Discovered by Vasco de Gama, the French originally claimed nearby Mauritius and Reunion. The British claimed the Chagos chain including the largest island, Diego Garcia, in 1786. During the course of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, the British seized most of the French overseas territories including Mauritius, the Seychelles and Reunion (all in 1810). At the end of the war, these were formally ceded to Britain who linked the Chagos islands to the Seychelles for administrative purposes. Coconut plantations were established on the island and initially used slave and then indentured labour.
On 31 August 1903 much of the the Chagos Archipelago was administratively separated from the Seychelles and attached to Mauritius, alhough the islands of Desroches, Aldabra and the Farquhar Group remained as part of the Seychelles colony. This arrangement lasted until 1965 when the British bought the entire Chagos Archipelago from the colony of Mauritius for 3 million pounds as part of the preparations for Mauritius Independence in 1968. The purpose of this was to close down the plantations and move the population of the islands in order to facilitate the construction of a huge American air base for strategic defence purposes which was to be leased from the British government. The population of Diego Garcia was evacuated to the surrounding islands at first, but were later removed from the entire chain. They were taken to Mauritius and the Seychelles which received a sum of money to help resettle the islanders. There was great opposition to the forcible evacuation of the entire population of the Chagos Islands. The 1,000 descendents have made repeated legal appeals at their expulsion from their ancestral lands. The US government has a lease until 2016 extendable until 2036, but given the strategic position and isolation of the base, it seems as the Americans would be reluctant to lose such a key military asset in the near future.