The first inhabitants of Antigua and Barbuda were the Siboney, whose settlements date to 2400 BC . Arawak and Carib Indians inhabited the islands at the time of Christopher Columbus' second voyage in 1493. Columbus named Antigua after the church of Santa Maria de la Antigua, in Sevilla (Seville), Spain. Early settlements were founded in 1520 by the Spanish, in 1629 by the French, and in 1632 by the British. Antigua formally became a British colony in 1667, under the Treaty of Breda.
In 1674, Sir Christopher Codrington established the first large sugar estate in Antigua. He leased Barbuda to raise slaves and supplies for this enterprise. In 1834 slavery was abolished, but this was a mere technicality, since no support was provided for the new freemen. In 1860, Antigua formally annexed Barbuda. The Federation of the Leeward Islands served as the governing body of the islands from 1871 to 1956, and from 1958 to 1962, they belonged to the Federation of the West Indies.
Antigua became an associated state with full internal self-government as of 27 February 1967. Opposition to complete independence came from the residents of Barbuda, who sought constitutional guarantees for autonomy in land, finances, and local conciliar powers. With these issues still not fully resolved, Antigua and Barbuda became an independent state within the Commonwealth of Nations on 1 November 1981, with Vere Cornwall Bird as prime minister. (Considered a national hero for his role in leading the nation to independence, when Bird died in 1999, thousands turned out to observe a national moment of silence in his honor.)
Antigua is an active participant in Caribbean affairs. In May 1987, the prime ministers of the members of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) agreed on a merger proposal, creating a single nation out of their seven island states. A national referendum in each of the states was planned for ratification of the accord, but the referendums were defeated and the seven nations remained separate.
By 1999, Antigua and Barbuda had held four general elections as an independent nation. New elections must be held before March 2004.