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Slave trade and after

In 1492, the explorer Christopher Columbus crossed uncharted seas on a voyage of discovery on behalf of the Spanish king Ferdinand II. He arrived on a Caribbean island that he named San Salvador, in the Bahamas, and laid claim to it for Spain.

In the wake of this discovery, other expeditions across the same seas were organised, from Portugal, France, Britain, the Netherlands and Denmark - all countries eager to colonise lands hitherto unheard of in Europe. These European powers eventually took over all the Caribbean islands, as well as mainland America to the north and south.

'The European powers during this period were almost permanently at war with each other ...'
At first the colonisers tried to use the labour of the indigenous population, and people brought from their own countries, to develop the land. But when this failed they brought in slaves from Africa.

The slave trade developed from around 1700, and was not abolished by Britain until 1807 (by other countries not until many years after that). During that time many slaves arrived in Britain itself, mainly as servants and seamen.

Some arrived directly from Africa, others as the servants of visiting plantation owners from America - a British colony until 1777 - and the Caribbean. Although most will have returned with their masters from whence they came, thousands stayed in Britain, married British people and settled down here.

During the 19th century, with slavery abolished, fewer people of African or African-Caribbean descent arrived in Britain, but there was still a steady stream of seamen, students and missionaries. Again, some were here for only a brief period, while others remained for good.

As slavery disappeared, and new systems for working the plantations evolved, the Caribbean islands developed in a range of ways. The differences grew out of the varying cultures of the European powers controlling the islands, and the different crops that individual areas were best suited to producing.

The European powers during this period were almost permanently at war with each other, and the territories of the Caribbean were often involved in these conflicts, sometimes changing hands as a result. Grenada, Dominica and St Vincent, for example, were under French rule until 1763, when Britain acquired them.

Trinidad was Spanish until 1802, but neighbouring Tobago changed hands among the Dutch, British and French until 1814, when it was ceded to Britain.

As well as the changing relationships between the peoples of the different islands, there was always a great deal of trade between North America and the Caribbean. Some families owned property in both places, with slaves moving between them.

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