The Stamps of Antigua

Antigua was one of the first islands discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493. For over 150 years after that native Caribs resisted colonization from the Spanish and as the island was small and had little to offer in the way of gold and silver, the Spanish left it alone. By the mid seventeenth century, the British were colonizing most of the West Indian islands, turning them into slave plantations for the production of tobacco and sugar. The purpose of these islands and what went on in Antigua was well known in Great Britain and it was the treatment of the African slaves in these island that created the British abolitionist movement. But the acceptance of the West Indian slave economy was so ubiquitous in England that as a plot twist in Mansfield Park (1812), Jane Austen has Sir Thomas Bertram leave for eighteen months to go look into his mismanaged slave plantations in Antigua (throughout the book Sir Thomas is presented as a good and kindly character, which he was, except to his slaves). By 1770 the white population in the island was 3000 and the slave population was 37000. Antigua was a slave colony in a mercantilistic system. Treatment of Antiguan slaves was terrible even by the standards of the time and uprisings were common. Britain abolished slavery in its colonies in 1834 and the plantation system was modified. Sugar growing had become less profitable by the time the first Antiguan stamps were issued. Antigua has always been a poor country economically, but, like many of its West Indian brethren, it has a rich philatelic tradition. The remnants of the plantation system still existed throughout the nineteenth century and this required much postal communication between Antiguan growers and Great Britain which meant lots of interesting postage stamps. Today, the island is largely a tourist destination and Antiguan stamps are very popular among American collectors.

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