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 and 1658.
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 1784.
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 another decade.