Map of Saba from the Encyclopaedie van Nederlandsch West-Indië 1914-1917
Christopher Columbus is said to have sighted the island on 13 November 1493. He did not land, being deterred by the island's perilous rocky shores. In 1632 a group of shipwrecked Englishmen landed upon Saba. They stated they found the island uninhabited when they were rescued; however, clear evidence has been found indicating that Caribs and Arawak Native Nations have lived on the island.
In 1635 a stray Frenchman claimed Saba for Louis XIII of France. In the later 1630s, the Dutch Governor of the neighboring island of Sint Eustatius sent several Dutch families over to colonize the island for the Dutch West India Company. In 1664, refusing to swear allegiance to the English crown, these original Dutch settlers were evicted to St. Maarten by Thomas Morgan and other English pirates that had been convicted to stay on Jamaica, to return within the months and years following. The Netherlands have been in continuous possession of Saba since 1816, after numerous flag changes (British-Dutch-French) during the previous centuries. By 2016 the island had been French for 12 years, English for 18 years, and Dutch for 345 years.
In the 17th and 18th centuries Saba's major industries were sugar, indigo and rum produced on plantations owned by Dutchmen living on St Eustatius, and later fishing, particularly lobster fishing. In the 17th century Saba was believed to be a favorable hideout for Jamaican pirates. England also deported its "undesirable" people to live in the Caribbean colonies, and some of them also became pirates, a few taking haven on Saba. The island of Saba is forbidding and steep, a natural fortress, and so the island became a private sanctuary for the families of smugglers and pirates. The most notable native Saban pirate was
Later, legitimate sailing and trade became important, and many of the island's men took to the sea, during which time "Saba lace", which is pulled thread work, a Spanish form of needlework introduced by a nun from Venezuela, became an important product made by the island's women. Throughout the late 19th century and early 20th century, the primary source of revenue for the island came from the lacework produced by the women. During this period of time, with most of the island's men gone out to sea, the island became known as "The Island of Women".
The remains of the settlements of 1630–1640 can be found on the west side at Tent Bay. These settlements were destroyed by a landslide in the 17th century.
A status referendum was held in Saba on 5 November 2004. 86.05% of the population voted for closer links to the Netherlands.