Mount Nevis (3,232 feet) is the remnant of an ancient stratovolcano, as is Mt. Liamuiga on the sister island of St. Kitts. Nevis has a population of nearly 10,000, and maintains one of the highest literacy rates in the Western Hemisphere, at approximately 98%. The capital is Charlestown.
The original Arawak and Carib inhabitants of the island called it Oualie, meaning "land of beautiful water". Christopher Columbus visited the island on his second voyage on 11th November 1493. He renamed it Santa Marķa de las Nieves, mistaking the cloud cap atop Mt. Nevis for snow. This name has also been linked to a contemporary miraculous summer snow storm in Spain. Nevis was part of the Spanish claim to own all the Caribbean islands which they pursued from 1493 until 1671. Nevertheless it continued to be a popular stop-over point for English and Dutch ships on their way to the North American continent.
Captain Bartholomew Gilbert of Plymouth visited the island in 1603, spending two weeks to cut twenty tons of lignum vitae wood. Gilbert sailed on to Virginia to seek out survivors of the Roanoke settlement in what is now Virginia. He was killed in a skirmish with the local Native Americans.
In 1620 Captain Anthony Chester visited the island in the 'Margaret and John' and were attacked by two Spanish war ships at Nevis.
On August 30, 1620, James I of England asserted sovereignty over Nevis by giving a Royal Patent for colonisation to the Earl of Carlisle. However actual European settlement did not happen until 1628 when Anthony Hilton moved from nearby Saint Kitts following a murder plot against him. He was accompanied by 80 other settlers soon to be boosted by a further 100 settlers from London who had originally hoped to settle Barbuda. Hilton became the first Governor of Nevis.
Nevis was united with St. Kitts and Anguilla in 1882, and they became an associated state with full internal autonomy in 1967, though Anguilla seceded in 1971. Together Saint Kitts and Nevis became independent in 1983. On 10 August 1998, a referendum on Nevis to separate from St. Kitts had 2427 votes in favour and 1498 against, falling short of the two-thirds majority needed.