The island's indigenous Arawak people were expelled or exterminated
by Caribs in the 14th century. Columbus landed there in November 1493.
Spanish ships frequently landed on Dominica during the 16th century, but
fierce resistance by the Caribs discouraged Spain's efforts at settlement.
In 1635, France claimed Dominica. Shortly thereafter, French missionaries
became the first European inhabitants of the island. Carib incursions continued,
though, and in 1660, the French and British agreed that both Dominica and
St. Vincent should be abandoned. Dominica was officially neutral for the
next century, but the attraction of its resources remained; rival expeditions
of British and French foresters were harvesting timber by the start of
the 18th century.
Largely due to Dominica's position between Martinique and Guadeloupe,
France eventually became predominant, and a French settlement was established
and grew. As part of the 1763 Treaty of Paris that ended the seven years'
war, the island became a British possession. In 1778, during the American
Revolutionary War, the French mounted a successful invasion with the active
cooperation of the population, which was largely French. The 1783 Treaty
of Paris, which ended the war, returned the island to Britain. French invasions
in 1795 and 1805 ended in failure.
In 1763, the British established a legislative assembly, representing
only the white population. In 1831, reflecting a liberalization of official
British racial attitudes, the Brown Privilege Bill conferred political
and social rights on free nonwhites. Three Blacks were elected to the legislative
assembly the following year. Following the abolition of slavery, in 1838
Dominica became the first and only British Caribbean colony to have a Black-controlled
legislature in the 19th century. Most Black legislators were small holders
or merchants who held economic and social views diametrically opposed to
the interests of the small, wealthy English planter class. Reacting to
a perceived threat, the planters lobbied for more direct British rule.
In 1865, after much agitation and tension, the colonial office replaced
the elective assembly with one comprised of one-half elected members and
one-half appointed. Planters allied with colonial administrators outmaneuvered
the elected legislators on numerous occasions. In 1871, Dominica became
part of the Leeward Island Federation. The power of the Black population
progressively eroded. Crown Colony government was re-established in 1896.
All political rights for the vast majority of the population were effectively
curtailed. Development aid, offered as compensation for disenfranchisement,
proved to have a negligible effect.
Following World War I, an upsurge of political consciousness throughout
the Caribbean led to the formation of the representative government association.
Marshaling public frustration with the lack of a voice in the governing
of Dominica, this group won one-third of the popularly elected seats of
the legislative assembly in 1924 and one-half in 1936. Shortly thereafter,
Dominica was transferred from the Leeward Island Administration and was
governed as part of the Windwards until 1958, when it joined the short-lived
West Indies Federation.
After the federation dissolved, Dominica became an associated state
of the United Kingdom in 1967 and formally took responsibility for its
internal affairs. On November 3, 1978, the Commonwealth of Dominica was
granted independence by the United Kingdom.
Independence did little to solve problems stemming from centuries of
economic underdevelopment, and in mid-1979, political discontent led to
the formation of an interim government. It was replaced after the 1980
elections by a government led by the Dominica Freedom Party under Prime
Minister Eugenia Charles, the Caribbean's first female prime minister.
Chronic economic problems were compounded by the severe impact of hurricanes
in 1979 and in 1980. By the end of the 1980s, the economy had made a healthy
recovery, which weakened in the 1990s due to a decrease in banana prices.
In February 2000 elections, the Edison James United Workers Party (UWP)
was defeated by the Dominican Labor Party (DLP), led by Roosevelt P. "Rosie"
Douglas. Douglas died after only a few months in office and was replaced
by Pierre Charles, also of the DLP.