manuscript Chart of the World (1848)
Ten Views in the Island of Antigua - Cutting the Sugar-Cane on Delap's Estate, Antigua (1823)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Market Woman, Jamaica (1905)
Scenery of the Windward and Leeward Islands - Basaltic Rocks in Washilabou or Cumberland Valley, St. Vincent. [Engraved by W. Westall] (1837)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Passengers embarking from a Quay, St Ann's Bay (1905)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Title Page (1905)
A Voyage in the West Indies - Title Page (1820)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - St. Eustatius - Gezigt Op Het Fort Oranje, de Krater, Genomen van de Pastorij (1860)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Lightermen, off Barbadoes (1905)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Williamsfield Estate, St. Thomas in the Vale (1825)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Regni Bohemiae Descriptio (1570)
Views of the Island of Dominica - Roseau and Point Michell from Morne Bruce (1849)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Cocoanut Palms, Falmouth, Jamaica (1905)
Bilder ans Westindien - Title Page - Part I (1861)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - The Turtle Wharf, Kingston, Jamaica (1905)
The Pirates of Panama - Morgan re-entered the city with his troops (1914)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Roseau, the Capital of Dominica (1905)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Curaçao - Legplaats der Oorlogschepen in de Haven (1860)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - El Zapateado. (The national dance.) (1855)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Salisburgensis (1570)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Fruit-seller, Barbadoes (1905)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Huts, St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica (1905)
Narrative of the Voyage of H.M. Floating Dock
Bermuda, a Colony, a Fortress, and a Prison - The Commissioner's House (1857)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Schlavoniae, Croatiae, Carniae, Istriae, Bosniae, Finitimarumque Regionum Nova Descriptio (1570)
Scenery of the Windward and Leeward Islands - Front Cover (1837)
Bilder ans Westindien - Neu Herrnhut auf St. Thomas (1861)
Ten Views in the Island of Antigua - Shipping Sugar, Willoughby Bay, Antigua (1823)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Regni Hispaniae (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Palestinae Sive Totius Terrae (1570)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Quay, St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica (1905)
A Voyage in the West Indies - Indian Implements (1820)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Angliae, Scotiae et Hiberniae sive Britannicar Insularum Descriptio (1570)
Ten Views in the Island of Antigua - Exterior of a Distillery on Weatherell's Estate, Antigua (1823)
An Account of the Botanic Garden in the Island of St. Vincent - Back Cover (1825)
Scenery of the Windward and Leeward Islands - Pigeon Island, & Village of Gros Islet, St. Lucia. [Engraved by J. Harris] (1837)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Fuente de la India en El Paseo de Isabell II (1855)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Septentrionalium Regionum Descrip (1570)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Tropical Landscape near Castleton (1905)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Sunset, North Coast, Jamaica (1905)
Bermuda, a Colony, a Fortress, and a Prison - West End of Hamilton Warf (1857)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Curaçao - Grot van Hato (1860)
The History of Barbados - St. Philips Church and Moncreiffe in Barbados (1848)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Trinity Estate, St. Mary's (1825)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - View of Harbour Street, Kingston (looking eastward) (1825)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Title Page (1570)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Evening after Rain, Jamaica (1905)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Suriname - Een Plantaadge Slavenkamp (1860)
The English in the West Indies - Port Royal, Jamaica (1888)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Milkmaid, Barbadoes (1905)
An Account of the Botanic Garden in the Island of St. Vincent - Botanic Garden from the bottom of the Central Walk (1825)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - America Sive Novi Orbis Nova Descriptio (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Helvetiae Descriptio Aegidio (1570)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Guadeloupe Lady (1905)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Insularum Aliquot Maris Mediterranei Descriptio (1570)
Scenery of the Windward and Leeward Islands - The Pitons or Sugar-loaves, St. Lucia. [Engraved by C. Hunt] (1837)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Coloured Girl (1905)
Bilder ans Westindien - asseterre auf St. Kitts (1861)
A Tour Through the Island of Jamaica - View near Maroon Town (1826)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Coloured Lady on a Race-course, Jamaica (1905)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Europae (1570)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Roadside Market, Jamaica (1905)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Coming from Mass, St. Lucia (1905)

Related Maps

Map Name
A Voyage in the West Indies - Caribbee or Leeward Islands (1820)
Narrative of the Voyage of H.M. Floating Dock
The History of Barbados - The Caribee Islands Traced from a Manuscript Chart of the World (1848)
Map of the British Empire in America - A Map of the British Empire in America with the French and Spanish Settlements adjacent thereto. by Henry Popple. (1746)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Barbariae et Biledvlgerid Nova Descriptio (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Natoliae / Aegypti, Recentior Descriptio / Carthaginis Celeberrim Sinus Typis (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Palestinae Sive Totius Terrae (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Turcici Imperii Descriptio (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Persicic Sive Sophorum Regni Typus (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Indiae Orientalis Insularumque Adiacientium Typus (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Tartariae Sive Magni Chami Regni (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Russiae, Moscoviae et Tartariae Descriptio (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Septentrionalium Regionum Descrip (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Poloniae (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Transilvania (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Hungariae Descriptio Wolfgang Lazio Auct. (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Schlavoniae, Croatiae, Carniae, Istriae, Bosniae, Finitimarumque Regionum Nova Descriptio (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Graeciae Universae (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Cyprus Insula (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Insularum Aliquot Maris Mediterranei Descriptio (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Regni Neapolitani (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Thusciae (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Lakii Lacus Vulgo Terretorii Romani Descrip Fori Iulii (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Pedemontanae (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Ducatus Mediolanensis (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Italia Novissima Descriptio (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Helvetiae Descriptio Aegidio (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Palatinatus Bavariae Descriptio et Wirtenbergensis Duvatus Vera Descriptio (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Typus Vindelicae (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Salisburgensis (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Austriae (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Silesiae Typus (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Regni Bohemiae Descriptio (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Franciae Orientalis Monasteriensis (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Saxoniae (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Daniae Regni Typus (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Vtriusque (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Hollandiae (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Zelandicarum et Prussiae Descriptio (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Flandria (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Brabantiae (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Gelriae, Cliviae Finitimorumque Locorumverissima Descriptio (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Descriptio Germaniae Inferioris (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Germania (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Galliae Narbonensis / Sabaundiae et Burgundiae (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Caletensium / Verom. (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Regionis Biturigum Limaniae (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Galliae Regni Potentiss (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Portugalliae (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Regni Hispaniae (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Angliae, Scotiae et Hiberniae sive Britannicar Insularum Descriptio (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Europae (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Africae Tabula Nova (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Asiae Nova Descriptio (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - America Sive Novi Orbis Nova Descriptio (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Typus Orbis Terrarum (1570)
A Svmmarie and Trve Discovrse of Sir Frances Drakes West Indian Voyage - Map of Drake's Voyage Around the World (1589)
A Svmmarie and Trve Discovrse of Sir Frances Drakes West Indian Voyage - Bird's Eye Battle Plan View of Santiago (1589)
A Svmmarie and Trve Discovrse of Sir Frances Drakes West Indian Voyage - Bird's Eye Battle Plan View of St. Augustine (1589)
A Svmmarie and Trve Discovrse of Sir Frances Drakes West Indian Voyage - Bird's Eye Battle Plan View of Santo Domingo (1589)
A Svmmarie and Trve Discovrse of Sir Frances Drakes West Indian Voyage - Bird's Eye Battle Plan View of Cartagena (1589)
Bermuda, a Colony, a Fortress, and a Prison - Map of Bermuda (1857)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Generale Verzamelkaart der Nederlandsche Westindische Bezittingen (1860)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Schels Kaart van de Kolonie Suriname of Ned[erlan]sch Guiana (1860)

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