A Condensed History of Montserrat

Compiled by William G. Innanen

[With parenthetical comments by the author -Bill]

1998 William G. Innanen *



This "History of Montserrat" was project which I began in August of 1998 and lasted about a year. "Chapters" were added at the rate of about one every week or two. The initial, "preview," chapter "1830-1840: Abolition of Slavery" was written first, out of sequence to gather comments and see if this would be a useful project. The History ends with the decade of the 1970s. This omits possibly the most significant events in the entire history of Montserrat, namely the eruption of the Soufriere Hills Volcano. I felt that without scholarly sources to rely on, the latest 2 decades of Montserrat's history would be best left to others. Reluctantly this History ends with the year 1980.

It should be noted that I am not a historian, and that I relied on the scholarly works of others for material. The main source of historical data is "Montserrat West Indies, a chronological history," by Marion M. Wheeler, published in 1988 by the Montserrat National Trust. I gratefully acknowledge the indispensable aid on this project that this source provided. Nonetheless, any errors are mine alone. If you should find an inaccuracy, please contact me with the information so that it can be corrected.

The chronological, or episodic format chosen for this project has certain limitations. While convenient for a sequential presentation, it is not particularly suited for in-depth examination of large and important subjects that span large portions of Montserrat's history, such as slavery or the labor movement. I leave these subjects to real historians. I you wish to pursue these important subjects, I recommend that you obtain a true historical work such as Howard A. Fergus' "Montserrat, History of a Caribbean Colony" (1994, MacMillan Press Ltd., ISBN 0-333-61217-5) which treats such subjets in the depth that they deserve.

This work is more superficial, following the chronological events in sequence. It is as if you stopped by the island every 10 years and inquired of the residents what the 8 or 10 most segnificant or interesting events were in the past decade. Some of the broad historical themes are evident in this treatment, and are commented upon, but this is not the primary purpose. With a basic understanding of the chronology of Montserrat's history, the important historical developments will have a framework that provides a background as an aid to understanding.

* The author grants free use of this document for any non-profit purpose, provided that the authorship and copyright information remain attached.


The Geological History of Montserrat

Montserrat is a member of an island arc, the Lesser Antilles, that is formed where the North American and South American plates grind against, and dive under, the Caribbean plate. (see the world map) The movements of the plates carrying the continents ("plate tectonics") cause the Earth's map to gradually change over geological ages. The material from the plate that dives under another is melted by the hot interior of the planet and the material rises, forming volcanos in long lines - called "island arcs" when they occur at sea, mountain ranges on land.

Montserrat emerged from the sea fairly recently, geologically speaking, only 25 million years before the present (25My BP). [Hey! Has anyone formed a committee to plan Montserrat's 25 millionth birthday? She's still a growing girl, you know. - Bill] The map of the Earth looked then pretty much as it does now, give a take a mountain or island here and there. The dinosaurs were long gone (40M years gone), but anything remotely resembling a human being was still a gleam in Mother Nature's eye.

The submarine volcanos that arose from the sea to form Montserrat have long been erased and covered over by more recent eruptions. The geological record seems to indicate the presence of seven different volcanos on the island in the last couple of million years. (See the Montserrat map) The first volcano to erupt, that can be discerned from the geological record, is the Silver Hill volcano, something like 1.55My BP. Over the succeeding ages six other volcanic vents spewed ash and rocks to gradually enlarge the island. About 40Ky BP (Ky = thousand years) the South Soufriere Hill volcano blew. The baby of the bunch [Big, dangerous baby! -Bill], the Soufriere HIlls volcano began forming 24 to 17Ky BP). There are numerous different vents that have formed the Soufriere Hills, I seem to remember that there are at least a half dozen known (the various hot springs, etc. being their remaining legacy). Presumably there were multiple vents for the other volcanos, as well, but time has erased the details of their existance.

The ancestors of native Americans arrived via the Bering land bridge 20 to 40Ky BP, depending on which expert you believe. So perhaps there may have been someone around to observe the final stages of the formation of the South Soufriere Hills. I know that there were people around to observe the eruption of the seventh and newest volcano, the Soufriere Hills! [Looked at in this light, it has been my privilege and honor to have been one of the people to observe geology in action, creating the island we love, Montserrat - Bill]


Main Sources:

"Montserrat West Indies, a chronological history," by Marion M. Wheeler. Published by the Montserrat National Trust, 1988.

"Montserrat, History of a Caribbean Colony," by Howard A. Fergus, 1994, MacMillan Press Ltd., ISBN 0-333-61217-5

Other Source(s):

The 1998 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia (Deluxe edition).

The radar relief map of Montserrat is courtesy of Bob Pratt of the cartographic division of the National Geographic Society, private communication October 1997.


Amerindian Inhabitants of Montserrat

The native Americans came up the chain of the Lesser Antilles from the vicinity of Venezuela. The oldest artifacts found on the island date from 500 BCE to 500 CE. The earliest occupation on the island seems to be an encampment at Trant's which dates from about 200 CE and was apparently an encampment of the Arawak people. (See map) They may have been preceded by a less culturally advanced people known as the Ciboneys, of which there is no confirmed trace on Montserrat. Sometime before Columbus sailed through Montserratian waters in 1493, the Arawak people had been driven out/conquered/absorbed by the more war-like Caribs. Exactly when this occurred is not certain, but it must have been of living memory Columbus, since a native he had on board informed him that the Caribs had depopulated the island. One reason he didn't bother to land, I guess.

There are 5 sites (see map) that have been identified as being native American encampments. It's not clear whether they are Arawak, Carib or both. From the artifacts and debris left, it is clear that the natives raised crops, created various artifacts and craft items, worshiped their gods (ancestor and nature worship, evidently) and buried their dead. All of the sites share a common set of topographic features. They are near the coast, on arable land, near rivers, and are at low elevations with easy access to the sea. The photo shows a typical Carib dwelling and dugout canoe, that is exhibited in the museum at St. John's, Antigua. [No, the lodge is not a "Humpback Whale" despite what the sign says! The whale model is hanging from the ceiling out of the camera frame. -Bill]

The Carib people provided the first recorded name for Montserrat, namely "Alliouagana." This is believed to mean "land of the prickly bush." [Having tramped around the north end of the island, off the beaten tracks, I can attest to the appropriateness of this name! -Bill]

Although the island had no native inhabitants when it was initially settled, in 1632, the war-like Caribs continued to make their presence known for 5 decades, making periodic raids on the island and the colonists. In 1650 one such raid was recorded by the Irish missionary , Father John, Stritch. He was administering the sacraments to Catholics in the woods when the war party hit the colony, burning houses, killing people and looting shops. Although he was very sympathetic to the plight of the Catholics, this did not extend this sympathy to the Caribs, who he referred to as "savages." The Caribs, on the other hand, considered that the English had stolen their island, and were trying to get it back.

Raids continued for decades. At times, cooperation and treaties between the colonies on the various islands were all that prevented some colonies from being wiped out. One of the worst raids (from the colonist's point of view) was the last, in 1682. The Caribs came ashore in an inlet inaccessible to English ships and burned a sugar mill, killed two boys and carried off some slaves. The governor mounted a retaliatory raid some months later. (It had taken some time to recover, especially since the Caribs were smart enough to hit economically sensitive targets - sugar factories and slaves.) The English raided the Carib's war base on Dominica. Although the body count recorded by the English was almost certainly vastly inflated [a failing of warriors all through history -Bill], but it is clear that many canoes were destroyed, crippling the Carib's capability to launch raids. After that, the Caribs abandoned their island of Alliouagana to the English.


Main Sources:

"Montserrat West Indies, a chronological history," by Marion M. Wheeler. Published by the Montserrat National Trust, 1988.

"Montserrat, History of a Caribbean Colony," by Howard A. Fergus, 1994, MacMillan Press Ltd., ISBN 0-333-61217-5

Other Source(s):

The radar relief map of Montserrat is courtesy of Bob Pratt of the cartographic division of the National Geographic Society, private communication October 1997.

I normally date non-Christian cultures and events with the notation BCE and CE ("Before Common Era" and "Common Era") rather than the Christian-oriented BC and AD. It just seems more polite. The numbers are the same. You can translate if you wish.


Columbus "Discovers" Montserrat

Christopher Columbus set sail from Cadiz, Spain on 25 September 1493 as Admiral of a fleet of 17 ships. His goal was to reach the fort he had left on the island of Hispaniola, La Navidad. [Of course what he was really looking for was the (presumably gold laden) land of Cipangu (Japan), which he was never to find. -Bill] He passed through Hierro in the Canary Islands on 18 October 1493.

The flagship of his fleet was La Galante. [The ships in the photo are reconstructions of the ships on his first voyage. I was unable to find graphics of La Galante or any of the other second voyage ships. The were probably similar to the ones shown, however. -Bill] With him were 1,200 men, including captive Arawak Amerindians from Hispaniola to serve as guides and interpreters, 12 missionaries, artisans, peasant laborers, and volunteer noblemen (a.k.a. soldiers of fortune). Cargo included: bricks, tools, domestic animals, plants and seeds (including sugar cane) and large supplies of wine and bread for the colonists. [Also along for the ride was a goodly collection of European diseases for which the natives had no resistance. -Bill]


On Sunday, 3 November 1493, after sailing west southwest across the Atlantic, the fleet sighted a island. Columbus's intention had been to hit Hispaniola, but he was too far south. In honor of having been sighted on a Sunday, the island was dubbed Dominica. Not finding a suitable harbor there, he sailed on. (See the map.)

Santa Maria La Galante

He hove to for the night at the next island, which he named Santa Maria La Galante in honor of his flagship.

Santa Maria de Guadalupe

The next day he went ashore on the mountainous island he named Santa Maria de Guadalupe. The name kept a promise he had made to some monks when he had made a pilgrimage to give thanks at the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe, after his first voyage. They spent 6 days on Guadalupe, exploring and making contact with the native inhabitants. They had no gold, and thus were not of great interest, so they again set sail to the northwest.

Santa Maria de Montserrate

On 11 November, he sailed along the leeward side of another island. He didn't land because his guides told him that the Caribs had depopulated the island. He named the island Santa Maria de Montserrate for the Blessed virgin of the Monastery of Montserrate near Barcelona Spain. [Which is why a web search engine returns more Spanish hits than Caribbean hits for the keyword "Montserrat." -Bill] Columbus described the island as "another island not very big which was 12 leagues distant." [Hey, Chris! It's bigger now! -Bill]

Santa Maria de Antigua

Just north of the "not very large" emerald isle, he sighted another island in the distance. He didn't take time to even change course to look it over. He just gave it a name, Santa Maria de Antigua, after the famous Virgin in the Cathedral of Seville. [Is that near the barber of Seville? -Bill]

Santa Maria la Redonda

Next he spotted an island that was not much more than a rock about a mile long. Since it appeared almost round so he named it Santa Maria la Redonda, Saint Mary the Round. [Evidently no one took offence, since the name survives to this day. -Bill]

San Martin

That night the fleet took shelter at the next island to the north. This one was named San Martin since it was discovered on the feast day of Saint Martin. Later the island was renamed Senora de las Nieves, Our Lady of the Snows. [Nevis means "snows?" In the Caribbean? Wacky! -Bill]

San Jorge, Santa Anastasia, and San Cristobal

From Nevis, Columbus saw three other islands, San Jorge, later renamed Saint Christopher ["St. Kitts?" Getting a little familiar here, aren't we? -Bill], Santa Anastasia, later named Saint Eustasius, and San Cristobal, which was later named Saba. He left nothing other than the names on these islands. He never came back. [Even the names didn't stick apparently! -Bill]

[From here, Columbus sails on, into his own history books, but out of mine, since he had nothing further do to with Montserrat. -Bill]



By virtue of Columbus's voyages, Spain claimed all of the West Indies. [The fact that the Amerinds had preceded them by 1,000 years and were still very much in evidence seems to have escaped Spain's notice. -Bill] Colonies were established in Hispaniola, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Jamaica and Trinidad. (The big [read: gold producing -Bill] colonies were on the mainland of course.) During this period many of the Spanish treasure ships were attacked and captured by English privateers. [Pirates, free enterprise style -Bill] All of this activity resulted in the area being completely explored.

Eventually Spain was forced to give up claims to uncolonized lands, and England, France and Holland began to explore and settle some of the smaller islands. England and France set up colonies. Holland set up trading and smuggling posts.

[Hey! Whatever happened to the Norwegian Caribbean colony of Trondheim? Does anyone remember that little Bill-ism? -Bill]

Main Sources:

"Montserrat West Indies, a chronological history," by Marion M. Wheeler. Published by the Montserrat National Trust, 1988.

"Montserrat, History of a Caribbean Colony," by Howard A. Fergus, 1994, MacMillan Press Ltd., ISBN 0-333-61217-5

Other Source(s):

The base map was generated by a GIS (Geographic Information System) web page created by Tony Steinke of Charles Sturt University, Australia.

1600-1632: Pre-colonial Times

The Situation:

The English colonies in the Caribbean were private ventures. They were funded and manned by syndicates out to make a profit. [So were the privateers, whose profit came from Spanish treasure ships. -Bill] The colonists expected to make their profit by growing cash crops and shipping them to Europe. The English crown gave no financial support to these private colonies. The crown did, however, grant "royal patents" giving permission to the syndicates to settle on lands that had been claimed by England.

The People:

The colonists were generally those for whom England had nothing to offer, or for whom England was a hostile place. Included in the latter were those escaping religious persecution. Some of the others were those who had lost their properties in the wars between England and Ireland and Scotland and were willing to claim lands in the New World. Some were just working class types who saw a chance to claim a plot of land and become tenant farmers. Many Irish, fleeing famine in their homeland, signed on as indentured servants (for a definite number of years) to get to the New World, with the expectation of claiming some land of their own after the end of their indenture.

The English government kept its hands off [and its money out of -Bill] these private colonies, until they became successful.


Jamestown, Virginia became the first permanent English colony in North America [and became one of the "mother colonies" to Montserrat - see below. -Bill]


Bermuda became an accidental colony. Colonists on their way to Jamestown were shipwrecked there and decided to settle rather than continue on.


Plymouth, Massachusetts was the second permanent English colony in North America.


Thomas Warner settled on St. Christopher (now St. Kitts) which became the first permanent colony in the West Indies. Just after he started his settlement with less than two dozen men, some French adventurers arrived. Warner knew that with as few men as he had, the Carib Amerindians and the Spanish were going to be a serious problem. So he struck a deal with the French. They would share the colony, with the French establishing colonies on the two ends of the island with the English in the middle. [Middle men already? I thought this was an agricultural colony. -Bill]


Warner and his syndicate get their royal patent directly from King Charles the First which granted permission to settle St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat and Barbados.


Another syndicate colonizes Barbados. [Anyone know a good patent lawyer? -Bill]


Warner renewed his syndicate's patent, this time through the Earl of Carlisle, who had been appointed by the King to be the Lord Proprietor of the English Caribbees. This time the patent granted Thomas the right to colonize most of the Lesser Antilles. [See? A good patent lawyer can work wonders! -Bill] Thomas Warner is made [makes himself? -Bill] Governor for Life.

"Settlers" for Montserrat and Antigua

By this time, Warner's St. Kitts colony had a population of about 3,000. Many of these were Irish indentured servants, hoping to settle themselves when their indenture was over. But then, as now, the Protestant English and Scotts couldn't get along with the Catholic Irish. Moreover, Governor for Life Warner feared that in wartime the Irish might side with the Catholic French colonies on the ends of the island. He decided to ship at least some of them to the islands of Montserrat and Antigua to form daughter colonies. These Irish malcontents were described as "rogues, vagrants and sturdy beggars." Warner's four islands, St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat and Antigua became known as the Leeward Islands of the Caribbees.

The date of the first group of settlers going to Montserrat can be pretty much determined by the logs and journals of two visitors to the island, the first in 1631 when the island was empty of Europeans, and another in 1634 when it was definitely settled. The descriptions of the island in by these visitors are interesting in and of themselves.

The first, in 1631 is in the log of Sir Henry Colt and his "voyaging companions."

"Weddensday. 20 July. We arrived att Montserrat ye land rownd mountaynous & full of woods, with noe inhabitants; yett weer ye fotstepps seen of some naked men... We approachinge this ye harbar land & sea befoor we would lett fall our Anchors. All day we keep watch uppon ye mayne mast; but being cleer we come to our Anchor on ye weast side of Montsrrat, in sight of Reduna our next Iland, being noe other then a single rock."

[Boy! That quote (from Fergus) drove my spelling checker buggy! -Bill]

The second journal entry is by Father Andrew White, a Jesuit priest traveling to England from the American colonies via the West Indies. His entry for 26 Jan 1634:

"By noone we came before Montserrat, where is a noble plantation of Irish Catholique, whom the Virginians would not suffer to live with them because of their religion."

(Again this quote is from Fergus) The Virginian Catholics were the second wave of settlers after the ones from St. Kitts. Montserrat soon became known as a religious asylum for Roman Catholics from other colonies (and elsewhere) in search of freedom to practice their religion. Montserrat is unique in the Caribbean English colonies for having freedom of religion as a primary motive for settlement.



1632-1650: The Initial Colonization of Montserrat

First Settlement, 1632:

There is some doubt as to exactly where the first settlement on Montserrat was located. Captain Anthony Brisket was the leader of the initial expedition from St. Kitts to settle Montserrat. The shoreline was likely well explored (at least from the sea) by fishermen and seamen from St. Kitts, so the expedition made straight for the leeward side of the island. Additionally, they would have wanted to place the initial settlement in a location close to the shore for defense, and in a valley where there was water and good soil. But there are several sites that meet these criteria. They all bear names that could indicate a that they were directly settled from St. Kitts.

The most likely is in the (now) Belham valley. [Hey! Everyone coming to Montserrat ends up staying at the Vue Point sometime or other, right? -Bill] The settlers (Some English, some Anglo-Irish and most probably Irish indentures) would have landed at Brisket's Bay (Old Road Bay) at the mouth of Brisket's River (Belham River). [Nothing like naming everything in sight after yourself, eh? -Bill] Based on the modern names in the area the first settlement may have been named Old Road Town after the earliest settlement on St. Kitts. On modern maps Old Town overlooks Old Road Bay. There is also an Old Road Bay on St. Kitts.

Another possibility for the initial settlement might be Carr's Bay; a good harbor and a shorter distance from St. Kitts where there is also a Carr's Bay. A third possibility is Sugar Bay near Kinsale. This is based mainly on the fact that Kinsale is (was) clearly an early town, and it was at the center of the Irish concentration on the island.

But, based on the ubiquitousness of human vanity, the Belham valley seems the most likely site. "Brisket's this" and "Brisket's that," etc.. The good captain, the first Governor of the island, was not above reminding everyone who was in charge.

The first structure was a stockade fort. This was needed for protection not only from the Caribs (who were undoubtedly using the island as a staging base for raids on the other European settlements in the area) and from whomever the English happened to be at war with at any given moment; the Spanish, the French or the Dutch. Colonist's houses were simple one room huts with woven reed walls and palm thatch roofs.

Initial crops were tobacco, cotton and indigo, all crops that could be grown in small plots manually hacked out of the tropical growth. Dutch traders bought the crops for shipment to Europe and sold the settlers food and supplies. And of course... extended credit.

Anthony Brisket, the first Governor, was a native of Wessex, England, and was of Italian heritage. His family had lands in Ireland. Brisket also owned land in Virginia prior to 1632. This was probably due to a connection with John White of Ballyhea, County Cork, Ireland, who was a surveyor in Virginia. It's not surprising that Irish Catholics from Virginia ended up in Montserrat. [It's not what you know, but *who* you know. -Bill]


The colony is beginning to grow. At this time Father Andrew White (mentioned in the previous chapter) makes a note in his journal about the Montserrat settlement as he sails past with Lord Baltimore on the way to found the Maryland colony, another catholic colony, in North America. [Maryland!? Hey, that's where I live! I didn't know there was a link between Maryland and Montserrat that early! -Bill]


Brisket goes to England to renew his commission as Governor of Montserrat with King Charles the First. In his letter of application [paperwork is ubiquitous -Bill] he described himself as a native of Ireland who had been appointed Governor by the first Earl of Carlisle, and had just been recommissioned by the second Earl. He tells the King that he had made a plantation at his "own great expense" and intended to trade tobacco and other crops to Ireland (for which he needed the King's endorsement to the Irish officials as a trader) and he wished to recruit Irish subjects to come to Montserrat. He also told the King that he was building a church "of stone and brick for the glory of God and your Majesty's honor" (see the side bar).


Brisket's Irish recruiting is so successful that most of the new settlers are Irish. The early land grants were along the leeward coast of the island. Brisket held approximately 1400 acres from the present Old Road Bay and Belham Valley to Bransby Point. [He liked to play golf? -Bill] His brother-in-law [or father-in-law. My sources differ. -Bill] Roger Osborne (who became the second Governor) held from Bransby Point to Plymouth.


The Montserrat Colony's Militia

Every male between 12 and 60 had to enlist in the militia; plantation owners were the officers, their indentured servants were the foot soldiers. The officers furnished their own swords, and firearms and gunpowder for their soldiers. Plantation owners were required to build and maintain the military defenses of the colony, the Lord Proprietor was expected to supply cannons and ammunition for the forts. Military training was compulsory and drills were held at the fort at Brisket's Bay. There were heavy penalties for absence.

-from Wheeler (p 11)

By this time Brisket had set up the apparatus of government. He appointed a council to make laws and organize the militia (see the side bar). The island was divided into 4 parishes for administrative purposes St. Peter (north), St. Anthony (central), St. Patrick (south), and St. George (east). The quickest way to travel between plantations was by sea, but some roads were being build to connect the parishes. Earthworks were being built along the coast a strategic points to foil enemy landings. In 1638 the Montserrat colony had it's first hurricane, [Drat! I missed this one. It's not in the Hurricane Appendix! -Bill]

Brisket's Church

Soon after the stockade was finished, the settlers built a stone church close by. According to Brisket's letter to the King, it was not just of stone but also used bricks. These would have had to have been bought from Dutch traders. A description of the interior is recorded in a 1650's history of the Antilles by Louis de Poincy. "The pulpit, the seats and all of the joiners' and carpenters' work within it are of the most precious and sweet-scented wood growing in the country." It's possible that the church was named St. Anthony's after the Governor Anthony Brisket. [Vanity, vanity, thy name is Governor! -Bill]

It also may be that this church is the structure that is labeled "Brisket's Folly" located at Brisket's Bay on a 1673 map of the island. It could have been so expensive that it was never finished in Brisket's lifetime. Too elaborate, too expensive to complete, or to rebuild after each attack. It wouldn't be the first grandiose government project to receive the moniker of "So-and-so's Folly."



Tobacco became the most important export crop of the Leeward islands, because it could be grown on small plots and was not labor intensive. Unfortunately it was not of as good a quality as that produced in the Virginia colony, and was accordingly sold in Europe at a lower price. The Leeward Island's Governor for Life, Thomas Warner, decided to raise the price by manipulating the market. He declared a ban on exporting tobacco. [Load gun. Take careful aim at foot. Fire! -Bill] Without an export crop to exchange to the Dutch for food and supplies the Leeward's planters were in serious debit by 1640. In Montserrat some quit and left the island.


With the indenture terms expiring on many workers on St. Kitts and Barbados and no land available there, many Irish former indentured servants migrated to Montserrat.


Most of the island's residents lived on small farms, widely scattered over the island. Population was 750 with a militia of 360.


Governor Anthony Brisket died. Roger Osborne, his brother-in-law (father-in-law?) became Governor. Osborne was sympathetic to the Catholics, but he was also know as a bully, a drunk, and a scoundrel. [Nothing like a "cliff hanger" to set things up for the next installment, eh? -Bill]



1650-1660: Montserrat under Governor Roger Osborne


England just concluded a decade of civil war. King Charles the First was beheaded and Oliver Cromwell came into power. After Cromwell's defeat of the Irish at the Battle of Drogheda, he began shipping many Irish political prisoners to Montserrat.

In the Caribbean the characteristic social structure of the times emerged during this decade: an Anglo-Irish planter class, a number of "Christian" servants and a larger number of black slaves. On Montserrat the "Christian" servants were mostly Irish. Black slaves began to be imported during this decade. At the opening of the decade there were over 1000 white families on the island, most of whom were Irish. Some planters, with the increased manpower available from slaves, began to grow sugar in this period.

The "New Fort" at Kinsale was most likely built about this time, and small costal trading center were beginning to grow at Brisket's Bay (Old Road Bay), Plymouth and Kinsale.


There had not been a Catholic priest on the island for 5 years. Disguised as a merchant wood buyer, Father John Stritch, a Jesuit missionary from St. Kitts arrived on-island. He held secret religious services in the deep woods for the island's Catholics. It was not until 1668 that Catholic services were permitted in the open. Cromwell's deportees added to the Catholic population.

A raid by 2000 Caribs from Dominica caused inhabitants to flee to "The Garden," a redoubt high up on the Soufriere Hills. Battle damage: several people murdered, some hoses burned, warehouses looted, and cattle and provisions stolen. [Sounds like a successful raid fromr the Carib point of view. Disastrous from the colonists point of view. -Bill]


The English Parliament passed the first of the Navigation Acts. This required all colonies to ship all of their exports in English ships to English ports. The object was to cut off trade with the Dutch in the West Indies. In return, the colonists sugar and tobacco were price-protected in England. The down side of this was that tobacco was now where near as popular in England as it was in Holland. Small tobacco farmers lost their best market. [Further consolidating the land into the hands of the planter class, I bet. -Bill] Not feeling himself limited by the far-away English Parliament, Governor Osborne accepted bribes from the Dutch to keep trade open on Montserrat. Osborne even maintained a warehouse of Dutch goods which he would resell to his "friends." [Make money on both ends of the deal. Not a bad scam. -Bill]


The late Governor Brisket's widow, Elizabeth Osborne Brisket, had married Samuel Waad, a wealthy English planter. Thus Waad, who already had 3 large plantations a sugar works and 50 slaves, came into possession of the sizeable Brisket holding as well. Elizabeth died two years after this remarriage, in 1652. Governor Osborne, that paragon of virtue, saw a chance to gain control of these lands for himself. He picked a fight with Waad and provoked Wadd into calling him an "Irish barbarian" and an "Irish murderer." [All true, but when has truth ever stopped a crooked politician on the make? -Bill] Having insulted the Governor, Waad was imprisoned by Osborne and eventually shot to death. Osborne then confiscated all of Waad's property in the name of Anthony Brisket II, the late Governor's son. Not just the land was seized, but harvested crops in warehouses and processed sugar. Osborne held control of these properties until the French occupation of 1667, it seems.

Some surviving records show that some 100 planters were in debit to the Dutch traders, despite the Navigation Act. The Irish typically owed tobacco, and the English - both tobacco and sugar.

The population was estimated to be about 1200.


Oliver Cromwell himself is entertained by Governor Osborne on Montserrat. Cromwell was on his way with an expedition to capture Hispaniola. Evidently Osborne was on his best behavior and entertained Cromwell with "marked civility." [I bet he went to some pains to keep Dutch traders out of port and his warehouse of Dutch goods disguised as something else, too! -Bill]


A hurricane passes through the Leeward Islands.


Another hurricane. [A bad couple of years. They usually don't come this frequently. -Bill]



1660-1670: War, Invasion, Occupation, Destruction


In England the monarchy was restored and Charles the Second took the throne. The Navigation Act of 1651 was extended. Proprietary government in the colonies was abolished and England took a more direct hand in their governing. The new structure was to have a Governor directly appointed by the King, a Council appointed from the landed class appointed by the Governor, and an Assembly elected from the landed class which was to make the laws and vote taxes. Over the individual colonies was the Governor-General of the Leewards (the Governor of Barbados). In return for all of this, and military protection, the colonies were assessed a 4.5% duty on exports. [They should have sued the Crown for a refund! See below. -Bill]

A struggle between England and Holland over control of the slave trade broke out into war between 1665 and 1667. In 1666 France joined the fray allied with the Dutch. This war rolled into the Leewards and rolled over Montserrat almost completely destroying it.

The economic situation on Montserrat was getting dire. Sugar production was increasing as slaves were imported, but hurricanes, raids (Dutch, French, Carib), Navigation Act trade restrictions, export taxes, and debits were wreaking havoc on the economy. Many small farmers were becoming desperate and discouraged.




The new government reforms arrive on Montserrat. Roger Osborne is confirmed as Governor [Oh, wonderful choice! -Bill]. The first Legislative Council is elected.



A Dutch squadron under Admiral de Ruyter raids Plymouth roadstead. English merchant ships were captured and their cargoes destroyed.

Food and plantation supplies are getting scarce. The economy is very bad. Many settlers leave Montserrat. The sugar that is being produced is of such low quality that it's not exportable. Most of it is made into rum. The tobacco market is nonexistent due to the war with the Dutch.


As the French join the war against the English, the war erupts on St. Kitts. The Irish join the French against the English and the English are forced to surrender. [Remember that Montserrat was founded on just such fears, that the Irish would turn on the English in favor of the French. Someone got to say "I told ya so!" -Bill] Montserrat fears imminent attack.

The Leeward's Governor-General sets sail from Barbados with a fleet to recapture St. Kitts, but is met instead by a devastating hurricane. Result: fleet destroyed, Governor-General drowned, all of St. Kitts still in French hands.

Estimated population is about 3250. 600 English, mostly landowners; 2000 Irish, mostly peasant farmers on widely scattered farms, and about 650 slaves.

February-July 1667:

The war comes to Montserrat. The French attack with a force of 1200 men. They land near the New Fort in Kinsale, in the heart of the heavily Irish part of the island. The Montserrat militia consisted of 900 men. After losing 500 of them in resisting the French they withdrew to the redoubt in the Soufriere Hills called "The Garden."

A force of 500 Caribs, recruited by the French, attacked from the other side of the island. They landed just below Roaches's Bluff at Landing Bay. True to form, the Caribs were devastating. They destroyed the forts and plantations. They burned warehouses full of goods, and some 40 sugar works. They murdered anyone they could find.

An Irishman lead the French to The Garden. The English were forced to surrender.

The French seized cannons, horses, cattle and all of the slaves. All of this "booty" was shipped to St. Kitts. The Governor and his wife, as well as several militia officers were also taken to St. Kitts as prisoners of war. Many of the English colonists were sent to Jamaica, never to return. The Irish surrendered to the French and remained on the island.

Anthony Brisket II accepted a commission from the French king and became the Governor of Montserrat during the occupation.

July 1667:

A reinforced English fleet sets sail from Barbados and, in a naval battle off Nevis, they defeat the combined French and Dutch fleets. Montserrat was recaptured and the French and Irish rebels were rounded up and set off as prisoners to Nevis. Montserrat is returned to English rule by the Treaty of Breda, 31 July 1667.

Severe hurricane. [Just what was needed! Let's see now... The French sent the English colonists to Jamaica, and seized the slaves. The Irish and the French were sent to Nevis. English, Irish, slaves, French... Yup, that's everyone! And those that managed to escape the massive deportations had to face French troops or Carib raids. 1667 was a very bad year. An active volcano might have done almost as good a job. -Bill]


Most of the island is destroyed and depopulated. Everything that had been accomplished since the settlement of the island was gone. The new Leewards Governor-General, William Willoughby begins the process of reorganizing and resettling the island. A Council was appointed to restore law and order. Among the first things that the Council did was to restore plantations to their former owners. With the exception of Anthony Brisket II and Roger Osborne. Brisket appealed to Willoughby and the King but lost. Osborne evidently never returned and his lands reverted to the Crown. No one seems to know what happened to the two after this time.

Willoughby appoints a hero of the fighting on St. Kitts, Lieutenant-Colonel William Stapleton, as the new Governor of Montserrat. Since the island was broke, Stapleton was given Brisket II's Waterwork Plantation (573 acres in Belham Valley). Willoughby also ordered that a town and a fort be established at Forthouse Plantation on Old Road Bay (also on former Brisket II land). This town was later named Stapletown.

Willoughby also ordered that warning beacons be established on strategic points around the island to warn of any enemy approach. New laws about mustering the militia were passed. [Once burned (incinerated?), twice shy. -Bill]


As an indication of just how bad things were on Montserrat here is a law passed by the Assembly, that requires masters to plant food for their laborers:

  • 1 acre of potatoes or cassava for ever 2 workers (white or black)
  • 1 acre of yams for every 6 working slaves
  • 1 acre of corn for every 4 working slaves

[The fact that a law was needed for this tells a sad story. -Bill]


1670-1680: Bad times continue


The European wars continue, occasionally spilling over into the Caribbean. The war between England and Holland started up again (1672-1674). The French declared war against the Dutch (1674-1678). The Dutch trading monopoly in the Caribbean was broken.

On Montserrat, the devastation and depopulation resulting from the French and Carib invasion in 1767 is crippling the re-development of the colony. It took ten years for the white population of the island to recover to pre-invasion levels. The lack of slave labor limited the production of sugar, but sugar was still the cash crop in St. Anthony's and St. Peter's. Raids by the French, Dutch and the Caribs continued to occur.


A severe hurricane in the Leewards. St. John's, Antigua was leveled.


The government of the Leeward's is separated from that of Barbados. [Old dictum: "When in trouble and nothing else suggests itself - reorganize!" -Bill] William Stapleton, the Governor of Montserrat, is appointed Governor-General of the Leewards.

Population: 1175 men able to bear arms and 523 slaves. [Surely there were women and "men unable to bear arms" as well! -Bill]


The Dutch raid English ships in Plymouth roadstead.

The construction of Plymouth Fort started. [Related to the previous item? -Bill]

On Christmas Day there was a great earthquake and flood. Much of the island was damaged. [I wonder of the "flood" was actually a tsunami? -Bill]

1673 map


Governor Stapleton sends the first known map of Montserrat to the Lords of Trade in London (see photo to the left, from Fergus, p32). Due to the extreme ruggedness of the interior, cartographers had to do something unique to create the map. Instead of the usual "top down," symbolic map, this one consists of drawings of the island from 7 different viewpoints offshore. The locations of farms, plantations, windmills, public buildings, etc. are noted and labeled on the "map." It shows 19 plantations by name, as well as cattle- water- and windmills. It shows farms on cleared land almost to the top of the Soufriere Hills. Few farms are shown on the eastern, windward, side of the island. Three very small towns are shown, Stapletown, Plymouth and Kinsale. Below to the right is a redrawing of one of the "map" perspectives (from Wheeler, p19), covering from Bransby Point to Gingoes River Point. [This is the top-most perspective in the photo, making north on the photo somewhere on the lower right side. -Bill] In the drawing, modern place names are shown in all capital letters, while the original map labels are in mixed (upper and lower) case. [Clicking on either map will bring you a larger version, usually in a new window. -Bill]


Montserrat is unable to afford the 4.5% export duty, so the King directs that all of the duties collected should be used on public works on the island.

The Dutch make strong raids on Montserrat and Nevis.

Governor-General Stapleton forms the first Leeward Islands Federation, headquartered on Nevis. [Related to the raids? -Bill] The purpose of the federation is to united the Leewards for combined defense and more efficient administration by the English govenment. [<guffaw> -Bill]


Many people murdered in a Carib raid originating from Dominica.

Montserrat land use:

  • 50% of the land not cultivatable.
  • 33% owned and cleared annually.
  • 7% usable but not settled.
  • 10% in pasture.

-Stapleton report to the Lords of Trade


Stapleton census: 2,682 whites, 992 slaves. Over two thirds of the whites were Irish subsistence farmers. The very few big planters were mainly English, many of them absentees. Only 3 owned 60 slave each. (There were not enough of the planter class to staff the Council and the Legislative Assembly.) This year was the peak of the white population on Montserrat. The number of whites decreased steadily over the next 3 centuries.


Governor-General Stapleton considered the situation on Montserrat to be so bad that he suggested to London that Montserrat be traded to the French for their portions of St. Kitts. This didn't happen. [I wonder whether the offer wasn't made, or the French were too smart to accept? -Bill]

A law was passed prohibiting settlers from leaving the island. [!!!? -Bill]

1680-1690: The Leewards Federation


Montserrat is part of the Leewards Federation, which is lead by Governor William Stapleton. Montserrat has a local governor, called the Lieutenant-Governor who seems to have been of only marginal importance in this period. [Actually, the term "Governor" seems to have been fairly loosely used for a number of titles. -Bill]

Stapleton seems to have done a good job of promoting the sugar industry, but was less than successful in trying to bring some uniformity to the laws, defense measures and revenues of the federated colony governments. [Uniting the Leewards or any other segment of the Caribbean seems to have been an impossible task, even up to this day. -Bill]

By now Montserrat was well established as a sugar producing island, but was thought by the English traders to be failing as a trading colony. The island still suffered from a lack of labor. Many planters had to grow cotton and indigo as well as sugar to make ends meet. Trading ships seldom called at Montserrat and most export produce had to be transshipped via Nevis.


The Montserrat Assembly, in order to assure sufficient gunpowder for the defense of the island, imposed a duty on all goods transported from the island. This duty was to be paid by the ship captains in gunpowder. [Now that's what I call a very *direct* tax! -Bill]

A great regional earthquake in the Leewards. Jamestown, Nevis, "fell into the sea."


Two hurricanes.


A raid by Caribs originating from Dominica. Several boys murdered, a sugar works burned and a number of slaves taken. This was the final Carib raid on Montserrat and is discussed in more detail in the section about the Amerindian inhabitants of Montserrat.


Nathaniel Johnson succeeded Stapleton as Governor-General of the Leewards. Johnson is immensely unpopular. [I don't know *why* why he was unpopular, though. -Bill]


Johnson is forced to resign and is replaced by Christopher Codrington.


The new Governor of the Leewards reported that there were hardly 300 English militiamen on Montserrat and more that 800 Irish. All through the Leewards, the Irish Catholics were very rebellious [with some good reason! -Bill] and were always ready to join the French against the English. A serious security risk given the coming events.

Another "terrible" earthquake. Again, Nevis is near the epicenter.

1690-1700: Militia and defense


The continual state of war between England and France continues to spill over into the Caribbean. The next 25 years (1689-1714) marked a series of French attacks against English colonies in the West Indies. [Of course, the English were doing a number on the French colonies, as well. -Bill]

On Montserrat, the white peasant farmers, mainly Irish, abandoned their holdings to the large landholders and left the island. [I guess that 1679 law was repealed or ignored. -Bill] With the white peasants leaving the island, the number to serve in the militia wend down. The fact that many of the landowners were absentees reduced the available number of militia officers.


St. Kitts was retaken from the French by Governor Codrigton, who then sent the rebellious Irish to Montserrat. [I bet that helped the militia situation! More rebellious Irish. Just what the English on Montserrat needed! -Bill

There was a severe regional earthquake in the Leewards. [Epicenter unknown? -Bill]


Mt. Misery on St. Kitts erupts.


The Militia Act of 1668 is strengthened by a second militia act. All males between 16 and 60 must be listed for militia duty. [Even the rebellious Irish deportees from St. Kitts? -Bill]

French privateers raid and capture 40 slaves and one white prisoner. [And the militia was where? -Bill]


Some interesting military details from surviving records: In addition to installations at Plymouth and Kinsale, there were coastal batteries Bransby Bay, Old Road Bay and Carr's Bay. All of these were required to have a "landing guard" of 4 men. Upon the sighting of an enemy offshore, the alarm was sounded - 2 cannon shots from the "great guns" at Kinsale, Plymouth, Bransby or Old Road. Planters were required to supply the labor needed to complete Kinsale Fort and repair the earthworks form Cove Castle (Roche's Bluff) to Carr's Bay.


Another raid by French privateers. Ten slaves were captured.

1700-1710 War & Sugar


Montserrat has become a stable and prosperous, if not wildly successful, sugar colony. The small 10 acre or so farms which had been the norm from the founding of the colony in 1632, which grew tobacco, indigo and other such small-plot crops, had given way to the large sugar plantation-estates. Being labor intensive and requiring considerable capital to set up mills and the like, only well funded individuals were able to compete in the sugar business successfully. Since the Irish typically did not have the ability to attract such funding, they were marginalized and gradually left the island. Additionally, to get a land grant one had to swear allegiance to the Anglican Church, which was an anathema to the Catholic Irish.

Between 1700 and 1704 Montserrat produced and shipped 1021 tons of sugar. Not much compared to 2847 tons for Antigua or 2858 tons for Nevis. Nevis had the advantage of being the Royal African Company's distribution point for slaves. Montserrat had tended to get relatively few slaves prior to 1700 because of the lack of currency. Most Montserratian business was done in kind and the slavers didn't like the uncertainty of fluctuating sugar prices or delayed payments. Thus, few slaves and slow sugar plantation development.

Elsewhere in the Caribbean, Christopher Codrington II, the Governor-General of the Leewards, drove the French off of St. Kitts in 1702. In 1703 he raided Guadeloupe causing a lot of damage to sugar plantations there. Retaliating, the French sacked St. Kitts and Nevis and made raids on Montserrat and Antigua. As a result of these tit-for-tat raids, a regiment of English troops was stationed on Antigua.

On Montserrat there was fear that either the Irish would rebel or that they would cooperate with a French invasion [as they had done before -Bill].


The Legislative Assembly ordered that all thatched houses in Plymouth be torn down because of the danger of fire during enemy raids. The Plymouth town boundaries were defined as "one furlong from the fort on all sides, and no farther." [1 furlong = 220 yards -Bill]

In another Act, the Assembly ordered the repair of all roads using slave labor provided by the planters in each district.

And in yet another Act, fines were established in currency, replacing the in-kind fines (sugar) used previously.


For the first time, the Common Law of England was declared to be in force in the Colony of Montserrat.


The governor-General reported that the Montserrat Militia numbered approximately 600 men, most Irish Catholics. They were unarmed and the planters, the nominal officers, refused to fight. [I wonder why Montserrat isn't a French dependency now? -Bill]


The Union of England, Scotland and Wales into Great Britain makes Montserrat a British colony rather than an English one.

Montserrat was raided by French privateers, and there was a violent hurricane in the Leewards. [Might as well lump the two main perennial destructive forces into one paragraph. -Bill]


A census made by the new Governor-General, Daniel Park:

  • 1,545 whites (decrease of 1,137 since 1678)
  • 3,570 blacks (increase of 2,578 since 1678)

Elsewhere in the world circa 1700

  • In 1687 Sir Isaac Newton compiled his theory of gravity and other theories in the Principia.
  • Peter the Great is modernizing Russia.
  • The war of the Spanish Succession 1701-1714 puts France, Spain and England at each other's throats. [Some of which spills over into the Caribbean as we've seen. -Bill]
  • Aurangzeb was the sixth and last effective emperor of the Mogul dynasty in India. When he died in 1707 the empire was in disarray.
  • Japan is in self imposed isolation from 1638 to 1868. Alarmed by the influence of Europeans, the shogunate barred foreigners and refused to allow Japanese travel overseas.

1710-1720 "The Battle of Runaway Ghaut"


The war of the Spanish Succession rages on in Europe, with spill-over into the Caribbean. The French are constantly attacking British holdings in the Caribbean, like Montserrat, and vice versa. The war comes to an end in this decade, but not without one, last, devastating battle fought on Montserratian soil.

The Assembly of the Leeward Islands Federation has it's last meeting. Britain continues to administer the islands with a Governor-General appointed by the Crown, but the islands could not be persuaded to cooperate with each other. [A lesson that still needs some learning, I fear. -Bill]


A squadron of 6 French privateers attacked the island, but were beaten back to their ships by the militia. [Someone must have armed them after all. -Bill] The battle was a tactical draw, with some 70 slaves carried off, but several of the raiders were captured as well. [Slave raiding was a popular objective. -Bill]


The Assembly of the Leeward Islands Federation has its last meeting. In the 40 years of its existence it made no progress towards a Leewards union.

Two more raids by French privateers. In the first one, in April, the French landed but were frightened off by the approach of British forces from Antigua. [Probably including some of the regular army troops stationed there. -Bill] In the second raid, in June, the raiders were driven off by the militia who inflicted some 60 casualties.


Reading the "handwriting on the wall," the public records of Montserrat are sent to Monk's Hill Fort in Antigua for safekeeping.

July 7-20: An attack by the French Royal Navy [note: not privateers this time. -Bill] is made on Montserrat after the French forces had been repulsed from Antigua. The order of battle for the French, under Monsieur Cassart, consisted of a fleet of 5 French warships, a Dutch "prize" ship, 13 sloops and miscellaneous smaller ships. There were several merchantmen in harbor at the time of the attack, but no warships. [Fergus: "Four men-o'-war could have driven the enemy ships 'out of the West Indies'." -Bill] Unfortunately for Montserrat, this invasion occurred during a time when Montserrat had an absentee Lieutenant-Governor, John Pearny, leaving the local administration in confusion.

Nonetheless, a couple of the leading planters took it upon themselves to organize the defense of the island. Both George Wyke and Edward Parson ended up as heroes of the battle. Captain Wyke with 60 men engaged the French in a delaying action at Runaway Ghaut long enough for the inhabitants to flee ["run away!" -Bill] to the mountain redoubt, The Gardens, between Galways Soufriere and South Hill. (see map) [Is this the origin of the name "Runaway Ghaut" or is it related to a runaway slave? -Bill] The ghaut named Frenchman's Creek which funnels Runaway Ghaut's waters to the sea [I didn't find this on the Tourist Map. Where is it? -Bill] and the remnants of a cemetery at Carr's Bay are the remaining memorials to The Battle of Runaway Ghaut.

With a total of about 400 men, Wyke and Parsons managed to prevent the complete surrender of the island to the French. Their achievement was accomplished in spite of a number of deserters who provided the French with valuable intelligence. [Probably those disreputable Irish again! ;-) -Bill] The French eventually decamped and left the island upon the approach of British forces from Antigua. But not before inflicting damage from which Montserrat was never to totally recover. 1200 slaves were taken. Stapletown burned to the ground (and never rebuilt). [The fires could be seen from Nevis! -Bill] The cannons in all of the forts and batteries were spiked and had their trunions broken off. (See the "cannon lore" page for explanations of these terms.) The total damage in the invasion was estimated to be 180,000. To give you an idea of just how large this amount is, here are some prices from approximately the same period. Sugar cane land is 60 per acre. Pasture is 10 per acre. A slave is worth roughly 45. A dwelling house is about 350. A horse is 32. A cow is 10. A stone windmill is about 700. [ 180,000 is a lot! -Bill]

The Governor-General was so impressed with Parson's leadership, that he elevated him to the position of "Commander-in-Chief." Parson, being an eminently practical man, requested that he be made Montserrat's Lieutenant-Governor instead, since that post carried a salary. [He didn't get the job. Heroism is one thing, politics is another! -Bill]


The Treaty of Utrecht ended the French-British fighting in the Leewards. [Finally! -Bill] The French gave up their portion of St. Kitts to the British. British army troops were withdrawn from Antigua. The French promised reparations to the Leewards. [I look forward to finding the slightest hint of any such reparations in future installments. I bet I won't! -Bill]


The larger sugar plantations are gradually rebuilt. However, many slaves had to be imported to replace those taken by the French. The public buildings in never-to-be-rebuilt Stabletown were gradually rebuilt in Plymouth. By default Plymouth gradually became the capital of the island.

1720-1730: Sugar Society


The demand for sugar in Europe is increasing. Unfortunately for the Leewards, the French and Dutch colonies were beginning to produce it at lower prices than the Leewards. These economic hard times were the final straw for many smaller planters. First they are burned out by the French in 1712. The promised reparations (from the treaty of Utrecht) were never paid by the French. [See? I told ya so! -Bill] Then came the depression in sugar prices. Many of the small planters on Montserrat gave up and moved to St. Kitts where they settled on land once owned by the French. Only the larger plantations could survive.

This migration from Montserrat by smaller white planters further tipped the white/black ratio in the population. The matter was further complicated by the fact that many of the whites on the island were Catholic Irish who, because of religion, politics and lack of credit worthiness, were unable to do more than "provision" farming. Many of them were also tradsmen; masons, shinglers, coopers, smiths, tailors, sawyers, etc. Still, the "white underclass" had little to be happy about. Wages, even for skilled tradesmen, were too low to allow them to do any more than barely survive.

The white upper class, the planters, had a very rich (or pseudo-rich) society complete with conspicuous consumption. Much of it was ludicrously out of place in the tropics. [Woolen waistcoats and breeches! In tropical heat! That must have been ripe! -Bill]

Over the years it was natural that the Irish and the black slaves would begin to work together for survival. This was viewed as a threat by the upercrust. Laws were passed forbidding any cooperation or gatherings of "Christians and negros." To further prevent black encroachment on white dominance, laws were passed to prevent blacks from competing with whites economically.

To round out the tensions building on Montserrat, there was the sexual imbalance. Women were scarce. White women especially. Many households had no women at all. Again laws had to be passed to prevent men from "stealing" other's women with promises of marriage or freedom.

[Soapbox: Sounds like the prescription for a thoroughly disfunctional society, with 'way too many built-in tensions. Much like most of the ones we see around us today. -Bill]


The Governor of the Leewards, John Hart to the Colonial Office:

"The colonists on Montserrat are two-thirds Papist, justly excluded by law from having any share in the Government."


A severe hurricane in the Leewards. British warships at Antigua are damaged. Two men-of-war damaged and 47 other ships driven ashore.


A report from the Leeward's Governor, now William Mathew, states that Montserrat is now regularly exporting lime juice. [The becomes a major export item in later decades. -Bill] This year 17 hogsheads, 25 barrels, were exported. [As a unit of measure a hogshead is about 63 gallons (238 liters). A barrel is half a hogshead. But which half? -Bill]

Exports at this time, in order of significance:

  1. muscovado (raw, unrefined) sugar
  2. molasses
  3. rum
  4. cotton
  5. indigo
  6. lime juice
  7. pimento (allspice)


A complete census was made by Governor Mathew, detailing the white population of each district, their occupations, houses, mills, land, crops, cattle, slaves and firearms. This census gave a total population of 6,988 people -- 1,143 whites and 5,855 blacks.

1730-1740 "Ain't gonna study war no more"


The war with the French has been over for more than 15 years. Montserrat is concentrating on rebuilding its primary business - sugar. By 1730 there were 78 sugar mills on the island; 52 of them powered by cattle, 23 by windmills, and 3 by water wheels. All of the land suitable for sugar cane cultivation is being used. Still, Montserrat is the lowest sugar producer in the Leewards. Among the problems was the fact that only 321 slaves were imported between 1729 and 1735. Plus a blight began to infest the canes.

Making a living is important - sugar is king. Who needs forts and cannons? The war's over, right?


An unsolved mystery: A plaque on the side of St. Anthony's Church on Church Road says "Rebuilt in 1730." On the 1673 map St. Anthony's was shown as being on the hill overlooking Plymouth. Why and when was it moved to Church Road?


The Montserrat Legislative Assembly passed an Act for the preservation of St. Anthony's. A person was to be appointed to clean and care for the church and keep it "in good order" at a yearly salary of 12. Also, no more burials were to be permitted within the church walls or inside of the church enclosure. [Hmmm... Sounds like they had a grave problem. -Bill]

Leeward's Governor-General William Mathew sent a detailed report to London on the state of Montserrat's defenses. They had not been repaired since the French attack of 1712, and were in abysmal shape. Evidently only Plymouth Fort had a canon and magazine, and it was used only for making salutes. The "magazine" held only minimal powder and shot. Gov. Mathew reported that he had stationed 20 to 30 British Regulars on the island but the Assembly refused to pay them so he recalled them to Antigua. ["Ain't gonna study war no more, ain't gonna study war no more..." -Bill]

The Montserrat "militia" consisted of 54 troopers with 4 officers, and 359 foot soldiers, including their officers.


This is the peak year of Montserrat's sugar production, 3150 tons. (See the graph on the right [from Fergus]. Clicking on the graph will bring up a larger version in a separate window. The scale for sugar production is on the left side of the graph. There are gaps in the data which are shown as zero sugar production, although there probably was about the same production as in the surrounding years. The number of slaves at a few dates is overprinted on the graph for comparison, with the scale on the right.) The slave population was 6,176 in 1735.


Hurricane with serious flooding in Plymouth. The Fort Ghaut wall collapsed and the Plymouth Fort was destroyed. [And then there were *no* cannons? -Bill]


The planters refused to believe that war with Spain was coming. [???!! Oh no! Not again! Where was that cannon last seen? -Bill] Despite the fact that the island was now completely without fortifications the planters refused to repair the earthworks because they said that the likelihood of a Spanish war was not great enough to be worth the expense. [Well, yes and no, as we will see. Stay tuned. -Bill]

1740-1750 Defense, Taxes and Hurricanes


In Europe there are more wars. [Didn't those folks have anything better to do? -Bill] As always, the West Indian sugar colonies were convenient units to keep score with. Besides, the French and the British were rivals in the sugar industry and destroying your opponent's production capacity is a Good Thing in a war. This time it's Spain against Britain, but France joins in against Britain in 1744. The bottom line is that Britain and France are at each other's throats [and colonies -Bill] again to determine which will be the world's dominant colonial power.

By now, the offensive forces mounted on men-of-war could make mincemeat out of shore based defenses. The only viable defense was to use other men-of-war to defend the islands from sea. Britain recognized that the defense of the islands depended on sea power and stationed navy and other military at English Harbour, Antigua. [So perhaps the planters had the right idea, and that one lonely cannon could rest in peace at the bottom for Fort Ghaut! -Bill]

On Montserrat, meanwhile, the planters still resisted voting money for defense. They argued that this was the responsibility of the home government - after all, they were the ones that started the war! [Seems reasonable to me, but reason and government are often immiscible. -Bill]


The Legislative Assembly requested that Britain return Regulars (regular army troops) to the island. They argued that 20 men in the right place could prevent a landing that 100 couldn't eject if it were successful. Of course there was another reason. The planters wanted the Regulars to stand the nightly guard duty so they would have to do it. [It's an even better idea if the home government can be talked into paying for it! -Bill]

The British Board of Ordnance refused to issue any more guns to Montserrat unless the colonists (i.e., the planters) agreed to pay for the gunpowder for said guns, as required by law. [These planters are nothing if not consistent! -Bill]

A hurricane hits, the first of this decade. [This is a good decade to keep score! -Bill]


The Assembly caves in. The first taxes are levied to pay for defense. Whites between 6 and 60 and all slaves were taxable at the rate of 4 shillings 6 pence, and houses in Plymouth were assessed at 80.


Planters are ordered to furnish slave labor to rebuild fortifications. At Wapping barracks were build to house a company of Regulars. [Clearly the planters have "Been Given the Word." -Bill]


Poll tax rased to 7 shillings. [*Strongly* given the word! -Bill]


The Regulars are recalled to Antigua to reinforce the troops there, despite Assembly protests. [You can't win! You do what they want and you still get the nasty end of the stick. -Bill]

A hurricane (second one of the decade and still counting) causes extensive damage to crops.


There is a conflict in the Assembly between the Protestants and the pro-Catholics. The Protestants demanded the dismissal of most of the chief militia officers. [Don't know who, if anyone, won that little legislative fracas. -Bill]

Antigua suffers from a great drought. Antigua bought water in Montserrat and sold it for 18 pence a bucketful.


The poll tax is raised once again - to 32 shillings [!! -Bill], the highest in the Leewards.

There were two violent hurricanes t his year, which wrecked many ships. [The count for the decade tops out at 4! Truly a bad decade for hurricanes - and taxes! -Bill]


A company of Regulars was returned to Montserrat. The Assembly votes additional subsistence pay and additional barracks. [Well, they should have had the money after all the tax increases! -Bill] But the troops were recalled to Antigua again with the end of the war that year. [War ends? End? Don't hold your breath! Stay tuned. -Bill]

Elsewhere in the World Around 1750

1745 - Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) leads a second Jacobite rebellion.

1745 - Louis XV installs the Marquise de Pompadour as his official mistress.

1746 - Britain and France struggle for the domination of India. France seizes Madras.

1746 - Ferdinand VI succeeds Philip V as king of Spain.

1746 - Princeton University is founded in New Jersey.

1750 - Thomas Walker finds the Cumberland Gap thorough the Appalachian Mountains.

1750 - Baal Shem Tov founds the Jewish sect of Hasidism.

1750 - The Afshars are replaced by the Zand dynasty in Persia; Shiraz becomes the capital.

1750 - The neoclassical movement in art develops in Europe about this time.

1750 - The waltz becomes a popular dance in Europe.

1753 - Swedish biologist Carolus Linneaus publishes his system of plant classification.

1753 - The British Museum is founded in London.

1755 - Samuel Johnson publishes his Dictionary of the English Language.

1750-1760 More War and Privateers


Once again Europe erupts into general war, this time it's the Seven Years' War (1756-1763). As always the Caribbean becomes a place for proxy fights and economic warfare. Some background from the 1998 Groliers Multimedia Encyclopedia CD-ROM:

The Seven Years' War (1756-63) was a worldwide conflict that pitted Britain and Prussia against Austria, France, Russia, Saxony, Sweden, and (after 1762) Spain. It was an extension of the old disputes and antagonisms that had caused the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48). Prussia and Austria renewed their contest for possession of Silesia and for political dominance in central Europe. At the same time Britain and France continued their long struggle for naval and colonial supremacy.

1998 Grolier Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

During this period Montserrat evidently became a base for privateers. [Given the unsavory reputation of many privateers, I bet that Plymouth had an interesting social life during this period. I've endeavored to find out a bit more about this, but have been unsuccessful. Anyone have any leads? -Bill] Again from Groliers:

Privateering was the practice by which governments employed privately owned vessels to capture enemy commerce during wartime. Motivated by the profits made by such captures, privateers held licenses, called letters of marque and reprisal, and their attacks were limited to vessels of nations at war with the country issuing their commissions. Privateering differed from piracy mainly because of those licenses and limitations. Although privateers existed from at least the 13th century and into the 19th, the heyday of privateering was from the 16th to the 18th century.

Always difficult to control, privateers often lapsed into piracy. By 1500, international agreements limited their illegalities, requiring all seizures to be confirmed by admiralty courts, and thus distinguishing pirate from privateer. Gradually privateering operations were carefully regulated, and by 1740 privateering was an accepted area of business investment. When national navies were small, privateers could injure an enemy at little cost to the licensing power. All western European nations, especially weaker naval powers, employed this means of destroying enemy trade. Originating in Europe, it eventually spread throughout the world, reaching great vogue in the Caribbean and along the North American coast. The English and Dutch employed privateers against the Spanish in the 16th and 17th centuries; the French against the English in the 17th and 18th centuries; and Americans against the English during the American Revolution and the War of 1812.

1998 Grolier Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The European population of the Caribbean in general became static in this time - no longer gorwing. The productivity of the Caribbean islands reached its peak.

On Montserrat, plantations covered all arable land. Land was in production almost to the peaks of the mountains. There simply was no further land into which plantations could expand. Nonetheless, additional slaves continued to be imported.


The first Government House was built in Montserrat.


A Militia Act was passed that provided for 50 cavalry officers plus officers, and five companies of infantry. All of the cavalry and officers were required to wear uniforms. [Want to bet whether the uniforms were of standard European design and totally inappropriate for tropical climates? -Bill]


A Yellow fever epidemic hits Montserrat.

At the request of the Assembly a company of British Regulars were sent to Montserrat


The Seven Years' War breaks out in Europe.


Montserrat Census: 1,430 whites, 8,853 blacks. Total: 10,283.

1760-1770: The St. Patrick's Day 'Rebellion'


The Seven Year's War is ongoing in Europe, with some spill-over into the Caribbean - but fortunately little more than nervousness afflicts Montserrat. As it turns out, the end of the war in 1763 is a bigger blow to the island than the hostilities themselves, as we shall see.

Closer to home, one of the two things that the Planter class most feared almost happened - a slave rebellion. [The other thing that they greatly feared, and which also happened several times, was the island's white, Irish underclass cooperating with French invaders. With the end of the Seven Year's War this fear began to ease as the French menace diminished. -Bill]

Control of the black slaves (and the white Irish) had been a ongoing concern of the Planters from the very start of the Montserrat colony. Laws and Acts were passed frequently to ally perceived fears. [Some of those fears were correctly perceived, too! -Bill] A few of the various slave/Irish control measures: 1723-1724 the Speaker of the Council reminded all with canoes to keep them secure to avoid slaves running off in them. The penalty for a slave striking a white person was death, but there is no evidence that this law was ever invoked. In 1693 a slave was convicted of beating his overseer almost to death, but the historical record implies that the overseer was also black.


Montserrat ranked 6th in sugar, 6th in rum and 3rd in cacao exports among the British West Indian islands.

The Seven Year's War ends in Europe. In the Caribbean, the British were granted the French islands of Dominica, Grenada, St. Vincent and Tobago. Unfortunately for Montserrat, these former French islands were producing sugar more cheaply than the British islands. [There goes that number 6 rating! -Bill]


A hurricane and flood in Fort Ghaut. Fort Ghaut is undermined, half of Plymouth is destroyed. Houses are washed away with many dead and something like 200 homeless. Ships in the Plymouth roadstead were blown ashore. Planters were forced to provide slave labor to rebuild roads and bridges.


St. Patrick's Day, 17 March, was celebrated in Montserrat despite the discrimination against the Irish. The people of the island usually assembled to celebrate it. [Co-opting someone else's holiday that can't be eliminated has a long history. E.g., Roman Saturnalia, the mid-winter festival of "unrestrained merry making," was co-opted by the early Christian church to become the celebration of Christ's birth. -Bill]

The Plan: While the celebration among the Planters occurred in Government House, slaves within the house were to seize the gentlemen's swords while those outside were to "fire into the house with whatever missiles were at their disposal" [Fergus]. [They evidently had acquired guns somehow. -Bill]

What Happened: A woman within Government House overheard the plans and reported it. Fergus states that this woman was a white seamstress and "noted for drunkenness," while Wheeler reports that the woman was a black slave. Her report was at first met with disbelief, but eventually the truth of the report became evident and the "rebellion" was suppressed before it began.

By 6 October, Vice-Admiral Pye, CinC of HM's ships in the Leeward Islands reported that the insurrection had been completely suppressed. Nine of the ringleaders were "brutally executed" [Fergus] (Wheeler says "hanged') and 30 more were imprisoned pending banishment.

This event left the Planters shaken and nervous. They were ready to jump at any hint of trouble. Indeed, in 1770 there was a false alarm over another rebellion. Sixteen "ringleaders" were arrested, but later released when the trial proved their innocence. The Governor of the island alternated between reporting that all was well and everyone was happy, and requesting more help in controlling the slaves and improving defenses.

Census: Whites 1,320, blacks 10,177 for a total of 11,497.


A house in Plymouth was purchased to be used as a courthouse and to house the meetings of the Legislature.

1770-1780 "Free Persons of Color"


A new social class is emerging in the West Indies and specifically in Montserrat, namely the "free persons of color." These formed a distinct social class between the whites and the blacks in the West Indies. They were people of mixed race who were looked down upon socially by the whites, and who in turn would not associate with the slaves. The "coloreds" came about in several ways. From the early days of colonization, it was common for white masters to have slave mistresses. The children of such unions were often set free. Also poor whites who married slave women would set their wives free and their children became free coloreds.

As their number increased these coloreds became domestic servants, tradesmen fishermen and shopkeepers. Some even became landowners and themselves owned slaves. Coloreds were required to serve in the militia, even though they were not socially acceptable to the whites.

Elsewhere in the world, the American Revolution broke out in 1776 and since the dreaded French were allies of the American rebels, wartime conditions rapidly descended on the British Caribbean again. The worst of the consequences for Montserrat were not to arrive until the next decade, however.


Robert Anderson, the surgeon on the H.M.S. Portland, wrote an article "Description of Volcano in Montserrat in 1771" which was published in the "Minutes of the Society Promoting Natural History," in England. [I wonder of the MVO has a copy of that? It is probably the oldest description of the volcano from a scientific perspective. -Bill]


A severe hurricane strikes which causes serious damage to he plantations. In St. Kitts, Nevis and Antigua many ships were wrecked, and many lives lost. [Sounds like this one went just north of Montserrat like Georges did in 1998. -Bill]

The census: Whites 1,314, blacks 9,834. (Total of 11,148) Plymouth and Kinsale hold approximately 40% of the white population.


An Act is passed to strengthen the Militia Act of 1752. This Act included free colored in the militia, but only in subordinate positions.


Patrick Browne, M.D. who traveled in the West Indies, spent four years on Montserrat. He wrote another description of the Soufriere which was included in his book, "A Catalogue of the Plants of Jamaica and Other English Sugar Colonies." [Another one to ask the MVO about. -Bill]

1780-1790: French Occupation


The American Revolution rages on in the mainland colonies to the north. The French are allied with the Americans against the British. At sea, the French commander in the Caribbean, Comte Francois Joseph Paul de Grasse [see photo at left], captures the British island of Tobago before he moves his fleet north to help the American rebels win the day in the Yorktown Campaign. His fleet turned back the British relief fleet in the Battle of the Chesapeake Bay (Sept. 5-9, 1781), insuring the victory by the Franco-American forces over the British army commander, GEN Charles Cornwallis.


The "Great Hurricane of 1780" affected nearly every island in the West Indes. [I understand that this hurricane killed as many or more than Hurricane Mitch did in 1998. -Bill]


Returning from the campaign to the north, the French under ADM de Grasse force Montserrat to surrender on 22 February 1782. The island was compelled to pay a ransom worth approximately 4,781. The French appointed a govenor, Louis Joseph de Goullon. Under French occupation the people were well treated and English laws were observed. The French paved the main streets in Plymouth, built barracks and officers' quarters for their troops. The island's existing fortifications were strengthened and two batteries atop St. George's Hill were constructed that would both protect Plymouth from attacks by sea and cover the inland apporaches.

All of the British West Indies were captured by the French with the exception of Barbados, Jamaica and Antigua, which had permanent British military installations.

Resuming Caribbean duties, ADM de Grasse was soundly defeated and captured by the British in the Battle of Les Saintes (1782). After his release he was court-martialed in 1784; although acquitted, he did not recover his command.


The Peace of Versailles in September 1783 returned Montserrat to Britain after nearly 2 years of occupation. The French forces withdrew in January 1784. A new governor was appointed (Michael White) and a general election was held to elect members of the Assembly

After the war sugar production on Montserrat continued to decline. From 1784 to 1789 fewer than 100 slaves were imported.


Another hurricane.


The census reported the population as 1,300 whites, 10,000 blacks and 260 free coloreds. This was the first offical recognition of the free colored as a separate class. The white platers, always nervous about the danger of a slave rebellion, were alarmed by the increasing number of colored in the population. Afraid that they might join forces with the slave in an emergency, laws were passed that limited the civil rights of the free coloreds.


A law was passed lowering the qualifications to hold office. Even this lowered qualification was still designed to maintain the power of the white planter class. A voter was qualified to hold office only is he was white, and if he possessed a freehold with a yearly value of 40 shillings.

The Committee of the Privy Council Investigating the Slave Trade required that all laws of the British islands be submitted for review.

Montserrat reported that, responding to a letter from the Bishop of London, the local clergy were working to convert the slaves. The Established Church had two ministers serving the four parishes and the Catholics were served by their own priest.


In response to further queries form Parliament, Montserrat reported that there were 6,000 acres planted in sugarcane and 2,000 acres in cotton.

1790-1800: The Economy and Looming War Clouds


With the American War of Independence over, and the 2-year French occupation a thing of the past, you'd think that things would have to start looking up. Wrong! The prices for everything were up. Montserrat, being a marginal sugar colony at the best, was one of the first to feel the full effects. Demand for slaves all over the Americas drove the prices up - beyond what many Planters could afford. In fact in the period 1785-1790 fewer than 100 slaves were imported. By 1790 slave ships had stopped calling at Nevis and Montserrat because the market was too small. Supplies needed to run the sugar plantations, such as lumber, horses, cattle, corn, flour, saltfish and salt beef which had previously come directly from the British American colonies, now had to come via Britain: delays and higher shipping costs.


London issues an Abridgement of the Laws of Montserrat from 1668 to 1740. [Hey! That's a neat idea! Clear out the dead wood from the legal system. Anything that's any good has to be updated and reissued. I wonder what brought on this uncharacteristic moment of good sense? -Bill]


A hurricane damages crops on Montserrat.


The earliest mention of a Methodist congregation on Montserrat.


Remember the General Assembly of the Leeward Islands? That's the legislative body that was so completely ignored because the islands could not agree on anything. I had not even met since 1711. Well, finally they agreed on something. The assembly held a final meeting in 1798 to protest a resolution on slavery passed by the British government.

While they were at it, they also passed an Act that abolished civil restrictions against the Irish and Roman Catholics. In theory, all freeholders with a property value of 40 shillings yearly gained the franchise. In theory, they could now participate in civil and political life. [In theory. In reality, things always move more slowly. -Bill]

Meanwhile, in Britain and Elsewhere in Europe:

With the rise to power of Napoleon Bonaparte, Britain was in serious danger. The Army was to expand 6-fold and the Navy even more. All of this cost money, which came from taxes for the most part. Financially stressed, Britain was not favorably inclined to grant largess on it's distant (and unprofitable) colonies, such as Montserrat. Furthermore, as we've seen time and again, a war in Europe involving Britain will sooner or later affect Montserrat. Most especially if France is somehow involved.

[Stay tuned. -Bill]

Main Sources:

"Montserrat West Indies, a chronological history," by Marion M. Wheeler. Published by the Montserrat National Trust, 1988.

Other Source:

Encyclopedia Britannica CD, 1999 Standard Edition

1800-1810: Napoleonic Wars, Slave Trade Ends


The Napoleonic Wars, which began in 1792 and didn't end until 1815, were global in scope as far as Britain was concerned. In this decade the war spread into the West Indies, threatening Montserrat. Another, far more pervasive and powerful force is also threatening Montserrat. Britain is in the midst of the Industrial Revolution. The change over from manpower and animal power to machine power is making Britain the industrial giant of its day. But machines are expensive, as are the people who understand them. The planters, on Montserrat and elsewhere in the Leewards, cannot afford machines. They continue to rely on manpower - more specifically, slave labor. But even that is threatened. Recall that the slave trading ships from Africa no longer call at Montserrat - not enough market. The planters cannot afford to buy new slaves. And the practice of slavery itself is on the way out as more and more restrictions are placed on the trade of slaves.


A hurricane.


Under threat of the French fleet commanded by Missiessy, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis were forced to pay ransoms. Montserrat paid 7,500 to be spared from attack. [The Napoleonic War really didn't start going Britain's way until about 1809. -Bill] The Montserrat census shows 1,000 whites, 9,500 blacks, and 250 free colored, for a total of 10,750.

Number of Slaves by Estate (1809)



Farms Estate
Richmond Hill Estate
Broderick's Estate
Spring's Estate
Trant's Estate
Hermitage Estate
Farrell's Estate
Branby's Estate
Waterworks Estate
Edward Parson's Estate
John Gage's Estate
Paradise Estate
Roche's Estate
Clement Kirwan's Estate
Dagenham Estate



The slave trade from Africa to any British possession was declared illegal. The ending of the slave trade [which had de facto already ended on Montserrat -Bill] forced the planters to take better care of their slaves and encourage them to have children.


The first census of slaves according to parishes and separate estates. The total was 6,910. At right is a partial listing of the slave population by estate. The sudden decrease in the slave population by over 2,500 is explained by the hard times. Slave owners were selling slaves off-island in order to make ends meet. [There must have been a thriving "reseller" slave market since the new import of slaves from Africa had been banned. -Bill]

Main Sources:

"Montserrat West Indies, a chronological history," by Marion M. Wheeler. Published by the Montserrat National Trust, 1988.

"Montserrat, History of a Caribbean Colony," by Howard A. Fergus, 1994, MacMillan Press Ltd., ISBN 0-333-61217-5

Other Source:

Encyclopedia Britannica CD, 1999 Standard Edition

1810-1820: History leaves Montserrat behind


As the Napoleonic Wars wound down and finally ended in 1815, Britain found itself in a period of serious economic decline. Unemployment, reduced demand for manufactured goods, and a heavy war debt all contributed. All of this caused labor unrest and a rising demand for political reforms.

Any economic woes in the mother country are rapidly reflected in very hard times in marginal colonies like Montserrat. And this particular recession came at a time that found Montserrat's main industry, sugar production, becoming outmoded. "State of the art" a hundred years prior, slave labor intensive cultivation of sugar cane was rapidly becoming uneconomical. Sugar from European sugar beets had come to the market during the Napoleonic Wars. Beet sugar was cheaper because it was grown and refined locally in Europe, and its manufacture was highly mechanized. [That pesky Industrial Age again. Agrarian societies such as Montserrat are plowed under and left in the dust. -Bill] West Indian cane sugar was produced by slave labor and had to be shipped to Europe for refining.

Additionally, on Montserrat, the soil upon which the crops depended was becoming exhausted, causing smaller crops. And the economic situation in England made getting credit next to impossible.

As a result, some planters were abandoning their estates. While the white population was declining rapidly, the planter class tenaciously held on to power. The government had become dominated by the Council, which was made up of planters who owned large estates and resident proprietors. Many of these people were related and many held multiple posts in the government. Absentee owners delegated their votes in Council to other planters. In this way the administrative power was kept in the same hands.

The lower house of the government, the Assembly, was supposed to have 12 members, elected from and by the white residents qualified to vote. Assemblymen were usually merchants, small planters and estate managers ("attorneys"). The Assembly was seldom at full strength since most of these men had little education and had no incentive to run for any office. When both houses of the legislature did meet, the Assembly frequently disagreed with the Council, leading to personal feuds and a further breakdown in governmental control of Montserrat.


Census: Whites 444, blacks 6,732, free colored 250, for a total of 7,426. (The graph at right shows the slave population of Montserrat from the beginning of slavery on the island to its end in 1834.)

Of the 444 whites only 154 were males over 16 years of age eligible to serve in the militia.


Among exports for the 15 British West Indian islands, Montserrat had fallen to 14th in sugar, 8th in rum, but was still 3rd in cacao.

An extremely violent eruption of St. Vincent's Soufriere volcano in April was felt throughout the Leewards. Earthquakes preceded the eruption and the volcanic eruptions continued until July. [Hey! How did St. Vincent get off with just a 4 month eruption? All Soufrieres are not created equal? No fair! -Bill]


The first general election in 29 years was held. Free colored who possessed the property qualifications voted in the election in St. Anthony's Plymouth and Kinsale. The Assembly refused to recognize their votes. [Surprise, surprise! -Bill] Free colored petitioned the Leeward's Governor for the vote, but no action was taken.


An Act of the Assembly established a registry of slaves.

The census showed showed that there were 6,340 slaves in the hands of 167 owners.

Main Sources:

"Montserrat West Indies, a chronological history," by Marion M. Wheeler. Published by the Montserrat National Trust, 1988.

"Montserrat, History of a Caribbean Colony," by Howard A. Fergus, 1994, MacMillan Press Ltd., ISBN 0-333-61217-5

1820-1830: Slavery under pressure


Slavery on Montserrat (and elsewhere as well) is under increasing pressure from all sides. Not only are plantations run on slave labor becoming more and more uneconomical compared to mechanized forms of agriculture, but the human rights aspects of slavery are becoming abhorrent to most people. Planters could no longer prevent or discourage the efforts of Protestant, Roman Catholic and Anglican missionaries to convert the slaves. In 1823 the Anti-slavery Society was founded in Britain and pressure was put on colonial legislatures to improve the conditions of the slaves.

Montserrat's response to this call for an improvement in the conditions of slavery was typical of the British Caribbean. The Planters were not prepared to abandon their "tried and true" techniques of control, such as flogging of women, the use of whips in the fields, the separation for families through sale for debt and other tools of coercion. The Assembly met and passed the following resolution:

That it is highly expedient at a period like the present, when a certain set of men in England are doing everything in their power to degrade and vilify the West Indies character by spreading malicious reports and bringing forward unfounded charges against them, this island should have a proper person on the spot to support its reputation, when thus attacked by the spirit of 'Bigotry and Fanaticism'. [after Fergus]

[Who says "spin doctoring" is a modern invention? -Bill] A British MP by the name of Anthony Brown was retained for the sum of 100 to represent the interests of the island in Parliament. This was not a completely successful enterprise. Even Brown recommended that the worst of the abuses be terminated in order to mute the cries of the abolitionists.


Census: 6,124 slaves in the hands of 133 owners.

General elections were held, and again the free coloreds tried to vote as they had in 1813. But again their votes were not accepted.


An epidemic of yellow fever.


The Assembly votes to appoint police officers for Plymouth: a white police chief and two policemen, white or colored.


Census: 5,835 slaves in the hands of 135 owners.

In the Legislature:

  • The Assembly was petitioned by the free coloreds who objected to being excluded from the "benefits and advantages conferred exclusively on whites."
  • A Militia Act was passed: All white and free colored male inhabitants between 16 and 60 must serve in the militia. The Act provided for one company of white infantry and two companies of colored infantry. Arms and equipment were to be provided from public sources.
  • The right of slaves to give evidence under oath was grudgingly granted. (This small reform was pushed through by two fair-minded individuals by the name of Peter Wheatland and Richard Dyett. They failed to push through any further reforms, however. In part this was due to the slaves "hostile anxiety" over the denial of freedom.)


Methodist congregations are increasing on Montserrat.

Earliest record of the baptism of slaves. All slaves of the Kirwan, Cannonier, Semper and Hamilton families were baptized by a Catholic priest who was on the island between 1824 and 1828.


A nightly police watch was established in Plymouth.


The Assembly officially recognized Catholics by granting the Roman Catholic clergyman 100 to "furnish a convenient place of worship for his flock."




Census: 315 whites, 5,986 blacks, 818 free colored, for a total of 7,119.


A tax levy of 1,500 was passed to build a new jail. [See? Get a few policemen, let them patrol and night, and before you know it you need a new jail. -Bill]

Main Sources:

"Montserrat West Indies, a chronological history," by Marion M. Wheeler. Published by the Montserrat National Trust, 1988.

"Montserrat, History of a Caribbean Colony," by Howard A. Fergus, 1994, MacMillan Press Ltd., ISBN 0-333-61217-5

1830-1840: The Abolition of Slavery


Montserrat was in the midst of an economic depression, as was Britain. The loss of economic power by the planters was felt in the Parliament as well since the planters could no longer purchase seats in the House of Commons.


The Catholic Emancipation Act, enacted in Parliament in Britain, meant that Catholics could hold public offices, vote, and serve on juries. Additionally, the Montserrat Legislature passed an act removing restrictions the civil and political rights of free colored and free blacks.


The two admisistrative segments (divided in 1816) of the Leeward Islands government were reunited and the island of Dominica was added. However, attempts to form a federated government failed as they had in the past. [Never did manage that, did they? -Bill] On 29 August, the British Parliament passed the Abolition of Slavery Act to become effective a year later on 1 August 1834. The Act introduced an "apprenticeship" system. Any freed slave over 6 years of age was to work without pay for 4 years for their former owner. In return the former owners were to feed and clothe them, as well as paying them a wage for any work over 45 hours per week. But. The details of the implementation of this act was left to the local government on each colony.

On Montserrat, the Assembly voted for full freedom, immediately. No "apprenticeship." The Council dissagreed. As a "compromise" the limits of the apprenticeship was set at the maximum limits allowed by the Abolition Act. [Guess who held the real power on Montserrat! Also guess who held the slaves. -Bill]

The census in 1833: 6,218 slaves held by 166 owners.

There was an earthquake. Hardest hit were Antigua and St. Kitts.


Emancipation occurs 1 August and "apprenticeship" begins. The "overtime" pay for work over 45 hours per week was not to exceed 4 pence per day.

With the planters deprived of valuable property (the former slaves), the government of Montserrat could no longer collect taxes on that property and was driven to near bankruptcy. [But not to worry, governments usually find a way out of such circumstances, usually in the form of new taxes. -Bill] A new poll tax was enacted. 5 shillings on every apprentice, and 20 shillings on every male between 16 and 60 who was not an apprentice. Also taxed: sugar mills, carriages, horses (mares and geldings included). [But note that women were not included in the poll tax. Hmmm... How about Unix? No, that's another century. -Bill]. Customs duties on imports were also increased, especially on booze. [Couldn't even get drunk to forget the new taxes! -Bill]


A severe hurricane hits Montserrat. [You'll find this is a frequently recurring theme in the history of Montserrat. -Bill]


Two English Abolitionists, Joseph Sturge and Thomas Harvey, visit Montserrat to see how the apprentice system is working out there. Among other things, they reported that apprentices worked 6 days a week and did more work in the last two days, for which they were paid, than in the other 4. [Former slaves, yes. Stupid, no! -Bill]

The Assembly and the Council were still arguing about the apprenticeship system. In fact 6 of the 7 members of the Assembly resigned. The Assembly was formally dissolved and new elections held. Actually, the Council had a Better Idea. The President of the Council informed the Colonial Office that Montserrat couldn't afford a two-house legislature any more. He proposed that the island should become a Crown Colony under a Lieutenant-Governor. It would be a sweet deal for the planters. They would continue to hold power in the Council and the colony's (woeful) economic situation would become the responsibility of the Crown. The Colonial Office didn't act on this (wishful) suggestion. [Someone else is no fool. -Bill]

Primary education begins in the churches. The wooden Methodist church at Cavalla Hill was the first. [The successor stone church at Cavalla Hill was the subject of one of my e-postcards. -Bill] Other Methodist church-schools soon sprang up.


Apprenticeship ends. All labor must now be paid. There are 6,401 freed slaves on the island. Planters receive a total of 103,566 from the Crown in compensation for their "lost" property. Freed slaves begin leaving in droves, departing primarily to Trinidad where there was a shortage of labor and higher wages. 2,037 laborers leave the island between 1838 and 1844.

St. Mary's Chapel, also known as the Town Chapel and the Church of the Emancipation, was built by the Anglicans on what was said to have been a Catholic cemetery. [The Catholic Emancipation Act didn't create instant friends, I see. -Bill] This building later became St. Mary's Anglican School. [Does anyone have a photo I could use? -Bill]

Elsewhere in the World

1836: Texas declares independence from Mexico.

1831: Nat Turner leads a slave insurrection in Southhampton County, Virginia.

1831-36: Charles Darwin formulates the theory of evolution during the voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle.

Late 1830s: The potato famine begins in Ireland.

1839-42: The first Opium War, where China faces the west militarily for the first time. China loses. British merchants triggered the conflicts.

Main Source:

"Montserrat West Indies, a chronological history," by Marion M. Wheeler. Published by the Montserrat National Trust, 1988.

Other Source(s):

The 1998 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia (Deluxe edition).

1840-1850: Montserrat on the Rocks


Following the abolition of slavery in 1834, Montserrat's fortunes hit rock bottom. It's important to realize that it wasn't abolition itself that caused the problems. [I'm sure the planters would have vociferously argued that point. -Bill] Montserrat's problems were more structural in nature and had been building for a long time. Economic and political forces had been growing against Montserrat's social structure of planter government and slave labor sugar plantations for decades. Among the things that had important impact were the trading effects of the American War of Independence, the lack of technical improvements in the sugar industry (e.g. the competition from European sugar beets), natural disasters, and the defense expenses relating to the wars with the French, not to mention the disruption caused by occasional French occupations. [Actually the French made some significant improvements in Montserrat while they were in charge. See 1782 for example. -Bill]

The failure of Montserrat to adapt to changing times was due in large part to the white, planter-controlled government. We've seen how the planter class tenaciously held on to power, despite the fact that their own members were deserting the island. In 1837 there were 5 electoral districts with a total of 15 legislative members. There were 144 potential voters of which 75 had voted in the previous election. By 1851 there were only 150 whites on the island. Of the 170 persons who paid taxes 59 were under the age of 16 and only 85 of those over age 20 were literate. Montserrat's long standing backward attitude toward education was having catastrophic consequences for the island.

The legislature was not only unrepresentative and incompetent, but corrupt and racially prejudiced. Following the 1843 earthquakes (see below) the island negotiated imperial loans totaling 23,000 at 5% to restore public buildings and relieve private individuals on a loan basis. 3,000 was used to restore public buildings. 5 of 52 loan applicants received 15,000 with two of those receiving 11,000 between them. A few of the big beneficiaries defaulted, saddling the government with the huge debt. This debt was a serious problem for years despite a one-half percent interest reduction by the British in 1853.

Despite abolition and the granting of civil rights to the colored and blacks, the white minority tried to keep the legislature in their own hands. An ex-slave did get elected to the Assembly in 1842 but declined to serve, due allegedly to "modesty." [Even if he was only modestly intelligent he would have been the equal of most of the whites in the government. -Bill] He probably saw the government as an irrelevant white club.

Even after abolition the planters were unwilling to sell estate land to the ex-slaves. they adopted the tenancy-at-will system, allowing laborers to retain their cottages and donation a portion of the estate lands for their own use in return for a minimum number of days labor in the estate fields. This eventually developed into a sharecropping system wherein the laborers to retain one third to one half of their crops in return for the use of the land.


The census shows 41 sugar estates and 19 owners.

The Royal Mail Steam Company's West Indian mail service to Montserrat starts. This service continued until 1927.


Strict laws were passed licensing sale of all kinds of liquor, and heavy penalties for avoiding payment of fees. [Some Proprietors took to paying laborers in rum. Did that qualify as "selling?" -Bill]

The cornerstone was laid for St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Plymouth.


Guadeloupe's Soufriere erupts, killing 5,000 people there. Disastrous earthquakes rocked the Leewards following the eruption, with heavy damage to public buildings in Antigua. In Montserrat there were 6 deaths and many injuries. Only 3 of the 36 operating sugar works escaped serious damage (Webb's, Broderick's and Dagenham). Only a few buildings in Plymouth were completely destroyed, but almost all were damaged. All of the churches were unusable. Roads were buried, collapsed cliffs buried cottages and provision grounds [kitchen gardens -Bill] in the mountains. The west side of Chance Peak was laid bare and Gage's Upper Soufriere appeared. [A warning of things to come a century and a half later. -Bill] A relief loan fund was created by the British govenment. Montserrat was allotted 15,000.

After this quake, all buildings in Plymouth were rebuilt with a wooden upper story.


Between 1844 and 1851 1,870 more laborers left Montserrat for Trinidad.


An additional 8,000 loan (same rate and pay back conditions as the first 15,000) was requested from Britain.

A desperate Legislature proposed that Montserrat should either be united with Antigua or made into a Crown Colony. The Leeward's Governor gave support to the union proposal, as did the British Secretary of State. Before anything could be done the Antiguans had to be consulted. At that time, Antigua had its own serious financial and political problems and ignored the request for union with Montserrat.


Parliament passed the Sugar Duties Act which gradually withdrew the preferential duties on sugar from the British Colonies. This was a blow to all West Indian planters since they would no longer have a protected market for their sugar and marginal estates would be forced out of production. [Economic forces again. Sugar beet sugar was cheaper. Why should the British consumer pay more just to support some far away, backward island? There are certain similarities to the banana trade war of 1998-1999. -Bill]

Of the 41 sugar estates on the island, 21 are under cultivation, 11 under partial cultivation and 9 had been abandoned.


Not a single vessel came to Montserrat for freight during the year. All direct communication with Britain ceased. The little sugar that was produced had to be sent to St. Kitts or Antigua in small boats to be exported.

Fifteen estates were sold for taxes, 17 estates were completely abandoned, and only 9 estates were worked with any regularity.


There was a severe drought for 10 months. Half of ground provisions were destroyed and there was a great loss of sugar cane.

A smallpox epidemic with 4,000 cases resulting in 100 deaths.

Antigua grants Montserrat some money and provisions.

Main Sources:

"Montserrat West Indies, a chronological history," by Marion M. Wheeler. Published by the Montserrat National Trust, 1988.

"Montserrat, History of a Caribbean Colony," by Howard A. Fergus, 1994, MacMillan Press Ltd., ISBN 0-333-61217-5

1850-1860: The Sturge family and limes


While sugar was still being produced on Montserrat, it was no longer economical the way the planters practiced. The lack of slave labor, and even more importantly, the failure to modernize and innovate doomed the planters. For instance, the planters were not interested in converting to the German steel hoe from the much heaver British iron hoe. The planters were simply not interested in these small innovations that would have incrementally improved the lot, and the productivity, of the labor force. The steel hoe was eventually introduced, but by Francis Burke, an enterprising proprietor (more of him, below).

The economic conditions were terrible in Montserrat. Large amounts were owed to estate laborers, public officers were unpaid, the government [such as it was -Bill] had no money to provide social services, churches and other buildings damaged in the quake of 1843 had not been repaired. The British loan, which was supposedly made to make these repairs, was extended six times until 1857. There is no record if it ever having been paid.

The one bright spot in Montserrat's otherwise gloomy situation was provided by Joseph Sturge. Sturge, a Quaker, had visited Montserrat during the "apprenticeship" period to observe the effects of that system. He interested his family in investing in Montserrat and finding an alternative export crop to sugar. [Another person who, having visited Montserrat once, decided that he liked the place. -Bill]


The census showed a population of 7,053, 150 whites and 6,903 colored.

From 1851 to 1861 approximately 1,200 people emigrated from Montserrat to Trinidad.


Francis Burke had planted limes at Lawyers Estate and was looking for a market for lime juice. Edmund Sturge was a manufacturing chemist in Birmingham, England, and he made a contract with Burke to plant and export limes. Money was advanced to Burke against a mortgage on the estate. Lawyers Estate was eventually renamed Woodlands by the Sturge family. [More and more familiar name begin to pop up as we approach the present. It's sorta like coming home, isn't it? -Bill]

St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Plymouth was completed, 10 years after the cornerstone was laid.


Sicily: The failure of the Sicilian lime crop makes an opening in the market which was noted and acted upon by the Sturge family.


Parliament passed the West Indies Encumbered Estates Act, which permitted the sale by judicial decree of any estate crippled by debits. Proceeds of the sale were divided among the creditors and the purchaser received a clear title. [Want to bet whether the "creditors" included the estate laborers who were owed back pay? -Bill]

The Sturge family began to buy up sugar estates at very low prices and replant them in limes. [Not to look a friendly horse in the mouth, but I wonder if the Sturge family had anything to do with the passage of the Encumbered Estates Act? -Bill] Compared to sugar, cultivation of limes was not labor intensive, and they could be grown on small plots with poor soil by peasant farmers. [Poor soil Montserrat had in abundance due to long term monoculture (single crop) farming. -Bill]

Cavalla Hill Methodist Church
18 Feb 1998. (Photo by WGI)
Click on the photo for a lagrer view.

The Sturges bought the Needs Must Estate, next to Woodlands and renamed it Olveston Estate. [We must be close to home now! :-) -Bill]

There was a severe cholera epidemic.


The Methodists replaced their wooden church and schoolroom with at Cavalla Hill with a stone church. (See the photo at right and elsewhere.)


Edmund Sturge bought Hope Estate, above Salem.

Joseph Sturge bought Bransby Estate (near what is now Richmond Hill), renaming it Elberton. It was one of the few remaining successful sugar estates, and he hoped to prove that sugar could still be grown profitably using free labor. He gave instructions to his managers to sell plots of land to his laborers. [This guy really was a radical! I like his style! -Bill] Joseph Sturge died in 1859, but Elberton remained a successful and profitable sugar estate until it was converted to limes in 1868.

Main Sources:

"Montserrat West Indies, a chronological history," by Marion M. Wheeler. Published by the Montserrat National Trust, 1988.

"Montserrat, History of a Caribbean Colony," by Howard A. Fergus, 1994, MacMillan Press Ltd., ISBN 0-333-61217-5

1860-1870: Constitutional Changes


The 1860 brought see-saw changes to the power structure and constitution of Montserrat. Despite the planter's refusal to give any political or economic power to the laboring class or sell them land, a peasantry on Montserrat continued to grow. In no small part this was induced by the progressive policies of the Sturge family. They (now led by Edmund Sturge, brother of Joseph) would sell or rent land to their laborers whereas the planters refused. [By the way: the estate names of Elberton and Olveston were named for the Sturge brothers' birth and boyhood home villages in England. -Bill] Once some laborers had resources, they could buy abandoned estates by pooling their resources, sub-divide them, and establish themselves as peasant proprietors. Most of these holdings were on marginal land, with plots ranging from 1/2 to 10 acres. Peasants grew sugar and other cash crops as well as fruit, vegetables and ground provisions, not to mention raising livestock and poultry. These small holdings eventually grew into "free villages" with the help of missionaries who would organize a church and a church school nearby.

With the planters on one side, the labor force on the other, and the Sturges somewhere in the middle, the political landscape is beginning to break out of the planter dominated mold that it has been in for over a centruy. Joseph Sturge was best described as a capitalist and humanist rolled up into one. His goal was "gold and godliness" and Montserrat was his laboratory. He believed in the idea of a humanely managed capitalist enterprise. He got started a bit late, however, since he died in 1859, but his brother, Edmund, carried in the same vein.

Despite the hopeful signs the times were still hard, however. Emigration continued. Between 1861 and 1871 1,900 people left Montserrat for other West Indian islands.


The Sturges bought Grove Estate.

The Sturges established a store in Plymouth which sold estate supplies and loaned money to sugar growers against their crops.

The first Catholic primary school was opened in Plymouth.


Census: The total population was 7,645

The Constitution is changed. Owing to continuing problems over the previous decades of getting "qualified" men to serve in the government, thus making it unworkable, the two house legislature was abolished in favor of a single Legislative Council. The Crown was to appoint 4 members and 8 were to be elected by the freeholders. ("Freeholders" in this instance means white male taxpayers owning at least one acre of land.) For the first time elected members of the legislature outnumbered the appointed members. [Never mind that the electorate was a tiny minority! -Bill]


A busy Legislature:

  • Registration of births, deaths and marriages required by law.
  • Compulsory vaccination. [Smallpox? Dr. Glaser? -Bill]
  • A Road Act
  • Repairs to the jail
  • Restoration of the churches.
  • Etc.


A severe hurricane in the Leewards.

The Governor of Montserrat regretted that he was compelled to report that most of the elected members of the new Legislative Council could neither read nor write. [Note, please, that the Governor is appointed, not elected. Can you predict the next thing to happen? -Bill]


The Constitution is again amended. Montserrat becomes the first Crown Colony of the Leewards. The Legislative Council of 1861 was abolished and the Governor's powers greatly increased. The Governor administered the island with the help of a Legislative Council of 6 members, all appointed by him. The Council members were the top British civil servants as official members, and the planters and merchants as unofficial members. [I bet the politicking between 1861 and 1866 was intense. -Bill]

Another severe hurricane in the Leewards.


And yet another hurricane.


"Sturge's Montserrat Company" is formed by the Sturge family to develop the lime industry, which is becoming the primary industry of the island. (In 1872 the name is shortened to The Montserrat Company).

By this date all of the sugar plantations in the north of the island were out of cultivation.

Main Sources:

"Montserrat West Indies, a chronological history," by Marion M. Wheeler. Published by the Montserrat National Trust, 1988.

"Montserrat, History of a Caribbean Colony," by Howard A. Fergus, 1994, MacMillan Press Ltd., ISBN 0-333-61217-5

1870-1880: Schools and a Presidency


Until 1870 all of the schools in Montserrat were Church owned and operated. The government recognized no responsibility for the education of the masses. This situation was changed by the Sturge family's Montserrat Company in 1870 when they set up the first non-church school on the island. The Sturge's foundation in philanthropy tempered their actions as they became major land owners in Montserrat and moved into politics. (In 1867, two years before the Montserrat Company was formed, John Edmund Sturge took the oath as a member of the Montserrat Legislative Council.)

On the political front, Britain once again dusted off the concept of a Leeward Island's federation. With strong opposition from some of the islands (primarily Nevis, St. Kitts and Dominica) the Federation was pushed through in 1871. Montserrat's legislature (appointed by the Governor, remember), which had previously tried in desperation to join with other islands as a solution to its economic problems, did not oppose the Federation.


Olveston Elementary School was established and supported by the Sturges to educate the children of their estate workers. The school was supported by contributions of individual Montserrat Company shareholders until 1932, when it was turned over to the government. The school was the first non-denomination school on the island.

Table 1: Analysis of votes on Independence











St. Kitts



















(1 vacancy)











Table 2: Data on the federal Leeward Islands, 1869









St. Kitts-Anguilla
















Virgin Islands








The British Government, in order to bring about "more convenient, efficient, economic and rational governance" proposes and forces through a new Leeward Islands Federation. The proposal was voted upon by the individual island's legislatures. The vote tallies, seen in the first table at right [after Fergus p. 102], show clearly which islands had appointed legislatures. Of the 58 votes in favor of the federation, 43 were cast by appointed legislators, and only 15 were from elected members. Under the Federation, individual islands were termed "Presidencies" with an Administrator or Commissioner in charge under the Leeward Island's Governor. Some islands were combined into single Presidencies. (E.g. Antigua-Barbuda, St. Kitts-Anguilla. Nevis was joined with St. Kitts-Anguilla in 1882.) The second table [also after Fergus, p. 103] shows the relative populations and government finances for the islands of the Federation just prior to the Federation Act. As seen, Montserrat is the poorest of the "independent" (non-combined) islands with the exception of the British Virgin Islands. The Federation's responsibilities were supposed to include: property and real estate; criminal law and justice; a police force; education; prisons; telegraphy; currency; audit; weights and measures; the care of mental patients; quarantine; and copyrights and patents. The Federation was never very strong, however, despite the fine charter. The individual island Councils had a veto power over anything placed before the Federation Council. Nonetheless, Montserrat did benefit somewhat form the Federation, mainly in the areas of education, common civil service and the federal police force.

The 1871 census showed the population consisted of 240 whites, and 8,453 colored, for a total of 8,693.

Between 1871 and 1881 over 1,000 Montserratians emigrated, primarily to other islands of the British West Indies.


The Leeward Islands Federal Education Act sets up grants to denominational schools. The money helped expand the primary schools being set up in Montserrat by the Methodists, Anglicans and Catholics. [I guess Olveston Elementary was left to fend for itself - probably to its benefit. Its teachers were still better paid than the denominational instructors. -Bill]

A separate Catholic school building is built on Plymouth's Catholic Church grounds.


The first Montserratian postage stamp is issued. Actually it was and Antigua stamp overprinted with "Montserrat." (The first truly Montserratian stamp was issued in 1880.)


The Sturge family continued their acquisition of estates for lime growing. They have some 120,000 lime trees in production.

Main Sources:

"Montserrat West Indies, a chronological history," by Marion M. Wheeler. Published by the Montserrat National Trust, 1988.

"Montserrat, History of a Caribbean Colony," by Howard A. Fergus, 1994, MacMillan Press Ltd., ISBN 0-333-61217-5

1880-1890: The Economy and a Riot


The economic situation in Montserrat, and all of the British West Indies, is so serious that a Royal Commission was appointed to look into the matter. [When in doubt, form a committee. -Bill] All of the colonies were deeply in debt to the British government and had little prospect of repaying the loans made since the 1840s.

The Commission found the problems to be numerous and familiar. It reported that, in the Leewards, capable public official were scarce and as a result public business was transacted with great inefficiency. [And no small amount of graft, I'd wager. -Bill] The Commission recognized that the cause of the Leeward's economic decline was the competition from European sugar beets.

The Commission suggested that improvements be made in the cultivation and marketing of sugar and that the growing number of peasant farmers be encouraged to grow more varied export crops. [Notice that they didn't suggest cultivation of competent officials. -Bill] In Montserrat some of these suggestions were being put into practice. On many of the remaining profitable sugar estates [few in number, and dwindling. -Bill] steam power was beginning to be introduced, replacing wind and water power. Peasant farmers were enlarging their holdings by renting land to plant sugar. [But the rents were frequently nothing short of exorbitant. Like half the sugar crop. -Bill] The Sturges and others are introducing not only limes but other cash export crops.


Census: Total population is 10,083. Only 1% was white.

A Methodist schoolroom is established in Plymouth.

The Belham River Bridge was built by Spencer Hollings, an engineer of The Montserrat Company. The bridge withstood all floods and hurricanes for 117 years, but in 1998 was in danger of being destroyed or buried in mud flows from the Soufriere Hills volcano.


The Royal Commission is appointed (see "Background," above.)


St. Mary's Anglican School is established in Plymouth and St. Georges School in Harris.

A hurricane.



[Click to open larger version]

The highest lime production is achieved for Montserrat. Over 1,200 acres are planted in lime trees. 180,000 gallons of lime juice was exported to England. At left is a stacked bar chart graph showing the export value of sugar (grey), lime juice (green [of course! -Bill]), and other (red) including arrowroot, cocoa, coffee bay oil and papaine. As can be seen, while sugar is declining in it share of the export market, it still predominates, with a steady lime juice output and a growing export of other cash crops.


The Fox Riot at Frith's Village: [My sources disagree on the date. Wheeler says 1889, while Fergus says 1898. Someone has a typo. I'm going with Wheeler since that is my main source. -Bill]

On 1 May, the police tried to arrest the Fox family of Frith's for illegal rum distillation. Three police from the Salem station first attmpted the raid but were driven off. Sentiment was hostile to the government at the time and the crowd sided with the Foxes and aided in the resistance. Police reinforcements came from Plymouth, accompanied by the Inspector-General of the Leeward Islands Police Force, who just happened to be visiting the island, and the Police Commissioner, Edward Baynes. The angry mob greeted the reinforcements with a shower of sticks and stones, which completely overwhelmed the police who fled, most ignoring the order to fire on the crowd. When pressed by the crowd, one policeman did fire, wounding 6 people with buckshot. The Inspector and the Commissioner were left to the mercies of the crowd and both were injured, Baynes seriously. It took the arrival of the HMS Intrepid with reinforcements from Antigua to restore order. In all, 40 people were arrested, but all were eventually freed due to the advocacy of an astute lawyer.

The riot was expensive, and the results of the lesson learned even more so. The black solidarity shown by the crowd at Frith's was not lost on Baynes [who was no doubt sore, both figuratively and literally -Bill]. Seven weeks after the riot a motion was passed by the Council to establish a Defense Force. The force was outfitted at public expense, right down to marching band instruments, and was to be called out in the event of war, invasion and internal emergencies [like riots that threaten the Commissioner! -Bill].

Main Sources:

"Montserrat West Indies, a chronological history," by Marion M. Wheeler. Published by the Montserrat National Trust, 1988.

"Montserrat, History of a Caribbean Colony," by Howard A. Fergus, 1994, MacMillan Press Ltd., ISBN 0-333-61217-5

1890-1900: Committees, Hurricanes and Earthquakes


Three destructive forces dominate this decade, the threshold to the twentieth century: committees, hurricanes and earthquakes. [Perhaps committees shouldn't be generalized as "destructive" but they seldom do much good. -Bill] Also several precursors of bad times to come surface in this decade: The Soufriere starts acting up (as do volcanos on neighboring islands) and pest attacks the lime trees (although hurricanes are a much more immediate tree destroyer).


An Anglican schoolroom is established at St. Patrick's Anglican Church in St. Patrick's Village.


A technical/vocational trade school is started by Joseph Sturge II. It didn't last out the century due to a lack of government funds and support. Its existence, however, highlighted the lack of any practical training on the island, all of the existing schools being "bookish" or academic in nature. [But did anybody (other than Sturge II) do anything about it? -Bill]

A hurricane.


The Leeward Islands Legislature passed the Federal Elementary Education Act which provided for compulsory education of all children ages 5 through 9 years.


Scale pest (probably the purple scale, Lepidosaphes beckii Newman) began to attack the lime trees. [Uh-oh! -Bill]


Another British Royal Commission (1896-7) was sent to investigate conditions in the West Indies. It recommended establishing a West Indian Department of Agriculture to be headquartered in Barbados to give technical advice and information on new crops, and to provide seeds. This was the start of the system of botanic stations in the British islands. [Hey, Commish! How about a technical school to go with that "technical advice?" -Bill]

1896 to 1902 is a period of frequent earthquakes and soufriere activity. In 1896 there was a cloudburst-caused flood that destroyed bridges and roads all over the island. The sole exception was the sturdy Belham River Bridge which was left standing. Earthquakes followed this flooding and Gage's Lower Soufriere appeared. It was active during this period and also during the earthquakes of 1933-6. Sometime between 1896 and 1899 Mulcaire's Soufriere appeared on the east coast just south of Hell Hole Bay. [Where's that? I don't see it on my Tourist Map. -Bill] It's only accessible by boat on a calm day. [Or when Hell Hole freezes over. Unlikely on Montserrat. -Bill] In 1902, after the eruption of Mt. Pelee in Martinique and the Soufriere on St. Vincent, Montserrat's seismic activity died down. [But a century later... -Bill]


The Royal Commission's report includes the information that Montserrat had 15,000 cultivatable acres, of which 10,000 were cultivated. Of these 6,000 acres were in sugar (26 sugar estates, only 12 with steam power). There were 1,247 acres in limes, 60 acres in coffee and the remaining acreage was in bay, arrowroot, provisions, and pasture. No single estate was over 500 acres.


On August 8th a severe hurricane devastated crops and destroyed buildings all over the island. The mountain sides were left bare by the winds. 100 people were killed, 1,000 injured and 9,000 were left homeless.

After the hurricane Joseph Sturge II ordered the ruined lime orchards replanted. [I'm beginning to like this guy! It's a good thing he acted rather than forming a committee. (A committee is the only known form of life with a hundred bellies and no brains.) -Bill]

Main Sources:

"Montserrat West Indies, a chronological history," by Marion M. Wheeler. Published by the Montserrat National Trust, 1988.

"Montserrat, History of a Caribbean Colony," by Howard A. Fergus, 1994, MacMillan Press Ltd., ISBN 0-333-61217-5

"Insect pests of the Lesser Antilles," by H. A. Ballou, 1912. Published as Pamphlet 71(210 pp.) by the Imperial Department of Agriculture for the West Indies, Bridgetown, Barbados. (provided by Michael A. Ivie)

1900-1910: Limes, Cotton and Volcanos


Following the devastation of the hurricane of 1899 [very much Hugo-like in it's destructiveness -Bill] Montserrat, like the other Leewards, was in serious economic trouble. [This is new? -Bill] In Montserrat there was no income since the export crops, limes and sugar, had been ruined by the hurricane. Estates were abandoned and over 2,000 unemployed sharecroppers migrated to Panama to work on the canal. Britain recognized the seriousness of the situation and passed the Hurricane Act of 1900. This Act offered loans to the planters which were secured by mortgages on their property.


Volcanic activity continues on the Caribbean island arc. In 1902 the Soufriere in St. Vincent and Mt. Pelee in Martinique erupted explosively. The ash plume hits Montserrat and the residents had to put lights on at midday.


Joseph Sturge II, with the help of the Imperial Department of Agriculture on Barbados, began experimenting with sea-island cotton using seed received from J. R. Borrell, the Superintendent of Agriculture. [Sturge II just doesn't give up, does he? Hmmm... I wonder if he is in any way related to Sir George Martin? -Bill]


The Montserrat Company has 200 acres of Sea Island cotton planted. Other planters were joining the bandwagon with a total of 400 acres in cotton. Exactly which breed of sea-island cotton was best for Montserrat's conditions was still being determined. Heaton numbers 8 and 9 were the best performing, with Heaton 9 and its offspring eventually winning out by 1910. (The seeds originated from William Heaton and Sons, an English spinning firm.)

The island's chief export crops were still limes and sugar, however. Limes now had an export value double that of sugar, which was in second place. About this time the green scale was identified in the Lesser Antilles, adding to the woes of the hurricane devastation. Coccus viridus Green is particularly troublesome at this time since it attacks young lime trees. If they survive the depredations of the green scale the lime trees then face the purple scale which had arrived on the island in the last decade. [Just what was needed while trying to rebuild the lime orchards from the hurricane damage. -Bill]

By the turn of the century Montserrat's lime juice had made its "splash" on the world scene. Advertisements were making the name of this otherwise undistinguished sugar colony well known. Ads appeared in The Wine Trade Review, Pictorial World, Agricultural Journal, The Grocers' Journal, The Church of England Temperance Chronicle, The Globe and The Baptist. For instance, in The India Planters' Gazette of 3 November 1885, we find the following: [You are a subscriber, aren't you? -Bill]

"The Lancet says, 'We counsel the public to drink their Lime Juice... either, alone or sweetened to taste and mixed with Water or Soda and a little Ice if obtainable... but care should be taken that Montserrat Lime Fruit is only used, as it has the delicate aroma and falavour peculiar to the Lime Fruit and found in no other Lime Juice."

[My personal favorite is sweetened Lime Juice, Water and (usually obtainable) Ice. I generally try to drink it without all the Capital Letters, though. (They get stuck in the teeth, like pulp or seeds!) I developed this taste on my trip to Montserrat. The lime juice I used was from Barbados, I think, not Montserrat unfortunately. I wish that Lime Juice were not so outrageously expensive around here! -Bill]

Government House in 1992
Henny Fortrie, 1992
Click for a larger image


A new Government House is built on the site of the previous one which had been erected in 1750. This is the Government House that still stands today (abandoned) in Plymouth.


The Coconut Hill Hotel, the first hotel in Montserrat, is opened in a converted family townhouse on Town Hill, close to Government House.

Main Sources:

"Montserrat West Indies, a chronological history," by Marion M. Wheeler. Published by the Montserrat National Trust, 1988.

"Montserrat, History of a Caribbean Colony," by Howard A. Fergus, 1994, MacMillan Press Ltd., ISBN 0-333-61217-5

"Insect pests of the Lesser Antilles," by H. A. Ballou, 1912. Published as Pamphlet 71(210 pp.) by the Imperial Department of Agriculture for the West Indies, Bridgetown, Barbados. (provided by Michael A. Ivie)


1910-1920: The Rise of Cotton


In Europe World War I rages from 1914 to 1918. Montserrat and the West Indies were not directly involved in the war [A first! A European war that doesn't spill over into the Caribbean! -Bill], other than men serving in the British Army. Seven of these men died in action and are honored at the war memorial in Plymouth (1992 photo at right - click on the photo to see a 1999 view of the war memorial).

In Montserrat, limes and cotton and to some extent sugar are major export crops. Cotton had really taken off after about 1909 with the help of the "hurricane loans" from the British government for the damage caused by the 1899 great hurricane.

Montserrat was still experimenting with the cotton crop. Cotton is sensitive to rainfall - it needs rain at some times in its life cycle and dry weather at others. Finding the proper planting time to take advantage of Montserrat's erratic rainy season was a matter of some experimentation. June-September, April-May, February-March and October were all tried. In addition to the climate there were other problems. Like the limes, cotton had an insect pest, the cotton-stainer. In a bid to control the pest, silk cotton, Mahoe trees, wild cotton and others, as well as the cotton crop itself at the end of the season, had to be carefully destroyed.

A chart with the 1911 to 1938 cotton statistics for Montserrat is shown below on the left. (Clicking on the chart will open a lager version in a separate window.) The upper, purple trace is the net value of the crop. The blue trace below it is the crop yield in pounds of lint per acre. You can see the effect of unpredictable weather conditions in the ragged nature of the crop yield. Below that, in green, is the total amount of cotton harvested (again ragged). At the bottom in yellow is the total acreage in cotton. Here we see a gradual trend upwards as cotton becomes more important to the economy.

Still the migrations of Montserratians continued; laborers went to Costa Rica to work on the banana plantations and to Cuba to the sugar plantations. The Montserrat Company tries to slow or halt the migration by buying up two estates and offering the land for sale to the peasnts. [They're always in there trying, aren't they? -Bill]

The War Memorial in 1992
© Henny Fortrie, 1992
Click image for a 1999 view
© Bennette Roach, 1999



The Agricultural Experiment Station at Olveston was abandoned due to the unyielding quality of the clayey soil.


Estate crops: 2,000 acres in cotton, 1,000 acres in limes and 150 acres in sugar.


Cotton revenue was partially responsible for a budget surplus. Revenues were 10,611, expenditures 7806, giving a surplus of 2805 - described by the Governor as the second largest to date.


The start of large-scale emigration to the United States.


A branch of the Royal Bank of Canada opens in Plymouth.

Main Sources:

"Montserrat West Indies, a chronological history," by Marion M. Wheeler. Published by the Montserrat National Trust, 1988.

"Montserrat, History of a Caribbean Colony," by Howard A. Fergus, 1994, MacMillan Press Ltd., ISBN 0-333-61217-5

1920-1930: Hurricanes and Global Depression


Following the First World War, there was a worldwide depression. Montserrat's cotton crop was almost unsalable. To top off the decade, two "great" hurricanes hit within 4 years of each other, both near Hugo-like in their ferocity and damage.

"Was here in '24
Was here in '28
Will be here the day Soufriere
Vomit corruption back in we face
Will be here for the Fire, the Flood
Yeah I just found joy"

[Fergus credits this to: E. A. Markham, 'Here We Go Again' Hugo Versus Montserrat, p.87]


Royal visit of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII)


The census shows 12,000 natives and 112 Europeans. [Hmmm... A change in "categories." -Bill]


Commissioner Major H. Peebles begins a project that brings a piped water supply to almost every district in the island. The project continued through 1929.


The United States passes the first of series of acts limiting West Indian immigration.

A devastating hurricane makes a direct hit on the east and north of the island. The hurricane hit about midnight on 28 August without warning, when nearly everyone was asleep. While sparing Plymouth and the south for the most part, it took only 2 hours, 1 AM to 3 AM, to devastate the north of the island.

There were 36 deaths, scores of serious injuries, and 938 homes destroyed. This left 5,000 people homeless, nearly half the population. Crops and estate houses were damaged everywhere, especially in Bethels, Farms, Farrells and Roaches. Relief came in quickly from other Caribbean territories, with Guadeloupe and Dominica in the lead. [Thanks, guys! -Bill] The resulting housing shortage was acute. Some people tried knocking together shelter frorm the wreckage, with results that were described as a "decent pig sty." There were lots of suggestions for new building requirements, like concrete construction with shingled roofs. There were even proposals that the government help with loans and grants. Nothing came of these proposals. [Surprised? -Bill]


The pink boll worm ravages 3,000 acres of cotton.


The ship Canadian Beaver of the Canadian Mercantile Marine (later Canadian National Steamships) called at Montserrat for the first time.


The ship The Lady Nelson, of Canadian National Steamships, the first of their new class of mail and passenger ships, calls at Montserrat.

Another great hurricane hits the island, this time taking aim on Plymouth and the south of the island. Much of the damage from the hurricane of '24 had been repaired, with the island (relatively) prosperous. The cotton pests were under control and a good harvest was expected. Plans were afoot to generate electricity, make ice, and publish a new newspaper (there had been a couple of unsuccessful ones before). The hurricane put the brakes on all of these wonderful plans.

Preceded by an intolerable heat wave, the hurricane struck at about 5 PM on 12 September. Unlike the hurricane of '24, there was some warning this time. Word came from Washington that a storm of "considerable intensity" was fast approaching. Signals were sounded from St. George's Hill, and Commissioner Peebles personally visited most districts, urging people to bar up and batten down.

The storm raked the island for 10 hours. Plymouth fared the worst, but the entire island was severely hit. The poor, with the most ramshackle dwellings, fared the worst, as always. The death toll was put at 42, with at one death from nearly every village. (Molyneaux lost four.) 350 were treated for injuries, with 100 serious. All of the public and corporate buildings in Plymouth were totally or partially wrecked. Salem was "flattened" (Peebles words). More than 600 houses were totally destroyed and the damage conservatively estimated at 150,000. 1,000 acres of limes were destroyed. People were destitute, close to starvation. Morale was very low.

The British government provided a grant of 10,000 and an interest bearing loan of 5,000 for repairs. (The French government gave Guadeloupe a grant of 800,000.) [!! -Bill]


The start of tomato production for export to Canada.

The Courthouse is built in Plymouth.

Main Sources:

"Montserrat West Indies, a chronological history," by Marion M. Wheeler. Published by the Montserrat National Trust, 1988.

"Montserrat, History of a Caribbean Colony," by Howard A. Fergus, 1994, MacMillan Press Ltd., ISBN 0-333-61217-5


1930-1940: Cotton and Earthquakes


Sea Island cotton is now the major cash crop for Montserrat. In fact so much is being grown that rules are eventually required to assure that enough provisions (kitchen crops) are grown as well. Cotton production continues to rise through the 30s, reaching a peak in 1941. Sugar is nearly out of production. The lime industry is on the decline. The attempt to recover from the 1928 hurricane is not really successful.

Earthquakes are rattling the island with increasing frequency until 1935 when they die down. Numerous soufrieres appear as a result of the 'quakes.

Politically, the planters are still holding the reins of power, even after all these years [centuries! -Bill]. The sugar growers are now cotton growers, but while the crops and the faces may have changed over time, the power structure remains entrenched.


Lime trees replanted by The Montserrat Company after the hurricane of 1928 did well for three years, but after 1934 the production began to decline due to disease and drought.


The government orders all silk-cotton trees on the island destroyed to control pests infesting the cotton fields.


Grove Estate is sold by The Montserrat Company to the government for use as an agricultural station.


A hurricane passes through the Leewards.

Starting in 1933 earthquakes occurred with increasing and frightening frequency. The 1933 'quakes were not very serious though quite frequent. Between 1933 and 1934 new soufrieres appeared at Spring Ghaut, Amersham Estate, and at Cow HIll on Tar River Estate.


Earthquake activity increases in April and May of 1934. There were two particularly sharp shocks, one on the night of 14-15 May and the other the next day on the 15th. Many buildings sustained minor cracks. On 12 December another sharp 'quake damaged public and private buildings.


Most of the damage due to this series of earthquakes resulted from three shocks occurring in 1935. The first came on 6 may and the second on 24 August. The latter caused damage to the water mains in Plymouth. The third 1935 'quake occurred on 10 November and was felt on Antigua and St. Kitts. Landslides occurred on Redonda.

On Montserrat there was some panic, but the arrival of a British ship helped to restore calm. Damage was widespread. The entire east wall fell out of St. Anthony's church, with structural damage throughout the rest of the structure. The apse of St. Peter's parish church collapsed. The Court House was completely destroyed and the Commissioner's official mansion was rendered uninhabitable. The Commissioner as well as the Canon of St. Anthony's were sleeping in wooden huts in their gardens. [Small, humble, but safe - even if it falls on you! -Bill] Most government buildings were officially considered beyond repair.

Even the sturdy Belham Bridge didn't escape undamaged. Part of its parapet wall and the face of one arch were completely gone. While repairs were pending, a wooden bridge was assembled in 3 days to connect the north and the south. [Three days, huh? And in 1999 they're still talking? -Bill] 4,000 worth of repairs to the bridge were required.

After the November 1935 'quake, the tremors subsided.


The Royal Society of London and the Carnegie Institute of Washington both sent scientists to study the volcanic activity. [Hey guys, this is just the preview! The main show starts in less than 60 years! -Bill]


Sturge Park was presented to the Montserrat Government by The Montserrat Company.

The Montserrat Cotton Growers Association was formed by the planters "to cooperate to improve the production and control wages." Most of the members of the Association were also members of the Legislative council.

Changes were made to the constitution: The Legislative Council provided for four elected members, but income and property requirements to hold office and vote were raised so that the planters remained in control of the government.

Main Sources:

"Montserrat West Indies, a chronological history," by Marion M. Wheeler. Published by the Montserrat National Trust, 1988.

"Montserrat, History of a Caribbean Colony," by Howard A. Fergus, 1994, MacMillan Press Ltd., ISBN 0-333-61217-5


1940-1950: Labor and Unions


During World War II emigration from Montserrat slowed but picked up again after the war as over 600 workers went to the Dutch West Indies to work in the oil refineries.

Labor Unionism had been sweeping through the Leewards in the previous decade or two, but Montserrat was bypassed by the movement. A lot of this had to do with the working conditions - oppressive sharecropping, dependency on estate lands for food, dishonest estate managers who cheated illiterate workers out of the little they were due under the share cropping "agreements." Hunger and outright starvation were not uncommon.


Only 100 acres were still in limes. [The scale(s) and droughts had won. -Bill]


The peak of cotton production: 5,395 acres produced 1,175,932 pounds of lint.


The Toby Hill riots in St. Patrick's. They have been described as labor unrest, but apparently had more to do with smuggling and insensitive policing.

Robert W. Griffith
source: Fergus


Robert W. Griffith, son of the manager of Weekes Estate, met the stringent requirements for election to the Legislative Council. Griffith (see photo at right) was the first native Montserratian to become a political leader. Although not a laborer - Griffith was middle classs - he went on to become the island's first labor leader.

Anticipating some sort of worker's association, the employers formed a Producer's Association to protect their interests and establish "close working arrangements" with the Federal Labour Officer. [This foresight paid off later. -Bill]


The war ends. Seven names were added to the War Memorial.


Montserrat reaches it's maximum population, 14,333.

The Government of Montserrat takes over administration of all schools with the exception of the Catholic school. 18.8% of the population over 10 years of age was illiterate.

Vere Bird of Antigua, who was organizing unions throughout the Leewards, helped Robert Griffith organize the Montserrat Trades and Labour Union (MTLU) to obtain fair wages and improved working conditions.

On Monterrat the wages were the lowest in the Leewards. The Government hourly wage for unskilled men was 7.1 cents per hour. For women it was 3.9 cents! The corresponding wages in Antigua, where labor unions had already started were 16.4 and 7.0, and for St. Kitts they were 8.62 and 6.47. The working conditions were the same as under slavery. [!!! -Bill] Field workers at one estate (Whites) were described as "underfed, dressed in strings, haven't had soap in weeks."

The Government was not above exploiting the workers. When some jetty workers struck the Public Works for higher wages, they were summarily fired and a new gang hired - at the higher wages!


Throughout the late 40s the MTLU had only a few hundred members at any time, as much as half of whom were in arrears on their dues. Many couldn't afford the membership at all. This despite that over 2,000 workers on Montserrat depended on [starvation -Bill] wages to survive. Small strikes happened periodically, most with little success, although some succeeded.

Main Sources:

"Montserrat West Indies, a chronological history," by Marion M. Wheeler. Published by the Montserrat National Trust, 1988.

"Montserrat, History of a Caribbean Colony," by Howard A. Fergus, 1994, MacMillan Press Ltd., ISBN 0-333-61217-5

Appendix - Hurricanes and Montserrat

Since Montserrat is located in one of the main hurricane belts, hurricanes hitting the island are a not uncommon event. Throughout the history of Montserrat one sees notations like "hurricane devastates Plymouth" or "severe hurricane in the Leewards." I decided that it would be informative to collect all of the dates of hurricanes in Marion Wheeler's "Montserrat West Indies, a chronological history" and see just when and how often the island has been hit.

First a few caveats: Up through 1988 I've used dates recorded in Marion Wheeler's book. After that point I took them from Purdue University's Atlantic hurricane/topical storm archives. Even the dates in the book must be viewed with some caution. Not all hurricanes might have been recorded, or if they were the records might have been lost. Also, what constitutes a hurricane to one observer might just be a bad storm to another.

With these caveats in mind, here is a table of the years which hurricanes hit Montserrat or were "in the Leewards." Storms that were recorded as "severe" are marked with a single asterisk. "Great" storms, such as Hugo (see NOAA infrared photo above, taken 15 Sept 1989) are marked with two asterisks.

Being a scientist, I can't resist diddling with a column of numbers, just to see what happens. This data set was no exception.

There were 41 hurricanes listed in the set. [You already counted them? Sorry 'bout that. I wasn't quick enough! -Bill] Trying to take an average at this point is not useful since we don't know when the "observations" started. We just know when hurricanes hit.

The next thing to do is to take a histogram of the data. In this case I chose to histogram the number of hurricanes per decade, starting with 1650 (see the plot on the left). In the histogram you can see that the usual number of hurricanes in each 10 year interval is usually 1, although 0 and 2 are not uncommon. In two decades there were 4 storms and in one there were 3.

Now let's look at the intervals between successive storms. In the plot at right, you see a graph of the number of years since the previous hurricane. When there were two storms in the same year the "interval" on the plot is shown as zero. Now we can do some statistics! The mean (average) interval between storms is 8.45 years. The standard deviation on that mean is 8.11 years. In non-technical terms that means that 2/3 of the time the interval between successive storms is between roughly 0 and 16 years. The mean is plotted on the graph with the horizontal red dashed line.

Another useful way of looking a the intervals between successive hurricanes is to plot the "frequency distribution." That is, plot a histogram of how many storms came 0 or 1 years after the last one, 2 or 3 years, 4 or 5 years, etc. The plot to the left shows this frequency distribution. Two additional bits of data are shown there as well, the average (dashed red line as before) and the median interval (a red dot). The median is the value in the middle - as many of the intervals were shorter as were longer. In this data set the median interval between successive hurricanes is 6 years. The median is smaller than the average due to the "weighting" effect of the several intervals near 30 years. Those points my well be spurious (due to unreported hurricanes, perhaps) so I think the median may be a more useful number to remember than the average.

How does all of this data analysis help in predicting when the next hurricane will hit Montserrat? It doesn't. No information. Nothing. Nada. El zippo. All it says that hurricanes are very fickle beasties. [A standard deviation almost as big as the mean says that, too! -Bill] Two might hit so close together that they're tromping on each other's heels. Or there might be a 30 year interval like there was around 1850. But I find looking at the numbers and the graphs satisfying. [My excuse is that I consider myself a nerd. "Ultra Nerd!" -Bill]

Main Source:

"Montserrat West Indies, a chronological history," by Marion M. Wheeler. Published by the Montserrat National Trust, 1988.