St. Maarten History

From struggles of power, this dual-power island is a melting pot of rich heritage. As far back as 4000 BC, remains of ancient civilization have been found.

The Arawak Indians settled on the island around 800 AD. This tribe arrived from the Orinoco river basin of South America and migrated up the chain of Caribbean islands. They named the island “Sualouiga” or “ Land of Salt ” for the abundant salt-pans and salty water that were found in abundance. The freshwater springs were most of the Arawaks settled ( Paradise Peak , Mount William , Billy Folly and the Lowlands ), yet with such limited resources, these springs were only able to support a minute number of people. Artifacts from the Arawak civilization can be viewed at the St. Martin Museum .

Centuries following, the aggressive, cannibal, Amazonian Carib Indians settled on the island and named the island “Soualiga” or “Salt Island” after the island's most prevalent mineral resource. This tribe migrated from North America and is what the entire Caribbean is so named after.

According to island legend, on November 11, 1493, Christopher Columbus claimed the island (but did not set foot) for Spain on his second voyage, then proclaiming it St. Maarten from the religious day of St. Martin of Tours. To this day, St. Maarten celebrates this day as St. Martin/St. Maarten's Day.

The Dutch settled on the island in 1631 to set a post between their other two territories in Brazil and Nieue Amsterdam ( New York ). As its first governor, Jan Claeszen van Campen was initiated the formation of the island's first fort, Fort Amsterdam and began mining for salt. The Spanish, who were infamous for their state on the salt mines, overthrew the Dutch government, leaving the Dutch to then conquer Curacao . However, the Dutch did not heed in the reacquisition of this island and unsuccessfully raided the island for the next 15 years. After a notably hard-hitting victory to remain on the island, the Spanish Commander, asked permission to abandon the island and in 1647, the King of Spain granted him permission.

According to legend, some Dutch and French were left behind by the Spanish and established small villages throughout the island. The Dutch and French joined forces to keep the Spanish from settling on the island. This was finally achieved in 1644 when the Spanish abandoned their claims to the Eastern Caribbean .

Sharing power of such an unrestrained piece of land would pose to be more of a battle than originally thought. With a strong naval fleet off the coast, The French and were able to sway a compromise while a treaty was being negotiated between the Dutch and French. Soon after, in 1648, the Dutch and French signed an accord and agreed to divide the island on top of Mount Concordia . Yet no set visible lines or boundaries could be drawn and disagreements arose between the two powers. No agreement on boundaries could be made until 1815 when the Treaty of Paris was permanently enacted. Prior to that date, the alterations of power and boundaries altered 16 times.

The rapid growth of the island's agriculture and production of sugar resulted in the importation of African slaves. The French were the first to abolish this practice on July 12, 1848 (six years after Abraham Lincoln signed an act, abolishing slavery in the United States , April 16, 1862 ). That date in 1848 is now celebrated on the island as Schoelcher Day. The Dutch slaves followed 15 years after the French. With the abolishment of slavery, the island endured a length depression. This was resolved when the island declared its ports “duty-free” in 1939.

Today, tourism is the island's primary source of income. Princess Juliana Airport was established in 1943. The first hotel opened on the island in 1947, the Sea View. The Dutch started promoting tourism in the 1950s while the French didn't publicize until the 1970s.

 

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