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