The British Overseas Territory of Anguilla lies in the Lesser Antilles of the Leeward Islands, West Indies, lying to the east of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and just to the north of Saint Martin. The territory consists of the main island of Anguilla, approximately 16 miles (26 km) long by 3 miles (5 km) wide at its widest point, together with a number of much smaller islands and cays with no permanent population. The island’s capital is The Valley. Anguilla was first settled by Indigenous tribes who migrated from South America with artifacts dated to around 1300 BC and remains of settlements from AD 600. The Arawak name for the island seems to have been Malliouhana. Some sources claim that Columbus sighted the island during his second voyage in 1493, while others state that the island was first discovered by the French explorer René Goulaine de Laudonnière in 1564. Anguilla was first colonized by English settlers from Saint Kitts beginning in 1650. Attempts by the French to capture the island during the War of Austrian Succession (1745) and the Napoleonic Wars (1796) ended in failure.
During the early colonial period, Anguilla was administered by the British through Antigua; in 1825, it was placed under the administrative control of nearby Saint Kitts. On February 27, 1967, Britain granted Saint Kitts and Nevis full internal autonomy. Anguilla was also incorporated into the new unified dependency, named Saint Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla, against the wishes of many Anguillians. Having expelled the St Kitts police on May 30, 1967, Anguilla declared independence by referendum in July. The island briefly operated as the independent “Republic of Anguilla”. The goal of the revolution headed by Atlin Harrigan and Ronald Webster was not independence per se, but rather independence from Saint Kitts and Nevis and a return to being a British colony. British authority was fully restored in July 1971 and in 1980 Anguilla was finally allowed to secede from Saint Kitts and Nevis and become a separate British Crown colony (now a British overseas territory).
A St Kitts’ sub-office on Anguilla was supplied with an A12 duplex canceller inscribed AN in 1900 and a post office was opened at The Valley in 1904, using the stamps of St. Kitts-Nevis. In 1920 the General Post Office appears to have been located at Crocus Hill. In 1927-31 there were sub-post offices at The Forest, East End, The Road, and Blowing Point, replaced later by a motor travelling post office (TPO). St. Christopher-Nevis stamps were used concurrently with those of the Leeward Islands until 1952.
The first stamps to be inscribed St. Christopher, Nevis and Anguilla were issued on June 2, 1953. During the July-August 1967 dispute with St Kitts, Anguilla routed mail through the U.S. Virgin Islands. Its first stamps were those of St. Kitts-Nevis but overprinted with INDEPENDENT ANGUILLA and were issued on September 4, 1967. However, owing to limited stocks available for overprinting, the sale of the stamps was controlled by the Postmaster, and no orders from the philatelic trade were accepted. As a result, this first set is extremely rare — all sixteen denominations catalogues for a total of USD $15,400 mint and about $3,900 used. Only three complete sets are known.
Later in 1967, Anguilla produced its first stamps without overprints and displayed notable sites in Anguilla such as the lighthouse on Sombrero Island. On July 7, 1969, the Anguillan post office was officially recognized by the government of St. Kitts-Nevis. The postal authorities on the island seem to be moderate in the number of stamp sets issued as there are only five or six releases per year, with a major definitive issue appearing approximately every five years.
Scott #361 was released in 1979 as part of a souvenir sheet of six (Scott #366a, pictured below) portraying Anguilla’s outlying islands. I digitally cropped the stamp from the sheet for the purposes of this article. Sombrero Island, also known as Hat Island, is the northernmost island of the Lesser Antilles, lying 54 km (34 mi) north-west of Anguilla across the Dog and Prickly Pear Passage. Originally, when viewed from the sea, the island had the shape of a sombrero hat but guano mining operations have left the island with precipitous sides and a relatively flat top which is 12 m (39 ft) above sea level.
Sombrero Island passed into the hands of the British as a result of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1714, In 1856, the Americans claimed the island and proceeded to quarry 100,000 tons of phosphate that served as fertilizer for the exhausted lands of the Southern States. Sombrero, lying in the route of shipping from England to South and Central America, lay in an area with many hazards so a lighthouse was constructed and began operations on January 1, 1868. In 1890, the phosphate works on the island were abandoned. Hurricane Donna severely damaged the lighthouse in 1960 and a newly-constructed lighthouse went into operation in July 1962. The light was automated in 2002 and now the island is uninhabited. The only visitors are the occasional fishermen, biologists engaged in fieldwork, and the occasional SCUBA group visiting the island for its interesting dive sites and post-apocalyptic surface.