Windward Islands

Windward Islands

Windward Islands, southern group of the Lesser Antilles in the West Indies, curving generally southward for c.300 mi (480 km) from the Leeward Islands toward NE Venezuela. Excluding Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, which are in the region but are not part of the group, the Windward Islands consist of the French overseas dept. of Martinique and the former British Windward Islands (c.700 sq mi/1,810 sq km). The former British islands consist of the independent states of Dominica, Grenada, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Of volcanic origin, the islands are generally rugged, mountainous, and well forested, and they have many streams and lakes. With an equable climate, ample rainfall, and rich soil, they produce a variety of tropical agricultural crops for export, including bananas, spices, limes, and cacao. The islands are subject to hurricanes. Although small-scale manufacturing has gained importance, the most substantial change has been the growth of the tourist trade, which constitutes the region's economic mainstay. The deep and sheltered harbors encourage considerable interisland commerce. Fort-de-France, on Martinique, and Castries, on Saint Lucia, are the islands' chief cities. The islands are largely inhabited by descendants of Africans, who were brought as slaves during the colonial period. The culture varies from island to island, but the French influence is particularly strong.

For some time after Columbus's exploration of the islands, they were largely ignored by Europeans and left to the indigenous Caribs. In the early 17th cent., colonization was undertaken by the British and the French; settlements and sovereignty overlapped. The long struggle for dominance in the islands was a significant part of the worldwide Anglo-French conflict. Several naval battles were fought there; in 1782, off Saint Lucia, the French Admiral de Grasse was defeated by Admiral Rodney. In the Napoleonic Wars the islands traded hands, and it was only after the close of the conflict that Britain established its dominance over them.

Island group, Lesser Antilles, West Indies. Located at the eastern end of the Caribbean Sea, they include Dominica (sometimes classified as part of the Leeward Islands), Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Grenada, and the chain of small islands known as the Grenadines. Though near the general area, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados are usually not considered part of the group.

Learn more about Windward Islands with a free trial on Britannica.com.

This article is about the Caribbean island group. For the eastern Society Islands in French Polynesia, see Windward Islands (Society Islands). The southeastern Hawaiian Islands are also occasionally referred to as the Windward Islands.

The Windward Islands are the southern islands of the Lesser Antilles.

Name and geography

The Windward Islands are called such because they were more windward to sailing ships arriving in the New World than the Leeward Islands, given that the prevailing trade winds in the West Indies blow east to west. The trans-Atlantic currents and winds that provided the fastest route across the ocean brought these ships to the rough dividing line between the Windward and Leeward islands. Vessels in the Atlantic slave trade departing from the African Gold Coast and Gulf of Guinea would first encounter the southeasternmost islands of the Lesser Antilles in their west-northwesterly heading to final destinations in the Caribbean and North and Central America.

The Antillean Windward Islands are :

Terminology

In languages other than English (i.e., Dutch, French, German and Spanish), and also in the local English of some islands, "windward" and "leeward" refer to different groups of islands. In both cases, the east/southeasternmost group are called windward, while the westernmost are called leeward. The group of islands along the Venezuelan coast is called the Leeward Antilles in English.
Language Windward Islands Leeward Islands
English
Others

See also

Search another word or see windward islandson Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2014 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature