The island was discovered by Columbus in 1493, who named it after Monserrado,
a mountain in Spain. Despite claiming the island, the Spanish did
not colonize it and English and French interest grew. Charles I granted
a patent to allow colonization in 1625.
The first european colony was established in 1631 when Irish Catholics
were forcibly moved to there and Antigua to prevent them from siding against
English protestants on St Kitts. After Oliver Cromwell's defeat of the
Irish at the Battle of Drogheda, Irish political prisoners were transferred
to Montserrat. A new fort at Kinsale was built. In 1655, Cromwell himself
was entertained on Montserrat. Montserrat was hit by hurricanes in 1657
The island was taken by the French in 1664. Restored to the British
in 1668, it capitulated to the French in 1782, but was again restored in
Slavery was abolished on the island in 1834. In 1871, Montserrat
became part of the Leeward Islands Colony of Great Britain. When
the Leeward Islands Federation was abolished in 1956, Montserrat became
a separate colony.
In 1958, Montserrat joined the West Indies Federation. The West Indies
Federation was abolished in 1962 (when Jamaica became independent), and
Montserratians voted to remain a dependency of Great Britain.
Severe volcanic activity, which began in July 1995, has put a damper
on this small, open economy. A catastrophic eruption in June 1997 closed
the airports and seaports, causing further economic and social dislocation.
Two-thirds of the 12,000 inhabitants fled the island. Some began to return
in 1998, but lack of housing limited the number. The agriculture sector
continued to be affected by the lack of suitable land for farming and the
destruction of crops. Prospects for the economy depend largely on developments
in relation to the volcano and on public sector construction activity.
The UK has launched a three-year $122.8 million aid program to help reconstruct
the economy. Half of the island is expected to remain uninhabitable for