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The sovereign Commonwealth of Antigua and Barbuda was created on November 1, 1981. Situated in the center of the Leeward Islands, it is part of the Lesser Antilles. Its capital is St. Johns, which is located on Antigua. The country is made up of two major islands, Antigua and Barbuda, as well as numerous nearby and smaller islands, including Great Bird, Green, Guiana, Long, Maiden, Prickly Pear, Redonda, and York Islands.

Antigua measures approximately 14 miles long an about 11 miles wide, and a total of 108 square miles. Barbuda is a flat coral island with an area of 68 square miles. Its nickname is "Land of 365 Beaches" because of the numerous beaches in what is now a tourist country.

Early Antiguans grew crops which included tobacco, cotton, chili peppers guava sweet potatoes, and corn. Christopher Columbus sailed by the island in 1493, on his second voyage. He mapped it, naming it in honor of the Santa Maria la Antigua, the saint of Seville, Spain. In 1632, a group of men from St. Kitts arrived on the island to establish a settlement.

Sir Christopher Codrington came to Antigua in 1684 looking for a place which was capable of supporting the same sort of large scale sugar cultivation which could be found all over the Caribbean. It turns out, it could, and Sir Christopher watched over the next half century as Antigua's sugar cultivation met his expectations, and more. He had changed the course of Antigua's history, for the island became a busy and successful sugar colony.

By 1750, more than 150 windmills used for sugar cane processing were scattered across the island. In 1784, Captain Horatio Nelson (soon to be an admiral) sailed to the Caribbean and began to secure England's Caribbean base. He sought to establish naval facilities for Britain and to enforce the Navigation Acts in the area.

The Navigation Acts were a group of strict commercial shipping laws. The island of Antigua seemed perfect for his mission including safe harbors protected by almost continuous coral reef. Nelson readied a base for the English ships which would patrol the West Indies. The dockyard was called "Nelson's Dockyard."

By the late 1700s, Antigua, known as the gateway to the Caribbean, had as its main crop, sugar. The island was also significant to the region due to its ports and their protections. In 1834, England abolished slavery throughout the British Empire. The law emancipated children under the age of six with all other slaves could be kept by their former owners for apprenticeships which could last up to six years. Antigua was the only English colony in the Caribbean to free them all with no waiting period. Rather than eroding the island's sugar industry, the emancipation improved the economy. The majority of Antiguans are descendants of African slaves who were brought to the island in order to work in the sugar cane fields.

Barbuda is situated in the middle of the Leeward Islands, north of Antigua. In 1685, the founder of the town of Codrington on Barbuda, Christopher Codrington and his brother John leased the island, keeping slaves at Codrington to do the work on their land as well as transporting them to and from Antigua to work on the sugar cane plantations. When they were emancipated, most of the slaves continued to work on the plantations for low wages. Hurricane Irma, which made landfall on Barbuda on September 6, 2017, devastated Barbuda, destroying 95% of its structures and leaving an estimated 60% of its residents homeless.

With Hurricane Jose right behind Irma, the government began evacuations on September 8, moving all of its residents to Antigua. More than 1,800 residents, including 500 or so children of school age, were forced to leave the island, prompting Ambassador Ronald Sanders to say, "For the first time in 300 years, there's not a single living person on the island of Barbuda.

A civilization that has existed on that island for over 300 years has now been extinguished." In 1967, Antigua, along with the dependent islands of Barbuda and Redonda became an associated state of the Commonwealth. In 1981, the associated state was granted independence.The first prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda was Vere C. Bird, a former labor union president who took office in 1981.

In 1994, he resigned, stating his resignation was due to poor health. His son, Lester Bryant Bird, succeeded him in that office. The third prime minister, Baldwin Spencer, was not related.

 

 

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