Aviva Directory » Local & Global » North America » Caribbean Islands » Islands » Saint Martin

The tropical island of Saint Martin consists of two different states, that of the French Republic and that of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. This division dates back to 1648.

The northern part of the island is the Collectivity of Saint Martin. Sometimes called Saint-Martin, it is an overseas collectivity of France. An overseas collectivity is an administrative division of France itself. This collectivity is usually known as Saint Martin. Saint Martin has 60.9% of the island's area. Its capital is Marigot.

The southern part of the island, the centralized unitary state of Sint Maarten, is unitary state of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. A unitary state is a state that is governed as a single power. The central government is supreme. 39.1% of the island belongs to Sint Maarten. Its capital is Philipsburg. The Dutch adopted this spelling in 1936.

The island was first sighted by Christopher Columbus in 1493, on the feast day of Saint Martin of Tours, causing him to name it Isla de San Martín, which is Spanish for the island of St. Martin.

Like the rest of the Caribbean, the indigenous people, the Arawaks and the Caribs, were enslaved and exported to nearby islands where they provided labor.

As time went by fewer and fewer Indians were available as slaves due to their exportation or deaths. Some time in the 16th century, the Spanish lost interest in Saint Martin for that reason as well as the fact that there were gold and silver mines on other Spanish possessions which required their attention. They began neglecting the island.

The Dutch, wanted to exploit the island's salt deposits as well as to have a convenient place roughly halfway between the Dutch colonies in New Amsterdam, which is now New York. They began settling on the island between 1627 and 1631. They built a fort, Fort Amsterdam, for protection from invaders. This was an action that upset the Spanish, who attacked the Dutch. They regained control of it in 1638, but it was the last hurrah for Spain on the island. They deserted Saint Martin permanently in 1648, at the end of the Eighty Years War.

The French wanted the island due to their desire to colonize all of the islands between Bermuda and Trinidad, and they were able to try to do that once the Eighty Years War was finished.

They realized early on that neither the Dutch colonists nor the French colonists were apt to win the conflict, so in 1648, the Treaty of Concordia was signed by the Dutch and the French. The terms of the treaty included the fact that the island of Saint Martin would be divided between France and the Netherlands and that they would coexist in a cooperative fashion. The first part, that the island would be divided between the two, seems not to have been a problem.

But they did not coexist in a cooperative fashion all the time. Between their signing of the Treaty of Concordia and 1816disputes changed their borders sixteen times.

There were virtually no more people to enslave on the island, and the cultivation of sugar, cotton, and tobacco, huge numbers of slaves were imported from Africa to work on plantations. It did not take long before there were more slaves than landowners, hence, the slaves rose up to rebellion periodically. Slavery was abolished in French Saint Martin in May ion 1848, and it was abolished in Dutch Sin Maarten in 1863.

The economic depression prodded many people on both sides of the island to leave. The oil refineries newly erected by the Dutch-British Shell Oil Company on the islands of Aruba and Curaçao attracted many. Still others fled to the United States of America, the Dominican Republic, or the US Virgin Islands looking for economic stability. Between 1920 and 1929, historians tell use the population of the island decreased by 18%.

In 1954, the Netherlands granted the members of the Netherlands Antilles a status which gives them internal autonomy within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Netherlands Antilles includes Sint Maarten as well as Aruba, Curaçao, Bonaire, Statia, and Saba. Defense and foreign relations are the only matters which remain under Dutch control. In 2010, Sint Maarten became a country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, thus giving it the same status as Aruba, Curaçao, and the Netherlands itself.



Recommended Resources

Search for Saint Martin on Google or Bing