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The Federation of Saint Christopher and Nevis, located in the Leeward Islands, is a federal two-island country in the West Indies. It is the smallest sovereign state in the Americas, in both area and population. The capital city and headquarters of government for the federated state is Basseterre on the larger island of Saint Christopher. The smaller island of Nevis lies about 2 miles southeast of Saint Kitts, across a shallow channel called "The Narrows".
The country consists of two main islands, Saint Kitts and Nevis. The highest peak, at 1,156 metres, is Mount Liamuiga on St. Kitts.
The islands are of volcanic origin, with large central peaks covered in tropical rainforest; the steeper slopes leading to these peaks are mostly uninhabited. The majority of the population on both islands lives closer to the sea where the terrain flattens out. There are numerous rivers descending from the mountains of both islands, which provide fresh water to the local population. St. Kitts also has one small lake, a salt pond.
Five thousand years prior to European arrival, the island was settled by Native Americans. The last wave of Native American arrivals, the Kalinago people, arrived approximately three centuries before the Europeans. The islands were discovered by the Europeans through a Spanish expedition under Columbus in 1493. In 1538, French Huguenots established a settlement on St. Kitts but the settlement was destroyed by the Spanish soon afterwards and the survivors were deported. In 1623, an English settlement was established, which was soon followed by French settlements, the island being divided by agreement. Dissimilar to many other islands, the local Kalinago people on the island allowed Europeans to colonise Saint Kitts. In 1626, the Anglo-French settlers massacred the Kalinago, pre-empting a plan by the Kalinago to drive the foreigners from the island. A Spanish expedition, sent to enforce Spanish claims, destroyed the English and French colonies and deported the settlers back to their respective countries in 1629. As part of the war settlement in 1630, the Spanish permitted the re-establishment of the English and French colonies.
As Spanish power went into decline, Saint Kitts became the premier base for English and French expansion into the Caribbean, as the islands of Antigua, Montserrat, Anguilla and Tortola for the English, and Martinique, the Guadeloupe archipelago and St. Barts for the French were colonised from it. During the late 17th century, France and England battled for control over St Kitts. It was ceded to Britain in 1713.