Learn more about Saint Kitts and Nevis with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Highest mountain, British Isles. It is located in the Scottish Highlands; its summit, which reaches 4,406 ft (1,343 m), is a plateau of about 100 acres (40 hectares). Snow lies in some parts all year. It consists of a superstructure of volcanic rocks surmounting the ancient schists of the Highlands.
Learn more about Ben Nevis with a free trial on Britannica.com.
|Political status||State in the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis|
|Deputy Governor-General||Eustace John|
|President, Nevis Island Assembly||Marjorie Morton|
| (Not ranked)|
35.9 sq. mi. (93 km²)
|Population - Density|| 12,106 (2006)|
| Airport - Code
|Vance W. Amory International IATA: NEV, ICAO: TKPN
4,002 ft. (1,220 m)
Nevis (pronounced nee-vis) is an island in the Caribbean, located near the northern end of the Lesser Antilles archipelago, about 220 miles (350 km) southeast of Puerto Rico and 50 miles (80 km) west of Antigua. The 36 square-mile (93 km²) island is part of the inner arc of the Leeward Islands chain of the West Indies. The capital of Nevis is Charlestown.
Nevis, along with Saint Kitts, forms the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis. The two islands are separated by a shallow 2-mile (3.22 km) channel, known as "The Narrows". Nevis is conical in shape, with a volcanic peak, Nevis Peak, at the centre. The island is fringed on three sides by long sand beaches, and has a coastline intermittently protected by coral reefs. The most popular beach is the 4-mile (6.44 km) long Pinney's Beach, on the western or Caribbean coast. The gently sloping coastal plain (0.6 miles/1 km wide) has natural fresh water springs, as well as non-potable volcanic hot springs, especially along the west coast.
The island was named Oualie ("Land of Beautiful Waters") by the Caribs and Dulcina ("Sweet Island") by the early British settlers. The name Nevis is derived from the Spanish Nuestra Señora de las Nieves or Our Lady of the Snows, and first appears on maps in the 16th century.
The majority of the approximately 12,000 citizens of Nevis are of primarily African descent. English is the official language, and the literacy rate, 98 percent, is one of the highest in the Western Hemisphere.
Nevis is of particular historical significance to Americans because it was the birthplace and early childhood home of Alexander Hamilton. Of import to the British, Nevis is the place where Horatio Nelson as a young sea captain, was stationed, and where he met and married Frances Nisbet, a young plantation widow.
The indigenous people of Nevis during these periods belonged to the Leeward Island Amerindian groups popularly referred to as Arawaks and Caribs, a complex mosaic of ethnic groups with similar culture and language. Dr. Lennox Honychurch from Dominica (D. Phil. in Anthropology and a leading scholar in the history and culture of Island Caribs) traces the European use of the term "Carib" for the Leeward Island aborigines to Columbus, who picked it up from the Tainos on Hispaniola. It was not a name the Island Caribs called themselves. The Spanish used the term to clarify which native groups were officially available for enslavement. "Carib Indians" was the generic name used for all groups allegedly involved in war rituals of a cannibalistic nature, namely the consumption of parts of a killed enemy's body. The Spanish law permitted and encouraged the enslavement of all such "cannibals" or "Caribs".
The Amerindian name for Nevis was Oualie, land of beautiful waters. The structure of the Island Carib language has been linguistically identified as Arawakan. This is used as an argument to support the Arawakan Continuity Model for the Leeward Islands. According to the continuity model, the many ethnic groups of the Leeward Islands lived side by side through the centuries before the Europeans arrived, becoming multilingual because of intense inter-island trade. The suggestion that a natural merging of languages and cultures occurred over the centuries is in sharp contrast with the invasion and displacement model which has previously been the dominant model in Caribbean scholarship. The displacement model suggests that the Cariban speaking groups killed off the Arawakan groups, but that the Arawakan language survived because the Carib warriors spared the Arawak women and the women then passed Arawakan on to their children. Many scholars now subscribe to moderated continuity models, considering the Caribbean to have been a site of encounter and exchange throughout history.
The current name Nevis was derived from a Spanish name Nuestra Señora de las Nieves by a process of abbreviation and anglicization. The Spanish name means Our Lady of the Snows. It is not known who chose this name for the island, but it is a reference to the story of a 4th century Catholic miracle: a snowfall on a mountain near Rome . Presumably the white clouds that usually cover the top of Nevis Peak reminded someone of this story of a miraculous snowfall in a hot climate. Nevis was part of the Spanish claim to the Caribbean islands, a claim pursued until 1671, even though there were no Spanish settlements on the island. According to Vincent Hubbard, author of Swords, Ships & Sugar: History of Nevis, the Spanish ruling caused many of the Arawak groups who were not ethnically Caribs to "be redefined as Caribs overnight". Records indicate that the Spanish enslaved large numbers of the native inhabitants on the more accessible of the Leeward Islands and sent them to Cubagua, Venezuela to dive for pearls. Hubbard suggests that the reason the first European settlers found so few "Caribs" on Nevis is that they had already been rounded up by the Spanish and shipped off to be used as slaves.
On August 30, 1620, James I of England asserted sovereignty over Nevis by giving a Royal Patent for colonisation to the Earl of Carlisle. However, actual European settlement did not happen until 1628 when Anthony Hilton moved from nearby Saint Kitts following a murder plot against him. He was accompanied by 80 other settlers, soon to be boosted by a further 100 settlers from London who had originally hoped to settle Barbuda. Hilton became the first Governor of Nevis. After the 1671 peace treaty between Spain and England, Nevis became the seat of the British colony and the Admiralty Court also sat in Nevis. Between 1675 and 1730, the island was the headquarter for the slave trade for the Leeward Islands, with approximately 6,000-7,000 enslaved West Africans passing through on route to other islands each year. The Royal African Company brought all its ships through Nevis.
Due to the profitable Triangular trade and the high quality of Nevisian sugar cane, the island soon became a dominant source of wealth for Great Britain and the slave-owning British plantocracy. When the Leeward Islands were separated from Barbados in 1671, Nevis became the seat of the Leeward Islands Colony and was given the nickname "Queen of the Caribees". It remained colonial capital for the Leeward Islands until the seat was transferred to Antigua for military reasons in 1698. During this period, Nevis was the richest of the British Leeward Islands. The island outranked even larger islands like Jamaica in sugar production in the late 17th century. The wealth of the planters on the island is evident in the tax records preserved at the Calendar State Papers in the British Colonial Office Public Records, where the amount of tax collected on the Leeward Islands was recorded. The sums recorded for 1676 as "head tax on slaves", a tax payable in sugar, amounted to 384,600 pounds in Nevis, as opposed to 67,000 each in Antigua and Saint Kitts, 62,500 in Montserrat, and 5,500 total in the other five islands. The profits on sugar cultivation in Nevis was enhanced by the fact that the cane juice from Nevis yielded an unusually high amount of sugar. A gallon (3.79 litres) of cane juice from Nevis yielded 24 ounces (0.71 litres) of sugar, whereas a gallon from Saint Kitts yielded 16 ounces (0.47 litres). Twenty percent of the British Empire’s total sugar production in 1700 was derived from Nevisian plantations. Exports from West Indian colonies like Nevis were worth more than all the exports from all the mainland Thirteen colonies of North America combined at the time of the American Revolution.
The enslaved families formed the large labour force and were forced to perform the monotonous and dangerous work of the sugar plantations. After the 1650s the supply of white indentured servants began to dry up due to increased wages in England and less incentive to migrate to the colonies. Additionally, the plantation owners considered lifelong enslavement a better long-term investment for their owners than indentured servants who could leave after four to seven years. They also considered it easier to control persons in a workforce that had been removed from their homelands and separated from their kin by brute force and who were easily discerned by their skin colour should they try to escape. By the end of the 17th century, the population of Nevis consisted of a small, rich planter elite in control, a marginal population of poor whites, a great majority of enslaved families of African descent, and an unknown number of maroons, people who had freed themselves from the exploitation at the plantations and escaped into the mountains. In 1780, 90 percent of the 10,000 people living on Nevis were black. Some of the maroons joined with the few remaining Caribs in Nevis to form an ever present resistance force in the mountainous regions of the island. Memories of the Nevisian maroons' struggle against the injustices suffered by the Afro-Caribbean population under the plantation system are preserved in place names such as Maroon Hill, an early centre of resistance.
The great wealth generated by the colonies of the West Indies led to wars between Spain, Britain, and France. The formation of the United States can be said to be a partial by-product of these wars and the strategic trade aims that often ignored North America. Three privateers were employed by the British Crown to help protect ships in Nevis' waters. One of them, Captain Frances, was of African descent. He commanded 100 men and a 20-gun ship.
During the 17th century the French, based on Saint Kitts, launched many attacks on Nevis, sometimes assisted by the Island Caribs, who in 1667 sent a large fleet of canoes along in support. Letters and other records from the era indicate that the English on Nevis hated and feared the Amerindians. In 1674 and 1683 they participated in attacks on Carib villages in Dominica and St. Vincent, in spite of a lack of official approval from The Crown for the attack.
On Nevis, the English built Fort Charles and a series of smaller fortifications to aid in defending the island against Carib attacks.
In 1706, Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville, the French Canadian founder of Louisiana in North America, decided to drive the English out of Nevis and thus also stop pirate attacks on French ships; he considered Nevis the region's headquarter for piracy in the Caribbean against French trade. During d'Iberville's invasion of Nevis, French Buccaneers were used in the front line, infamous for being ruthless killers after the pillaging during the wars with Spain where they gained a reputation for torturing and murdering non-combatants. In the face of the invading force, the English militiamen of Nevis fled. Some planters burned the plantations, rather than letting the French have them, and hid in the mountains. It was the enslaved Africans who held the French at bay by taking up arms to defend their families and the island. The slave quarters had been looted and burned as well, as the main reward promised the men fighting on the French side in the attack was the right to capture as many slaves as possible and resell them in Martinique.
During the fighting, 3,400 enslaved Nevisians were captured and sent off to Martinique, but about 1,000 more, poorly armed and militarily untrained, held the French troops at bay, by "murderous fire" according to an eyewitness account by an English militiaman. He wrote that "the slaves' brave behaviour and defence there shamed what some of their masters did, and they do not shrink to tell us so." After 18 days of fighting, the French were driven off the island. Among the Nevisian men, women and children carried away on d'Iberville's ships, six ended up in Louisiana, the first persons of African descent to arrive there.
One consequence of the French attack was a collapsed sugar industry and during the ensuing hardship on Nevis, small plots of land on the plantations were made available to the enslaved families in order to control the loss of life due to starvation. With less profitability for the absentee plantation owners, the import of food supplies for the plantation workers dwindled. Between 1776 and 1783, when the food supplies failed to arrive altogether due to the rebellion in North America, 300-400 enslaved Nevisians starved to death. On August 1, 1834, slavery was abolished in the British Empire. In Nevis, 8,815 slaves were freed. The first Monday in August is celebrated as Emancipation Day and is part of the annual Nevis Culturama festival.
A four-year apprenticeship program followed the abolishment of slavery on the plantations. In spite of the continued use of the labour force, the Nevisian slave owners were paid over £150,000 in compensation from the British Government for the loss of property, whereas the enslaved families received nothing for 200 years of labour. One of the wealthiest planter families in Nevis, the Pinneys of Montravers Plantation, claimed £36,396 pounds (worth close to £1,800,000 today) in compensation for the slaves on the family-owned plantations around the Caribbean.
Because of the early distribution of plots and because many of the planters departed from the island when sugar cultivation became unprofitable, a relatively large percentage of Nevisians already owned or controlled land at emancipation. Others settled on crown land. This early development of a society with a majority of small, landowning farmers and entrepreneurs created a stronger middleclass in Nevis than in Saint Kitts where the sugar industry continued until 2006. Even though the 15 families in the wealthy planter elite no longer control the arable land, Saint Kitts still has a large, landless working class population.
Nevis was united with Saint Kitts and Anguilla in 1882, and they became an associated state with full internal autonomy in 1967, though Anguilla seceded in 1971. Together, Saint Kitts and Nevis became independent on September 19, 1983. On August 10, 1998, a referendum on Nevis to separate from Saint Kitts had 2,427 votes in favour and 1,498 against, falling short of the two-thirds majority needed.
Before 1967, the local government of Saint Kitts was also the government of Nevis and Anguilla. Nevis had two seats and Anguilla one seat in the government. The economic and infrastructural development of the two smaller islands was not a priority to the colonial federal government. When the hospital in Charlestown was destroyed in a hurricane in 1899, planting of trees in the squares of Saint Kitts and refurbishing of government buildings, also in Saint Kitts, took precedence over the rebuilding of the only hospital in Nevis. After five years without any proper medical facilities, the leaders in Nevis initiated a campaign, threatening to seek independence from Saint Kitts. The British Administrator in Saint Kitts, Charles Cox, was unmoved. He stated that Nevis did not need a hospital since there had been no significant rise in the number of deaths during the time Nevisians had been without a hospital. Therefore, no action was needed on behalf of the government, and besides, Cox continued, the Legislative Council regarded "Nevis and Anguilla as a drag on St. Kitts and would willingly see a separation". Finally, a letter of complaint to the metropolitan British Foreign Office gave result and the federal government in Saint Kitts was ordered by their superiors in London to take speedy action. The Legislative Council took another five years to consider their options. The final decision by the federal government was to not rebuild the old hospital after all, but to instead convert the old Government House in Nevis into a hospital, named Alexandra Hospital after Queen Alexandra, wife of King Edward VII. A majority of the funds assigned for the hospital could thus spent on the construction of a new official residence in Nevis.
Electricity was introduced in Nevis in 1954, when two generators were shipped in to provide electricity to the area around Charlestown. In this regard, Nevis fared better than Anguilla, where there were no paved roads, no electricity and no telephones in 1967. However, electricity did not become available island-wide on Nevis until 1971.
An ambitious infrastructure development programme has been introduced during the last 10 years, including a transformation of the Charlestown port, construction of a new deep-water harbour, resurfacing and widening the Island Main Road, a new airport terminal and control tower, and a major airport expansion, which required the relocation of an entire village in order to make room for the runway extension.
Modernized classrooms and better equipped schools, as well as improvements in the educational system, have contributed to a leap in academic performance on the island. The pass rate among the Nevisian students sitting for the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) exams, the Cambridge General Certificate of Education Examination (GCE) and the Caribbean Advance Proficiency Examinations is now consistently among the highest in the English-speaking Caribbean.
Since 2005, Nevis has its first Resident Judge, Her Ladyship Justice Ianthea Leigertwood-Octave.
After d’Iberville’s invasion in 1704, records show Nevis’ sugar industry in ruins and a decimated population begging the English Parliament and relatives for loans and monetary assistance to stave off island-wide starvation. The sugar industry on the island never fully recovered and during the general depression that followed the loss of the West Indian sugar monopoly, Nevis fell on hard times and the island became one of the poorest in the region. The island remained poorer than Saint Kitts until 1991, when the fiscal performance of Nevis edged ahead of the fiscal performance of Saint Kitts for the first time since the French invasion. The European Commission's Delegation in Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean estimates the annual per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on Nevis to be about 10 percent higher than on St. Kitts.
The major source of revenue for Nevis today is tourism. During the 2003-2004 season, approximately 40,000 tourists visited Nevis. A five star hotel (The Four Seasons Resort Nevis, West Indies), four exclusive restored plantation inns, and several smaller hotels, are currently in operation. Larger developments along the west coast have recently been approved and are in the process of being developed.
The introduction of new legislation has made offshore financial services a rapidly growing economic sector in Nevis. Incorporation of companies, international insurance and reinsurance, as well as several international banks, trust companies, asset management firms, have created a boost in the economy. During 2005, the Nevis Island Treasury collected $94.6 million in annual revenue, compared to $59.8 million during 2001. In 1998, 17,500 international banking companies were registered in Nevis. Registration and annual filing fees paid in 1999 by these entities amounted to over 10 percent of Nevis’ revenues. The offshore financial industry gained importance during the financial disaster of 1999 when Hurricane Lenny damaged the major resort on the island, causing the hotel to be closed down for a year and 400 of the 700 employees to be laid off.
In 2000 the Financial Action Task Force, part of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) issued a blacklist of 35 nations which were said to be non-cooperative in the campaign against tax evasion and money laundering. The list included the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis, as well as Liechtenstein, Monaco, Luxembourg, the British Channel Islands, Israel, and Russia. No alleged misconduct had taken place on Nevis, but the island was included in the blanket action against all offshore financial business centres, as such centres cause a considerable loss of tax revenue for the G7 countries. With new regulations in place, Saint Kitts and Nevis were removed from the list in 2002.
The official currency is the Eastern Caribbean dollar (EC$), which is shared by eight other territories in the region.
The political structure for the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis is based on the Westminster Parliamentary system, but it is a unique structure in that Nevis has its own unicameral legislature, consisting of Her Majesty's representative (the Deputy Governor General) and members of the Nevis Island Assembly. Nevis has considerable autonomy in its legislative branch. The constitution actually empowers the Nevis Island Legislature to make laws that cannot be abrogated by the National Assembly. In addition, Nevis has a constitutionally protected right to secede from the federation, should a two-third majority of the island’s population vote for independence in a local referendum. Section 113.(1) of the constitution states: "The Nevis Island Legislature may provide that the island of Nevis shall cease to be federated with the island of Saint Christopher and accordingly that this Constitution shall no longer have effect in the island of Nevis.
Nevis has its own premier and its own government, the Nevis Island Administration. It collects its own taxes and has a separate budget, with a current account surplus. According to a statement released by the Nevis Ministry of Finance in 2005, Nevis had one of the highest growth rates in gross national product and per capita income in the Caribbean at that point.
The federal prime minister, Denzil Douglas, is the leader of the majority party of the federal House of Representatives in Saint Kitts, and his cabinet conducts the affairs of state. The Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis has a 14 or 15-member unicameral legislature or parliament (the Senate and House of Representatives sit and vote together): A Senate, with three or four members appointed by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister and the leader of the opposition; and a popularly elected House of Representatives with 11 members, eight Saint Kitts seats and three Nevis seats. The prime minister and the cabinet are responsible to the Parliament.
Nevis elections are scheduled every five years. The Nevis elections of 2006, called on 10 July 2006 three months ahead of the constitutional deadline, was won by the party in opposition, the Nevis Reformation Party (NRP), led by Joseph Parry. The NRP won three of the five seats in the Nevis Island Assembly, while the incumbent party, the Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM), won two. Before the NRP victory, CCM's leader Vance Amory had served three terms in office.
In the federal elections of 2004, the CCM won two of the three Nevis assigned Federal seats, while the NRP won one. A representative from the CCM, Mark Brantley, is therefore representing Nevis on the Opposition Bench in the Federal Parliament. Of the eight Saint Kitts assigned federal seats, the St Kitts-Nevis Labour Party won seven and the People's Action Movement (PAM) one.
In Handbook of Federal Countries published by Forum of Federations, the authors consider the constitution problematic because it does not "specifically outline" the federal financial arrangements or the means by which the central government and Nevis Island Administration can raise revenue: "In terms of the NIA, the constitution only states (in s. 108(1)) that 'all revenues...raised or received by the Administration...shall be paid into and form a fund styled the Nevis Island Consolidated Fund.' [...] Section 110(1) states that the proceeds of all 'takes' collected in St. Kitts and Nevis under any law are to be shared between the federal government and the Nevis Island Administration based on population. The share going to the NIA, however, is subject to deductions (s. 110(2)), such as the cost of common services and debt charges, as determined by the Governor-General (s.110(3)) on the advice of the Prime Minister who can also take advice from the Premier of Nevis (s.110(4))."
According to a 1995 report by the Commonwealth Observer Group of the Commonwealth Secretariat, "the federal government is also the local government of St Kitts and this has resulted in a perception among the political parties in Nevis that the interests of the people of Nevis are being neglected by the federal government which is more concerned with the administration of St Kitts than with the federal administration.
A crisis developed in 1984 when the People's Action Movement (PAM) won a majority in the Federal elections and temporarily ceased honouring the Federal Government's financial obligations to Nevis. Consequently, cheques issued by the Nevis Administration were not honoured by the Bank, public servants in Nevis were not paid on time and the Nevis Island Administration experienced difficulties in meeting its financial obligations.
Legislative motivation for secession
In 1996, four new bills were introduced in the National Assembly in Saint Kitts, one of which made provisions to have revenue derived from activities in Nevis paid directly to the treasury in Saint Kitts instead of to the treasury in Nevis. Another bill, The Financial Services Committee Act, contained provisions that all investments in Saint Kitts and Nevis would require approval by an investment committee in Saint Kitts. This was controversial, because ever since 1983 the Nevis Island Administration had approved all investments for Nevis, on the basis that the constitution vests legislative authority for industries, trades and businesses and economic development in Nevis to the Nevis Island Administration.
All three representatives from Nevis, including the leader of the opposition in the Nevis Island Assembly, objected to the introduction of these bills into the National Assembly in Saint Kitts, arguing that the bills would affect the ability of Nevis to develop its offshore financial services sector and that the bills would be detrimental to the Nevis economy. All the representatives in opposition in the National Assembly shared the conviction that the bills, if passed into law, would be unconstitutional and undermine the constitutional and legislative authority of the Nevis Island Administration, as well as result in the destruction of the economy of Nevis.
The constitutional crisis initially developed when the newly appointed Attorney General refused to grant permission for the Nevis Island Administration to assert its legal right in the Courts. After a decision of the High Court in favour of the Nevis Island Administration, the Prime Minister gave newspaper interviews stating that he "refused to accept the decision of the High Court". Due to the deteriorating relationship between the Nevis Island Administration and the Federal Government, a Constitutional Committee was appointed in April 1996 to advise on whether or not the present constitutional arrangement between the islands should continue. The committee recommended constitutional reform and the establishment of an island administration for Saint Kitts, separate from the Federal Government.
The Federal Government in Saint Kitts fills both functions today and Saint Kitts does not have an equivalent to the Nevis Island Administration. Disagreements between the political parties in Nevis and between the Nevis Island Administration and the Federal Government have prevented the recommendations by the electoral committee from being implemented. The problematic political arrangement between the two islands therefore continues to date.
Nevis has continued developing its own legislation, such as The Nevis International Insurance Ordinance and the Nevis International Mutual Funds Ordinance of 2004, but calls for secession are often based on concerns that the legislative authority of the Nevis Island Administration might be challenged again in the future.
Fiscal motivation for secession
The issues of political dissension between Saint Kitts and Nevis are often centered around perceptions of imbalance in the economic structure. As noted by many scholars, Nevisians have often referred to a structural imbalance in Saint Kitts' favour in how funds are distributed between the two islands and this issue has made the movement for Nevis secession a constant presence in the island's political arena, with many articles appearing in the local press expressing concerns such as those compiled by Everton Powell in "What Motivates Our Call for Independence":
The parishes have double names, for example Saint George Gingerland. The first part of the name is the name of the patron saint of the parish church, and the second part of the name is the traditional common name of the parish. Often the parishes are referred to simply by their common names. The religious part of a parish name is sometimes written or pronounced in the possessive: Saint George's Gingerland.
The five parishes of Nevis are:
Nevis Peak (985 m /3,232 ft) is the dormant remnant of one of these ancient stratovolcanoes. The last activity took place in 1692, but active fumaroles and hot springs are still found on the island, the most recent formed in 1953. The composite cone of Nevis volcano has two overlapping summit craters that are partially filled by a lava dome, created in recent, pre-Columbian time. Pyroclastic flows and mudflows were deposited on the lower slopes of the cone simultaneously. Nevis Peak is located on the outer crater rim. Four other lava domes were constructed on the flanks of the volcano, one on the northeast flank (Madden's Mount), one on the eastern flank (Butlers Mountain), one on the northwest coast (Mount Lily) and one on the south coast (Saddle Hill).
During the last Ice age when the sea level was 200 feet lower, the three islands of Saint Kitts, Nevis and Saint Eustatius (also known as Statia) were connected as one island. Saba however is separated from these three by a deeper channel.
The most popular and most developed beach on Nevis is the 4-mile (6.44 km) long Pinney's Beach, on the western or Caribbean coast. The eastern coast of the island faces into the Atlantic Ocean, and can have strong surf in parts of the shore which are unprotected by fringing coral reefs. The colour of the sand on the beaches of Nevis is variable: on a lot of the bigger beaches the sand is a yellowish grey, but some beaches on the southern coast have darker, reddish, or even black sand. Under a microscope it becomes clear that Nevis sand is a mixture of tiny fragments of coral, many foraminifera, and small crystals of the various mineral constituents of the volcanic rock of which the island is made.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, massive deforestation was undertaken by the planters as the land was initially cleared for sugar cultivation. This intense land exploitation by the sugar and cotton industry lasted almost 300 years, and led to irreparable damage to the island’s original ecosystem.
In some places along the windswept southeast or "Windward" coast of the island, the landscape is radically altered compared with how it used to be in pre-colonial times. Due to extreme land erosion, the top soil was swept away, and in some places at the coast, sheer cliffs as high as 25 metres (82 feet) have developed.
The lush primeval forest, which once covered the eastern coastal plain, where the Amerindians built their first settlements during the Aceramic period, is gone forever, and so is a large portion of the ecosystem surrounding the coral reef just offshore. It was the easy access to fresh water on the island and the rich food source represented by the ocean life sheltered by the reef that made it feasible for the Amerindians to settle this area around 600 BCE. With the loss of the natural vegetation, the balance in runoff nutrients to the reef was disturbed, eventually causing as much as 80 percent of the large eastern fringing reef to become inactive. As the reef broke apart, it in turn provided less protection for the coastline.
During times of maximum cultivation, sugar cane fields stretched from the coastline of Nevis up to an altitude at which the mountain slopes were too steep and rocky to farm. Nonetheless, once the sugar industry was finally abandoned, vegetation on the leeward side of the island regrew reasonably well, as scrub and secondary forest.
With modern development, the springs are no longer enough to supply freshwater to the whole island. The water supply now comes mostly from Government wells. The major source of potable water for the island is groundwater, obtained from 14 active wells. Water is pumped from the wells, stored and allowed to flow by gravity to the various locations.
Nevis lies within the track area of tropical storms and occasional hurricanes. These storms can develop between August and October, and this time of year has the heaviest rainfalls.
In 1999, Nevis was hit by hurricane Lenny, which caused some heavy damage to the island's infrastructure on the western coast.
Culturama, the annual cultural festival of Nevis, is celebrated during the Emancipation Day weekend, the first week of August. The festivities include many traditional folk dances, such as the masquerade, the Moko jumbies on stilts, Cowboys and Indians, and Plait the Ribbon, a May pole dance. The celebration was given a more organized form in 1974, including a Miss Culture Show and a Calypso Competition, as well as drama performances, old fashion Troupes (including Johnny Walkers, Giant and Spear, Bulls, Red Cross and Blue Ribbon), arts and crafts exhibitions and recipe competitions. According to the Nevis Department of Culture, the aim is to protect and encourage indigenous folklore, in order to make sure that the uniquely Caribbean culture can "reassert itself and flourish".
The Christmas Sports included a form of comedy and satire based on local events and gossip. They were historically an important part of the Christmas celebrations in Nevis, performed on Christmas Eve by small troupes consisting of five or six men accompanied by string bands from different parts of the island. One of the men in the troupe was dressed as a woman, playing all the female parts in the dramatizations. The troupes moved from yard to yard to perform their skits, using props, face paint and costumes to play the roles of well-known personalities in the community. Examples of gossip about undesired behaviour that could surface in the skits for comic effect were querulous neighbours, adulterous affairs, planters mistreating workers, domestic disputes or abuse, crooked politicians and any form of stealing or cheating experienced in the society. Even though no names were mentioned in these skits, the audience would usually be able to guess who the heckling message in the troupe’s dramatized portrayals was aimed at, as it was played out right on the concerned person’s own front yard. The acts thus functioned as social and moral commentaries on current events and behaviours in the Nevisian society. Abrahams theorises that Christmas Sports are rooted in the pre-emancipation Christmas and New Year holiday celebrations when the enslaved population had several days off.
American folklorist and musicologist Alan Lomax visited Nevis in 1962 in order to conduct long-term research into the black folk culture of the island. His field trip to Nevis and surrounding islands resulted in the anthology Lomax Caribbean Voyage series. Among the Nevisians recorded were chantey-singing fishermen in a session organised in a rum shop in Newcastle; Santoy, the Calypsonian, performing calypsos by Nevisian ballader and local legend Charles Walters to guitar and cuatro; and string bands, fife players and drummers from Gingerland, performing quadrilles.
Two famous Nevisian buildings from the 18th century are Hermitage Plantation, built of lignum vitae wood in 1740, the oldest surviving wooden house still in use in the Caribbean today, and the Bath Hotel, the first hotel in the Caribbean, a luxury hotel and spa built by John Huggins in 1778. The soothing waters of the hotel's hot spring and the lively social life on Nevis attracted many famous Europeans, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Antigua-based Admiral Nelson, and Prince William Henry, Duke of Clarence, (future William IV of the United Kingdom), who attended balls and private parties at the Bath Hotel. Today, the building serves as government offices, and there is a simple, shaded, outdoor hot-spring bathing spot for public use.
An often repeated legend appears to suggest that a massive 1690 earthquake and tsunami destroyed the buildings of the original capital Jamestown on the west coast. Folk tales say that the town sank beneath the ocean. However, archaeologists from the University of Southampton who have done excavations in the area, have found no evidence to indicate that the story is true. They state that this story may originate with an over-excited Victorian letter writer sharing somewhat exaggerated accounts of his exotic life in the tropical colony with a British audience back home. One such letter recounts that so much damage was done to the town that it was completely evacuated, and was engulfed by the sea. Early maps do not, however, actually show a settlement called "Jamestown", only "Morton's Bay", and later maps show that all that was left of Jamestown/Morton's Bay in 1818 was a building labelled "Pleasure House". Very old bricks that wash up on Pinney's Beach after storms may have contributed to this legend of a sunken town; however these bricks are thought to be dumped ballast from 17th and 18th century sailing ships.
Alexander Hamilton, the statesman and one of the founding fathers of the United States, was born on Nevis around 1755, and spent a significant part of his childhood there. His father was a trader from Scotland, his mother was from Nevis. The place of his birth currently holds the Nevis Island Assembly Chambers and the Museum of Nevis History.
The Duchess of Bronte Frances "Fanny" Nisbet (1761−1831), is best known as the wife of British hero 1st Viscount Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, of Battle of Trafalgar fame. She was a planter's daughter from Nevis, whose rich and influential uncle, John Herbert, was the President of the Council of Nevis. When she met Captain Horatio Nelson on Nevis, Fanny Nisbet was a young widow with a five-year old son. Nelson and she were married in Nevis in 1787. A copy of the marriage certificate is on display at the Saint John Figtree Parish Anglican Church in Nevis.
Eulalie Spence (1894-1981), pioneer playwright of the Harlem Renaissance, was born on Nevis on 11 Jun. 1894. She and her family moved to New York in 1902. She wrote fourteen plays, including "Fools Errand" which ran on Broadway in 1927. Her three act play, "The Whipping" was optioned by Paramount Studios, but never made into a film. Spence is famous for having introduced an affirming image of black women into early American drama, using her unique mix of folk art and political race drama. Several of her plays won awards.
Elquemedo Willett, born 1 May 1953, famous Nevisian cricket player and former Leeward Islands and West Indies left-arm spinner, was the first Leeward Islander to play Test cricket for the West Indies in 1973, when he was 19 years old. He was inducted into the Nevis Sports Museum Hall of Fame in 2005.
Cicely Tyson, born on 19 December 1933, Oscar-nominated in 1972, former wife of Miles Davis and winner of multiple Emmy Awards, is of Nevisian descent. Both her parents emigrated from Nevis to Harlem, New York.
Constance Baker Motley (1921-2005), who as a young lawyer represented Martin Luther King, Jr., has Nevisian heritage and owned a home in Brown Hill, Nevis, near her ancestral home. Both her mother and father emigrated from Nevis. She attained fame as the first African-American woman appointed as a United States Federal judge, the first African-American woman elected to the New York State Senate and the first woman to serve as Manhattan borough president. She was also the first African-American woman to serve on the federal judiciary (1966), as well as the first African-American and the first woman to become Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (1982).