Netherlands Antilles


Christopher Columbus sighted Saba during his second voyage to the west on 13 November 1493. The island fell under Spanish rule for almost 150 years, although according to Spanish records, there is no indication that colonization was ever attempted. It is assumed that during the years of Spanish rule, ships passing Saba may have landed from time to time to explore the island. In 1632, a group of Englishmen who shipwrecked on Saba claimed that they found the island uninhabited. A Frenchman claimed the island for the King of France in 1635 and around the year 1640, Holland sent some Dutch from the neighbouring island of St. Eustatius to take up residence on Saba.

The island changed nationality several times until Holland finally took possession of Saba in 1816.

It is believed that many Sabans of European ancestry are descendants of Jamaican pirates, who had captured the island in 1665. During the Reformation, England underwent both religious and economic transformation and transported the unemployed and 'undesirables' to settle the colonies.

The West Indies was considered the most favourable depository for these outcasts, and most were deported to Jamaica. Later, African slaves proved to be more abundant and productive and gradually replaced the outcasts. Consequently, many European indentured servants turned to piracy for survival.

For many years, Saba served as a refuge for the spoils of the pirates driven there from other islands by the colonists. The legacy of the pirates served Sabans well in later years as they continued to make a living from the sea. They engaged in legitimate trade that put them in contact with other islands.

This resulted not only in trading relations, but also in marriages. Wives and husbands were constantly sought from overseas. As St. Eustatius grew into an important commercial centre, Saban men found employment as sailors and captains on both locally owned and foreign schooners. In the early 1900s, Saban men spent long periods at sea and the island became known as the 'Island of Women' during this period.

In the early days of navigation, boats were built on Saba at Tent Bay and Wells Bay. Saba also had a navigation school, founded by Capt. Frederick Simmons that started in 1909 and lasted until 1922. Schooners were later purchased in the United States and sailed back to Saba to pursue the Caribbean trade. Later, Saban vessels carried many Caribbean island workers to employment at the oil refineries in Curaçao and Aruba. This trade proved to be very profitable, and owners of these vessels became very wealthy.

Saba has seen many changes since it was first settled by the Europeans in the 17th Century. Saba remained quite isolated until the development of reasonable harbour facilities and 'The Road' was built. In recent years, it has developed very quickly both socially and economically. The completion of the island's 400 metre (437 yard)-landing strip in 1963 launched a regular air service to St. Maarten.

The establishment of the Saba National Marine Park in 1987 enhanced the island's diving business, which has become a major source of tourism income contributing to an improved island economy. Conservation efforts have successfully protected Saba's virtually unspoiled resources, resulting in a perfect destination for Caribbean travelers looking for unique land and sea adventures.

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St. Eustatius

Statia was discovered in 1493 by Christopher Columbus. Throughout a swaggering colonial era that followed, the island had changed hands at least 22 times.

In 1636, near the close of the 80 year war between Holland and Spain, the Dutch took possession. During the 17th and 18th century, Statia was a major trading center with some 20,000 inhabitants and thousands of ships calling at her shores.

This tiny island once had one of the busiest ports in the region.

During the latter part of the 18th century, St. Eustatius was the major supplier of arms and ammunition to the rebellious British Colonies in North America and the subject of conflict among the most powerful seafaring nations of the time.

For a while, Statia was the only link between Europe and fledgling American colonies. Even Benjamin Franklin had his mail routed through Statia to ensure its safe arrival. Statia remembered as the emporium of the Caribbean, was nicknamed "The Golden Rock", reflecting its former prosperous trading days and wealthy residents.

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St. Maarten/St. Martin

St. Martin the northern part of an island shared by two countries is French owned and is not a part of the Netherland Antilles.

St.Maarten/St.Martin is the smallest country in the world to be divided between two sovereign powers, the current boundary a result of numerous wars between the great European powers in the 17th century. Ownership of our island is split between the Dutch and French, yet no rift exists between the peoples of these two cultures. In fact, the island's inhabitants are quite proud of their nearly 350-year history of peacful co-existence.

According to legend, Christopher Columbus discovered the island in 1493 on the feast day of St.Martin of Tours. During the 140 years that followed, the Spanish, French and Dutch disputed possession, or at least the right to use the resources of St.Maarten/St.Martin. In the late 1620s, the Dutch first began to ply the island's ponds for salt, so important to the herring industry back home.

Despite the Dutch presence on the island, the Spaniards recaptured St.Maarten/St.Martin in 1633 and one year later built a fort at Point Blanche to assert their claim. Eleven years later, Peter Stuyvesant, director of the Dutch West India Company based on Curacao, led an attack on the Spanish position on St.Maarten/ St.Martin. (He lost a leg in the battle, earning the nick name Peg Leg, and later went on to become the Governor of the New Amsterdam, better known today as New York.) After a month of futile fighting, the Dutch retreated.

As a reward for successfully defending the island, the Spanish commander was granted his request that he and his men be allowed to leave. Legend has it that five French and five Dutch prisoners escaped and stayed behind. These Frenchmen and Dutchmen were the first of their respective countrymen to share the island. They contacted their home governments through settlements on St.Eustastius and St.Kitts, bringing contingents from both countries to St.Maarten/St.Martin. After a period of uneasiness with neither side really gaining the military advantage, a truce was enjoined.

On March 23, 1648, a treaty was concluded atop Mount Concordia delineating the boundaries of the island. The Dutch received 16 square miles and the French received 21 square miles, owing to the latter's naval presence in the region when the treaty was signed.

The French and Dutch were not always as neighborly as they are today-the territory underwent 16 changes of flags from 1648 to 1816, with France, Holland and even Britain claiming it at times. The establishment of sugarcane plantations during the late 1700s inevitably brought with it slavery. The exploitive colonial system remained intact and prospered so long as there were slaves; however, once slavery was abolished (in 1848 on the French side and in 1863 on the Dutch), St.Maarten/St.Martin's economy suffered greatly.

The island became mired in a depression that lasted until 1939, when all import and export taxes were rescinded and the island became a free port. Therafter, St.Maarten/St.Martin developed as a hub of trade in the Caribbean; the most dramatic advances came in the 1950s, made possible by the opening of the Princess Juliana Airport a decade earlier. The next few decades saw the developement of many large-scale properties and casinoes on the Dutch side of the island. The French side began to develop rapidly in the 1980s with the passage of a new tax law known as fiscalization. Naturally, more cruise ships began to visit and today, the island's appeal is stronger than ever.

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St. Barths

Saint-Barthélemy is a French island located in the Caribbean among the Leeward Islands and is approximately 150 miles east of Puerto Rico, it lies near the islands of Saint Martin, Saba, and Anguilla.

Discovered in 1493 by Christopher Columbus and named after his brother, Saint-Barthélemy was inhabited by the Carib cannibals.

Driven from the island of St. Christopher (St. Kitts) by the Spanish fleet, Mr. Esnambuc and four hundred of his soldiers went to St.Martin and left a handful of men in St. Barts. It is now 1629. The West Indian islands were coveted by English, the Dutch and the Spanish. The island became a strategic point on the chess board for the various European rivals.

Decimated by the ferocious Indians, tossed around by the Order of Malta and the West Indian Company, the tiny colony of Britons and Normans resisted hurricanes and droughts.

In 1784, Louis XVI negociated the exchange of the island with Sweden for a commercial base in Goteborg. The island is still free port, a decision which was made during the period of prosperity. As from 1813, the financial situation of the island declined. Due to the commercial competition from the surrounding islands and repeated climatic catastrophes, the king of Sweden Oscar III proposed giving St.Barts back to France. The treaty was signed on March 15, 1878. The French flag floated once again on the island of 9 square miles.

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Information provided courtesy of: Caribbean Association Midwest America