The history of both Saint Andrew and Providence is replete with adventures of pirates, their invasions and occupation of the islands. The first appearance of Saint Andrew on Spanish maps was in 1527. The Dutch are reported to have come to these islands at the end of the 16th century and British settlers arrived there in 1628. It is also mentioned that Columbus discovered these islands during his fourth exploration voyage.
The English Puritans were the first to arrive; they hailed from Barbados and also from England. Between 1627 and 1629 they came to settle in the salubrious climate and take advantage of the fertile land of the islands.
The Anglo Puritans evicted the Dutch settlers in 1631. Settlers also came from Wales. All colonists first came to Saint Andrew and later moved to the Providence Island colony on what is now Providencia Island as its mountain terrain provided fresh water resources and safety from invaders. Enslaved people of West African birth or descent were brought in by British shipowners in 1633 from Jamaica. They were initially brought to work in lumbering, as well as to grow cotton and tobacco.
In 1635, the Spaniards, realizing the economic importance of the island, attacked the archipelago. However the Spaniards were driven out soon after they occupied the islands.
Pirates also operated from here, including Welsh privateer Sir Henry Morgan, who used it in 1670 as one of the centers of his operations. The pirates attacked Spanish ships carrying gold and other precious material that sailed in the Caribbean waters. They also attacked Panama and Santa Maria. The bounty looted by the pirates is still believed to be hidden in some underwater cave in the area.
After the temporary Spanish occupation of the islands, they were controlled by the British from 1740 until 1787, when they agreed to respect the Creole population. In the year 1792, by royal warrant on 20 May, the Spanish informed the Captain General of Guatemala,
Don Bernardo Troncoso, to recognize the archipelago. The Catholic religion was spread on the island and a church was built and run by its own priest. Saint Andrew gave exemption from import and export taxes.
On November 25, 1802, the inhabitants of the archipelago requested that they depend on the Viceroyalty of New Granada with the Mosquito Coast, and not on the Captaincy of Guatemala. The document was signed by Mr. Roberto Clark, procurator, Isaac Brooks, Solomon Taylor, Jorge Olis, and Juan Taylor. As early as 1803, reports suggest that it was for political and economic reasons that Saint Andrew became a dependent Viceroyalty of New Granada.
In 1810, factions in New Granada declared independence from Spain. Councils were established in Saint Andrew and Providence in this year. The government of
Tomás O'Neill granted land titles to English and Spanish-speaking families of the two islands assuring people the ownership of the land. In July 1818,
Luis Aury, and the independent forces of Simón Bolívar occupied the islands, and it became part of Gran Colombia on June 23, 1822.
In 1821, the issuing of the Constitution of Cúcuta determined that every child born in Colombia, was born as a free citizen. This at a minimum meant the eventual abolition of slavery in Saint Andrew.
On March 5, 1825 a League and Confederation Treaty with the United Provinces of Central America was signed and on June 15, 1826 the Treaty of Union, League and Confederation, between the Republics of Colombia, Central America, Peru and Mexico was signed in Panama in that "Contracting Parties shall ensure the integrity of its territories, then, under special conventions and to hold each other, have been demarcated and set their respective limits, the protection will then be placed under the protection of the confederation."
After independence was recognized by the coastal territories of the Caribbean Sea, the British proclaimed an independent territory in disregard of treaties and agreements of the time but the island remained free from British autonomy. In 1848, Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera declared Saint Andrew as a Free port. In 1851, slavery was abolished by the constitution of Colombia, which led to a successful literacy movement led by pastor
Philip Beekman Livingston.
In September 1900, France issued a ruling in which it recognized all of the islands of the archipelago as belonging to Colombia. In 1902, two commissioners of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt came to Saint Andrew by boat and requested that the islands become part of Panama, but American proposals were rejected outright as unpatriotic, proving local loyalty to the Republic of Colombia. In 1903, the Colombian Department of Panama became an independent nation. The islanders again refused to join the United States or Panama when they were visited by a U.S. warship in the same year. On 26 October 1912, the
Municipality of San Andres and Providencia was established by Law 52, giving administrative independence. In August 1920, a boundary treaty was signed between Colombia and Panama in Bogota. On 24 March 1928, the Esguerra-Bárcenas Treaty was signed, in which Nicaragua recognized Colombia's sovereignty over the Archipelago of Saint Andrew, Providence and Saint Catherine.
In November 1943, Colombia joined World War II, because a German submarine sank one of their boats that had to transport British troops to Saint Andrew. In 1953, at the request of several representatives of the island community, President Gustavo Rojas Pinilla reaffirmed the Saint Andrew Island and the free port. In 1972, the archipelago was declared as a Special Municipality. In the Colombian Constitution of 1991, the Department Archipelago of Saint Andrew, Providence and Saint Catherine was established as one of the Departments of Colombia. In 2000, the archipelago of Saint Andrew, Providence and Saint Catherine became a
UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve as per of the five biosphere reserves listed with the UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere programme.
In 2001, Nicaragua National Assembly declared the Bárcenas-Esguerra Treaty null because it claimed that it was signed under pressure of US army occupation (1928–1933). Nicaragua signed a boundary treaty with Colombia, in which it disputed the boundaries alleged by Colombia at 82 degrees longitude. In 2007, the International Court of Justice announced that the 1928 Bárcenas-Esguerra Treaty of 1928 wasn't a boundary treaty between Colombia and Nicaragua. Nicaragua filed a formal complaint to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, claiming territory east of longitude 82, as their continental marine platform included sovereignty over the archipelago of Saint Andrew. On 13 December 2007, the ICJ recognized the full sovereignty of Colombia over the islands of Saint Andrew, Providence and Saint Catherine, but left open the question about the demarcation of the maritime boundary and the sovereignty over the cays of Serranilla, Quitasueño, Serrana, Roncador and
Bajo Nuevos with Nicaragua. The ICJ also ruled it "upheld preliminary objections of Colombia to its jurisdiction only insofar as they concerned sovereignty over the islands of Saint Andrew, Providence and Saint Catherine".