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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
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Suriname - Gezigt op de Waterkant en de reede van Paramaribo (1860)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Pedemontanae (1570)
Bilder ans Westindien - St. Thomas, der Hafen und Nische (1861)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Bog Walk (1825)
Bermuda, a Colony, a Fortress, and a Prison - A View from Gibbs Hill (1857)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Typus Vindelicae (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Descriptio Germaniae Inferioris (1570)
Scenery of the Windward and Leeward Islands - Front Cover (1837)
The History of Barbados - Bridgetown in Barbados, taken from Grand View Villa (1848)
Ten Views in the Island of Antigua - Title Page (1823)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Back Cover (1860)
A Tour Through the Island of Jamaica - View near Maroon Town (1826)
Scenery of the Windward and Leeward Islands - Roseau, Dominica. [Engraved by J. Harris] (1837)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Agualta Vale (1825)
A Voyage in the West Indies - Carlisle Bay and Bridge Town, Barbadoes (1820)
Ten Views in the Island of Antigua - Exterior of a Distillery on Weatherell's Estate, Antigua (1823)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Galliae Regni Potentiss (1570)
The Pirates of Panama - Lolonois with those that remained had much ado to escape aboard their boats (1914)
Views of the Island of Dominica - The Savannah (1849)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Front Cover (1855)
The Pirates of Panama - Morgan dividing the treasure taken at Maracaibo (1914)
A Tour Through the Island of Jamaica - Back Cover (1826)
Views of the Island of Dominica - Government House from the Ruins of Old Government House (1849)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Habana. Second vista tomada des de Casa-Blanca (1855)
An Account of the Campaign in the West Indies - N.E. view of Fort Louis in the Island of Martinique (1796)
Bilder ans Westindien - Bethel auf St. Kitts (1861)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Back Cover (1570)
The Pirates of Panama - Morgan commanded the religious men and women to place the ladders against the walls (1914)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Saxoniae (1570)
Bilder ans Westindien - Friedenstal auf St. Croix (1861)
The History of Barbados - Title Page (1848)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Ducatus Mediolanensis (1570)
Scenery of the Windward and Leeward Islands - Basaltic Rocks in Washilabou or Cumberland Valley, St. Vincent. [Engraved by W. Westall] (1837)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Thietmarsiae (1570)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Plaza de Armas (1855)
Scenery of the Windward and Leeward Islands - Brimstone Hill, St. Kitts. [Engraved by J. Harris] (1837)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - King-street, Kingston (1825)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Golden Vale, Portland (1825)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Germania (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Persicic Sive Sophorum Regni Typus (1570)
The History of Barbados - St. Philips Church and Moncreiffe in Barbados (1848)
Bilder ans Westindien - Newfield, Antigua (1861)
Ten Views in the Island of Antigua - Shipping Sugar, Willoughby Bay, Antigua (1823)
Narrative of the Voyage of H.M. Floating Dock
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Russiae, Moscoviae et Tartariae Descriptio (1570)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Curaçao - Caracas Baai (1860)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Portugalliae (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Daniae Regni Typus (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Austriae (1570)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Front Cover (1860)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Title Page (1855)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Palestinae Sive Totius Terrae (1570)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - El Casero (1855)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Transilvania (1570)
The Pirates of Panama - Title Page (1914)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Italia Novissima Descriptio (1570)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - El Zapateado. (The national dance.) (1855)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Palatinatus Bavariae Descriptio et Wirtenbergensis Duvatus Vera Descriptio (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Franciae Orientalis Monasteriensis (1570)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Habana. First vista tomada des de Casa-Blanca. (1855)
Views of the Island of Dominica - Morne Bruce from the Magazine Battery (1849)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Suriname - Een Plantaadge Slavenkamp (1860)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Montpelier Estate, St. James's (1825)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - El Panadero y El Malojero. (1855)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Barbariae et Biledvlgerid Nova Descriptio (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Hollandiae (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Regni Hispaniae (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Caletensium Verom. (1570)
Scenery of the Windward and Leeward Islands - Back Cover (1837)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Post Gelderland en Joden Savannah (Rivier Zijde) (1860)
Scenery of the Windward and Leeward Islands - View from Morne Fortune, St. Lucia [Engraved by J. Harris] (1837)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Valla de Gallos (1855)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - St. Martin - Baai en Stad (1860)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Joden Savannah : gezigt op sijnagoge en kerkhof van de zijde van het militair cordonpad gezien (1860)
A Tour Through the Island of Jamaica - Front Cover (1826)
Ten Views in the Island of Antigua - Interior of a Boiling House on Delap's Estate, Antigua (1823)
Ten Views in the Island of Antigua - Court House, Saint John's, Antigua (1823)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Spring Garden Estate, St. George's (1825)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Brabantiae (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Front Cover (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Salisburgensis (1570)
Bilder ans Westindien - Cedarhall auf Antigua (1861)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Trinity Estate, St. Mary's (1825)
A Voyage in the West Indies - Slaves in Barbadoes (1820)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Africae Tabula Nova (1570)
An Account of the Campaign in the West Indies - The Bridge over the River Gallions, from the foot of Fort Matilda, Guadeloupe (1796)
Ten Views in the Island of Antigua - Interior of a Distillery, on Delap's Estate, Antigua (1823)
Bilder ans Westindien - asseterre auf St. Kitts (1861)
A Tour Through the Island of Jamaica - Diana (1826)
Views of the Island of Dominica - The Roseau Valley from the Hospital, Morne Bruce (1849)
Views of the Island of Dominica - Roseau and Point Michell from Morne Bruce (1849)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Natoliae / Aegypti, Recentior Descriptio / Carthaginis Celeberrim Sinus Typis (1570)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Title Page (1860)
Ten Views in the Island of Antigua - Holeing a Cane-Piece on Weatherell's Estate, Antigua (1823)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Trinidad (1855)
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)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Bridge over the White River, St. Mary's (1825)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Angliae, Scotiae et Hiberniae sive Britannicar Insularum Descriptio (1570)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Vivienda de los Pescadores de Esponjas. Bahia de Nuevitas (1855)
The Pirates of Panama - Morgan re-entered the city with his troops (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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