As one stands on the bastion overlooking the Caribbean Sea, it's not difficult to imagine a fleet of French ships on the western horizon trying to stay out of range of the cannons of this "Gibraltar of the Caribbean." Yet, initially, the French and English had coexisted on the island. In 1626 they joined forces to massacre the native Carib/Arawak at their ceremonial meeting place along a ravine of the Pelham River now known as "Bloody River."
The following year, St. Kitts was divided between them: the English took the middle of the island; the French were given Capisterre and Basseterre; and the two countries shared the southeast peninsula with its salt ponds.
In 1629, a large Spanish fleet captured the island and deported both English and French settlers back to their respective countries. The settlers soon returned, however, and re-established their colonies. During the 1640s, the sugar industry was introduced to the island, and this development led to a rapid increase in the slave trade during the next decade. From then until the last quarter of the 19th century, the Caribbean islands received at least 5 million slaves from Africa. During the 18th century, more than 55,000 Africans were brought to the Americas every year.
Between 1666 and 1667, the English and French on the island fought over ownership of St. Kitts. Both governors and hundreds of their men (including buccaneers) were killed. But the 1667 Treaty of Breda established English ownership once again. The construction of Brimstone Hill Fortress began in 1690 with the skill, strength, and endurance of African slave labor.
Meanwhile, the French waited for an opportunity to re-take the island, and the American War of Independence provided them with their chance. The French, who along with the Spanish and Dutch had allied with the revolutionary government of America against Britain, had already captured four British Caribbean colonies (Dominica, St. Vincent, Grenada, and Tobago) when they attacked St. Kitts with 8,000 soldiers and 31 warships in early 1782.
Around 1,000 men--including the garrison, local militia, and African slaves--held out for four weeks against heavy artillery fire from 62 cannons, howitzers, and mortars deployed around Brimstone Hill.
During this time, British Admiral Rodney outmaneuvered the French fleet under Admiral De Grasse at Basseterre. This tactical victory combined with the prolonged resistance at Brimstone Hill prevented a French rendezvous with a...