The English colonized the Caribbean Island of Antigua in 1632. By 1674 the first large sugar plantation was established. The island became important because of its natural harbors. The 1678 Census showed there were 610 Irish out of the population of 4480. This means 13.6% of the population was born in Ireland.
The Irish came to Antigua as indentured servants or as merchants. As more African slaves were imported, there were fewer reasons for the Irish to stay. They would leave for the larger islands or for the mainland American colonies.
There was a direct connection between the merchant families of County Galway and Antigua, and they were often Roman Catholic. When dealing with colonial Catholics, it’s important to keep in mind, Antigua was an English Protestant colony. For this reason, all family baptisms, marriages and burials were recorded in the Anglican Church registers.
Irish Catholics on Antigua also had connections with the Irish Catholic colony on Montserrat.
For the genealogist, Vere Lanford Oliver’s three volume work The History of the Island of Antigua (1894) provides extracts of church records, tombstones, censuses, genealogies and civil records. It is on microfilm at the Family History Library (FHL #1149539): www.familysearch.org Oliver traces many in the planter class of Irish back to Ireland. Primary records at the Antigua & Barbuda National Archives have also been microfilmed at the FHL. The periodical Caribbeana (FHL #38848) is another resource for extracted records. Other records can be found at the National Archives, Kew, England: www.nationalarchives.gov.uk
Antigua is especially important for researching both Catholic and Protestant Irish families in the colonial period. This island may be the link between Ireland and Colonial America.