It was a self-governing, federal state made up of twelve provinces, all former British colonial posessions. The nation was created by Britain in 1958 as a way of simultaneously satisfying the demands for independence of all colonies in the region.
The provinces of the West Indies Federation were:
- Cayman Islands
- Saint Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla (present day Saint Kitts and Nevis)
- Saint Lucia
- Saint Vincent and Turks and Caicos Islands (present day Saint Vincent and the Grenadines)
Although the Federation was initially optimistically embraced by all, the unity did not last. The largest provinces, especially Jamaica and Trinidad, quickly gained control over the federal government's agenda, much to the displeasure of the smaller provinces. This in turn caused the larger provinces to resent being members of a union that had so many members hostile to them, and increased pro-independence sentiment.
In 1962 the Premier of the Jamaican province held a referendum on political secession from the Federation. It passed, and Jamaica became an independent country. Jamaica's departure signaled the failure of Britain's Caribbean experiment, and the Federation was quickly dissolved, with all former provinces gaining full independence and sovereignty.
The Federation's only Prime Minister was Sir Grantley Herbert Adams; its only Governor General was Patrick George Thomas Buchan-Hepburn, later known as Baron Hailes. Queen Elizabeth II was Head of State.
During the Federation's existence, each member continued to issue its own postage stamps as before; but on April 22, 1958, the members (except for the Cayman Islands) each issued a set of three commemorative stamps. All of these stamps used a common design depicting a map of the Caribbean and a portrait of Queen Elizabeth, with an inscription at the top reading "THE WEST INDIES / FEDERATION 1958" at the top and the name of the member at the bottom. All of these stamps are quite common in both mint and used condition.
The nations currency was the West Indies dollar, which later was succeeded by the East Caribbean dollar.