St. Kitts is located in the northern part of the Leeward Islands in the eastern Caribbean, 19 degrees north of the equator. St. Kitts is 23 miles long and 5 miles across at its widest, encompassing an area of 68 square miles with a population of approximately 32,000. The island's point of highest elevation is Mt. Liamuiga, at 3,792 feet.
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 West Indies, combining exceptional wealth as sugar colonies with a vital strategic position as gateways to the Caribbean. As a result, the struggles and conflicts that marked their history are among the most decisive episodes in Caribbean history. St. Kitts is a volcanic island, a fact to which it owes its dramatic central mountains, its rather unpredictable geologic history, and its lush tropical vegetation. In fact, St. Kitts' pre-Columbian Carib inhabitants knew their island as Liamuiga, or "fertile land," a reference to the island's rich and productive volcanic soil. Today that name graces St. Kitts' central peak, a 3,792-foot extinct volcano. St Kitts’ history is littered with fierce, bloody battles for control of the island. From the Indian tribes fighting among each other to the French and British battles for supremacy. At the time of European discovery, Carib Indians inhabited the island of St. Kitts. Christopher Columbus landed on the island in 1493 on his second voyage and named it after St. Christopher. European settlement did not officially begin until 1623-24, when first English, then French settlers arrived on St. Christopher's Island, whose name the English shortened to St. Kitts Island. Sir Thomas Warner visited St. Kitts in 1623 he chose St. Christopher for its abundant forests and fresh water, its fertile easily worked soil, its accessible physical structure, and the presence of salt. Sir Thomas Warner was the first British Governor in the West Indies. He is buried on the grounds of St. Thomas Church in Middle Island. As the first English colony in the Caribbean, St. Kitts served as a base for further colonization in the region.
The English and French held St. Kitts jointly from 1628 to 1713. During the 17th century, intermittent warfare between French and English settlers ravaged the island's economy. St. Kitts was ceded to Great Britain by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. The French seized St. Kitts when in February of 1782, a French fleet of nearly 50 ships appeared on the horizon off St. Kitt's. Headed by Admiral Count François de Grasse, whose flagship was the exceptionally imposing 130-gun Ville de Paris, the fleet had been dispatched to force the British from the rich sugar colonies of St. Kitts & Nevis--and that meant dislodging them from Brimstone Hill, otherwise known as The Gibraltar of the West Indies. Situated almost 800 feet above sea level, this remarkable fortress is one of the most dramatic spots in the entire Caribbean, both historically and aesthetically. It commands astounding views of the Caribbean, including Nevis, Montserrat, Saba, St. Maarten and St. Barts. Brimstone Hill sprawls over 38 acres, and its massive Fort George citadel is defended by seven-foot-thick walls of black volcanic stone--then better known as brimstone. In 1782 Brimstone Hill had been under nearly continuous construction (by slave labor) for almost nine decades.
The 8,000-man French siege force, supported by de Grasse's substantial fleet, calmly set to its task. After a month of almost continuous bombardment, and despite staunch resistance by Brimstone's 1,000 British troops, the French succeeded finally in punching 40-foot holes in the citadel's thick walls. Knowing their situation finally to be without hope, the British surrendered. The French seige commander, the Marquis de Bouille, paid tribute to their heroic defense by allowing the British garrison to leave Brimstone Hill as an undefeated force, in full uniform and with standards held aloft. One year later, when the Treaty of Versailles returned St. Kitts to British rule, the same honor was accorded to the French garrison. Brimstone Hill was abandoned in 1851, and the fort suffered neglect and vandalism for the next century. In 1965, when the site became a national park, intensive restoration returned the imposing fortress perched atop the hill to its original grandeur. Tours of Brimstone Hill are conducted daily, and highlights include the hospital, ammunition stores, artillery officer's quarters, the Prince of Wales Bastion, and the Citadel of Fort George. The Treaty of Paris in 1783 definitively awarded the island to Britain. It was part of the colony of the Leeward Islands from 1871-1956, and of the West Indies Federation from 1958-62. St. Kitts attained full independence on September 19, 1983.