Admiral Horatio Nelson, England’s 18th century naval hero, spent a few miserable years in Antigua. At this time in history the Caribbean was not the ideal location to be posted for assignment. In a time before air conditioning and insect repellent, not to mention heat, humidity and hurricanes, this was more a place to be avoided than vacation.
As captain of the frigate HMS Boreas, Nelson was sent to the island to enforce the very unpopular “Navigation Act,” which prohibited planters and merchants from trading with the newly formed Unites States of America. This mission so agitated the islanders that Nelson was frequently in fear of his live and those of his sailors.
However, history would prove that Nelson was wrong about his impressions of the island and instead of a place to be avoided; it has turned out to be one of the most delightful spots in the Caribbean.
Discovered by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the new world in 1493 it was named for Santa Maria de la Antigua, a miraculous statue of the Virgin in Seville Cathedral.
The earliest inhabitants were the Stone Age Siboney people who migrated from South America approximately 4000 years ago. The Siboney’s, and their successors the Arawaks, left their mark on several sites, especially near the area of Indiantown.
Antigua has almost always been a bastion of British colonialism. Except for two brief periods when it was occupied by the French and Spanish, Antigua remained linked to Britain until its independence in 1981.
The islands major claim to fame is its 365 beaches, one for each date of the year. Visitors to the island will certainly find no shortage of new places to explore in search of that perfect day at the beach experience.
Most visitors begin their stay in St. John’s, the capital and major city of the island. The entrance to the Harbour is flanked by Fort Barrington and Fort James, two of the many 18th century defensive structures built by the British. The city is an appealing West Indian town that slopes away from the waterfront in an orderly configuration of streets and alleys that date back to 1702. The waterfront district with its street markets and shopping Quays remains the focus for most visitors.
If you only have a short time on the island be sure to visit historic Nelson’s Dockyard. The dockyard is an amazing display of naval technology of the 18th and 19th centuries. The shipyard was active until 1889 when it was decommissioned and fell into disrepair. Some enterprising souls in the 1960’s restored the site and today it is filled with history, shops, restaurants and museums. It is also a popular yachting center on the island.
Antigua should definitely be on your list of places to visit in the Caribbean.