The History of St. Barthelemy

by Ray Roman | Last updated on January 15, 2024

St. Barthelemy, also known as St. Barts is a small island located in the Caribbean among the Leeward Islands. Its history is long and fascinating, dating back to the time of the Arawak Indians who were the original inhabitants of the island.

Today, St. Barthelemy is a popular tourist destination known for its stunning beaches, luxurious resorts, and high-end shopping.

History of St. Barthelemy
History of St. Barthelemy

Key Takeaways

  • St. Barthelemy was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493 and was successfully colonized by the French in 1660.
  • During the colonial era, St. Barthelemy became a hub for the slave trade and sugar production, leading to the island’s prosperity.
  • St. Barthelemy was sold to Sweden in 1784 and later sold back to France in 1878. It became an overseas collectivity of France in 2007.

Discovery and Early Settlement

St. Barthelemy was first discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493, who named the island after his brother Bartolomeo.

The French made initial attempts to settle the island, but it wasn’t until the arrival of determined Huguenots in 1660 that the island was successfully colonized. During this time, St. Barthelemy became a hub for the slave trade and sugar production, leading to the island’s prosperity.

Colonial Era

In 1784, the French sold St. Barthelemy to Sweden, which renamed the largest town Gustavia after the Swedish King Gustav III. The island prospered as a trade and supply center until 1878 when it was sold back to France. St. Barthelemy was then administered as part of Guadeloupe until 2007 when it became an overseas collectivity of France.

Discovery and Early Settlement

St. Barthelemy, also known as St. Barth, is a small island located in the eastern Caribbean Sea. The island was discovered by Christopher Columbus during his second voyage to the Americas in 1493. Columbus named the island after his brother, Bartolomeo.

Indigenous Peoples

Before Columbus arrived, St. Barth was inhabited by the Arawak Indians. They were later replaced by the Caribs, who greeted Columbus when he arrived. The Carib people were known for their fierce resistance to European colonialism.

European Arrival

The French made several unsuccessful attempts to settle St. Barth in the 17th century. However, in 1648, French colonists who were living on the nearby island of St. Kitts established a settlement on St. Barth. This early settlement did not prosper, and in 1651, the French abandoned the island.

In 1784, one of French king Louis XVI’s ministers ceded St. Barth to Sweden in exchange for trading rights in the Swedish port of Gothenburg. Swedish rule lasted until 1878 when the French repurchased the island.

During the early years of European settlement, St. Barth was used primarily as a trading post. The island’s location made it a convenient stopover for ships traveling between Europe and the Americas. The economy of the island was based on the export of cotton, sugar, and salt.

St. Barth’s early history was marked by conflict between indigenous peoples and European colonizers. The island’s strategic location made it an important trading post, and its economy was based on the export of agricultural products.

French Colonization

Under the French, St. Barthelemy was used as a trading post for goods such as sugar, rum, and cotton. The island was also used as a base for piracy.

The French introduced slavery to the island, and by the time of the Swedish takeover, the population was predominantly made up of enslaved Africans.

Swedish Influence

The Swedish influence on St. Barthelemy was significant. They abolished slavery in 1847, long before the French did so in their other colonies. The Swedes also introduced a number of reforms, including a new legal system and a new system of taxation.

The island became a center for trade, with ships from all over the world stopping there to take on supplies. The Swedes also introduced a number of new crops to the island, including coffee, tobacco, and cotton.

Despite the Swedish influence, St. Barthelemy remained a French colony until 2007. Today, the island is an overseas collectivity of France and is known for its beautiful beaches, luxury shopping, and high-end restaurants.

20th Century Developments

Tourism Boom

In the 1960s, St. Barthelemy began to develop its tourism industry, which became a major source of income for the island. The 1970s saw a significant increase in tourism, and by the 1980s, St. Barthelemy had become a popular destination for international travelers.

The island’s beautiful beaches, crystal-clear waters, and luxurious accommodations attracted many visitors each year.

Political Shifts

On March 19, 1946, the people of St. Barthelemy became French citizens with full rights. The island was formerly a commune and, together with Saint-Martin, an arrondissement of the French overseas département of Guadeloupe. In 2003, the island’s residents voted in favor of seceding from Guadeloupe and becoming an overseas collectivity of France.

This was achieved in 2007 when St. Barthelemy officially became a French overseas collectivity.

During the 20th century, St. Barthelemy underwent significant changes, both politically and economically. The island’s tourism industry boomed, attracting visitors from around the world, while its political status shifted from a commune to an overseas collectivity of France.

Today, St. Barthelemy remains a popular destination for travelers seeking a luxurious and relaxing vacation experience.

Modern St. Barthelemy

Economy and Society

St. Barthelemy is a prosperous island with a high standard of living. The economy is based on tourism, luxury goods, and services. The island is home to many high-end shops, restaurants, and hotels.

The tourism industry is the main source of income for the island. The island is known for its beautiful beaches, crystal-clear waters, and luxurious accommodations.

St. Barthelemy is also known for its high-end real estate market. Many wealthy individuals from around the world own properties on the island.

The real estate market is a significant contributor to the island’s economy.

Cultural Heritage

The island has a vibrant arts scene. Many artists call St. Barthelemy home. The island is home to several art galleries and museums. The island also hosts an annual music festival, which attracts musicians from around the world.

St. Barthelemy is also known for its cuisine. The island has a unique blend of French and Caribbean flavors. The island is home to many high-end restaurants, which serve up delicious cuisine.

In conclusion, St. Barthelemy is a prosperous island with a rich cultural heritage. The island’s economy is based on tourism, luxury goods, and services. The island is known for its beautiful beaches, crystal-clear waters, and luxurious accommodations.

The island’s unique blend of French and Swedish culture, vibrant arts scene, and delicious cuisine make it a must-visit destination.

Environmental Conservation

St. Barthelemy has made significant efforts in environmental conservation over the years. The government has set environmental regulations through their Environmental Code (Code de l’Environnement), adopted in 2009, and it is governed by a public body, the Territorial Environmental Agency (ATE).

The ATE’s main goal is to ensure that the environmental regulations are followed and to promote sustainable development.

Marine Protection

St. Barthelemy’s marine ecosystem is home to a diverse range of marine life, including coral reefs, sea turtles, and various fish species. To protect this ecosystem, the government has established several marine protected areas (MPAs).

These MPAs are designated areas where fishing and other activities are restricted to ensure the preservation of the marine environment. The MPAs also serve as a research site for scientists to study and monitor the marine ecosystem.

Sustainable Practices

St. Barthelemy has implemented several sustainable practices to reduce its impact on the environment. One of these practices is waste management. The government has implemented a waste management system that includes recycling, composting, and waste-to-energy initiatives.

This system has significantly reduced the amount of waste that goes to landfills and has helped to reduce the island’s carbon footprint.

Another sustainable practice is the promotion of renewable energy. St. Barthelemy has set a goal to become energy-independent by 2023. To achieve this goal, the government has implemented several policies to promote the use of renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power.

The island’s reliance on fossil fuels has decreased significantly in recent years, and the government continues to invest in renewable energy infrastructure.

Overall, St. Barthelemy’s efforts in environmental conservation have been commendable. The island’s commitment to protecting its natural resources and promoting sustainable development is an example for other nations to follow.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the significance of the Saint Barthélemy flag?

The Saint Barthélemy flag features a white cross on a blue field, with a sun and three stylized fleurs-de-lis in the canton.

The white cross represents the Christian faith, while the blue field symbolizes the island’s maritime heritage. The sun and fleurs-de-lis are references to the Swedish heritage of the island, as they appear on the Swedish coat of arms.

St. Barthelemy flag
St. Barthelemy flag

Can you explain the political status of Saint Barthélemy?

Saint Barthélemy is an overseas collectivity of France, which means it is an integral part of the French Republic, but it has a certain degree of autonomy.

The island has its own local government, with a president and a territorial council, and it is represented in the French National Assembly and Senate. The official language is French, but English is widely spoken, especially in the tourist industry.

What are the best ways to travel to St. Barthelemy?

The most common way to reach Saint Barthélemy is by air, as the island has a small airport with connections to other Caribbean islands and mainland France. The airport has a short runway, so only small planes can land there.

Another option is to take a ferry from the nearby island of St. Martin, which has a larger airport with more connections. Once you arrive on the island, you can get around by car, scooter, or bicycle.

What are the top attractions to visit in St. Barthelemy?

Saint Barthélemy is known for its beautiful beaches, clear waters, and luxurious resorts. Some of the top beaches include St. Jean, Saline, and Gouverneur, which offer opportunities for swimming, sunbathing, and water sports.

The island also has several hiking trails, such as the one to the top of Morne du Vitet, which offers panoramic views of the island. Other popular attractions include the Gustavia Harbor, the Wall House Museum, and the Lighthouse of Gustavia.