The Micmac lived on the island before Europeans arrived. Jacques Cartier wrote enthusiastically about it after landing there in 1534. Samuel de Champlain named it Île St. Jean in 1603, and it was known by that name (or Isle St. John) until 1799, when it was renamed after Edward, duke of Kent, who later fathered Queen Victoria. The first permanent settlement was made by the French in 1719 near present-day Charlottetown, but the British gained control under the Treaty of Paris in 1763. Many French settlers were deported by the British (see Acadia), but others remained; their descendants still live here. In 1803, Lord Selkirk's first colony of impoverished Scots settled here; persons of Scottish extraction now constitute about one third of the inhabitants.
In 1763, Prince Edward Island was annexed to Nova Scotia, but it became a separate colony in 1769. Responsible, or cabinet, government was granted in 1851. In 1864 delegates from the Maritime Provinces met in Charlottetown to discuss union—the first step toward forming the Canadian confederation, which was achieved in 1867. However, Prince Edward Island did not join the confederation until 1873. Throughout the 20th cent. the island's economy was relatively stable, although lack of energy and technology caused it to lag behind the rest of Canada.
The Progressive Conservatives (or Conservatives) and the Liberals are the only parties to have formed provincial governments since 1873. In 1993, Catherine Callbeck, who led the Liberals to a sweep, became Canada's first female provincial premier. Progressive Conservative Patrick Binns became premier in 1996 and was returned to office in 2000 and 2003. In 2007 the Liberals won a majority, and Robert Ghiz became premier; they remained in power after the 2011 vote. The province sends 4 senators and 4 representatives to the national parliament.