History of Guadeloupe

Main article: Guadeloupe

Pre-Columbian and Colonial Settlement

The earliest settlers on Guadeloupe arrived around 300 AD and developed agriculture on the island. They were removed by the more warlike Caribs. It was the Caribs who called the island "Karukera," which is roughly translated as "island with beautiful waters." They were also the tribe to meet all of the later settlers to the island. Archaeologists suggest that between 800 and 1000 AD drought, desertification and expansion of sand dunes on Guadeloupe led to a period with no active habitation based on the scarcity of remains from the period; this period coincides historically with the droughts and subsequent collapse of the Mayan civilizations in Mesoamerica.[1] Gradual resettlement and recultivation of the land on Guadeloupe occurred between 1000 AD and the arrival of Columbus.[1]

Columbus' second journey brought him to this island on November 14, 1493. He named it for an image in a Spanish monastery he had visited: Santa María de Guadalupe de Extremadura, an image of the Virgin Mary venerated at Villuercas, in Guadalupe, Extremadura.

No settlements were established on the island for many years but it was used as a trading post until 1635 after Captain Pierre Belain d’Ensambuc had sent explorers to Guadeloupe and decided it would be lucrative to settle and cultivate tobacco on the island; thus his corporation, the French Compagnie des Îles de l'Amérique sent 550 men under the leadership of Charles Liénard de l’Olive to Guadeloupe on June 27, 1635.[2] De L’Olive waged brutal war against the Caribs in Guadeloupe from 1636 to 1639, throughout which only 30 to 40 French died. Then in 1640, reinforcements from St. Christophe of Frenchmen allowed for the colonists to completely crush Carib resistance except for some few who fled to Basse-Terre and would sign a peace treaty with the French colonists in 1641.[3]

Early tobacco cultivation in Guadeloupe through the first half of the 17th century was sustained by relatively small numbers of indentured servants and European laborers under small scale proprietors, and in 1654 80% of the population of Guadeloupe was of European origin, with two-thirds being indentured servants.[4] Both the numbers of Europeans and the proportion of indentured labor would drop dramatically over the second half of the 17th century with the importation of African slaves: in 1654 67% of the population was of European origin, by 1671 that number dropped to 13%.[4]

From 1672 until 1678–allied with Britain until 1674–France was at war with the Dutch and faced enormous difficulty defending its colonies in the Caribbean; it was in this context of defense that Guadeloupe was royally annexed into the Kingdom of France in 1674.[5] In 1714, the French general government of the American islands divided in two, and Guadeloupe was placed under the control of the governor on Martinique.[6]

Changes in Europe

The British flag floats on Fort Royal (Vieux-Fort) during Seven Years' War. Picture drawn on the spot by Archibald Campbell, engraved by Peter Mazell, printed in London in 1768.
Guadeloupe in 1865

From 1759 through 1763, during the Seven Years' War, the Britain took control of the island, and the main city Pointe-à-Pitre was established during these years.

The sugar industry on the island was highly profitable and worth £6 million a year. Britain had also seized Canada in the war, and considerable debate took place in both Britain and France as to which was more valuable, Canada or Guadeloupe.[7] Britain decided Canada, although expensive to maintain, was of greater strategic value and returned Guadeloupe to France in the Treaty of Paris.[8]

The French Revolution unleashed decades of political turmoil, and control of Guadeloupe changed hands a couple of times including 1789 and 1792. Slavery was abolished by the governor Victor Hugues during this tumultuous time. Guadeloupe experienced the effects of the Reign of Terror from 1794 to 1798.

Louis Delgrès, a mulatto officer, led an uprising in 1802. He and 800 rebels chose to die rather than submit to the French army, which retook the island. Napoleon then reinstated slavery.

During the Napoleonic Wars, Britain again held the island from 1810 to 1813. It was then ceded to Sweden. However, the Treaty of Paris in 1814 left the island to France again, though Britain and Sweden did not fully acknowledge the transfer. French control of the island was recognized in the Treaty of Vienna in 1815.

Ending slavery

Like many Caribbean islands, Guadeloupe struggled with the end of slavery. In 1848, slavery was abolished completely. In place of the slaves, indentured servants were imported from India to work in the sugar cane fields. The first indentured servants arrived on 24 December, aboard the Aurelie. They came from the Coromandel Coast, Puducherry, Madras, Calcutta, and Malabar.[9]

A worldwide sugar slump began in 1870, hurting Guadeloupe's economy. Sugar was bolstered during World War I. Guadeloupe was of little international concern between this time. Just after the war, in 1923, it exported its first bananas.

The trial of Henry Sidambarom, Justice of the Peace and defender of the cause of Indian workers, began on 23 February 1904 and ended in April 1923.[10] Following this trial, in 1925, Raymond Poincaré decided to grant French nationality as well as the right to vote to Indian citizens.[11]

The colonial history of Guadeloupe has inspired a growing number of research publications.[12]

Modern times

Though Guadeloupe has been relatively peaceful, political changes have not always been easy. A compulsory work program was instituted by the Vichy government under Governor Sorin between 1940 and 1943.

In 1946, after another change of political power, Guadeloupe became an overseas Department of France. Other French Caribbean islands were added to this Department and in 1995 Guadeloupe became an observer in the Association of Caribbean States.

In early 2009, Guadeloupe experienced widespread public unrest as part of the 2009 French Caribbean general strikes, with protests focusing on low wages, high costs of living and social inequality.

See also


  1. 1 2 Beets, C.J; et al. (2006). "Climate and Pre-Columbian Settlement at Anse à la Gourde, Guadeloupe, Northeastern Caribbean". Geoarchaeology. 21 (3): 271–280. doi:10.1002/gea.20096.
  2. Régent, Frédéric (2007). La France et ses esclaves: De la colonisation aux abolitions (1620-1848). Paris: Bernard Grasset. pp. 17–18. ISBN 978-2-246-70211-5.
  3. Régent, Frédéric (2007). La France et ses esclaves. Paris: Bernard Grasset. p. 19.
  4. 1 2 Régent, Frédéric (2007). La France et ses esclaves: De la colonisation aux abolitions (1620-1848). Paris: Bernard Grasset. p. 25.
  5. Régent, Frédéric (2007). La France et ses esclaves: De la colonisation aux abolitions (1620-1848). Paris: Bernard Grasset. p. 29.
  6. Régent, Frédéric (2007). La France et ses esclaves: De la colonisation aux abolitions (1620-1848). Paris: Bernard Grasset. p. 30.
  7. Helen Dewar, "Canada or Guadeloupe?: French and British Perceptions of Empire, 1760–1763," Canadian Historical Review (2010) 91#4 pp. 637-660 | 10.1353/can.2010.0046
  8. Colin G. Calloway (2006). The Scratch of a Pen: 1763 and the Transformation of North America. Oxford U.P. p. 8.
  9. The first Indians in Guadeloupe - 1854
  10. A remote French Island reconnects with India - Top News Law
  11. E.g. Faloppe, Josette. Esclaves et Citoyens. Les Noirs à la Guadeloupe dans les processus de résistance et d’intégration, 1802-1910 ». Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe, Société d’Histoire de la Guadeloupe (S.H.G.), 1992.
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