The island was possibly sighted by Columbus on his second voyage in 1493, but it was given the Spanish/Italian name for 'eel' as this is the shape of the island itself. A French ship called at the island in 1564. No English ship visited until 1609 when Captain Harcourt stopped there. There was no European settlement until 1650 and even then it was too open a target for pirates or marauders. There was a big boost in the English population when the French occupied St Christopher in the 1660s and many English sought a sanctuary. The island was declared a Crown Colony in 1663. This was done to try and forestall yet another French annexation of an English island in the Caribbean.
The population was augmented with various shipwreck survivors or deserters from ships. There was an attempt to bring slave labour to the island to try and tap the demand for sugar and tobacco back in Europe. However, the land was not suitable for large scale plantations and so the island avoided the worst excesses of a slave economy.
In 1745 a force of six to seven hundred French soldiers landed at Crocus bay on the island. By this time, there were some 1500 English settlers on the island. They were responsible for their own defence and dug in along a ridge above the beach. Their sharpshooting managed to kill 32 Frenchmen and wounded 25 more. The defenders then swept down on to the beach and caught 50 more before the French withdrew.
Some fifty years later in the Revolutionary Wars period, the French attempted a second invasion. Two French warships landed 300 soldiers at Rendezvous Bay in 1796. These were able to get ashore and pushed the defending Anguillans back along the island. It seemed as if they were going to achieve their objective when the Anguillans counter-attacked despite being short of ammunition. They were able to push the French back along the island and were then joined by a Royal Naval ship HMS Lapwing despatched from Antigua. The French decided to retreat from the area and left the island alone for the remainder of the war.
The governor at St Christopher took responsibility for administration of Anguilla in 1822 after a deadly hurricane destroyed much of the infrastructure of the island. Anguilla became part of the Leeward Islands Colony from 1871 and remained there administratively until 1958. The island then became briefly a part of the West Indies Federation with the idea of preparing the islands for independence within a larger political entity.
The Federation idea foundered as some of the larger islands believed that they would lose political control over their islanders in a larger federation. The islands were therefore bundled into smaller units. Anguilla was to be attached to St Kitts (St. Christopher) and Nevis. Many Anguillans were unhappy with this marriage of convenience and rebelled from the idea of being declared independent as a part of St. Kitts and Nevis. It was felt that St. Kitts (which is some 70 miles away) had little in common with Anguilla and had its own priorities and problems. The islanders on Anguilla rebelled from St. Kitts' rule in order to return to British protection. It was felt that Britain might be a more neutral referee for the island. Rather bizarrely, the British landed 300 troops on the island in 1969 when negotiations over independence from St. Kitts faltered and there were rumours (unfounded) of crime syndicates becoming involved on the island. There were no casualties and little ill will generated. Indeed the Anguillans were satisfied at being readmitted as a directly governed British territory which it remains to this day.