Like many of the Caribbean islands, Guadeloupe has a complex history. But this island has consistently remained under French control. The name Guadeloupe also applies to a French department in the Caribbean that has been staked out for much of modern history.
Guadeloupe's first inhabitants were Arawak Indians. These Indians lived on the island until a tribe of the more warlike Carib Indians arrived and took control. They named the island Karukéra, which means "the island with beautiful water." An archaeological park with carved stones from the Indians can be found on Basse-Terre at Trois-Rivières.
The Caribs are the Indians whom the Spanish found on the island when they first tried to colonize it. However, the Caribs were powerful defenders of their turf, and the Spanish never settled Guadeloupe, which Columbus had named in 1493. It was named for a Spanish monastery the explorer had visited.
Although the Spanish never managed to colonize the island, Guadeloupe became an important stopping place for ships in the region during the 16th century. The French were the first to colonize the island when the Compagnie des Iles d'Amérique sent explorers De l'Olive and Duplessis in 1635 to take control of the island. They fought and defeated the Caribs.
In 1674, Guadeloupe was united politically with the Kingdom of France, and in 1685 it was affected by the "Code Noir" or Black Code. This code took away the rights of Jews in France's overseas colonies - no longer were they allowed to own property. This code also stated that all slaves must be taught Catholicism and not Protestantism. All of the rules in this code affected minorities, especially slaves, greatly.
The Black Code wasn't the only European event to cause trouble in Guadeloupe. During the Seven Years War (1756 to 1763), British troops besieged Guadeloupe and occupied the island from 1759 through the end of the war. It was during this time that the city of Pointe-à-Pitre was established. The French Revolution also made waves on the island of Guadeloupe, and a colonial assembly that was hostile to the republic's control of the island took charge. The assembly remained in control of the island from 1789 to 1792, and just two years later, slavery was abolished. That same year, the British once again invaded and occupied Guadeloupe.
In June of the same year, Victor Hughes took the leadership of the island into his own hands, leading it back to Republican control. But this control was short-lived. The Reign of Terror came to the Caribbean from 1794 to 1798, when many plantation owners were stripped of properties and executed.
Louis Delgrès, a mulatto officer, led an uprising in 1802, and chose to die with his troops, 300 fellow rebels, rather than submit to the French army. It was at this point that slavery was reintroduced to the island of Guadeloupe.
Less than a decade later, the British again tried their hand at capturing Guadeloupe. Occupations occurred from 1810 to 1814 and 1815 to 1816. However, the French retained control of the island.
It would be more than 30 years before slavery was again abolished in 1848, and this time around, indentured servants were almost immediately imported from India. The first arrivals came in 1854. Still, the island's economy hit even harder times when the worldwide sugar slump began in 1870, though the market rose again during the first World War.
During the first World War, Guadeloupe did what it could to contribute, and shortly afterward in 1923 it exported its first local bananas, termed "la petite tigrée," or "little stripy one," to France. Just a few years later in 1928, Guadeloupe suffered a disastrous cyclone, and much of the island was reconstructed by architect Ali Tur.
After more than a decade of relative peace, the island's Governor Sorin instituted a "compulsory work" program. This program lasted from 1940 to 1943. Sorin is also known for his support of the Vichy government, and in 1943 the Free French regained control and fought with the help of General DeGaulle. Three years later, Guadeloupe became an overseas Department of France.
In the 1960s, the Department of Guadeloupe began its expansion with the addition of other French Antilles islands, most notably St. Martin, but it would be nearly 20 years before this growth would cover all of the French islands. Natural disasters also refused to leave the island alone, and the volcano La Soufrière threatened to erupt in the mid-1970s. However, Hurricane Hugo in 1989 truly delivered a punch to the island.
In 1994, Guadeloupe became an observer in the Association of Caribbean States. The island, however, has been stable since then. Guadeloupe is currently the head of the Department of Guadeloupe, as well as the name of a small archipelago of islands.
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