Saint Barthélemy

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Saint Barthélemy

Saint Barthélemy (also Saint Barts). In 1493 Christopher Columbus named the island after his brother Bartolomeo. Now part of the French department of Guadeloupe, French West Indies, it encompasses 8.3 square miles and has 3,500 inhabitants, almost all white, the descendants of fishermen from Brittany, Normandy, and Poitou. Strategically located between the Dutch and English Leeward Islands, the daily language is English. It was held by Sweden from 1784 to 1877, then was bought back by France.

French from Saint Kitts (Leeward Islands) settled before 1648, and the Knights of Malta assumed ownership in 1656. The Caribs forced them to leave, only to have the French reoccupy Saint Barts in 1674 and establish a fishing economy. The knights were evacuated to reinforce the French at Saint Kitts in 1689, but a remnant returned to their devastated island after the Treaty of Ryswick (1697).

Saint Barts was briefly occupied by Great Britain during the Seven Years' War (1756–1763). The French traded the island to the Swedes in return for concessions on the Baltic island of Gotland. The Swedish renamed the port of Saint Barts Gustavia, and its free trade status rivaled that of nearby Danish Saint Thomas during the remaining Caribbean wars.

After 1877, the French maintained Gustavia's free port status. Swedish/French architecture and Swedish/French road signs attest to the island's mixed heritage. Manioc, cotton, pineapple, and cattle and goat herding complement fishing. A controlled and exclusive tourism is based on its isolated beaches, French cuisine, and "unspoiled" rustic atmosphere.

See alsoFrench-Latin American Relations .


Sir Alan Burns, History of the British West Indies (1965).

Robert L. Breedan, ed., Isles of the Caribbean (1980).

Franklin W. Knight, The Caribbean (1990).

Additional Bibliography

Aub-Buscher, Gertrud, and Beverley Ormerod Noakes. The Francophone Caribbean Today: Literature, Language, Culture. Barbados: University of the West Indies Press, 2003.

Didcott, Charles, and Christine Didcott. St. Barth, French West Indies. Waitsfield, VT: Concepts Publishers, 1997.

O'Shaughnessy, Andrew Jackson. An Empire Divided: The American Revolution and the British Caribbean. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000.

                                         Pat Konrad

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Saint Barthélemy

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Saint Barthélemy