Christopher Columbus visited Saint Kitts on his second voyage in 1493 and found it inhabited by Carib people. He named it Saint Christopher for his patron saint. The name was shortened to Saint Kitts by settlers under Sir Thomas Warner, who, arriving from England in 1623, established the first successful English colony in the West Indies at Old Road on the west coast. The French first arrived on the island in 1625 and established a colony of their own in 1627 under Pierre Belain, sieur d’Esnambuc. Divided during the 17th century between warring French and English colonists, Saint Kitts was given to Britain by the Treaty of Utrecht of April 1713 and remained in British possession despite the capture in 1782 of Brimstone Hill by the French. The island was restored to Great Britain by the Peace of Paris treaty signed by Britain and France at Versailles in 1783.
Nevis was also sighted by Columbus in 1493. The island’s name derives from Columbus’s description of the clouds atop Nevis Peak as las nieves, or “the snows,” when he sighted the island. It was settled by the English in 1628 and soon became one of the most prosperous of the Antilles. Although it suffered from French and Spanish attacks in the 17th and 18th centuries, it maintained a sound economic position until the mid-19th century.
The culture of St. Kitts and Nevis, two small Caribbean islands forming one country, has grown mainly out of the West African traditions of the slave population brought in during the colonial period. France and British colonists both settled the islands, and for a period of time the British imported indentured Irish servants. The native Caribs, skilled warriors, defended their lands by attacking the colonies. But by 1782, the British had gained control of St. Kitts and Nevis, which they retained until granting the islands their independence in 1983. British influence remains in the country's official language, English, while some islanders speak an English-based Creole. The influence of the French, Irish, and Carib seems less pronounced.
The people of St. Kitts and Nevis are devoutly religious. Several historic Anglican churches remain on Nevis, and fifty percent of the country's population still practices the religion. Most other people belong to another Christian denomination, though there are some Rastafarians and a few followers of the Bahai Faith. An old Jewish cemetery on Nevis proves that there was once a Jewish population as well, but currently there is no active Jewish community in the country.