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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 - Outside a West Indian Court House (1905)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Suriname - Gouvernements-huis en Plein te Paramaribo (1860)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Austriae (1570)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Evening after Rain, Jamaica (1905)
The Pirates of Panama - Lolonois with those that remained had much ado to escape aboard their boats (1914)
Bilder ans Westindien - Title Page - Part I (1861)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Coloured Lady on a Race-course, Jamaica (1905)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - On the Beach, Barbadoes (1905)
Scenery of the Windward and Leeward Islands - Basaltic Rocks in Washilabou or Cumberland Valley, St. Vincent. [Engraved by W. Westall] (1837)
An Account of the Campaign in the West Indies - Pigeon Island, Martinique (1796)
An Account of the Campaign in the West Indies - N.E. view of Fort Louis in the Island of Martinique (1796)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Thusciae (1570)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Front Cover (1860)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Montpelier Estates, St. James (1825)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - View on Montego Bay from Reading Hill (1825)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Title Page (1860)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Typus Vindelicae (1570)
The History of Barbados - Title Page (1848)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - On the Road to Market, Jamaica (1905)
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 English in the West Indies - Morning Walk, Dominica (1888)
Bermuda, a Colony, a Fortress, and a Prison - Ireland Isle, 1856, Summer Sleeping Tents (1857)
Ten Views in the Island of Antigua - Exterior of a Boiling House, on Weatherell's Estate, Antigua (1823)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Regni Neapolitani (1570)
Views of the Island of Dominica - Roseau and Point Michell from Morne Bruce (1849)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Puertas de Monserrate (1855)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - An Old Gateway, Kingston (1905)
Narrative of the Voyage of H.M. Floating Dock
The History of Barbados - Bridgetown in Barbados, taken from Grand View Villa (1848)
Bermuda, a Colony, a Fortress, and a Prison - Title Page (1857)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Habana. First vista tomada des de Casa-Blanca. (1855)
The Pirates of Panama - Being come to the place of duel, the Englishman stabbed the Frenchman in the back (1914)
A Tour Through the Island of Jamaica - Spine (1826)
Bilder ans Westindien - Cedarhall auf Antigua (1861)
Views of the Island of Dominica - Front Wrapper (1849)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - The King's Square, St. Jago de la Vega (1825)
A Voyage in the West Indies - City of Paramaribo, Surinam (1820)
The English in the West Indies - Port au Prince, Hayti (1888)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Saba - Op 2 Miljen Afstand in Het Westen (1860)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Turcici Imperii Descriptio (1570)
The History of Barbados - St. Ann's Garrison in Barbados (1848)
Scenery of the Windward and Leeward Islands - View from Morne Fortune, St. Lucia [Engraved by J. Harris] (1837)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Sunset over the Hills (1905)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Holland Estate, St. Thomas in the East (1825)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Back Cover (1905)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Street in Kingston, Jamaica (1905)
The English in the West Indies - Havana, from the Quarries (1888)
An Account of the Botanic Garden in the Island of St. Vincent - Front Cover (1825)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Sunrise over the Hills, Jamaica (1905)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Graeciae Universae (1570)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Generale Verzamelkaart der Nederlandsche Westindische Bezittingen (1860)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Descriptio Germaniae Inferioris (1570)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Suriname - Gezigt op de Waterkant en de reede van Paramaribo (1860)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Cercanias de Baracoa y modo de viajar de sus naturales (1855)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Gingerbread-seller, St. Lucia (1905)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A House near the Bog Walk, Jamaica (1905)
The English in the West Indies - Blue Basin, Trinidad (1888)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Regni Hispaniae (1570)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Quay, St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica (1905)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Negro Nurse with Chinese Children, Jamaica (1905)
An Account of the Botanic Garden in the Island of St. Vincent - Botanic Garden from the bottom of the Central Walk (1825)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Night, Anotta Bay, Jamaica (1905)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Diving Boys, off Barbadoes (1905)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Milkmaid, Barbadoes (1905)
The English in the West Indies - Kingston and Harbour, from Cherry Garden (1888)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Rose-Hall, St. James's (1825)
The History of Barbados - Codrington College (1848)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Trinity Estate, St. Mary's (1825)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Daniae Regni Typus (1570)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Back Cover (1825)
Narrative of the Voyage of H.M. Floating Dock
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Salisburgensis (1570)
Ten Views in the Island of Antigua - Planting the Sugar Cane on Bodkins Estate, Antigua (1823)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Morro y Entrada Puerto de la Habana (1855)
Narrative of the Voyage of H.M. Floating Dock
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Golden Vale, Portland (1825)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Corrida de Toros (1855)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Rosie, a Jamaican Negress (1905)
The Pirates of Panama - Captain Morgan recruiting his forces (1914)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Port Maria, St. Mary's (1825)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Portugalliae (1570)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - View on Bryan Castle, Great House, Trelawny (1825)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Insularum Aliquot Maris Mediterranei Descriptio (1570)
The Pirates of Panama - Title Page (1914)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Vista general de la Ciudad y Montanas de Baracoa (Costa del Norte) (1855)
Scenery of the Windward and Leeward Islands - Back Cover (1837)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Soldier of the West Indian Regiment (1905)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Een Arowakka Indianenkamp (1860)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Italia Novissima Descriptio (1570)
Scenery of the Windward and Leeward Islands - Roseau, Dominica. [Engraved by J. Harris] (1837)
Scenery of the Windward and Leeward Islands - Fort Charlotte, St. Vincent's from Kingston. [Engraved by N. Fielding] (1837)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Back Cover (1570)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Vista de una Casa de Calderas (1855)
Views of the Island of Dominica - The Roseau Valley from the Hospital, Morne Bruce (1849)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Hut on a Plantation, Jamaica (1905)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Zelandicarum et Prussiae Descriptio (1570)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Kingston and Port Royal from Windsor Farm (1825)
The History of Barbados - St. Johns Church and Hackleton's Cliff (1848)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Black River, Jamaica (1905)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Brabantiae (1570)

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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