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Christopher Columbus is said to have sighted Saba on November 13, 1493, but did not land, as the island's perilously rocky shores were a major deterrent to Columbus and his crew. In 1632 a group of shipwrecked Englishmen landed upon Saba; they stated they found the island uninhabited when they were retrieved by others. But there has been some evidence found indicating that Carib or Arawak Indians may have been on the island. In 1635 a stray Frenchman claimed Saba for Louis XIII of France and around the year 1640, the Dutch West India Company sent people from the neighboring island of St. Eustatius to colonize the island. These settlers were then in 1664 evicted to St. Maarten by Sir Henry Morgan, the notorious English buccaneer, on one of the very few occasions that the nearly vertical rocky island was successfully invaded. The Netherlands finally took possession of Saba in 1816 after a spell of British occupation during the Napoleonic era.
Through the 17th and 18th centuries its major industries were sugar and rum, and, later, fishing, particularly lobster fishing. In the 1600s Saba was believed to be a favorable hideout for Jamaican pirates. England also deported its "undesirable" people to live in the Caribbean colonies. They too became pirates, taking haven on Saba. The most notable native Saban pirate was Hiriam Breakes, who famously quipped "Dead Men Tell No Tales." Legitimate sailing and trade later became important and many of the island's men took to the seas, during which time Saba lace became an important product made by the island's women.
The remains of the 1640 settlements can be found on the west side at Tent Bay.
The nations which governed the island of Saba changed 12 times between 1634 and 1816. Some of the more significant changes were: Netherlands 1634, England 1665, Netherlands 1667, England 1672, and Netherlands 1682. The last change was in 1816 when the Netherlands again took control, and has kept it since then.
- A. Grenfell Price, White Settlement in Saba Island, Dutch West Indies (accessed 2 October 2015), an online reproduction of a public domain article probably of the same title from Geographical Review 24, no. 1 (January 1934), 42‑60.