Historical Period

The Historical Period on Antigua begins with the settlement of the island in 1632, by English colonists who establish the settlement of Falmouth. As the island had many bays that provided protection during the hurricane season, and forests with wood suitable for repairing ships, it quickly became known as a place for repair and shelter during the hurricane season. Despite problems resulting from the rapid deforestation, the colony flourished and within 100 years there were six trading towns and over 100 sugar estates. (Parham, Old Road/Carlisle Bay, St. John's, Bridgetown, Falmouth, the Bermudian Valley).

The initial colonists were peasant farmers who grew cotton, tobacco, indigo and ginger for export. Thousands of Irish "slaves/indentured" workers were sent to work as field labourers to Antigua. They shared the same fate as the Africans slaves; of being sold, brutal treatment, seperation of families, and a short life. In 1666, the French invaded and captured the island. They did not colonize it but concentrated instead on reducing and destroying the British colony. With the return of the island to the English, the land was redistributed in favour of the sugar planters and the peasant farmers were quickly displaced. Sugar soon dominated the island economy and produced vast wealth for the planters and Britain. However, to produce it, the numbers of enslaved Africans was greatly increased. Soon millions were brought to work on the sugar estates from Brazil to Cuba. Africans soon outnumbered the English and a new society based on racial and social inequality. Enslaved Africans provided labour for all aspects of the islands physical development. Working as blacksmiths, stonemasons, carpenters, and tradesmen. All of the imposing structures including the fortifications, cathedral and churches, courthouse and naval dockyard were built by them. They also served as soldiers, sailors and support staff within the British military and naval system.

Antigua further served as a military platform for the British forces in the Eastern Caribbean because of its strategic location and the enclosed deep water bays of English Harbour surrounded by protective hills was developed into a naval dockyard. From there squadrons of British naval frigates could patrol the islands and defend British interests, with the ability to repair, refit and seek shelter during the hurricane season. English Harbour had to be defended, subsequently, a series of more than 50 forts and defense platforms were built around the island, about two miles apart.

With the decline of the sugar industry, the slaves on Antigua were emancipated in 1834, bypassing the apprenticeship period. Subsequently, the Caribbean Islands, once the economic engine of Europe, lost importance and began to be marginalized. With continuing decline in the economy, many planters and their families abandoned the island and returned to England . Today, only 93 wind powered sugar-mills of the former total of about 174, remain standing. The former British naval dockyard is largely intact, but only about a dozen of the forts and defense platforms have standing structures. The best of these include, Forts James, Barrington, the Citadel, Berkeley, Cuyler, Dows Hill and Shirley Height's.

The results of archaeological research being conducted at several of these sites are presented on this website.

British Fortification Sites: Great Fort George | Middle Ground | The Ridge at Shirley's Heights


More Historical Period: Life and Death in the Colonies | Plantation Archaeology  


Life and Death in the Colonies

In the later part of the seventeenth century, the production of sugar became the primary industry in the Caribbean. Sugar production demanded a large labour force; much larger than could be provided by indentured Europeans. Subsequently, millions of Africans were enslaved and brought to the Caribbean to work on the plantations. This led to the introduction of many new diseases, from once "remote" regions, into the Caribbean. The military personnel, who lived in barracks that were often built in low lying areas, were particularly affected by malaria and yellow fever. English Harbour, the site of the naval dockyard, became known as the graveyard of the Englishman and today, the tombstones and grave mounds stand in silent testament to an era when sugar was king.

Current research includes mapping of the cemeteries and recording information on the tombstones, and excavation of the former naval dockyard cemetery. This site has been lost to housing development. The excavated remains will be reburial in the military cemetery on Shirley Heights. Under the supervision of Dr. Tamara Varney , this project provides a rare opportunity for the training of students and to conduct a variety of analyses that are providing valuable insights into the life and times. Research is also being conducted at a number of barracks at Great Fort George on Monks Hill and Shirley Height's.

Sites: Great Fort George | Middle Ground | The Ridge at Shirley's Heights


Plantation Archaeology (The Warner Site Archaeology Project)

Plantation archaeology on Antigua is in its infancy. Few archaeologists have expressed interest in this sensitive area of research. The Dockyard Museum's Field Research Centre, in partnership with the University of Calgary Antigua Field School is now addressing this issue.

The first step of this new project is to conduct a search for documents that may provide guidance and information about the site. The second step was to conduct a systematic survey of the site to identify the best areas for excavation.

In June 2004, archaeological research began at the Warner family estate at Piccadilly (ca. 1640s to 1760s), St. Paul. Findings include, Delft china, red clay tobacco pipes, Afro-Antiguan pottery, slipped English earthenware, and the remains of a male member of the Warner family.

The Warner's were a prominent family during the earliest days of colonization. In 1632, under the leadership of Edward Warner, the son of Thomas Warner, the island was colonized. Edward's grandson Henry began construction of Fort Berkerley in the 1730s' and worked as a commissioner of the newly established naval Dockyard. Their estate was established at the Piccadilly site prior to the introduction of sugar cane. His tomb is situated on the site although badly damaged by vandals.

Sites: Betty's Hope | Warner Family Estate, Piccadilly


Introduction | Archaic Age | Ceramic Age/Pre Columbian Saladoid | Post Saladoid | Historical Period | Common Myths