Antigua was sighted by Columbus in 1493 and named for a Spanish church in Seville. The islands were successfully colonized in 1632, when the British introduced sugarcane from St. Kitts. Barbuda was colonized from Antigua in 1661. The abolition of slavery in 1834 hurt the sugar industry; sugar has not been commercially grown on the island since 1985.
Antigua, with Barbuda and Redonda as dependencies, became an associated state of the Commonwealth in 1967 and achieved full independence within the Commonwealth in 1981. The Labor party, and the Bird family, led the nation in its first decades. Vere Bird was the nation's first prime minister and was succeeded by Lester Bird, his son, in 1994. The islands suffered extensive damage from Hurricane Luis in 1995. Six consecutive terms of Labor governments ended in 2004 when the United Progressive party (UPP) won the election; Baldwin Spencer became prime minister. Spencer and the UPP remained in power after the 2009 election.
In 2009 allegations that American financier Allen Stanford had been running a Ponzi scheme had a significant effect on the country. The Stanford Financial Group was based there; it and its affiliates employed many inhabitants; and the government had received substantial loans from the group while the Birds were in power. A run on Stanford's banks led the government to seize them; other Stanford properties were also seized.