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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Saint Martin

Posted to Maritime Musings (by on March 4, 2014

“The Friendly Island” shared by France and the Netherlands

The small (34 square miles) island in the northeastern Caribbean was “discovered” by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage on 11 November 1493 and named for Saint Martin of Tours, whose feast day it was.  The Spanish, though, were more interested in the larger islands, such as Hispaniola and Cuba, not bothering to settle the smaller Saint Martin.  The Dutch worked the islands ponds for salt as early as 1620.  It also served as a convenient stopover on voyages between the Dutch colonies at New Amsterdam and Brazil.  The Spanish disapproved of the Dutch incursion into their colonial backyard and pushed the Dutch out for several years.  The Dutch along with the French, returned in 1648, but thirty years later, the French ejected the Dutch, but only for ten years.  In 1690, it was the English turn at ruling the island.  This was followed in 1699 by French rule and in 1703 by Dutch rule.  The French returned in 1779 and they were replaced by the British in 1781, the Dutch in 1793, the French in 1795, the British in 1801, the Dutch in 1802, and the British in 1810.  Finally in 1816, the Dutch and the French divided the island between them, largely along the lines in effect today.  All this jostling between European powers was not because Saint Martin was economically or militarily significant, because it surely is not.  It was more a case of wanting it because your rival wants it.  Some of that same posturing can be seen today regarding certain small islands in the western Pacific.  In the case of Saint Martin, there were no major battles or invasion forces.  The occupying power generally departed quietly as the next flotilla arrived.  Now, the major competition between the Dutch and French sides of the island is over tourists.  In this important rivalry, the Dutch are leading.  Cruise ships dock in Phillipsburg, Sint Maarten, and the island’s major airport, as well as its largest hotels, is on the Dutch side of the island.  Saint-Martin (the French side) has its attractions, including a quieter life-style.  The Dutch and French governments negotiated a formal treaty on border crossings between the two sides of the island, but the locals have never bothered to bring it into effect.  They are too busy enjoying themselves and catering to tourists.  

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