||Navigator Christopher Columbus
was 41 years old when he set out on his first voyage to the new
world. For many years he had honed the art of navigation on European
seas, while at the same time learning the disciplines of geography
and cartography. For this explorer born in Genoa, Italy, one thing
was certain: the world was round. By setting sail on the ocean to
the west of Europe, and following the setting sun, he thought he
would eventually get to the East Indies. To make his voyage
possible, he needed patrons. His search took him to Spain where he
presented his project to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabelle. On
August 3, 1492, his three ships set sail… these European sovereigns
had given him the support he needed.
Navigating toward the unknown, in the midst of a
tempest at sea, he eventually discovered the Bahamas, Haiti, and Santo
Domingo before returning home to Europe. During his second voyage in
1493, he discovered the Lesser Antilles chain of islands, including
Ouanalao, a small, scrubby island frequented by the Carib Indians.
Christopher Columbus renamed this tiny island with the name of his
brother, Bartholoméo. The island proved of no interest to those early
colonists who were in search of new continents rich with gold and other
treasures, so Columbus left the island behind and went on to other
|Several different ethnic groups, the
Amerindians, Caribs, Arawaks, and Tanios, tried to defend their
small territories, but faced with the European colonists, the battle
could only be lost. Modern weapons of the period quickly crushed
their primitive war clubs and small hatchets made from conch shells.
It wasn’t until 1648 that Monsieur de Longvilliers de Poincy decided
to colonize the island of Saint Barthélemy. He sent Sir Jacques
Gente with 40 or 50 men to establish a settlement. This small colony
grew with the addition of some residents from Saint Kitts, most
notably a certain Lord Bonhomme.
Photo Copyright © Coblentz
But after the bloody massacre of these first European
inhabitants by the Carib Indians in 1656 (they frequently visited the
island), Saint Barthélemy was abandoned. Those who were able to escape
the terror of these attacks had no desire to return. In 1659, peace was
made, and Monsieur de Poincy once again sent a group of 30 men. By 1664,
the colony had grown to a population of 100.
Saint Barthélemy was made a possession of The Order
of Malta by the West Indies Company in 1665, but in 1666 all of the
inhabitants were sent to Saint Kitts against their wishes, as a new
Irish colony was established. This attempt was a failure as the
inhabitants of Saint Barth quickly returned to claim their lands.
Photo Copyright © Lagnese
||By 1674, the island was under the
rule of the French crown, and attached to the Colony of Guadeloupe.
Corsairs, thieves, and pirates made the island their refuge, and in
1744 a British invasion plundered the island.
residents fled to islands in the southern Caribbean, yet Saint
Barthélemy remained a French possession and settlers returned by
1764, at which time Descoudrelle was in command.
administration proved to be excellent and the population once again
displayed its legendary joie de vivre.
But history continued to take
its course, and in France a curious arrangement was taking place
between King Louis XVI and King Gustav III that would forever change
the destiny of this little island… France traded the island to Sweden
in exchange for a warehouse in Gothenburg.
In 1784 Saint Barthélemy became a Swedish
possession. At 11:00am on March 7, 1785, the island was official ceded
to Sweden. And thus an era of uncharted prosperity began. King Gustav
made intelligent economic decisions and Saint Barthélemy expanded
considerably. Around the small, sheltered port, the town of Gustavia
began to take shape, with its paved streets and three forts for
protection: Gustav, Karl, and Oscar, named after Swedish kings.
Buildings took on a harmonious blend of wood and stone such as can
still be seen today, from the former town hall, to the Swedish bell
tower, the Brigantine, the Sub-Prefecture, and the museum/library in
the former Wall House. The port was named Gustavia after the king and
developed as a duty-free port.
By 1800, the population had
grown to 6,000 people. Several years of war would perturb the island
as well as a series of natural catastrophes: repeated periods of
drought, hurricanes, torrential rains, and the terrible fire of 1852,
which destroyed the southern sector of Gustavia. King Oscar II, quite
embarrassed that this island didn’t produce much more than problems
that continually cost him dearly, finally decided to retrocede the
island to France.
Check out LIVE web cam from St. Barths. Click here.
|On March 16, 1878, after a popular
referendum, the nationality of the island was once again French.
Saint Barthélemy retreated into an era of sleepy calm. In fact, life
on the island continued in its own little way, difficult but
peaceful, with attention paid to virtue, family, and work.
Hurricanes, periods of drought, sickness, social problems, invasions
by the British flotilla, and slave revolts were part of the daily
regime, but the island never lost its will to survive: - Harvesting
salt - Family agriculture - Fishing, sailing - Weaving of straw -
Itinerant commerce - Raising and breeding of animals In spite of all
these efforts, the local economy was unable to provide a decent
quality of life for the population. The men left to look for work on
neighboring island. Whole families immigrated to the American Virgin
Islands, in particular Saint Thomas. Yet progress began to creep
onto the island, and in spite of the misery created by the effects
of the Second World War and the lack of water, life began to
improve. Communal cisterns were built in each neighborhood, the
first schools opened their doors, and the first roads were traced
through the mountains and into the countryside.
In 1945, Remy de Haënen opened Saint Barth to the
rest of the world by landing the first airplane on the savanna in Saint
Jean. At the same time, the Port of Gustavia saw more and more activity.
By 1960, school children no longer
had to leave the island to go to school elsewhere at the age of 11 on
schooners, as a junior high had just opened in Gustavia, and they could
remain with their families another four or five years. And slowly but
surely, creature comforts also began to appear.
By the time the 1980s rolled
around, life on the island had evolved in almost every way. Tourism had
become the motor driving the economy. The conditions in the schools were
much improved. Sports became quite popular and changed the habits of the
population. An electric plant was built to produce electricity and wires
carried the power to all corners of the island. The airport expanded and
continued to expand through its most recent renovation. Other important
projects would modernize the island as well.
The island has continued to evolve
and new projects are on the table. Environmental protection has become a
hot topic of conversation and an important issue as the population
continues to grow: from 2,491 residents in 1974, there are close to 9,000
The yacht Princess, her white hull flashing in the
Caribbean sun, slips past an offshore rock and enters a secluded blue bay on St.
Barthelemy's northwest coast. Anse de Colombier has an exquisite beach, which is
accessible by land only to anyone willing to descend the island's rough flanks through
thickets of thorny cactus and clattering yucca spears.
Gustavia Harbour, Gustavia, Saint
Barthelemy, French West Indies
Image Copyright © LukeTravels.com
+ Luke Handzlik
But we have arrived luxuriously by sea from the city
of Marigot in the French side of St.
Martin into Gustavia, capital of this small island, one of a handful
of French dependencies in the Antilles. Our sarongwrapped steward, Caroline, has
deployed salads, sandwiches, fruit, and cheese for lunch and poured a more-than-decent
white Bordeaux. We feel, for a few minutes at least, the peers of the Rothschilds
and Rockerfellers who retreated to this island in decades past and of the film and TV
stars who have claimed it in the nineties.
Anse de L'orient, Saint Barthelemy,
French West Indies
Image Copyright © LukeTravels.com + Luke Handzlik
|Another yacht, the 42-foot catamaran Ne me quitte
pas, has arrived before us with its own set of languid sunbathers aboard. One of my
shipmates recognizes a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He leans across the sailboat's
transom and calls out in a magisterial voice familiar from a thousand TV
"Pardon me," he says. "Do you have any Grey Poupon?" Of course, we are not Rothschilds or Rockefellers, not even friends of
friends of theirs. Furthermore, I had not met my companions before we came aboard this
yacht in St. Martin.