The first island sighted by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the New World was Dominica at which he arrived Sunday (dies dominica), 3 November 1493. Carib Indians, whose ancestors originally had come from the Orinoco Basin in South America and, during the 14th century, had driven out the indigenous Arawaks, inhabited the island. The Caribs resisted conquest, and the Spaniards soon lost interest in the island, which had no apparent mineral wealth.
In 1635, France claimed Dominica, and French missionaries visited the island seven years later, but strong Indian resistance to further contact prevented either the French or the English from settling there. In 1660, England and France declared Dominica a neutral island and left it to the Caribs. Within 30 years, however, Europeans began to settle on the island, and in 1727 the French took formal possession. Under the Treaty of Paris in 1763, however, France ceded the island to Great Britain, which then developed fortifications for its defense. French colonist established coffee plantations during the nearly forty years they held the island. The British introduced sugar production later, but the large slave plantations that characterized other West Indian islands never developed on Dominica. When Great Britain abolished slavery in the West Indies in 1834, 14,175 Dominican slaves obtained their freedom.
Dominica became the first and only British Caribbean colony to have a Black-controlled legislature in the 19th century, but blacks lost most of their political power when the British government, acceding to the wishes of Dominican planters, diluted the strength of the Legislative Assembly and, in 1896, reduced Dominica to a crown colony. Great Britain governed Dominica as part of the Leeward Islands from 1871 until 1939, and in 1940 transferred governance to the Windward Islands administration. From 1958 to 1962, the island belonged to the Federation of the West Indies. Dominica became an associated state of the Commonwealth of Nations in 1967 and on 3 November 1978 became an independent republic.
In its first years of independence, Dominica had several problems. Hurricanes, especially Hurricane David in 1979, brought great destruction to the island, but the corrupt, tyrannical administration of Premier Patrick John led to numerous severe difficulties. Dominicans ousted John in June 1979, and, after a year of interim rule, Mary Eugenia Charles became prime minister in July 1980.
Charles, the first female prime minister in the Caribbean, remained in office for 15 years. Her Dominica Freedom Party received parliamentary majorities in 1985 and 1990, partly because of an improved economic picture. Charles fully supported and sent a token force to participate in the US-led intervention of the island of Grenada in October 1983.
In the early 1990s, controversy flared over the practice of granting "economic citizenship" to Asian nationals who invested $35,000 or more in the country. In response, the government implemented stiffer requirements, including licenses, waiting periods, and additional financial outlays.
Prime Minister Charles's DFP lost its majority in the 1995 elections, and Edison James, leader of the United Workers' Party, formed a new government. Under James, Dominica's economy improved, but charges of corruption concerning the continued sale of Dominican citizenship to foreigners, allegedly including gangsters and smugglers, seriously undermined his creditability. Since 2000, UWP's Pierre Charles has been Prime Minister. In the most recent election held in January 2000, the UWP narrowly won a plurality of votes over the DLP and DFP.