History of Martinique

History of Martinique

=Invasion and development=

Martinique was originally inhabited by Arawak and Carib peoples.

Christopher Columbus sighted the island in 1493, making the region known to European interests, but it was not until 1502 , on Columbus' fourth voyage, that he actually landed, leaving several pigs and goats on the island. However, the Spaniards were not interested in the island as they did not deem its resources rich enough to justify an invasion, so in 1635, Pierre Bélain d'Esnambuc landed with eighty French settlers from Saint Kitts, meeting some resistance which was quickly dispatched with far superior weaponry and armour. They settled in the northwestern region that later became known as St. Pierre at the mouth of the Roxelane River, where they built Fort-Saint-Pierre.

The following year, d'Esnambuc fell ill and passed Martinique into the authority of his nephew, Jacques-Dyel du Parquet. Over the next 25 years, the French established full control of the island, systematically killing the fiercely resisting Caribs as they expanded. The remaining Caribs were forced back to the Cabesterre peninsula and exterminated, the last combatants committing suicide in 1660, by throwing themselves off a headland.

After 1635 the land around St. Pierre was immediately cleared to grow crops. Manioc and potatoes were grown to live on and rocou, indigo, tobacco, and later cacao and cotton, to export. French and foreign merchants frequently came to the island to buy these exotic products, transforming Martinique into a modestly prosperous colony.

Attracted by propaganda promising fortune and a life under the sun, a huge influx of French peasants came to the island. Each "volunteer" had to work for their master for three years after which they were promised their own land. However, the tiring work and hot climate decimated huge swathes of workers, meaning few survived those three years, and requiring constant immigration to keep up the workforce. However, under the directorship of du Parquet, Martinique's economy developed, exporting products to France and the neighbouring British and Dutch colonies. In 1645, the Sovereign council was established and given various authorities including theIn 1648, the French company that owned Martinique, Compagnie des Îles d’Amérique, fell bankrupt and du Parquet bought the island.

In 1654, du Parquet allowed 250 Dutch Jews, who were fleeing out of Brazil because of the Portuguese conquest, to settle Martinique and they introduced sugarcane. This was by far the most sought after product in Europe and the crop soon became Martinique's biggest export.

ugar and Slavery

Although labour-intensive, sugar was a lucrative product to trade, and cultivation on Martinique soon focused only on growing and trading sugar. In 1636, King Louis XIII had authorised an action referred to as "La Traite des Noirs" that allowed for Africans to be forcibly removed from their homeland and brought to work as slaves on the French sugar plantations. Ensuing Martinican culture has in many ways been the result of creolization between the French colonial settlers, known locally as békés, and enslaved Africans.

After the death of du Parquet, his widow ruled on behalf of his children until 1658, when Louis XIV resumed sovereignty over the island, paying an indemnity to the du Parquet children. In 1664, the island was again bought, this time by the Compagnie des Indes Occidentales.

Britain captured the island during the Seven Years' War, holding it from 1762 to 1763. However, the sugar trade made the island so valuable to the royal French government, that at the Treaty of Paris which ended the Seven Years War they exchanged the entirety of Canada in order to regain Martinique as well as the neighboring island of Guadeloupe. Between 1794 and 1815, there was a strong British interest in Martinique, with Britain controlling the island during the French Revolutionary Wars from 1794 to 1802, after which the British returned the island to the French with the Treaty of Amiens and Napoléon Bonaparte reinstated slavery. Led by Victor Schoelcher, the French officially abolished slavery in 1848.

Mount Pelée Eruption

On May 8, 1902, a blast from the volcano Mont Pelée destroyed the town of St. Pierre, killing almost all of its 29,000 inhabitants. The only survivor was a prisoner saved by his position in a jail dungeon with only single window. The town had to be completely rebuilt and lost its status as capital, a title which shifted to Fort-de-France.

Departmental Era

In 1946, the French National Assembly voted unanimously to transform Martinique from a colony of France into a department, known in French as a Département d'Outre-Mer or DOM. Along with its fellow DOMs of Guadeloupe, Réunion, and French Guiana, Martinique was intended to be legally identical to any department in the metropole. However, in reality, several key differences remained, particularly within social security payments and unemployment benefits.

French funding to the DOM has somewhat made up for the social and economic devastation of the slave trade and sugar crop monoculture. With French funding to Martinique, the island had one of the highest standards of living in the Caribbean. However, it remained dependent upon French aid, as when measured by what Martinique actually produced, it was one of the poorer islands in the region.

ources and references

* cite book
last = Burton
first = Richard D.E.
title = Assimilation or Independence? Prospects for Martinique
publisher = McGill University
series = Centre for Developing-Area Studies
year = 1978
isbn = 0888190395

* cite book
last = Burton
first = Richard D.E. and Fred Reno
title = French and West Indian: Martinique, Guadeloupe, and French Guiana Today
publisher = University Press of Virginia
series = New World Studies
year = 1995
isbn = 0813915651

* cite book
last = Wilgus
first = A. Curtis
title = The Caribbean: British, Dutch, French, United States
publisher = University of Florida Press
year = 1958
isbn = 0813915651

External links

* [http://www.martinique.pref.gouv.fr/pages/histoireinstitang.html Institutional History of Martinique] - Official site of the French Government (translation by Maryanne Dassonville)

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