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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

Book Title Date
West Indies - The English in the West Indies The English in the West Indies 1888
West Indies - The History of the Island of Antigua Vol. 3 The History of the Island of Antigua Vol. 3 1899
West Indies - The History of Barbados The History of Barbados 1848
West Indies - Sport, Travel, and Adventure in Newfoundland and the West Indies Sport, Travel, and Adventure in Newfoundland and the West Indies 1885
West Indies - The West-India Atlas The West-India Atlas 1775
West Indies - The Martinique Horror and St. Vincent Calamity The Martinique Horror and St. Vincent Calamity 1902
West Indies - Bucaniers of America Vol. I Bucaniers of America Vol. I 1684
West Indies - Bermuda, a Colony, a Fortress, and a Prison Bermuda, a Colony, a Fortress, and a Prison 1857
West Indies - A Svmmarie and Trve Discovrse of Sir Frances Drakes West Indian Voyage A Svmmarie and Trve Discovrse of Sir Frances Drakes West Indian Voyage 1589
West Indies - Central American and West Indian Archaeology Central American and West Indian Archaeology 1916
West Indies - Drake and His Yeomen Drake and His Yeomen 1899
West Indies - Narrative of the Voyage of H.M. Floating Dock Narrative of the Voyage of H.M. Floating Dock "Bermuda" 1870
West Indies - The American Atlas The American Atlas 1776
West Indies - Illustrations of the Birds of Jamaica Illustrations of the Birds of Jamaica 1849
West Indies - Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien 1860
West Indies - The West Indies, Painted and Described The West Indies, Painted and Described 1905
West Indies - An Account of the Campaign in the West Indies An Account of the Campaign in the West Indies 1796
West Indies - The West Indies and the Spanish Main The West Indies and the Spanish Main 1896
West Indies - A Description of the Spanish Islands and Settlements A Description of the Spanish Islands and Settlements 1762
West Indies - Sketches of Character in Jamaica Sketches of Character in Jamaica 1837
West Indies - Views in the Vicinity of the City of Kingston, Jamaica Views in the Vicinity of the City of Kingston, Jamaica 1839
West Indies - A General History of Pyrates Vol. II A General History of Pyrates Vol. II 1724
West Indies - Picturesque Views of the Diamond Rock Picturesque Views of the Diamond Rock 1805
West Indies - Map of the British Empire in America Map of the British Empire in America 1746
West Indies - A Tour Through the Island of Jamaica A Tour Through the Island of Jamaica 1826
West Indies - A Voyage in the West Indies A Voyage in the West Indies 1820
West Indies - Ten Views in the Island of Antigua Ten Views in the Island of Antigua 1823
West Indies - An Historical and Descriptive Account of Antigua An Historical and Descriptive Account of Antigua 1830
West Indies - Jamaica, Painted and Described Jamaica, Painted and Described 1906
West Indies - Scenery of the Windward and Leeward Islands Scenery of the Windward and Leeward Islands 1837
West Indies - An Account of the Botanic Garden in the Island of St. Vincent An Account of the Botanic Garden in the Island of St. Vincent 1825
West Indies - Bilder ans Westindien Bilder ans Westindien 1861
West Indies - The History of the Island of Antigua Vol. 2 The History of the Island of Antigua Vol. 2 1896
West Indies - A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica 1825
West Indies - Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba 1855
West Indies - Views of the Island of Dominica Views of the Island of Dominica 1849
West Indies - Five Views in Baptist Chapels in Jamaica Five Views in Baptist Chapels in Jamaica 1840
West Indies - The History of the Island of Antigua Vol. 1 The History of the Island of Antigua Vol. 1 1894
West Indies - The Pirates of Panama The Pirates of Panama 1914
West Indies - A General History of Pyrates Vol. I A General History of Pyrates Vol. I 1724
West Indies - Theatrum Orbis Terrarum Theatrum Orbis Terrarum 1570
West Indies - La Guadeloupe Pittoresque La Guadeloupe Pittoresque 1863

Related Images

Image Name
An Account of the Botanic Garden in the Island of St. Vincent - Front Cover (1825)
A Tour Through the Island of Jamaica - Back Cover (1826)
Bermuda, a Colony, a Fortress, and a Prison - West End of Hamilton Warf (1857)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Fruit-Seller on a Side-Walk, Kingston (1905)
Scenery of the Windward and Leeward Islands - View from Morne Fortune, St. Lucia [Engraved by J. Harris] (1837)
Scenery of the Windward and Leeward Islands - The Old Crater of the Soufriere, St. Vincent. [Engraved by W. Westall] (1837)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Diving Boys, Kingston (1905)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Pedemontanae (1570)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Gingerbread-seller, St. Lucia (1905)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - St. Thomas in the Vale, from Mount Diablo (1825)
The English in the West Indies - Mountain Crater, Dominica (1888)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Cyprus Insula (1570)
The Pirates of Panama - Morgan commanded the religious men and women to place the ladders against the walls (1914)
An Account of the Botanic Garden in the Island of St. Vincent - Back Cover (1825)
The Pirates of Panama - Captain Morgan recruiting his forces (1914)
Views of the Island of Dominica - The Roseau Valley from the Hospital, Morne Bruce (1849)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Kingston and Port Royal from Windsor Farm (1825)
An Account of the Campaign in the West Indies - Bay of Maran, Martinique (1796)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Valla de Gallos (1855)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Austriae (1570)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - The Cathedral at Spanish Town, Jamaica (1905)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Trinity Estate, St. Mary's (1825)
Scenery of the Windward and Leeward Islands - Basaltic Rocks in Washilabou or Cumberland Valley, St. Vincent. [Engraved by W. Westall] (1837)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Poloniae (1570)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Jockey at Cumberland Pen, Jamaica (1905)
The History of Barbados - The Caribee Islands Traced from a Manuscript Chart of the World (1848)
Narrative of the Voyage of H.M. Floating Dock
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Negro (1905)
Bermuda, a Colony, a Fortress, and a Prison - The Commissioner's House (1857)
The Pirates of Panama - Front Cover (1914)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Regni Bohemiae Descriptio (1570)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Curaçao - Legplaats der Oorlogschepen in de Haven (1860)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Back Cover (1855)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Suriname - Gezigt op de Waterkant en de reede van Paramaribo (1860)
The English in the West Indies - Port Royal, Jamaica (1888)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - On the Road to Market, Jamaica (1905)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - View on Montego Bay from Reading Hill (1825)
Bilder ans Westindien - Bethel auf St. Kitts (1861)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Port Maria, St. Mary's (1825)
An Account of the Campaign in the West Indies - Title Page (1796)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Outhouses on a Plantation, Jamaica (1905)
Ten Views in the Island of Antigua - Title Page (1823)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Road in Mandeville (1905)
A Tour Through the Island of Jamaica - Port Antonio, Jamaica at Sunrise from the Sea (1826)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Galliae Regni Potentiss (1570)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Boats off Dominica (1905)
Scenery of the Windward and Leeward Islands - Front Cover (1837)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Bonaire (1860)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - An Old Gateway, Kingston (1905)
Bermuda, a Colony, a Fortress, and a Prison - Map of Bermuda (1857)
Scenery of the Windward and Leeward Islands - The Pitons or Sugar-loaves, St. Lucia. [Engraved by C. Hunt] (1837)
Views of the Island of Dominica - Back Wrapper (1849)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Natoliae / Aegypti, Recentior Descriptio / Carthaginis Celeberrim Sinus Typis (1570)
The History of Barbados - St. Philips Church and Moncreiffe in Barbados (1848)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Regni Neapolitani (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Turcici Imperii Descriptio (1570)
Views of the Island of Dominica - Rodney's Rock (1849)
Views of the Island of Dominica - Morne Daniole from King's Hill (1849)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Hungariae Descriptio Wolfgang Lazio Auct. (1570)
A Tour Through the Island of Jamaica - Interior of a Negro House (1826)
A Voyage in the West Indies - A Spanish Planter of Porto Rico Luxuriating in his Hammock (1820)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Front Cover (1860)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Outside a West Indian Court House (1905)
A Voyage in the West Indies - Caribbee or Leeward Islands (1820)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Lightermen, off Barbadoes (1905)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Back Cover (1825)
A Tour Through the Island of Jamaica - Spine (1826)
The English in the West Indies - Title Page - Silk Cotton Tree, Jamaica (1888)
A Tour Through the Island of Jamaica - View near Maroon Town (1826)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Schlavoniae, Croatiae, Carniae, Istriae, Bosniae, Finitimarumque Regionum Nova Descriptio (1570)
Views of the Island of Dominica - Prince Rupert's Bay (1849)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Asiae Nova Descriptio (1570)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Dedication (1825)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Suriname - Gouvernements-huis en Plein te Paramaribo (1860)
The Pirates of Panama - Back Cover (1914)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Cardiff Hall, St. Annes (1825)
Views of the Island of Dominica - Roseau and Point Michell from Morne Bruce (1849)
A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica - Title Page (1825)
The History of Barbados - Bridgetown in Barbados, taken from Grand View Villa (1848)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Het Inkomen der Haven van Curaçao (1860)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - An Old Man, St. Thomas (1905)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Helvetiae Descriptio Aegidio (1570)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Flandria (1570)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Martinique Lady (1905)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Mont Pelee, Martinique (1905)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Joden Savannah : gezigt op sijnagoge en kerkhof van de zijde van het militair cordonpad gezien (1860)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - El Panadero y El Malojero. (1855)
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Palatinatus Bavariae Descriptio et Wirtenbergensis Duvatus Vera Descriptio (1570)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - A Milkmaid, Barbadoes (1905)
Views of the Island of Dominica - Front Wrapper (1849)
Views of the Island of Dominica - Morne Bruce from the Magazine Battery (1849)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Title Page (1905)
Gezigten uit Neerland's West-Indien - Een Arowakka Indianenkamp (1860)
The English in the West Indies - Morning Walk, Dominica (1888)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Rosie, a Jamaican Negress (1905)
The Pirates of Panama - They hanged him on a tree (1914)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Constant Spring, Jamaica (1905)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - An Evening Party, St. Thomas (1905)
The West Indies, Painted and Described - Stalls outside the Market, Mandeville (1905)
Album Pintoresco de la Isla de Cuba - Morro y Entrada Puerto de la Habana (1855)

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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