Columbus first sighted the Leeward Islands in 1493, but settlement began only after the British arrived in the 17th cent. Sir Thomas Warner, sent to St. Kitts in 1623, was made governor-general of the yet uncolonized neighboring islands (Nevis, Antigua, Montserrat, and Barbuda), and in the same year the Frenchman Pierre Bélain d'Esnambuc also established a colony on St. Kitts. By 1632, when the English had settled the neighboring islands, the sharp, three-way colonial conflict of England, France, and Spain had begun. The Spanish were forced from the struggle, but for nearly two centuries the islands were pawns in the Anglo-French worldwide wars. They changed hands with each fresh attack by British or French forces and were reshuffled in ownership whenever a new treaty was signed. Their final disposition did not come until the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815.
Arc of West Indian islands that constitute the most westerly and northerly of the Lesser Antilles, northeastern Caribbean Sea. The major islands are, from north to south, the Virgin Islands of the U.S. and the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, St. Martin, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Montserrat, and Guadeloupe. Just south of this chain is Dominica, sometimes classified as part of the Leeward Islands but usually designated as part of the Windward Islands.
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The small and remote Isla Aves may perhaps be included with this group for convenience.
The Netherlands Antilles, however, are divided into two groups, one group in the northeast, and one in the southwest, with different naming conventions, see Netherlands Antilles.