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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.

Regional Sub-Divisions

Available Books

Related Images

Image Name
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Negro (1905)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Waiting Maids (1905)
The History of Barbados - St. Ann's Garrison in Barbados (1848)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Russiae, Moscoviae et Tartariae Descriptio (1570)
Views of the Island of Dominica - Morne Daniole from King's Hill (1849)
Scenery of the Windward and Leeward Islands - View from Morne Fortune, St. Lucia [Engraved by J. Harris] (1837)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Suriname - Gezigt op de Waterkant en de reede van Paramaribo (1860)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Dry Harbour, Jamaica (1905)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Holland Estate, St. Thomas in the East (1825)
An Account of the Campaign in the West Indies - Title Page (1796)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Vtriusque (1570)
Bilder ans Westindien - asseterre auf St. Kitts (1861)
The History of Barbados - Bridgetown in Barbados, taken from Grand View Villa (1848)
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 - A Fruit-Seller on a Side-Walk, Kingston (1905)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Silesiae Typus (1570)
A Tour Through the Island of Jamaica - Interior of a Negro House (1826)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Post Gelderland en Joden Savannah (Rivier Zijde) (1860)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Castries Bay, St. Lucia (1905)
Narrative of the Voyage of H.M. Floating Dock
An Account of the Campaign in the West Indies - S.W. view of Forts Bourbon & Louis, in the Island of Martinique (1796)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Descriptio Germaniae Inferioris (1570)
An Account of the Botanic Garden in the Island of St. Vincent - Back Cover (1825)
The History of Barbados - Codrington College (1848)
Scenery of the Windward and Leeward Islands - Pigeon Island, & Village of Gros Islet, St. Lucia. [Engraved by J. Harris] (1837)
The Pirates of Panama - Front Cover (1914)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Portugalliae (1570)
A Tour Through the Island of Jamaica - Title Page (1826)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Sunset, North Coast, Jamaica (1905)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Habana. First vista tomada des de Casa-Blanca. (1855)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Typus Orbis Terrarum (1570)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Tropical Landscape near Castleton (1905)
Ten Views in the Island of Antigua - Shipping Sugar, Willoughby Bay, Antigua (1823)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Insularum Aliquot Maris Mediterranei Descriptio (1570)
Scenery of the Windward and Leeward Islands - Sandy Point, St. Kitts. [Engraved by C. Hunt] (1837)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Typus Vindelicae (1570)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Street in Kingston, Jamaica (1905)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Valla de Gallos (1855)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - The Tobacco Market, Kingston (1905)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Passengers embarking from a Quay, St Ann's Bay (1905)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Graeciae Universae (1570)
Ten Views in the Island of Antigua - Court House, Saint John's, Antigua (1823)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Tropical Rain (1905)
Ten Views in the Island of Antigua - Planting the Sugar Cane on Bodkins Estate, Antigua (1823)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Africae Tabula Nova (1570)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Generale Verzamelkaart der Nederlandsche Westindische Bezittingen (1860)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Rosie, a Jamaican Negress (1905)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Gingerbread-seller, St. Lucia (1905)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Curaçao - Grot van Hato (1860)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - The Bog Walk (1825)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Suriname - Gezigt op het Fort Zelandia te Paramaribo (1860)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - The Market-place, Barbadoes (1905)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Joden Savannah : gezigt op sijnagoge en kerkhof van de zijde van het militair cordonpad gezien (1860)
The English in the West Indies - Havana, from the Quarries (1888)
An Account of the Botanic Garden in the Island of St. Vincent - House of the Superindentent (1825)
A Tour Through the Island of Jamaica - Front Cover (1826)
Bermuda, a Colony, a Fortress, and a Prison - The Commissioner's House (1857)
Bermuda, a Colony, a Fortress, and a Prison - St. George's Town, from Barrack Hill (1857)
Bermuda, a Colony, a Fortress, and a Prison - HMS Nile; Grassy Bay from the Commissioner's Hous (1857)
Views of the Island of Dominica - The Roseau Valley from the Hospital, Morne Bruce (1849)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Turcici Imperii Descriptio (1570)
Views of the Island of Dominica - The Savannah (1849)
Views of the Island of Dominica - Rodney's Rock (1849)
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)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Huts on a Country Road, Jamaica (1905)
Bermuda, a Colony, a Fortress, and a Prison - Dockyard, Camder Hulks and Barracks (1857)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Thusciae (1570)
A Tour Through the Island of Jamaica - Diana (1826)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Port Maria, St. Mary's (1825)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Franciae Orientalis Monasteriensis (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Gelriae, Cliviae Finitimorumque Locorumverissima Descriptio (1570)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A House on the Hills (1905)
Views of the Island of Dominica - Front Wrapper (1849)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Vista de la Iglesia Mayor y de la Ermita del Buen Viaje en San Juan de los Remedios (1855)
The Pirates of Panama - The fire-ship sailing before the rest fell presently upon the great ship. (1914)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Palatinatus Bavariae Descriptio et Wirtenbergensis Duvatus Vera Descriptio (1570)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Back Cover (1860)
Bermuda, a Colony, a Fortress, and a Prison - West End of Hamilton Warf (1857)
A Tour Through the Island of Jamaica - Port Royal Harbour in Jamaica just before Sunrise (1826)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Going to Church (1905)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Habana. Third vista tomada des de Casa-Blanca (1855)
The Pirates of Panama - Back Cover (1914)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Hut on a Plantation, Jamaica (1905)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Boats off Dominica (1905)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Resting by the Way, Jamaica (1905)
Bilder ans Westindien - Title Page - Part II (1861)
An Account of the Botanic Garden in the Island of St. Vincent - Title Page (1825)
Views of the Island of Dominica - Back Wrapper (1849)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Soldier of the West Indian Regiment (1905)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Angliae, Scotiae et Hiberniae sive Britannicar Insularum Descriptio (1570)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - View on Bryan Castle, Great House, Trelawny (1825)
The Pirates of Panama - Morgan commanded the religious men and women to place the ladders against the walls (1914)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Off Trinidad (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 - Daniae Regni Typus (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Hollandiae (1570)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - On the Beach, Barbadoes (1905)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Hungariae Descriptio Wolfgang Lazio Auct. (1570)
Views of the Island of Dominica - Roseau and Point Michell from Morne Bruce (1849)

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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