Much of this island was devastated and two-thirds of the population fled abroad because of the eruption of the Soufriere Hills Volcano that began on 18 July 1995. Montserrat has endured volcanic activity since, with the last eruption occurring in July 2003
Montserrat was populated by Arawak and Carib peoples when it was claimed by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage for Spain in 1493, naming the island 'Santa María de Montserrat'. The island fell under English control in 1632 when a group of Irish fleeing anti-Catholic sentiment in Saint Kitts and Nevis settled there. The import of slaves, common to most Caribbean islands, mainly coming from West Africa, followed during the 17th and 18th centuries and an economy based on sugar, rum, arrowroot and Sea Island cotton was established.
In 1782, during the American Revolutionary War, Montserrat was briefly captured by France. It was returned to the United Kingdom under the Treaty of Versailles which ended that conflict. From 1871 to 1958 it was administered as part of the Federal Colony of the Leeward Islands, and then it became a province of the short-lived West Indies Federation from 1958 to 1962.
With the advent of Beatles producer George Martin's AIR Studios Montserrat in the 1970s, the island attracted world-famous musicians who came to record in the peace and quiet and lush tropical surroundings of Montserrat. The last ten years of the twentieth century, however, brought two events which devastated the island.
In September 1989, Hurricane Hugo struck Montserrat with full force, damaging over 90 percent of the structures on the island. AIR Studios closed, and the tourist trade upon which the island depended was nearly wiped out. Within a few years, however, the island had recovered considerably - only to be struck again by disaster.
In July 1995, Montserrat's Soufriere Hills volcano, dormant throughout recorded history, rumbled to life and began an eruption which eventually buried the island's capital, Plymouth, in more than 40 feet (12 m) of mud, destroyed its airport and docking facilities, and rendered the southern half of the island uninhabitable, forcing more than half of the population to flee the island owing to lack of housing. After a period of regular eruptive events during the late 1990s including one on June 25, 1997 in which 19 people lost their lives, the volcano's activity in recent years has been confined mostly to infrequent ventings of ash into the uninhabited areas in the south, although the nuisance occasionally extends into the populated areas of the northern and western parts of the island, for instance the May 20, 2006 collapse of a lava dome that had been slowly building resulted in an ashfall of about 1/2 inch (3 cm) in Old Towne and parts of Olveston. There were no injuries or significant property damage, and the last such incident had been nearly three years before.
Montserrat today remains lush and green. A new airport, opened officially by the Princess Royal Princess Anne in February 2005, received its first commercial flights on July 11, 2005, and docking facilities are in place at Little Bay where a new capital is being constructed out of reach of any further volcanic activity.
The people of Montserrat were granted full residency rights in the United Kingdom in 1998, and citizenship was granted in