What is the History of St. Maarten?

The Island of St. Maarten has a full history that dates back to 3000 B.C when the indigenous Arawak and Carib tribes first inhabited the land. Then on November 11, 1493 the Island was discovered and named by Christopher Columbus. Since this time, St. Maarten has experienced many cultural influences from different nations such as The Netherlands, France, Spain and England.

How Did St. Maarten Get Its Name?

St. Martin gets its name from an ancient celebration called “the Feast of St. Martin of Tours”. This holiday that was commonly observed throughout Europe, celebrates the end of the agrarian year and the beginning of harvesting.

The island was discovered on November 11, 1493, which was the same day this ancient holiday was held. So the Island was then named St. Martin, in honor of “the feast of St. Martin”.

When Does St. Maarten History Begin?

Archaeological findings have revealed the existence of Amerindian cultures on the Island of St. Maarten since 3000 B.C. These indigenous people arrived from the coast of Venezuela and inhabited the Island of St. Maarten until 1600 A.D.

The natives originally named the island “Sualouigia” meaning “Land of Salt” because of the abundant salt ponds dispersed across the Island.

Who are the First Natives of St. Maarten Island?

The first natives to the Island of St. Maarten were the Arawak and the Carib tribes.

The Arawak were a peaceful and agricultural people with their focus being on farming, fishing and hunting. They lived in wooden huts with straw roofs that were especially built to resist hurricanes and mainly cultivated crops such as corn, tobacco, and cassava. Known for their docile and tranquil nature, they were not natural fighters, this led them to be brutally overtaken by the Carib tribe later on.

On the other hand, Carib people were known for their aggressive war-like nature. They were maritime people who sailed throughout the Caribbean conquering island after island. They raided the Arawak settlements and enslaved many of them about 30 years before European settlers came.

Who discovered St. Maarten?

St. Martin was discovered by Christopher Columbus, during his exploration of the west on November 11, 1493. The Italian voyager sponsored by the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand II and Isabella I, originally claimed the Island for Spain.

What are the Historical Periods of St. Martin?

The historical periods of St. Maarten are listed below:


During this time period, the land was inhabited by the indigenous Amerindian tribes. The first of the tribes were the Arawak's. They were an agricultural society that valued artistic and spiritual pursuits. Their peaceful nature led them to be overtaken by the Carib tribe right before the Europeans settled the land.

Arrival of Europeans and Colonial Era

The arrival of the Europeans started in 1493 when Christopher Columbus claimed St. Martin for Spain. Shortly after Columbus’ arrival, many countries such as the Netherlands, France, Spain, England, and Portugal sought to profit from the Island’s natural salt deposits. Salt was a rare commodity in Europe and was quite a profitable trade, this resulted in many wars between the French, Dutch and Spanish settlers.

With Spain retreating in 1648, the French and the Dutch signed a treaty in 1648 called the Treaty of Mount Concordia, that divided the Island into two parts. St. Martin then became a dually owned island.

18th-19th Centuries

Even with the treaty of Mount Concordia signed, ownership of St. Martin passed through the hands of several different countries who were trying to gain control over the Island’s natural resources during the 18th and 19th centuries. The country thus experienced the cultural influences from France, England, The Netherlands, Spain, and the United States throughout this time period.

During the early 18th century, slaves were used to work on the many sugar plantations that were developed, this lasted until the abolition of slavery in 1848. The abolition of slavery led to the downfall of the sugar industry on the Island, this led to a decline in commercial trade and forced many to leave the Island.

20th Century

In the early 20th century with St. Maarten’s natural resources being depleted, the population of the Island went down to 2000 people. In 1940 things changed for St. Maarten with World War II on the scene. The trade between St. Maarten and the United States intensified and it led to a very prosperous period for the Island.

In 1943, Princess Juliana Airport was born. The United States was forced to build many runways because of the threat of German submarines in the Caribbean. This became a very important airbase for the US in their attack against the Germans. During the presence of the United States on the Island, English became the main language of St. Maarten.

In the 1960s there was a significant rise in the tourism economy. St. Maarten, being only four hours away from the United States and having beautifully sunny and sandy beaches, experienced significant economic growth. The population of the country quickly jumped from 4,000 in the 1960s to more than 40,000 by the end of the century.

21st Century

In the early 21st century, despite the flourishing tourism economy, the country was in the midst of devastation due to hurricane Luis on September 5, 1995. After the Island was rebuilt, 22 years later on September 6, 2017 Hurricane Irma struck the Island.

This was the most powerful hurricane that had ever been recorded in the area. Hurricane Irma left 11 dead, hundreds injured, and thousands homeless. Most buildings including hotels and tourist accommodations were destroyed.

Since the hurricane, the locals have made progress in restoring the Island to its natural beauty. The culture and splendor of the Island still attracts many tourists from all over the world today. St. Maarten currently has more than 100 hotels, luxury apartments and villas and welcomes 900,000 cruise ships as well as over 570,000 plane arrivals per year.

What are the Important Events in the History of Saint Maarten?

The significant events in the history of St. Maarten are:

  • Christopher Columbus discovered the Island on November 11, 1493, and named it in honor of St. Martin of Tours.
  • On March 23, 1648, the Treaty of Concordia was signed between the Dutch and the French settlers. This was an agreement to split the Island of St. Martin in two.
  • The abolition of slavery in 1848, and the exhaustion of the natural resources on the Island let to a severe decline in population.
  • Princess Juliana Airport was founded in 1943. The strategic position of St. Maarten helped aid the United States against the Germans.
  • After the war, in 1965 St. Maarten, had a significant growth in tourism. This caused the economy to flourish and the population to grow to over 40,000.
  • Hurricane Luis ravaged the Island on September 5th 1995, causing extensive damage.
  • On October 10, 2010, the southern Dutch Sint. Maarten became an independent nation within the kingdom of the Netherlands.
  • On September 6, 2017, one of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded in the Caribbean, Hurricane Irma devastated the Island.

What are the Wars and Invasions in the History of St. Maarten?

The wars and invasions that have occurred on the Island of St. Maarten throughout history are as follows:

  • In 1633, the Spanish sought to reclaim the Island they had originally discovered through Christopher Columbus,  and drove off the French and Dutch colonists from Fort Amsterdam.
  • In 1644, the French and the Dutch joined forces under the leadership of Peter Stuyvesant to regain control of St. Maarten. Their siege was unsuccessful. However in 1648, the Spanish abandoned the island due to them not seeing the land's economic value. The Dutch and the French then re-established their settlements.
  • In 1744, the British sought to seize the French side of St. Maarten in hopes of profiting  from the land’s abundant resources. The Island went back and forth between the hands of the French, English and Dutch until the treaty of Paris was signed in 1783 and returned St. Martin back into the hands of the original settlers. The Island has experienced relative peace since then.

Who are the Important Persons in the History of St. Maarten?

Important people in the history of St. Maarten are listed below:

  • Christopher Columbus: An Italian sailor sent by the Spanish, who discovered St. Maarten on one of his voyages and gave the Island its name.
  • Jan Claeszen Van Campen: One of the first Dutch settlers on St. Maarten. He was the first governor of the Dutch West India Company which began mining and trading salt on the Island.
  • Peter Stuyvesant: A Dutch admiral who led the attack on St. Martin, to seize the land back from the Spanish in 1644.
  • Claude Wathey: A politician from the democratic party of the Island on St. Maarten, who secured political independence for St. Maarten in 1989 and helped foster the economic growth from tourism on the Island.

What are the Important buildings in the History of St. Maarten?

Important buildings in the history of St. Maarten are listed below:

  • Fort Louis: This building was built by King Louis XIV of France, to defend properties on the Island.
  • Mount Vernon Plantation: An old sugar plantation from the 18th century that has been restored to its original state.
  • The Emilio Wilton Estate: An old sugar plantation and home of the first governor of St. Maarten, John Phillips.
  • Fort Amsterdam: The first settlement on the Island built by the Dutch to defend property from oncoming attacks from the Great Bay.

Who Owns St. Maarten Island?

St. Maarten is a dual-owned Island, but there is no visible border division. The northern side of the island, Saint Martin is owned by France, and it is considered part of the French West Indies. The Southern half of the island, Sint Maarten is owned by the Netherlands.

What are Saint Martin Historical Artifacts Museums?

Some historical museums containing artifacts located on St. Maarten are listed below:

  • Museum of Saint Martin: Located in Marigot on the French side of the Island. This museum’s featured exhibit is called “On the trail of the Arawak's”. Many different artifacts are displayed that show what everyday life was like for these natives.
  • St. Maarten Museum: Located in Phillipsburg in a traditional 19th century house, this museum explains the history of the Dutch side of the Island. It also tells the story of  the indigenous cultures and the colonial history of Sint. Maarten. Some artifacts in the exhibit date back to the year 500 B.C.
Last Updated on September 27, 2021