National Geographic : 1966 Oct
Mother colony gave birth to pirates: St. Christopher sheltered both English and French in the 17th century, as rival homelands planted their first settlements in the West Indies. When Spaniards drove them away temporarily, some of the refugees turned boucanier-the buccaneers of the Spanish Main. Official documents use the formal names of British St. Christopher and Dutch St. Eustatius. Islanders know them simply as St. Kitts and Statia. With slave labor English planters coaxed fortunes in sugar cane from the volcanic soils of St. Kitts and Nevis. When the future American patriot and statesman Alexander Hamilton was born on Nevis in 1755, the island's wealth, lavish their way toward orbit or splash-down.* Yet, practically in sight of this symbol of man's future, vanished Antiguans lived in pastoral simplicity. Fred Olsen, a retired chemist and research engineer whose interest now centers on the original inhabitants, took me to the site of an Arawak settlement he had found. "I asked myself what a tribe would want in an encampment, and decided there were five requirements," he said as he stood over an excavation. "First, they would need an off shore reef that would provide good fishing. Second, a sand beach for pulling up canoes. Third, a source of fresh water. Fourth, a hum mock to shelter them from the wind. And fifth, flat land for growing manioc, from which cassava cakes were made. "When I found a site combining those fea tures, I dug, and came on this kitchen midden. Radio-carbon tests place the upper deposits 504 at about A.D. 1100, but deeper layers go back another 700 years." Leaving English Harbour, we sailed al most west for Nevis, putting the wind astern. Through the afternoon Nevis lifted its peak, enveloped in a cream puff of cloud. As we sailed close in the soft light before sunset, we saw a checkerboard of green and yellow fields on the slopes, dotted by cylindrical stone towers that had once been windmills for crushing sugar cane. Sugar Sweetened Life on Nevis I think of Nevis more than any other is land as symbolizing the sugar economy of the 18th and 19th centuries, an era that ended with Britain's abolition of slavery in 1834. It gave Nevis a way of life that gained *See "Cape Canaveral's 6,000-mile Shooting Gallery," by Allan C. Fisher, Jr., GEOGRAPHIC, October, 1959.