Antigua and Barbuda's first indigenous people included Siboney and later Arawak Indians. These were hunting and fishing peoples whose settlements have been located at several sites on both islands. From their villages in Dominica and Saint Kitts, Carib Indians raided the Arawak and later the European colonists on Antigua and Barbuda. The first English colonists arrived in Antigua in 1632. They were led by Sir Thomas Warner, who had earlier headed an expedition to Saint Christopher (now Saint Kitts). These colonists and their indentured servants grew tobacco, cotton, and subsistence crops and defended themselves against the Carib and the French. Within a few years, they had devised a regular system of government, complete with elected assemblies, governors' councils, parish vestries, and a hierarchy of courts. By the early eighteenth century the colonists had adjusted their legal codes to the exigencies of managing an economy devoted to sugar and organized around plantation slavery (Lazarus-Black 1994). Gaspar estimates that 60,820 African slaves were imported to Antigua between 1671 and 1763 (1985, 75). Slaves accounted for 41.6 percent of the population in 1672; 80.5 percent in 1711; and 93.5 percent in 1774 (p. 83).
Unlike Antigua, Barbuda never developed sugar estates. Early attempts by English settlers to farm the island were unsuccessful, and the Carib proved a constant menace. In 1685 the Crown leased Barbuda to the Codrington family for a payment "unto her Majesty yearly and every year one Fat Sheep if demanded" (Hall 1971, 59). The Codringtons used the island as a supply depot, manufacturing center, and slave "seasoning" area. Until 1898, when the Antiguan legislature assumed responsibility for its government, the islanders, most of them descendants of Codrington's slaves, were without political representation or social services.
Slavery was abolished in 1834, but much of the political, social, and economic organization of these islands remained largely unchanged over the next century. Barbudans continued to reside in Codrington Village, working subsistence gardens, fishing, and hunting. In Antigua, there was little land available for purchase and few jobs beyond those offered on the estates. Workers remained in very impoverished conditions and most continued to plant and harvest sugarcane under the terms of the infamous Contract Act. Reform began with the legalization of trade unions in 1940, higher wages, and the extension of political representation in the 1950s and 1960s.