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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
The Pirates of Panama - Morgan dividing the treasure taken at Maracaibo (1914)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - El Casero (1855)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - The Arrival of the Royal Mail Steamer, Dominic (1905)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Silesiae Typus (1570)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Road in Mandeville (1905)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Saxoniae (1570)
The English in the West Indies - Kingston and Harbour, from Cherry Garden (1888)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Stalls outside the Market, Mandeville (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 - Steamers unloading, Barbadoes (1905)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Indiae Orientalis Insularumque Adiacientium Typus (1570)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Het Inkomen der Haven van Curaçao (1860)
Views of the Island of Dominica - Morne Bruce from the Magazine Battery (1849)
An Account of the Campaign in the West Indies - Pigeon Island, Martinique (1796)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Alameda de Paula (1855)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Curaçao - Waaigat en Stadswal (1860)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Vtriusque (1570)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Mid-day Heat, Jamaica (1905)
Scenery of the Windward and Leeward Islands - View from Morne Fortune, St. Lucia [Engraved by J. Harris] (1837)
The English in the West Indies - Mountain Crater, Dominica (1888)
Views of the Island of Dominica - The Savannah (1849)
The English in the West Indies - Blue Basin, Trinidad (1888)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - An Old Woman (1905)
Scenery of the Windward and Leeward Islands - Kingstown / St. Vincent's from Cane-Garden Point. [Engraved by J. Harris] (1837)
A Voyage in the West Indies - City of Paramaribo, Surinam (1820)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Poloniae (1570)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Cardiff Hall, St. Annes (1825)
Scenery of the Windward and Leeward Islands - Roseau, Dominica. [Engraved by J. Harris] (1837)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Saba - Op 2 Miljen Afstand in Het Westen (1860)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Palestinae Sive Totius Terrae (1570)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Cercanias de Baracoa y modo de viajar de sus naturales (1855)
Scenery of the Windward and Leeward Islands - Fort Charlotte, St. Vincent's from Kingston. [Engraved by N. Fielding] (1837)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Black River, Jamaica (1905)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Fuente de la India en El Paseo de Isabell II (1855)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Plaza de Armas (1855)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Suriname - Een Plantaadge Slavenkamp (1860)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Market Woman, Jamaica (1905)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - The Bog Walk (1825)
The English in the West Indies - Morning Walk, Dominica (1888)
Bermuda, a Colony, a Fortress, and a Prison - HMS Nile; Grassy Bay from the Commissioner's Hous (1857)
The Pirates of Panama - The fire-ship sailing before the rest fell presently upon the great ship. (1914)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Persicic Sive Sophorum Regni Typus (1570)
Narrative of the Voyage of H.M. Floating Dock
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Lightermen, off Barbadoes (1905)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Fruit-Seller on a Side-Walk, Kingston (1905)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Diving Boys, Kingston (1905)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Rosie, a Jamaican Negress (1905)
Views of the Island of Dominica - Roseau from the Sea (1849)
Bilder ans Westindien - Emmaus auf St. Jan (1861)
A Voyage in the West Indies - Slaves in Barbadoes (1820)
A Voyage in the West Indies - Title Page (1820)
Bermuda, a Colony, a Fortress, and a Prison - Ireland Isle, 1856, Summer Sleeping Tents (1857)
A Tour Through the Island of Jamaica - Front Cover (1826)
Scenery of the Windward and Leeward Islands - Front Cover (1837)
Bilder ans Westindien - St. Thomas, der Hafen und Nische (1861)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Back Cover (1855)
The English in the West Indies - Havana, from the Quarries (1888)
A Tour Through the Island of Jamaica - Back Cover (1826)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Garden Terrace, Jamaica (1905)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Gelriae, Cliviae Finitimorumque Locorumverissima Descriptio (1570)
Views of the Island of Dominica - The Roseau Valley from the Hospital, Morne Bruce (1849)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Matanzas (1855)
Bilder ans Westindien - Title Page - Part II (1861)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A House on the Hills (1905)
Scenery of the Windward and Leeward Islands - The Pitons or Sugar-loaves, St. Lucia. [Engraved by C. Hunt] (1837)
Ten Views in the Island of Antigua - Planting the Sugar Cane on Bodkins Estate, Antigua (1823)
Bermuda, a Colony, a Fortress, and a Prison - Map of Bermuda (1857)
The Pirates of Panama - Being come to the place of duel, the Englishman stabbed the Frenchman in the back (1914)
An Account of the Botanic Garden in the Island of St. Vincent - Botanic Garden from the bottom of the Central Walk (1825)
The Pirates of Panama - They boarded the ship with great agility (1914)
Bermuda, a Colony, a Fortress, and a Prison - St. George's Town, from Barrack Hill (1857)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Vista de una Vega de Tabaco (1855)
Bilder ans Westindien - Bethanien auf St. Jan (1861)
The Pirates of Panama - The Man-of-War gave them chase (1914)
Ten Views in the Island of Antigua - A Mill Yard, on Gamble's Estate, Antigua (1823)
Views of the Island of Dominica - Morne Daniole from King's Hill (1849)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Holland Estate, St. Thomas in the East (1825)
An Account of the Botanic Garden in the Island of St. Vincent - View of the Botanic Garden, St. Vincent, taken from the Superintendent's House (1825)
The History of Barbados - Bridgetown in Barbados, taken from Grand View Villa (1848)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Habana. First vista tomada des de Casa-Blanca. (1855)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - View on Bryan Castle, Great House, Trelawny (1825)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Trinity Estate, St. Mary's (1825)
Scenery of the Windward and Leeward Islands - The Rabacca or Dry River, Soufriere Mountain in the distance, St. Vincent. [Engraved by W. Westall] (1837)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Habana. Second vista tomada des de Casa-Blanca (1855)
An Account of the Botanic Garden in the Island of St. Vincent - Back Cover (1825)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Transilvania (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Typus Orbis Terrarum (1570)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Constant Spring, Jamaica (1905)
Bilder ans Westindien - Newfield, Antigua (1861)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Gingerbread-seller, St. Lucia (1905)
Narrative of the Voyage of H.M. Floating Dock
Views of the Island of Dominica - Rodney's Rock (1849)
Ten Views in the Island of Antigua - Exterior of a Boiling House, on Weatherell's Estate, Antigua (1823)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Street in Kingston, Jamaica (1905)
An Account of the Campaign in the West Indies - To Major Hare, of the 12th Light Dragoons, This view of the Bay & Town of St Pierre is inscribed by his sincere & obliged Friend, Cooper Willyams (1796)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Huts on a Country Road, Jamaica (1905)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Front Cover (1825)
Narrative of the Voyage of H.M. Floating Dock
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Vivienda de los Pescadores de Esponjas. Bahia de Nuevitas (1855)
The Pirates of Panama - Pierre le Grand commanding the Spanish captain to surrender the ship (1914)

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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