The island was sighted by Columbus in 1493. English and French attempts at settlement were thwarted by the Caribs, who had taken it earlier from the Arawaks. An Anglo-French treaty of 1748 left Dominica in Carib hands, but both powers continued to covet it. In the 18th cent. Africans were brought in as slaves to work plantations. The island definitively passed to the British in 1815. Hostilities between the British and the Caribs led to the slaughter of large numbers of Caribs. Today, however, there are around 3,000 Caribs who occupy a reservation on the eastern side of the island.
Dominica has been a fully independent member of the Commonwealth of Nations since 1978. In 1981 there were two failed coup attempts. In 1980, Eugenia Charles and the Dominica Freedom party came to power; Charles, who survived two coup attempts in 1981, remained prime minister until she retired in 1995. Edison James, founder of the opposition United Workers' party (DUWP), succeeded her after a win at the polls. He remained prime minister until early 2000, when Rosie Douglas led the Labor party (LPD) to a narrow victory over James and the DUWP. Douglas died in 2000 and was succeeded by Pierre Charles, who died in 2003. Roosevelt Skerrit succeeded Charles as prime minister. Labor was returned to power, again by a narrow margin, in 2005, but won by a landslide in 2009.