The term British West Indies refers to territories in and around the Caribbean which were at one time colonised by the United Kingdom. Collectively these territories are also now known as the Anglophone Caribbean. Between 1958 and 1962 all of the island territories except the British Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, Belize, Guyana, and Bermuda were organised into the West Indies Federation. It was hoped that the Federation would become independent as a single nation, but it had limited powers, many practical problems and a lack of popular support, and was consequently dissolved. Most of the territories, including all the larger ones, are now independent as separate countries with membership to many international fora such as the the Organization of American States, the Association of Caribbean States, the World Trade Organization, the United Nations, the Caribbean Community, the Commonwealth of Nations, and the Caribbean Development Bank among others. Some of the smaller ones which still make up the current British West Indies are British dependencies. All the former nations of the British West Indies, except the Commonwealth of Dominica and Trinidad and Tobago are Commonwealth Realms.
Sir William Stapleton established the first federation in the British West Indies in 1674. Stapleton set up a General Assembly of the Leeward Islands in St. Kitts. Stapleton's federation was active from 1674 to 1685 when Stapleton was Governor and the General Assembly met regularly until 1711.
By the 18th Century each island had kept its own Assembly and made its own laws, but continued to share one Governor and one Attorney-General. Although unpopular, Stapleton's Federation was never really dissolved but simply replaced by other arrangements.
Between 1816 and 1833 the Leewards were divided into two groups, each with its own Governor: St. Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla and Antigua-Barbuda-Montserrat. In 1833 all the Leeward Islands were brought together and Dominica was added to the grouping until 1940.
In 1869, Governor Benjamin Pine was assigned the task of organizing a federation of Antigua-Barbuda, Dominica, Montserrat, Nevis, St. Kitts, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands. St. Kitts and Nevis however opposed sharing their government funds with Antigua and Montserrat, which were bankrupt. Governor Pine told the Colonial Office that the scheme had failed due to "local prejudice and self-interest". Thus the only achievement was giving the Leewards a single Governor. All laws and ordinances, however, had to be approved by the each island council.
In 1871 the British government passed the Leeward Islands Act through which all the islands were under one Governor and one set of laws. Each island was called "Presidency" under its own Administrator or Commissioner. Like earlier groupings this federation was unpopular but was not dissolved until 1956 to make way for the Federation of the West Indies. The Federal Colony was composed of all islands organized under Governor Pine's previous attempt.
In 1833 the Windward Islands became a formal union called the Windward Islands Colony. In 1838, Trinidad (acquired in 1802) and St. Lucia (acquired in 1814) were brought into the Windward Islands Colony, but were not given their own assemblies (having previously been Crown Colonies). In 1840 Trinidad left the Colony. The Windward Islands Colony was unpopular as Barbados wished to retain its separate identity and ancient institutions, while the other colonies did not enjoy the association with Barbados (but needed such an association for defence against French invasions until 1815). Thus the individual islands resisted British attempts at closer union. Barbados in particular fought to retain its own Assembly.
From 1885 to 1958 the Windward Islands Colony consisted of Grenada and the Grenadines, St. Vincent and St. Lucia for the entire period. Tobago left in 1889 when she formed a union with Trinidad. Dominica joined the Windward Islands Colony in 1940 after having been transferred from the Leewards and remained in the Colony until 1958. After 1885 the Windward Islands Colony was under one Governor-General in Grenada and each island had its own Lieutenant-Governor and its own assembly (as before). Attempts at a Federal Colony like in the Leewards were always resisted. The Windward Islands Colony broke up in 1958 when each island chose to join the new Federation of the West Indies as a separate unit.
The West Indies Federation was a short-lived federation that existed from 3 January 1958 to 31 May 1962. It consisted of several Caribbean colonies of the United Kingdom. The expressed intention of the Federation was to create a political unit that would become independent from Britain as a single state--possibly similar to the Australian Federation, or Canadian Confederation; however, before that could happen, the Federation collapsed due to internal political conflicts.
Native nationals of the British West Indies are considered as either British Overseas Territories citizens (BOTC) or British Overseas citizens (BOC) and would obtain a British passport stating the name of the British territory they are from.