Before the fateful arrival of Christopher Columbus during his fourth voyage (1502-1504) when he visited the neighboring Bay Island of Guanaja the pre-Columbian indigenous peoples of Roatan are believed to have been related to either the Jicaque or Mayan cultures found on the neighboring mainland, but between the Spanish raiding the islands for slave labor and the devastating exposure to the infectious diseases the Europeans brought with them to which they had no immunity, none of the original population are thought to have survived the consequent epidemics. During colonial times individual settlers, pirates, traders, and military forces playing out political struggles between the European powers would frequent the Bay of Honduras, with Britain for example occupying the islands on and off again between 1550 and 1700 who by the century’s end would deport the Black Carib from their homes upon St. Vincent, intending to instead use the island for sugar plantations, and who as a result were likely some of the first people post-Columbus to inhabitant Roatan with their founding of Punta Gorda.
With the abolishment of slavery in 1838 by Britain the majority of Roatan’s present day population is descendent from the Cayman Islands who migrated over the 1840s to the region. For a brief period in the following decade the English declared the Bay Islands its colony, but was formally ceded back to Honduras, though there would be one last ill-fated attempt to invade in 1860. By the following decade settlers from around the world arrived as the fruit trade expanded to become Roatan’s most successful industry and the reason for Honduras now being known as a “banana republic.” The island’s population however continued to grow with new settlements being established across Roatan sparking resultant economic and environmental challenges. More recent years have seen some shift from the fishing industry to tourism attracting among many other English-speaking nations Canadians. English is in fact the first language of all native islanders, with Spanish being spoken second by many and has become a popular destination with the cruise ship industry.