Culture & History

In the middle of it all - The peaceful calm of St. Kitts suggests nothing of the extraordinary history of the island.  For centuries, St. Kitts occupied a critical position in the European struggle for the islands of the West Indies, which were rich with sugar plantations and were considered the gateway to the Caribbean.  As a result, the struggles and conflicts in and around St. Kitts shaped much of the history of the entire Caribbean.

When Cane Was King

From Backyard Rum to Crème Brulee

Sugar was once the most important crop in the world. It was used to make molasses and rum, and to sweeten the cuisines of people around the world.  And because sugar cane grows in warm, tropical climates, the Caribbean islands were the perfect places to grow it.  European settlers from England, France, Spain, and Holland came to the region, cut down the islands' forests, and planted sugar cane.

Sweet Spot of the Caribbean

Of all the English colonies in the Caribbean, St. Kitts was the oldest and wealthiest - with rich volcanic soil and an ideal climate. Annually St. Kitts yielded a fortune in sugar and rum for its wealthy, mostly absentee, landholders. By around 1775, the time of the American Revolution, 68 sugar plantations existed on St. Kitts, one for every square mile.  The plantation owners sold their sugar products to American, British, French and Dutch customers. They are also credited with production innovations that led St.Kitts to become the world leader in sugar cane cultivation, and a catalyst for the industrial revolution.

A Bitter Sweet Ending

The persistent arguments, outcries, and writings of three prominent English residents of St. Kitts, are said to have influenced the abolition of the British slave trade in 1807 more than any other factor. And with the total abolishment of slavery throughout all the British colonies in 1834, came the end of the sugar industry. Europe's beet sugar undersold Caribbean cane. Depressed market prices could not offset the production and transportation costs for an island crop. In 2005, due to plummeting profits, the Government closed both the cane fields and sugar factory. Tourism is now the major source of income for St. Kitts. The sugar train railway is now home to the St. Kitts Scenic Railway, a unique tour that takes visitors through many of the plantation ruins.