French, English and Dutch in the Lesser Antilles: from privateering to planting, c. 1550–c. 1650

  • Anne Pérotin-Dumon


After they discovered America, the Spaniards claimed to possess the archipelago that lies between the north and south masses of mainland America. Their slave trading raids in the first decades of the sixteenth century had led them to reconnoitre fairly extensively the insular Caribbean originally occupied by Indians, as well as its margins of Central America, Florida, Guiana (between the Orinoco and Amazon rivers) and Venezuela and Colombia (or Tierra Firme) in South America. However, the islands themselves had remained unevenly occupied by the European invaders, who did not speak of one entity called ‘Caribbean islands’ but rather perceived these as belonging to several distinct entities:
  1. 1

    The four Greater Antilles were part of the Spanish possession in America, las Indias occidentales.

  2. 2

    Looking toward the North American coast of Florida, the Lucayos Islands, later to be called Bahamas, had been neglected by the Spaniards after the depletion of their Indian native population.

  3. 3

    Closer to the continent than the Bahamas, and off the coast of Venezuela, were Curaçao, Aruba and Bonaire. These islands were more an appendix of South America than a part of the Caribbean archipelago.

  4. 4

    A fourth entity was the Lesser Antilles, a chain of forty habitable islands (and many more deserted islets) which face the Atlantic, from east of Puerto Rico south to Trinidad.



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  1. 5.
    De Laet, I., De Nieuwe Wereldt ofte bechrijvinghe van West-Indien (1625), Bk. I, Ch. XVII, p. 106.Google Scholar
  2. 19.
    Innes, F.C., ‘The Pre-Sugar Era of European Settlement in Barbados’, in Journal of Caribbean History, I (1970), p. 7.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Nature America Inc. 2003

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  • Anne Pérotin-Dumon

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