By the time Christopher Columbus first visited Nevis in 1493 the Caribs who bare the reputation of having been cannibalistic and warlike already occupied it. The gentle Arawaks had populated the Caribbean islands before the Caribs came. (It was not then called the Caribbean as the Caribs had not yet arrived and so their tribal name had not made the hall of geographic fame). Perhaps the islands should all be called the "Arawakean" islands. But, in the event, Caribbean it is. Score one for cannibalistic and warlike. And Columbus called what he saw "Nevis" because of the snow on top of the one dramatic peak which constitutes the island. In fact he was quite wrong. He saw clouds and believed it was snow. "Nieves", in Spanish. Maybe he knew it was not snow but the whole thing reminded him of snow. He called what he saw "Las Nieves" and today, as you approach the unique cone, it is not hard to see the connection.
Jump 134 years to 1628 and enter the English who settled on the island. Initially the island was cleared for tobacco plantations, but it was soon realised that Nevis was no match for Virginia, so the island quickly gravitated to sugar production. Across the narrow straights the French had settled on St Kitts and an Anglo-French rivalry grew and continued, punctuated with numerous battles and skirmishes for about 100 years. The two islands were very valuable to the British in terms of sugar production. Nevis, in fact, in the previous 100 years had become immensely wealthy as a sugar colony. They had figured out from the Dutch traders the Spanish secret of how to crystallise sugar and thus make it suitable for shipment. In fact revenues in the late 17th and early 18th century from Nevis alone exceeded many of the American colonies combined. This, however, provided the seeds for future difficulties. Nevis was rich, "The Queen of the Caribees", and other nations wanted a piece of it. It attracted the unwanted attentions of the French, Spanish and the Dutch. Two serious French attacks in 1706 crippled production and forced the island to be defended by no less than 15 separate fortifications by 1750. A decisive British victory over the French led to a Treaty (Treaty of Versailles, 1783) in which both St Kitts and Nevis became wholly British possessions. Nevis was still plagued by marauding pirates and privateers and the odd attack however, further denting revenues. Nevis' decline had already begun. Many farmers in Nevis moved into other forms of agriculture -particularly cotton production.
Nevis evolved into a playground for the rich and famous. Many lavish plantations were built, several of which today form the Inns of Nevis as well as the Bath Hotel in Charlestown. The abolition of slavery in 1838 meant the luxury of free labour disappeared and this, as in many other Caribbean islands, significantly reduced the sugar industry's vast profits. In 1880 St. Kitts and Nevis were formally put under one administrative umbrella by the English and thus created the origins of the twin island partnership.
Like many other islands in the Caribbean, traditional agricultural industries have declined in Nevis; cotton, vegetables and coconuts form the bulk of the remaining agricultural industry. Tourism has played an increasing role in the local economy in recent times. Nevis' best asset in this regard is its relative exclusivity yet good accessibility. Nevis became independent on September 19th 1983 and is linked with St Kitts in a Federation but the national constitution includes provisions for Nevis to secede from the Federation.