St. Martin in the Past and in the Present

St. Martin has always been inhabited by diverse groups of people

Photo credit: © Ramunas Bruzas |

The history and heritage of St. Martin began long before European exploration. Arawak Indians arrived on the island from Central America around 800 A.D. Hundreds of years later, Christopher Columbus spotted the island from his ship on his1493 voyage, but never landed on the place that he named St. Martin. The rest is history. The dual nation island followed some of the same historical patterns that were prevalent throughout the Caribbean region, including the introduction of the sugarcane industry and slavery.


French and Dutch settlers landed on the island in 1627, but were uprooted by Spanish explorers who took over the island for about 10 years before they abandoned it. The French and Dutch colonists reclaimed the island and both groups were set on inhabiting St. Martin. Initially, the French and Dutch had a few spats of disagreement, but eventually, both groups accepted the fact that neither was going to leave St. Martin without a fight. In 1648, both sides signed the Treaty of Concordia, which divided the island between the two nations. Even with the treaty, conflicts arose between the two sides of the island, as well from external attacking European forces.

...enjoy both French and Dutch culture...


The inhabitants of St. Martin come from all over the world, including various European, African, and Caribbean countries. Of course, the government is strongly influenced by the French and Dutch on their respective sides of the island.  St. Martin is an overseas collectivity of France, with their governing body being a Territorial Council headed by a president.  Sint Maarten, on the other hand, becamse an independent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands on October 10, 2010.  St. Martin has a total area of 34 square miles, with a population of nearly 75 thousand people.  The city with the highest concentration of residents, Phillipsburg, is on the French side of the island, but the Dutch side of the island has a larger overall population.


Language is one of the most explicit indications of culture on St. Martin. The official language of St. Martin is French, while the official language of St. Maarten is Dutch. Other cultures are manifest in religion and the island's music, which is rooted in African culture, and food, which tends to mix French delicacies with Creole heat.


St. Martin's economy suffered a severe blow with the emancipation of black slaves on the island and the end of the sugar industry. But this tiny island has managed to maintain its economy with the tourism industry and its relationship with other countries, like the U.S. and Mexico, from which St. Martin imports a lot of goods.  This is important because St. Martin has very limited sources of agriculture.   The economy of St. Martin definitely centers on tourism, with 85 percent of the labor force employed by the tourism industry. 

Those who visit St. Martin will be able to experience a vacation like nowhere else in the world. Rich is French culture, yet so close to the Dutch Caribbean, there is a blend of cultures here that is unique to the island. Though certainly diverse, St. Martin peacefully coexists with their Sint Maarten neighbor their beautiful island paradise in the Caribbean.


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