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Important dates in the history of Martinique

JUNE 15, 1502

Christopher Columbus lands in Martinique

During his 4th voyage to the Indies, Christopher Columbus landed on June 15, 1502 on this island which he named MARTINIQUE, and which was inhabited by the Caribbean Indians (an Amerindian population originating from Venezuela who emigrated to the island towards the end of the 9th century) until their disappearance following the installation of the Europeans in 1635.

The history before 1635 is not well known, but historians agree that these people lived from fishing, hunting and gathering. The Spaniards preferred to devote themselves to the discovery of larger islands, leaving Martinique to other European peoples, such as the English, Dutch and French.

To learn more about the history of Martinique, you can visit the Eco Museum. To get there by rental car, head south to the commune of Rivière Pilote, more precisely to Anse Figuier. The beach has been home to the museum since 1993; it retraces the history of Martinique through objects, models and collections. A large part of the ground floor evokes the life of its first occupants until the beginning of the colonial era.

SEPTEMBER 15, 1635

Beginning of colonization and sugar cane cultivation

September 15, 1635 marks the taking of possession of Martinique by Pierre Belain D'Esnambuc. He built Fort Saint Pierre, the origin of the city of the same name. Upon his death, his nephew and heir, Jacques Dyel Du Parquet, repatriated a large number of colonists (officers and aristocrats eager for adventure, but also hired men from all over France). The island was then administered by the Compagnie des îles d'Amérique, (a private company that had received certain tax benefits from the king in charge of conquering the island).

The objective of the king and his minister Richelieu was above all to supply France with sugar, a luxury commodity, bought at a high price from Muslim countries. The island experienced many wars between the European empires present in the Caribbean, leading to the almost total elimination of the Caribbean Indians.

The cultivation of tobacco developed as well as coffee and cocoa, which were soon supplanted by the cultivation of sugar cane, whose secret and manufacture were introduced by the Dutch expelled from Brazil. These crops required a large number of workers and the emergence of the triangular trade and the black slave trade. Colbert made the slave trade legal by decree in 1664. This was the beginning of slavery which reached its peak in the 18th century.

During the French Revolution, the new laws of the Convention immediately aroused the mistrust of the colonists who decided, in order to protect themselves from the economic disaster they foresaw, to ask England for its protection. Martinique came under British influence with the Treaty of Whitewall in February 1794.

You can discover the history of slavery thanks to the permanent exhibition and the well-documented photos at Château Dubuc. To get there, you can rent a car and drive to the town of Tartane, in the Presqu'île de la Caravelle (south-east of the island), and visit a ruined 17th century house that belonged to sugar cane planters.

On March 25, 1802 Martinique became French again and Napoleon's Republic was re-established by the law of May 20, 1802. However, the island was occupied for a second time by the English between 1809 and 1814, before becoming definitively French by the Treaty of Paris on May 30, 1814. The descendants of the first European settlers, born on the island, were later called "békés".

It was the full development of a plantation economy, monocultures, sugar cane, the basis of rum production and the appearance of large estates (houses). This term designates an agricultural domain with its plantations, its house, its agricultural buildings. You can drive to the town of Le François in search of the "Habitation Clément", which has been transformed into a museum and now houses the historical headquarters of Clément rums in the heart of its sugarcane fields. The mansion offers the opportunity to immerse oneself in the life of the planters of the time and to discover the furniture and architecture.

MAY 22, 1848

Abolition of slavery

On April 27, 1848 Victor Schœlcher, Under Secretary of State for the Navy and the Colonies of the Second Republic, put an end to slavery. At the same time, the slaves of Martinique, impatient to enjoy the freedom that had been announced at the same time as the proclamation of the Republic, revolted and obtained the abolition of slavery by Governor Louis Rostoland on May 22, 1848, even before the arrival of the decree on June 4, 1848. In Martinique, May 22 is a public holiday. This date also marks the beginning of the influx of new plantation workers: Indians (from Pondicherry, Madras and Calcutta) but also Asians, notably Chinese. By renting a car, head for the commune of Diamant, more precisely at Anse Caffard, you will discover the Cap 110 Memorial, built in 1998 on the initiative of the city on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery, in homage to the victims of the last shipwreck of a slave ship in the history of Martinique, (15 imposing white busts, tightly packed together to form a triangle, with distressed faces, looking out over the sea towards Africa).

MAY 8, 1902

Eruption of Mount Pelée

The most deadly eruption of the 20th century took place on May 8, 1902 in Saint-Pierre, the cultural and economic capital of the time, whose port welcomed many international merchant ships to export the sugar and rum produced there.

At 7:50 a.m. that day, Mount Pelee (located in the north), emitted an enormous detonation and surprised all its inhabitants. A mass of black dust fell on the city and blinded them, the incredibly powerful blast knocked down the stone walls of the cathedral, the most complete darkness enveloped the harbor. The boats in the harbor capsized, turned over by the waves due to the backlash of the explosion. At the same time, the volcano poured out torrents of fire, steam, burning mud and toxic gas. In a few minutes this catastrophe annihilated 30 000 people, asphyxiated and burned. Two survivors were found: a prisoner in his cell (Cyparis) and a cobbler locked in his shop.

By rented car, go to the northwest of the island in the town of Saint-Pierre. Dominated by the volcano, this city, former capital, has been rebuilt but has not regained the prestige it had before the fateful date.

You can discover the last vestiges, witnesses of this terrible disaster, by letting yourself be carried back in time. In addition to the streets and the bay, by getting back into your rental car, follow the main street and leave the city, always heading north and following the sea, another museum is calling you, the Museum of the Center for the Discovery of Science and Earth. It features exhibitions and animations dedicated to volcanoes, to the eruption of May 8th, to the major risks in Martinique.

19 MARCH 1946

The departmentalization

In the aftermath of World War II, the situation of the island is, like other French departments, difficult and even miserable.

The communist federation of Martinique emerged, notably with the election of the communist party to the mayor's office in Fort de France. The main spokespersons of the PCF are Aimé CESAIRE and Léopold BISSOL. They will fully participate in the departmentalization. By the law of March 19, 1946, Martinique became a French overseas department. After a series of claims and riots, notably following the Algerian War of Independence, or even attacks, Martinique became a region in 1982 with the law of decentralization.

In 1996, Martinique became a department with the same rights and duties as those of Metropolitan France. The independentist Alfred Marie-Jeanne, member of the Martinique Independence Movement founded in 1978, was elected deputy in 1997 and then president of the Martinique regional council the following year. The President of the Regional Council of Martinique is currently Serge Letchimy, member of the PPM Parti Progressiste Martiniquais. To learn more about the history of Fort de France and in particular that of Aimé CESAIRE, take your rental car and head to the heart of Fort de France. There are many parking lots near the pedestrian streets.

Take the time to visit the market, the streets lined with colorful stores, and get closer to the old city hall, to arrive at the Museum and Memorial space dedicated to Aimé CESAIRE. CESAIRE is both a poet and a politician respected by all. He was Mayor of Fort de France from 1956 to 1976.

In 2013 Martinique celebrated the centenary of his birth.

Let's continue with a little history but this time, the history of the carnival of Martinique.

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