Status: Overseas Territory of the UK
Population: 5315 (2018 est)
Area: 39 sq miles
Currency: Eastern Caribbean Dollar (EC$1 = 37¢ US)
Montserrat was discovered by Columbus on his second voyage in 1493. But the Spanish showed little interest in the island. In 1630 Sir Thomas Warner selected the neighboring island of St Kitts for the first British colony in the Caribbean. Warner was so successful in promoting immigration that the good land on St Kitts was soon taken. When servants who had been brought to the island completed their terms of indenture, they often moved to other islands. Nearby Montserrat was a popular destination. The majority of Montserrat’s early settlers were Irish. It still promotes itself as “The Emerald Isle of the Caribbean.”
From the beginning of the 17th century, the British attempted to reduce administrative expenses and strengthen control by unifying their Caribbean possessions. Montserrat, as one of the smallest, found itself at various times under the governors of Barbados, St Kitts and Antigua. Montserrat was a “presidency” in the Leeward Islands Federation (1871–1956). But its independent-minded small land-owners resisted outside control. Distance and difficulties of communications enabled it to maintain a great deal of autonomy. The Leeward Island Federation was dissolved in 1956 and Montserrat became a province in the successor West Indies Federation (1958–62). When that collapsed in 1962, Montserrat was a crown colony. There has never been strong sentiment on the island for independence. Today Montserrat is a self-governing overseas territory of the UK — one of less than a score remaining.
Nature has not been good to Montserrat in modern times. Hurricane Hugo devastated the island in 1989 and destroyed the recording studio which had drawn music stars like the Rolling Stones, Elton John and Stevie Wonder to the island. In 1995, the Soufrière Hills volcano erupted, destroying the southern part of the island, including the capital, the port and the airport. Most of its inhabitants fled — mainly to the United Kingdom — leaving fewer than 1,200 inhabitants. Two of the country’s three parishes remain in an uninhabitable “exclusion zone.” However, ash from the volcano left the island about 20 percent larger. Temporary government buildings were constructed in the northern village of Brades. The only post office is in the basement of the Treasury building.
There has been a post office on the island since the 18th century. Local postal markings are known from 1807. The British GPO operated in Plymouth from 1858 until April 1, 1860 when postal operations were returned to local control. Handstamps were used to indicate payment of postage until September 1876 when current Antiguan stamps overprinted “Montserrat” by de la Rue in London were placed on sale in Plymouth.
In 1890, the Governor of the Leeward Islands Colony sought to extend his authority over the constituent presidencies. Montserrat stamps were replaced by Leeward Island issues. In 1903 Montserrat resumed issuing its own stamps, which were used concurrently with Leeward Islands issues until July 1, 1956, when the federation was dissolved.
Editor's Note: This article was published in the January 2019 issue of The American Philatelist. Read the full issue online at stamps.org/the-american-philatelist