Map of Saba from the Encyclopaedie van Nederlandsch West-Indië 1914-1917
Saba is thought to have been inhabited by the Ciboney people as early as the 1100s BC. Later, circa 800 AD, Arawak people from South America settled on the island.
Christopher Columbus is said to have sighted the island on 13 November 1493, however he did not land, being deterred by the island's perilous rocky shores. In 1632 a group of shipwrecked Englishmen landed upon Saba. Later, in 1635, a stray Frenchman claimed Saba for Louis XIII of France. In the 1640s the Dutch Governor of the neighbouring island of Sint Eustatius sent several Dutch families over to colonise 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 Jamaican governors-cum-pirates Edward, Thomas, and Henry Morgan. The Netherlands eventually gained complete control of the island in 1816.
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. To work these plantations slaves from African were imported. In the 17th century Saba was believed to be a favourable 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. As the island's coast is forbidding and steep the island became a private sanctuary for the families of smugglers and pirates. A notable Saban pirate was
Hiram Beakes, son of the Dutch councillor of the island.
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 these women. During this period of time, with most of the island's men gone out to sea for extended periods, the island became known as "The Island of Women".
Joseph 'Lambee' Hassell, a self-taught engineer, began building a road on Saba, drastically improving transport on the island which hitherto has been by foot or mule. An airport followed in 1963, and a larger pier geared for tourist boats in 1972. As a result tourism increased, gradually becoming a major part of the Saban economy.
A status referendum was held in Saba on 5 November 2004. 86.05% of the population voted for closer links to the Netherlands. This was duly achieved in 2010, when the Netherlands Antilles was dissolved and Saba became a special municipality of the Netherlands.