The Kannur district was earlier part of the Chera dynasty. Then it came into the hands of the Kolathiri Rajas. They conducted trade with the Arabs and many explorers came here to establish trade relations. It was said that timber required to construct the Temple of the Lord was collected from Kannur by the Solomon’s ships. In 1498, the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama visited Kannur and later it became a settlement for the Portuguese. It was a Portuguese viceroy named Don Fransisco de Almeda who constructed the St.Angelo’s fort in Kannur. This fort passed many hands where it was captured by the Dutch in 1663 and then sold to the Arakkal rulers in 1772. The British gained control of it in 1790 but at present it is under the supervision of the Archaeological Survey of India.
The rulers of Mysore, Hyder Ali and Tipu Sulthan conquered a major part of Kannur during the end of 18th century. But with the Third Anglo Mysore war between the British and the Mysore rulers, Kannur and the neighboring areas came under the direct control of the British. After which it became the Malabar district of Madras Presidency. A famous ruler of Kannur named Pazhassi Raja who was popularly called as the Lion of Kerala belong to the Kottayam dynasty in Kannur. He led many struggles against the Mysore rulers.
Kannur has a main role for the struggle for Indian Independence. The Indian National Congress had a Malabar district committee; there was a branch of the All India Home Rule League at Thalasseri and a branch of Communist Party at Pinarayi. As per the decision of the Nagpur congress, the boycotting of foreign articles, courts of law and educational institutions were practiced in Kannur. The great freedom fighters Mahatma Gandhi and Maulan Shaukat Ali travelled through Kannur to spread the message of Non co-operation and Khilafat Movement.
It was in 1928 that Kannur gained importance in the Kerala Politics when the fourth All Kerala political Conference was held at Payyanur. This meeting was headed by Jawaharlal Nehru and this conference passed a resolution to use Swaraj instead of Complete Independence as the main aim of the conference that was scheduled to be held at Calcutta.
The salt satyagraha in Malabar was conducted from Payyanur beach. The campers were beaten up. With the withdrawal of the Civil Disobedience movement, there was a rise of radical wing on the Kerala Provincial congress. The radical elements of Kerala Provincial Congress became a separate unit called the Congress Socialist Party and there was also the group of the Muslims called the Nationalists Muslims. Another main development was the formation of the Muslim League as a political party by the Muslim leaders of Kannur region. Later a branch of Communist Party was also formed in Malabar.
The KPCC decided to observe September 15, 1940 as an Anti Imperialist Day. Even though this was disapproved by the Congress High Command, meetings were held at certain places. In Kannur there were clashes between the police and the people which lead to firing and lathi charges. At Morazha two police officials were killed and a communist leader K P R Gopalan was arrested on charge of this. Some workers from Congress also provided leadership for the Quit India Movement in 1942.
The war period from 1943 to 1945 was a period that took the lives of thousands of poor people due to famine and epidemic diseases. A campaign called as ‘Grow more food’ was organized under the initiative of certain people of Kisan Sabha in which around 50 acres of land were bought under cultivation. But the government destroyed them all. Even after the end of war in 1945, the life of the people was miserable. The people of Karivelloor which is a northernmost village of Kannur made a movement by blocking the transporting of paddy to Chirakkal kovilakam and distributed it among the villagers. Police opened firing against this and the leaders became martyrs. A main event that changed the route of the anti imperialist movement was the emergence of the working class. The peasants before independence fought against the landlords.