Leeward Islands

The Leeward Islands /ˈlwərd/ are a group of islands situated where the northeastern Caribbean Sea meets the western Atlantic Ocean. Starting with the Virgin Islands east of Puerto Rico, they extend southeast to Guadeloupe and its dependencies. In English, the term Leeward Islands refers to the northern islands of the Lesser Antilles chain. The more southerly part of this chain, starting with Dominica, is called the Windward Islands. Dominica was originally considered part of the Leeward Islands, but was transferred from the British Leeward Islands to the British Windward Islands in 1940.

Leeward Islands
English: Leeward Islands
French: Îles-Sous-le-Vent
Geography
LocationCaribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean
Coordinates16°N 61°W
Total islands30+
Major islandsGuadeloupe
Antigua and Barbuda
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Martin
Virgin Islands
Highest elevation1,467 m (4813 ft)
Highest pointLa Grande Soufrière, Guadeloupe
Administration
Largest settlementLes Abymes
Largest settlementSt. John's
Largest settlementBasseterre
Largest settlementPhilipsburg
Demographics
Populationc. +700,000

Origin of the name

Charlotte Amalie, Saint Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands
Overlooking Sandy Ground, Anguilla

The name of this island group, Leeward Islands, dates from previous centuries, when sailing ships were the sole form of transportation across the Atlantic Ocean. In sailing terminology, 'windward' means towards the source of the wind (upwind), while 'leeward' is the opposite direction (downwind). In the West Indies, the prevailing winds, known as the trade winds, blow predominantly out of the northeast. Therefore a sailing vessel departing from the British Gold Coast and Gulf of Africa, driven by the trade winds, would normally first encounter Dominica and Martinique,[1] islands most to windward, in their west-northwesterly heading to final destinations in the Caribbean and North and Central America. This location, Dominica and Martinique, becomes the rough dividing line between the Windward and Leeward Islands.

The early Spanish colonizers called Puerto Rico and the islands to the west Sotavento, meaning 'leeward'. The islands to the south and east of Puerto Rico were then called Islas de Barlovento, meaning 'windward islands'. When the British gained control of many of the Lesser Antilles, they designated Antigua, Montserrat and the islands to the north as the 'Leeward Islands'. Guadeloupe and the islands to the south were designated as the 'Windward Islands'. Later on, all islands north of Martinique became known as the Leeward Islands.[2] Dominica was transferred to the British Windward Islands in 1940, and is now considered to be part of the Windward Islands.[3]

However, even in modern usage in languages other than English, notably, Spanish, French and Dutch, all of the Lesser Antilles from the Virgin Islands to Trinidad and Tobago are known as 'the Windward Islands' (Îles du Vent in French, Bovenwindse Eilanden in Dutch and Islas de Barlovento in Spanish). The islands along the Venezuelan coast, known in English as the Leeward Antilles, are known in languages other than English as 'the Leeward Islands'.

Geography

The Leeward Islands are labelled on the map's middle right side.

The islands are affected by active volcanism and notable eruptions have occurred in Montserrat in the 1990s and in 2009 to 2010. At 1467 m, the highest point is La Grande Soufrière in Guadeloupe.

History

The Caribs, after whom the Caribbean is named, are believed to have migrated from the Orinoco River area in Venezuela in South America to settle in the Caribbean islands about 1200 AD, according to carbon dating. Over the century leading up to Columbus' arrival in the Caribbean archipelago in 1492, the Caribs mostly displaced the Maipurean-speaking Taínos, who settled the island chains earlier in history, by warfare, extermination and assimilation.[4]

The islands were among the first parts of the Americas to fall under the control of the Spanish Empire. European contact commenced with Christopher Columbus's second voyage; many of the islands' names originate from this period: Montserrat was named in honour of Santa Maria de Montserrat (Our Lady of Montserrat), after the Blessed Virgin of the Monastery of Montserrat, which is located on the Mountain of Montserrat, the national shrine of Catalonia. 'Mont serrat' in Catalan means 'saw mountain', referring to the serrated appearance of the mountain range.

British colony of the Leeward Islands

The Leeward Islands became a British colony in 1671. In 1699, prior to the War of the Spanish Succession, Christopher Codrington became the governor of the Leeward Islands. The war lasted from 1701 to 1714. Daniel Parke II was the British governor of the Leeward Islands from 1706 to 1710. He was assassinated during a mutiny triggered by his self-enriching enforcement of Stuart imperialism.

Although comparatively much smaller than the surrounding islands in the Caribbean, the Leeward Islands posed the most significant (though decidedly less severe in comparison to mainland North American colonies) rebellion to the British Stamp Act.[5]

In 1816 the colony was dissolved until it was re-established in 1833.[6]

List of the Leeward Islands

From the northwest to the southeast, the islands are:

See also

  • Antilles
  • British Leeward Islands
  • Leeward Antilles
  • Leeward Islands cricket team
  • Windward Islands

Further reading

References

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