History St Barts

History of St Barts Island

In the past, many people fought for control over the island of Saint Barthelemy, or St. Barts. With its natural beauty and its distinction from all the other Caribbean islands, St. Barts was an island worth fighting for.

Arawak Indians gave the island its first name as”Ouanalao”, which may refer to the iguanas that resided on the island. When Christopher Columbus discovered the island in 1493, it was given the name of Saint Barthelemy, named after his younger brother Bartolomeo.

The first attempt to settle was made by the French, who came in 1648. The settlement was not a great success; however, the island ended up being sold to the Knights of Malta merely two years later. The Knights of Malta attempted to grow indigo and cotton, and developed salt farming, fishing, and breeding practices. This was their attempt towards colonization; however, the Carib Indians destroyed the settlements in 1656.

It was not until 1763 that French mariners from Normandy and Brittany reclaimed the island. French buccaneers enhanced the economy by providing plunder taken from Spanish galleons.

Tales of piracy arose, which later inspired the characters of Red Rackham and Captain Hook. There was also Monbars the Exterminator, a famous buccaneer who maintained his headquarters in St. Barts. It is believed that his hidden treasure rests somewhere on the island; either in the coves of Anse de Gouverneur or in the sands of Saline.

The French then found themselves continuously fighting for ownership of St. Barts. In 1744, the British took over the island, and it took 20 years for it to be returned to the French. But the French lost the island again when King Louis XVI sold it to Sweden as a trading possession in 1784.

As a tax-free port under Swedish rule, it provided a trade & supply center. The port was named Gustavia to honor King Gustave III. Vessels from all around the world would come to the port. Sea captains would sell their booty to St. Barts, as well as replenishing their cargos. Business thrived, until natural disasters struck and weakened the economy.

In 1878, France finally reclaimed St. Barts by repurchasing the island for a modest 320,000 francs.

Although still loosely governed by France today, fragments of St. Barthís fascinating Swedish history still remains on the island today, in the form of remaining castles, as well as the Swedish capital Gustavia.

St Barts Information Index