This port has a Natural Harbor
Fertile Soil (Sugar)
Basseterre was founded on Saint Kitts in 1627 by the French, under Sieur Pierre Belain d'Esnambuc. It served as capital of the French colony of St. Christophe, which consisted of the northern and southern extremities of the island of St. Kitts (the centre was yielded to Britain). When Phillipe de Longviliers de Poincy was made the French governor of St. Kitts in 1639, the town turned into a large, successful port, commanding Eastern Caribbean trade and colonisation. De Poincy then quickly made Basseterre capital of the entire French West Indies colony, which included the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, and remained so until his death in 1660. The city was made capital of the entire island of St. Kitts in 1727, following French expulsion from the island and full British control. (see Colonial History below)
The city of Basseterre has one of the most tragic histories of any Caribbean capital, destroyed many times by colonial wars, fire, earthquakes, floods, riots and hurricanes. Despite all of this, a considerable number of well-restored buildings still exist in downtown Basseterre.
Pre-Columbian History of St. Kitts
The first settlers to arrive to the islands were a pre-agricultural, pre-ceramic people, who migrated down the archipelago from Florida. These hunter-gatherers for years were mistakenly thought to be the Ciboney, an Amerindian race from Cuba. However, archaeological evidence has proven that they were in actuality a group labelled "Archaic people". In a few hundred years, the Archaic people disappeared.
Around 100 B.C., the ceramic-using and agriculturalist Saladoid people came to the islands, migrating up the archipelago from the banks of the Orinoco River in Venezuela. These people were then replaced in 800 A.D. by the Igneri people, members of the Arawak tribe. They were a peace-loving pro-religious people who migrated up the same path from the Orinoco. They heavily settled it, climaxing to an estimated population of 5,000.
Around 1300 A.D., the Kalinago, or Carib people arrived on the islands. The war-like Kalinago people quickly dispersed the Igneri, and forced them northwards to the Greater Antilles. They named Saint Kitts Liamuiga meaning "fertile island", and Nevis Oualie meaning "land of beautiful waters". The islands of Liamuiga and Oualie marked the furthest the Kalinago ever reached northwards, in terms of permanent residence, and probably would have succeeded in occupying the entire archipelago had the Europeans not came. Both islands, were major bases used by the Kalinago from the South to raid the Eastern Taino peoples of the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, and were critically important for the Kalinago trade routes to the North.
The first Europeans to arrive at the islands were the Spanish under Christopher Columbus. He named Saint Kitts Sant Jago (Saint James). However, misinterpretations of maps by subsequent Spanish explorers led Saint Kitts to be named San Cristobal (Saint Christopher), a name originally applied to Saba 20 miles north. Nevis was named "Nuestra Señora de las Nieves", or "Our Lady of the Snows", because of its large volcanic peak, which due to heavy cloud covering at its top made Columbus mistakenly believe that it was capped with snow.
The first non-Spanish settlement attempt in the Caribbean occurred on Saint Kitts, when French Huguenot refugees from the fishing town of Dieppe established a town on a harbour on the island's north coast, which they also named Dieppe, in 1538. However, only months after the founding, the settlement was raided by the Spanish and all the inhabitants were deported. The remains of one of the buildings is now the basement for the Main house in the Golden Lemon Hotel.
The next European encounter occurred in 1607 when Captain John Smith stopped at Nevis for five days before founding the colony of Virginia. Captain Smith documented the many hot springs in Nevis, whose waters had remarkable curative abilities against skin ailments and bad health.
In the early 1600s, an English captain, Thomas Warner, set sail with a crew to found a colony on the Guiana coast. His colony proved a failure as his crew was ravaged by disease, unfamiliar weather conditions, and Carib raids. A friend of Warner's then suggested that he should instead try to colonise one of the islands in the Lesser Antilles because of their favourable conditions. In 1623 Warner abandoned his Guiana post and set sail North through the archipelago. After checking each island, Warner decided that Saint Kitts would prove to be the best-suited site for an English colony, because of its strategic central position ideal for expansion, friendly native population, fertile soil, abundant fresh water, and large salt deposits. He and his family landed on the island and made peace with the local Kalinago peoples, whose leader was Ouboutou Tegremante. Warner then left his family behind and returned to England to gather more men to officially establish a colony. In 1624, he returned and established the colony of Saint Christopher, the first English colony in the Caribbean. They established a port town at Old Road, downhill from Tegremante's capital village.
In 1625, a French captain, Pierre Belain d'Esnambuc, arrived on the island. He had left France hoping to establish an island colony after hearing about the success of the British on Saint Kitts, but his fleet was destroyed in a clash with the Spanish Armada, leaving him with only his flagship. Warner took pity on the French settlers and allowed them to settle on the island as well, thus making Saint Kitts the site of the first permanent French colony in the Caribbean as well. French settlers lodged themselves in the ruins of the town of Dieppe, which they rebuilt. Warner also willingly accepted the French in an attempt to out-populate the local Kalinago, to whom he was growing suspicious.
Warner's suspicions proved to be accurate. As the European population on Saint Kitts continued to increase, Tegremante grew suspicious of the foreigners. In 1626, after a secret meeting with Kalinago heads from neighbouring Waitikubuli (Dominica) and Oualie, it was decided that in a secret raid they would ambush the European settlements. The secret plan was revealed to the Europeans however, by an Igneri woman named Barbe. Barbe had only recently been brought to St. Kitts as a slave-wife after a raid on an Arawak island. She despised the Kalinago and had fallen in love with Warner, and thus told him of the planned ambush. The Europeans acted by attacking the Kalinago first. At a site now called Bloody Point, which housed the island's main Kalinago settlement, over 2,000 Kalinago men were massacred, many of whom were from Waitikubuli, who had come overnight planning to attack the Europeans the day after. The many dead bodies were dumped in a river, on the site which housed the Kalinago place of worship. For weeks, blood flowed down the river like water, giving it its nickname, Bloody River. The remaining Kalinago Indians were deported to Waitikubuli.
After the Kalinago Genocide of 1626, the island was formally partitioned between the English and French, with the French gaining the ends, Capisterre in the North and Basseterre in the south, and the English gaining the centre. Both powers then proceeded the colonise neighbouring islands from their base. The English settled Nevis (1628), Antigua (1632), Montserrat (1632) and later Anguilla (1650) and Tortola (1672). The French colonised Martinique (1635), the Guadeloupe archipelago (1635), St. Martin (1648), and St. Barths (1648).
Saint Kitts suffered heavily from a Spanish raid in 1629, from which all of the island's inhabitants fled as the Spaniards pillaged. They returned shortly after, however, and developed a series of fortifications along the Caribbean coast.
The island soon became a centre of production of tobacco. The planters grew prosperous. However when the colony of Virginia began to dominate world tobacco production and profits started declining, the island switched to producing sugar cane, starting in 1640. To provide the large amounts of labour needed for the industry, African slaves were imported in large quantities. The slaves had very harsh living conditions, and thousands perished working the fields.
Phillippe de Longvilliers de Poincy became governor of the French portion of the island in 1638 Owing greater allegiance to the Knights of St John, he soon refused to accept the authority of the King of France. He died on the Island in 1660.
During the Second Anglo-Dutch War, the relationship between the French and English settlers soured, as their home countries warred. Warfare soon broke out on the island itself. The overwhelming French troops attacked the British settlements and gained control of the whole island from 1665-1667. The Treaty of Breda restored the English portion of the island to its owners.
In 1671, British Saint Kitts was joined with Nevis, Antigua and Montserrat to form the Leeward Caribee Island Government, headquartered in Antigua. The island still enjoyed full autonomy, however.
In 1689, during the War of the Grand Alliance, France re-occupied the entire island, and decimated the English farms. An English retaliation by General Codrington defeated the French forces and deported them to Martinique. The Treaty of Rijswijk in 1697 restored pre-war conditions. The war devastated St. Kitts's economy.
Saint Kitts was to face even greater devastation with the turn of the century. The French made one more major attack on British troops in 1705 during the War of the Spanish Succession, as the over 8,000 French troops on the island easily defeated the 1,000 British posts. The French held St. Kitts for 8 years, until the Treaty of Utrecht was signed. The treaty ceded the entire island of St. Kitts to the British. Upon receiving full control in 1713, the British soon moved the island's capital to the town of Basseterre in 1727, and St. Kitts quickly took off as a leader in sugar producation in the Caribbean.