Europeans first landed on the island in either 1492 or 1502 during Spain’s early exploration of the Caribbean. The English failed in their first attempts at colonization in the early 17th century.
The island was first settled by the French, who signed a treaty with the local Caribs in 1660. Like the English and Dutch, the French began to develop the island for the cultivation of sugar cane on extensive plantations. After trying to use the Carib as laborers, they started to import enslaved Africans as workers. Many of the Caribs died because of lack of immunity to Eurasian diseases, such as smallpox and measles, and as a result of being overworked and maltreated by the Europeans.
Caribbean conditions were hard, and many slaves died before they lived long enough to have children. The French (and later British) continued to import slaves until the latter nation abolished the trade, and then the legal institution. By that time, people of ethnic African descent greatly outnumbered those of ethnic European background.
Thereafter Saint Lucia was much contested by the two European powers until the British secured it in 1814. It was part of the British Windward Islands colony.
It joined the West Indies Federation (1958–62) when the colony was dissolved. In 1967, Saint Lucia became one of the six members of the West Indies Associated States, with internal self-government. In 1979 it gained full independence under Sir John Compton. Compton, of the conservative United Workers party (UWP), was again prime minister from 1982 to 1996, when he was succeeded by Vaughn Lewis.
Kenny Anthony of the Labor party was prime minister from 1997 to 2006, when the UWP, again led by Compton, won control of parliament. In May, 2007, after Compton suffered a series of ministrokes, Finance and External Affairs Minister Stephenson King became acting prime minister. He became prime minister after Compton died in September 2007.