Saint Christopher and Nevis was a British colony in the West Indies from 1882 to 1983. From 1882 to 1951, and again from 1980, the colony was known simply as Saint Christopher and Nevis. Between 1951 and 1980, it was called Saint Christopher, Nevis and Anguilla. It was also part of the Federal Colony of the Leeward Islands from 1871 to 1956, which also included Antigua, Barbuda, and Montserrat. the Virgin Islands. with Dominica becoming part of the colony in 1871 but leaving it again in 1940. In 1958, the remaining islands were absorbed into the West Indies Federation. The two islands of concern today gained independence in 1983 as the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis.
The colony consisted of two main islands, Saint Kitts and Nevis. The capital city is Basseterre on the larger island of Saint Kitts. The smaller island of Nevis lies approximately 2 miles (3 kilometers) southeast of Saint Kitts across a shallow channel called “The Narrows”. To the north-northwest lie the islands of Sint Eustatius, and Saba (the Netherlands), Saint Barthélemy, Saint-Martin/Sint Maarten, and Anguilla. To the east and northeast are Antigua and Barbuda, and to the southeast is the small uninhabited island of Redonda, and the island of Montserrat, which currently has an active volcano (see Soufrière Hills).
The islands are of volcanic origin, with large central peaks covered in tropical rainforest; the steeper slopes leading to these peaks are mostly uninhabited. The majority of the population on both islands lives closer to the sea where the terrain flattens out. There are numerous rivers descending from the mountains of both islands, which provide fresh water to the local population. St. Kitts also has one small lake, a salt pond. The highest peak, at 3,793 feet (1,156 meters), is Mount Liamuiga on St. Kitts.
Saint Kitts and Nevis were among the first islands in the Caribbean to be settled by Europeans. Saint Kitts was home to the first British and French colonies in the Caribbean, and thus has also been titled “The Mother Colony of the West Indies”.
Saint Kitts was named Liamuiga, which roughly translates as “fertile land”, by the Kalinago Indians who originally inhabited the island. The name is preserved via St. Kitts’s western peak, Mount Liamuiga. Nevis’s pre-Columbian name was Oualie, meaning “land of beautiful waters”.
Christopher Columbus upon sighting what we now call Nevis in 1493 gave that island the name San Martín. The current name Nevis is derived from a Spanish name Nuestra Señora de las Nieves., meaning “Our Lady of the Snows.” It is not known who chose this name for the island, but it is a reference to the story of a fourth-century Catholic miracle: a summertime snowfall on the Esquiline Hill in Rome. Perhaps the white clouds which usually wreathe the top of Nevis Peak reminded someone of the story of a miraculous snowfall in a hot climate. The island of Nevis upon first British settlement was referred to as Dulcina, a name meaning “sweet one” in Spanish. Eventually the original Spanish name was restored and used in the shortened form, Nevis.
There is some disagreement over the name which Christopher Columbus gave to St. Kitts. For many years it was thought that he named the island San Cristóbal, after Saint Christopher, his patron saint and the patron hallow of travelers. New studies suggest that Columbus named the island Sant Yago (Saint James). The name San Cristóbal was given by Columbus to the island now known as Saba, 20 mi northwest. It seems that San Cristóbal came to be applied to the island of St. Kitts only as the result of a mapping error.
No matter the origin of the name, the island was well documented as San Cristóbal by the seventeenth century. The first English colonists kept the English translation of this name, and dubbed it St. Christopher’s Island. In the seventeenth century, a common nickname for Christopher was Kit, or Kitt. This is why the island was often informally referred to as “Saint Kitt’s Island”, further shortened to “Saint Kitts”.
Today the Constitution refers to the state as both “Saint Kitts and Nevis” and “Saint Christopher and Nevis”, but the former is the one most commonly used.
The islands of Saint Kitts and Nevis were settled by Native Americans five thousand years prior to European arrival. The last wave of Native American arrivals, the Kalinago people, arrived approximately three centuries before the Europeans. The islands were discovered by the Europeans through a Spanish expedition under Columbus in 1493.
In 1538, French Huguenots established a settlement on St. Kitts. The settlement was destroyed by the Spanish soon afterwards and the survivors were deported. In 1623, an English settlement was established. This was soon followed by French settlements, and the island being divided by an agreement between the colonists. The Spanish were superior to the Kalinagos in means of warfare and the French and English were even more “economically aggressive and militarily determined” than the Spanish.
The French and English, intent on self-enrichment through exploitation of the island’s resources understood from the start that their establishment of settlements in St. Kitts would meet with resistance, and such resistance was waged by the Kalinago throughout the first three years of the settlements’ existence. Throughout the process of establishing settlements on St. Kitts, as elsewhere in the Caribbean, the French and the English, like their predecessors, were intent on enslaving, expelling or exterminating the Kalinagos, since the latter’s retention of land threatened the profitability of the European-controlled plantation economy. To facilitate this objective, an ideological campaign was waged by colonial chroniclers, dating back to the Spanish, as they produced literature which systematically denied Kalinago humanity (a literary tradition carried through the late seventeenth century by such authors as Jean-Baptiste du Tertre and Pere Labat).
In 1626, the Anglo-French settlers joined forces and committed genocide against the Kalinago, allegedly to preempt an imminent plan by the Caribs, conniving with the Kalinagos, to expel or kill or, according to Tertre’s account, just kill the European colonialists who had maintained their presence on the island by force for three years.
A Spanish expedition sent to enforce Spanish claims destroyed the English and French colonies and deported the settlers back to their respective countries in 1629. As part of the war settlement in 1630, the Spanish permitted the re-establishment of the English and French colonies.
As Spanish power went into decline Saint Kitts became the premier base for English and French expansion into the Caribbean. From St. Kitts the British settled the islands of Antigua, Montserrat, Anguilla and Tortola, and the French settled Martinique, the Guadeloupe archipelago and St. Barts. During the late seveneenth century France and England battled for control over St Kitts. The French ceded the territory to Britain in 1713. St. Christopher was captured by the French in 1782 but was returned to British control the following year.
The first postmark on St. Christopher was introduced in 1789. The islands used stamps of Great Britain from 1858 until 1860 with the obliterators A12 used at Basseterre and A09 used on Nevis, which began issuing its own stamps in 1861. During the period of 1860 to 1870, various types of ‘Paid‘ handstamps were used on Saint Christopher which issued its first set of three stamps on April 1, 1870. This issue, and subsequent issues, were of the same design bearing a portrait of Queen Victoria. Aside from the definitives, in times of short supplies several provisionals were issued. The island’s last surcharged stamps were released in 1888 (Scott #21-23); when the supplies of these ran low, in 1890 Saint Christopher resorted to the use a stamp of Antigua (Scott #18 with obliterator A12 rather than A02).. The two islands continued using their own stamps until October 31, 1890, when the first general issue for the Leeward Islands was released.
A union of Saint Christopher and Nevis had been proposed as early as 1867, when Captain James George Mackenzie was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Saint Christopher with a mandate to seek an amalgamation of the administrations of the two islands. This proposal met with strong opposition, however, and was withdrawn the following year. In 1871, Saint Christopher and Nevis became presidencies within the Federal Colony of the Leeward Islands, with Anguilla being attached to Saint Christopher as a dependency in the same year. However, in 1882, the legislature of the Leeward Islands passed legislation merging the two presidencies, forming a combined Presidency of Saint Christopher and Nevis.
During the period from 1890 until 1903, stamps of the Leeward Islands were used exclusively on Saint Christopher, Nevis and Anguilla (as well as the other islands of Antigua, Dominica, Montserrat, and the Virgin Islands. The issue of 1890 was a key plate stamp design with the usual profile of Queen Victoria, eight values ranging from ½ pence to 5 shillings. In 1897, they were overprinted with a logo commemorating Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, and in 1902 the 4 pence, 6 pence, and 7 pence denominations were surcharged with a value of 1 penny.
In 1903, stamps inscribed ST. KITTS-NEVIS were released with two designs — Columbus sighting land and a medicinal spring (Scott #1-10). Although these two islands with Anguilla became a presidency of the Leeward Islands in 1882, stamps continued to be inscribed thus until 1952. Anguilla was featured on a map stamp of St. Kitts-Nevis in 1938 (Scott #89-90).
Stamp issues of the Leeward Islands were used concurrently with those of St. Kitts-Nevis until 1952 when, under a Legislative Council, the name of the colony was changed to St. Christopher, Nevis and Anguilla. Stamps bearing the new name were first issued on June 14, 1952.
If the design of Scott #M1 looks familiar, it is because it uses the same design as those for the first St. Kitts-Nevis stamps in 1903 and Scott #1 illustrated the ASAD blog about the holiday traditionally known in the United States as Columbus Day. That ½ penny stamp (as were most of the others in that series) was bicolor: green frame with violet center. In 1916, a new printing of the stamp was ordered from Thomas de la Rue & Company of London printed solely in green using typography. The stamps received the WAR TAX overprint and were released on October 1916.
The “War Tax” stamps were issued to help fund the war effort. The War Tax Acts in most colonies and countries stated that these stamps were to be used in addition to whatever postage fees were due on the item being mailed (postcards, letters and parcels). While the stamps were supposed to be used just to pay for the War Tax, many times they were also used to pay part of the postage and registration fees (as long as the total amount with the war tax was correct, it appears that most countries did not seem to mind).
St Kitts-Nevis followed the pattern of the other Leeward Islands colonies. In October 1916, the ½d penny stamp appeared overprinted WAR TAX (A Handbook of St. Kitts-Nevis 1920 states that the Council ruling on the War Tax stamps occurred on February 12, 1917). Increased postage rates created the demand for a new War Tax stamp in July 1918 which led to the design being reprinted in orange and overprinted WAR STAMP (Scott #M2). The use of the stamps ended with the conclusion of the war.