The history of Guyana or British Guiana began before the arrival of Europeans, when the region of present-day Guyana was inhabited by Carib, Arawak, and Warao peoples. The word Guiana probably comes from the Arawak words wai ana which means "(land of) many waters". Guyana's first sighting by Europeans was by Alonzo de Ojeda and Amerigo Vespucci in 1499. Some state that Christopher Columbus may have sighted Guyana during his third voyage (1498) but this is disputed by other historians. In 1595 the area was explored by English explorers under Sir Walter Raleigh.
Guyana's past is punctuated by battles fought and won, possessions lost and regained as the Spanish, French, Dutch and British wrangled for centuries to own and exploit the country. Although claimed by Spain the Dutch were first to establish permanent colonies: Essequibo (1616), Berbice (1627), and Demerara (1752). The first English attempt at settlement in this area was made in 1604 by Captain Charles Leigh on the Oyapock River (in what is now French Guiana). The effort failed. A fresh attempt was made by Robert Harcourt in 1609.
Lord Willoughby, famous in the early history of Barbados, also turned his attention to Guiana, and founded a settlement in Suriname in 1651. This was captured by the Dutch in 1667, and though later recaptured by the British, it was ceded to the Dutch at the Peace of Breda (1667). Britain again took the region from the Dutch in 1796. The Dutch took it back in 1802, before being ousted again by the British in 1803. Immediately after the British took possession of Essequibo-Demerara and Berbice they began to implement changes in the administration of the colonies with the aim of removing the strong Dutch influence. in 1806 the slave trade was abolished in the two colonies, as well as in Trinidad & Tobago; final abolition occurred in other British territories during the following year. Regulations were put in place to prevent transfer of slaves from one colony to another, but this did not prevent trafficking in slaves from the Caribbean islands to Berbice and Demerara-Essequibo.
The city of Georgetown began as a small town in the 18th 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 colony was captured by the British 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.
It was the French who developed this town and made it their capital city when they captured the colony in 1782. The French called the capital La Nouvelle Ville. They established stringent regulations for private building in an attempt to guard against the dangers of flood and fire. Buildings were to have brick foundations, kitchens were to be tiled and set apart, and no thatch was to be used. Brickdam, the first paved road, was built by the French, and was known then as Middle Dam.
When the town was restored to the Dutch in 1784, it was renamed Stabroek after Nicolaas Geelvinck (1732 — 1787), Lord of Stabroek, and President of the Dutch West India Company. Eventually the town expanded and covered the estates of Vlissengen, La Bourgade and Eve Leary to the North, and Werk-en-rust and La Repentir to the South.
It was renamed Georgetown on 29 April 1812 in honour of King George III. On 5 May 1812 an ordinance was passed to the effect that the town formerly called Stabroek, with districts extending from La Penitence to the bridges in Kingston and entering upon the road to the military camps, shall be called Georgetown.