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Flag Of Saint Barthelemy

Pre-History Of St. Barth

St. Barthelemy was discovered in 1493 by the explorer Christopher Columbus. The island was first inhabited by the Ciboneys, then the Arawaks and later the Caribs. Columbus arrived on the island in 1493 and named it after his brother.

The pre-Columbian heritage of St Barths is somewhat lost in the cosmopolitan luxuries of this beautiful, once tranquil?now peaking island. Aside from historical records of the first settlers being forced off the island by Carib warriors and the few artifacts in the museum, there is little evidence of Carib culture, except, as we discovered, that the traditional fishing boats of St Barths, were once dugout sailing canoes.

The native Carib Indians ferociously resisted all attempts by the Europeans to settle on the island. In 1648, a failed colonization attempt was made by French settlers from St. Kitts. A few determined peasants from Brittany and Normandy survived the resistance and in 1660 a second attempt at settlement was successful.

In 1673 the island became a part of France and a part of the government of Guadeloupe. By 1687, St. Barth had a population of 500. In 1784 Sweden's King Gustav III was given the island by Louis XVI of France in exchange for a warehouse in Goteberg Harbor and in 1785 Gustav declared the island a free port. Swedish settlers arrived and the island prospered as commercial traffic transited through the newly named harbor of Gustavia.

The 19th century was not kind to St. Barth or St. Barts as it is also called. Numerous misfortunes including hurricanes, droughts, yellow fever epidemics, and a disastrous fire descended upon the island. As steam power replaced wind, ships were able to take more direct routes to and from American ports, bypassing St. Barth.

Ridding itself of an increasingly heavy economic burden, Sweden sold the island back to France in 1878 for 320,000 francs. Provisions of this agreement required the island remain duty free and that the population never pay taxes!

Many of the local inhabitants are descendants of the early settlers from Brittany and Normandy and their language still reflects traces of the Norman French. The Swedish influence remains to this day as does the distinction of being a duty free port.

With the landing of the first plane, a two seater flown by Remy De Haenan, tourism was able to develop. However, the airstrip, even today, is not large enough to handle jetliners bringing an onslaught of visitors.