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History of Martinique

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There have been people living in Martinique, a small island in the Caribbean since 3000 BC, but the earliest record is of the Arawak peoples, who populated it around 100 BC. They named their island Madinina, meaning island of flowers. These peaceful inhabitants were killed by the Carib Indians in the 7th century AD, who occupied the island until the arrival of the Europeans.

Christopher Columbus was the first European to discover Martinique in 1502, on his fourth and last New World voyage. The island was not actually colonised by Europeans until 1635, when Pierre Belain d'Esnambuc landed with a hundred French settlers. They cleared forests to grow sugar cane, thus increasing tensions with the native Caribs, and in 1660 those Caribs who had survived the fighting were forcibly removed from the island. Black slaves were brought from Africa to work in the sugar plantations, as authorised by King Louis XIII in 1642, an action referred to as "La Traite des Noirs".

Between 1794 and 1815, there was a strong British interest in Martinique, with control of the island changing several times within that period. Slavery was abolished under British rule, but reinstated after 1802, when the Treaty of Amiens gave Martinique back to France, and Napoléon Bonaparte allowed slavery again. Slavery was not officially abolished until 1848, with Victor Schoelcher’s law. All slaves became French citizens.

Martinique’s then capital, Saint-Pierre, which was widely considered to be the most cultured town in the West Indies, was destroyed in 1902, by a blast from the volcano Mont Pelée. All 30000 inhabitants of were killed, and the town had to be completely rebuilt, although it lost both the status of capital, that title now belonging to Fort-de-France, and its cultural reputation.

In 1946, Martinique obtained the position of a French department, due mainly to Aimé Césaire's campaign as mayor, and in 1974 it gained more autonomy with the regional status the island was able to enjoy.


The following text was moved from the Martinique article and should be merged with the above

In 1635 a small contingency of French colonizers arrived on the island. They settled on the northwestern portion of the island, later to become known as St. Pierre. As their numbers grew, the French made their way across the island defeating the very aggressive Caribs. About eight years after settling the island the last of the Caribs were massacred in the area now known as Fort-de-France. Fort-de-France would soon become a major port as Martinique was the first stop for ships following the trade winds from Europe.

After their takeover of the island, the French began importing slaves and sugarcane. They had also taken their hand to tobacco, but tobacco being a weed it would grow anywhere and soon Virginia took over the tobacco industry. With all the productivity on the island, the French soon caught the eye of the British near the end of the 1700s. As a result of this interest a power struggle began for the island between the British and French that would last almost two centuries. Martinique changed hands between the two powerhouses several times, including one incident during the French Revolution. The white planters on the island frightened by both the Jacobin reign of terror and a massacre on Saint Dominique representatives willfully placed the island under British rule. The tug of war finally ended in 1815, when the island was returned to France by England on orders from the Vienna Treaty.

The return of Martinique to France was bittersweet, as the endorsement of slavery continued well after the practice ended on neighboring islands around 1833. Another delay in the end of slavery on the island came when Emperor Napoleon married the daughter of a local plantation owner, Josephine Beauharnais – it was rumored slavery remained the mainstay of plantation owners as a favor to his in laws. Revolution by French abolitionists in 1848 finally brought slavery to an end. Victor Schoelcher was appointed to head the committee on emancipation.

Mount Pelee started the twentieth century with a bang. On May 8, 1902, the volcano on the northern portion of the island erupted, destroying the town of St. Pierre and killing almost all the inhabitants. Although not widely known, there was one survivor, a prisoner who was locked in the jail dungeon. The remainder of the century was marked by social unrest by factions trying to gain independence from France. Several of these occasions turned violent. As a result Martinique, received greater overseas department status and powers in 1982-1983. By taking the power and distributing it more equally between local councils and leaders rather than all power lying with the prefects. Things have settled down quite a bit in the country now. Although some sugarcane is still produced the majority of the economy is based on tourism, with many French citizens coming for holiday and cruise ships docking on almost a daily basis, the island has flourished.

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