The history of Guyana began before the arrival of Europeans, when the region of present-day Guyana was inhabited by Carib, Arawak, and Warao peoples. Guyana’s first sighting by Europeans was by Alonzo de Ojeda and Amerigo Vespucci in 1499. In 1595, Sir Walter Raleigh explored the area for England. The Dutch began exploring and settling in Guyana in the late sixteenth century, followed by the British. Both began trading with the Amerindian peoples upriver.
The first Dutch settlement was established on the Pomeroon River in 1581. The settlers were evicted by Spaniards and Indians, probably in 1596. Until 1804, there were estates, now forgotten, at Sandy Point and Kierfield, on the seaward side of the present seawall of Georgetown.
Georgetown began as a small town in the eighteenth century. Originally, the capital of the Demerara-Essequibo colony was located on Borselen Island in the Demerara River under the administration of the Dutch. When the British captured the colony in 1781, Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Kingston chose the mouth of the Demerara River for the establishment of a town which was situated between Plantations Werk-en-rust and Vlissengen.
The French captured the colony in 1782 and developed this town, making it their capital city, La Nouvelle Ville. To guard against the dangers of flood and fire, buildings were required to have brick foundations, tiled, separate kitchens, and no thatch was to be used.
At that time, the small town was bordered by two canals, the Croal Street Canal and the Hadfield Street Canal. There was one main dam known as Brickdam.
When the town was taken by the Dutch in 1784, it was renamed Stabroek after Nicolaas Geelvinck (1732—1787), Lord of Stabroek, and President of the Dutch West India Company. The Dutch settlers soon built walls similar to those used in their homeland to keep the Atlantic Ocean out from the north, and divert water coming from the higher ground to the south. Eventually the town expanded and covered the estates of Vlissengen, La Bourgade, and Eve Leary to the North, and La Repentir to the South.
When the British regained control in 1812, it was renamed Georgetown, in honour of King George III. The town began to expand and develop, and Robbstown, Cummingsburg, Kingston, and Werk-en-Rust were added.
The abolition of slavery in 1834 led to black settlement of urban areas and the importation of indentured servants from India to work the sugar plantations.
Under the English administration, the town was controlled by a Board of Police. However, with the abolition of slavery, the powers of the Board of Police proved ineffective and on 1st March 1837, an ordinance established a mayor and town council.
Georgetown gained official city status on 24th August 1842, during the reign of Queen Victoria. In 1848, the British built a railroad, five miles (eight kilometers) long, from Georgetown to Plaisance, which was the first railroad on the South American continent.
In 1928, British Guiana was made a crown colony, a move that reasserted British control at a time when political and labour unrest was rising.
On 23rd February 1945, the Great Fire, as it came to be known, devastated the commercial heart of the capital, and consumed a host of historical and architectural gems which had given the city its character. Most buildings in the business district were rebuilt in reinforced concrete.
Guyana achieved independence from the United Kingdom in 1966, and became a republic on 23rd February 1970, though remaining a member of the Commonwealth. Forbes Burnham (1923-1985) became the first prime minister and nationalized foreign companies that dominated the bauxite and sugar industries. Greater Georgetown came into being on 29th April 1970.
In 1992, Cheddi Jagan (1918–1997) was elected president in what is considered the country’s first free and fair election since independence. After his death five years later, his wife, Janet Jagan (b. 1920), became president but resigned in 1999 due to poor health.
Information courtesy of newworldencyclopedia.org