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History of St Barts

Overseas collectivity

The history of St Barts is complex. The Saint Barthelemy island was a commune in Guadeloupe. It became an Overseas Collectivity on July 15, 2007, following the promulgation of organic law 2007-223 from January 21, 2007 to the OJ of January 22. Administered by a Territorial Council of 19 members and an Executive Council of 7 members, the Collectivity is headed by the President of the Territorial Council, Mr. Xavier LÉDÉE. It is represented in the Senate by a Senator, Ms. Micheline JACQUES. Here is the official website of the Collectivity:


History of St Barts : From Columbus to the present day

During his second trip in 1493, Christopher Columbus discovered the Lesser Antilles. It includes Ouanalao, a small wild island frequented by the Caribbean Indians. He renamed after his brother Bartholoméo, before abandoning him. The various groups, Amerindians, Caribbean, Arawacks or Tainos, defend their territory. But the modern weapons of the European colonists quickly prevail on the buttons and the small axes in conch shell. In 1648 Monsieur de Longvilliers de Poincy, French colonial administrator, entrusted Jacques Gente with the task of establishing himself on the island with around fifty men, whom the Caribbean Indians massacred in 1656. The island remained unoccupied until the peace of 1659. But also the arrival of around thirty men and women, mostly from Brittany and Normandy. In 1664, there were up to a hundred, thanks to the care of a few residents of Saint-Christophe and particularly Sieur Bonhomme.

Saint Barthelemy was bought from the Order of Malta by the West India Company in 1665. And a year later, the inhabitants, unwittingly displaced to St-Christophe, resisted and returned to their island. In 1674, Saint-Barthelemy was attached to the royal domain and to the colony of Guadeloupe. Privateers, buccaneers and pirates made it their hideout. The English plundered it in 1744, which encouraged certain inhabitants to leave.

History of St Barts : Gustavia

They returned in 1763, when Descoudrelle took command of the island, giving them hope and joie de vivre. But in 1784, Louis XVI exchanged Saint-Barthelemy for warehouses in Gothenburg in Sweden. The island became Swedish possession on March 7, 1785. An era of prosperity and considerable expansion began. On the site of the old fairing, King Gustaf established the city of Gustavia. He erected the forts Gustaf, Karl and Oscar, named after the kings of Sweden. Magnificent buildings of stone and wood that can still be seen today, are erected. Old town hall, Swedish bell tower, brigantine, sub-prefecture, museum-library (former Wall House).

The port is named Gustavia in honor of the king and becomes Port Franc. In 1815, the population reached 5,763 inhabitants. But following wars, natural disasters and the terrible fire of 1852 which ravaged the southern part of Gustavia, King Oscar II returned the island to France. On March 16, 1878, Saint-Barthelemy regained his French nationality after a popular referendum. The inhabitants continue their exhausting but calm and peaceful life, between honor, work and family. Cyclones, periods of drought, diseases, social unrest, English intrusions, revolt of the slaves, spread out the daily life, without destroying the will to survive.

But the local economy of harvesting salt, small-scale family farming, the sea, fishing, weaving straw, hawking and ranching, is unable to provide a decent standard of living for the people. Men leave to work in the surrounding islands and families move to the Virgin Islands, especially Saint-Thomas. Despite the misery caused by the great war and the lack of water, life is getting organized and progress is under way. Communal cisterns are built in the districts. Schools open in the countryside. Sections of road begin to take shape through bleak and countryside.

History of St Barts : opening to the world

In 1946, Monsieur de Haënen opened Saint-Barth to the world by landing by plane for the first time in the plain of Saint Jean. At the same time, we are starting to develop the port of Gustavia. From 1960, a college opened its doors in Gustavia. I prevented students from leaving on schooners from the age of eleven to continue their studies. As a result, a little more comfort timidly appears.

In the 1980s, the island experienced a greater boom. Tourism is slowly becoming the engine of the economy and school conditions are improving. Sport makes a dramatic entrance, upsetting habits. A power plant supplies a network which is starting to impose itself in the countryside. The airport is taking shape and continues to develop until today. Other important achievements are emerging. We are starting to talk about protecting the environment, which is inevitably upset by a population that continues to grow, reaching 9,793 inhabitants in 2016.  

The coat of arms of the island

In 1977, at the request of the French archives directorate, each commune and department had to acquire a “symbolic urban mark”. We find on the coat of arms of Saint-Barthélemy several strong symbols of its eventful history: The 3 fleur-de-lis of the Kings of France remind us that the island was French from 1648 to 1785. Since 1878, it has been part of the territory of France:

  • The Maltese cross evokes its possession by the Order of Malta from 1651 to 1665.
  • The three crowns of the Kings of Sweden show his belonging to Sweden from 1785 to 1878

Exterior ornaments:

  • A wall crown is the symbol worn by the Greek goddesses protectors of cities and that cities have taken over since the empire.
  • The two pelicans recall the frequentation of the island by these birds including they have become one of the emblems.

The motto “OUANALAO” is the Caribbean name for the island of Saint Barthélemy.