Martinique is one of the French Overseas Departments, known as a DOM – Département d'outre Mer. It lies with St. Martin and Dominica which are also French territories. It is part of the French Republic and is therefore a member of the European union. So what is this island all about and what could we learn if we have a dig into Martinique history?
Martinique Early Inhabitants
The island was originally inhabited by the Arawaks and then the Caribs when they invaded later on. This takes us right up to 1493, the year during which the islands were first discovered by a European explorer. Sir Christopher Columbus was the first European to discover Martinique yet he only actually landed on it in 1502, during his fourth trip to the region. Columbus left some pigs and goats on the island yet he had relatively little interest in it. The Spanish were pursuing more profitable islands at the time.
In 1635, the French moved in and cleared the island in order to grow crops; they were not met with much resistance since their army was far more sophisticated. They grew cocoa and cotton on the island and they soon turned it into quite a profitable colony. They were so pleased that they built the Fort Saint Louis which turned out to be a significant structure. Martinique history seemed to have got off to a good start.
They French systematically wiped across the island and killed all of the remaining Caribs. They then began importing slaves in 1636 in order to work on their sugar plantations. Some Europeans were promised land on the island in return for three years’ work on the sugar plantations. They were to be disappointed as the grueling work resulted in most of them dying before their three years were up.
The Portuguese were also interested and briefly took control of the island. This was short lived as the important Louis XIV decided he would much rather have the island for himself. The last remaining Caribs were killed or fled in 1660. 1666 saw, as well as the fire of London, a hurricane devastate the island and kill over 2,000 people. For an island with a small population at the time, this was a very significant event indeed, although Martinique history was to be well punctuated by natural disasters on a regular basis.
By 1736, there were an incredible 60,000 slaves on the island and the profits were not to be laughed at. The British took over this island during the seven years war yet the French were desperate to regain it. They were so desperate in fact that they gave up all of Canada as part of the Treaty of Paris in order to get their island back. The Napoleonic wars saw the British take control of the island until the French were able to find a monarch. The British returned to the island in 1802 with the Treaty of Amiens.
The slaves on the island were making more and more attempts at rebellion yet they were all resulting in the loss of slave lives. This was quite mild compared to the huge loss of life when Mount Pelée erupted, killing 29,000 people. There was a hurricane in 1903 to add to this and the Island then played a good part in the War efforts.
The island of Martinique has been devastated by invasion and natural disasters. Very few days have seen the death of 29,000 people on one island and Martinique history would seem to have been a little on the unfortunate side.