IG’s Peace Blog

Peace and its many aspects

an interesting case of coexistence

Most of us have seen pirate movies (including the most recent Johnny Depp series).  What might not be so well known is that Caribbean islands were fought over for a long time among the colonial powers.  Some passed back and forth a few times.  For instance the island of Martinique, which is now very French, was briefly British.  This also explains why you find place names that are very French (like “Roseau”) on what are now Anglophone islands.  You might also have seen pictures of some of the old forts like this:

Well, the forts were there to defend the islands, because of all the fighting to gain and maintain control.

However, there is at least one interesting exception:  the island of St. Martin.  According to the Wikster:

“In 1493, on Christopher Columbus second voyages to the West Indies, upon first sighting the island he named it Isla de San Martín after Saint Martin of Tours because it was November 11, St. Martin Day. However, though he claimed it as a Spanish territory, Columbus never landed there, and Spain made the settlement of the island a low priority.

The French and Dutch, on the other hand, both coveted the island. While the French wanted to colonize the islands between Trinidad and Bermuda, the Dutch found San Martín a convenient halfway point between their colonies in New Amsterdam (present day New York) and Brazil. With few people inhabiting the island, the Dutch easily founded a settlement there in 1631, erecting Fort Amsterdam as protection from invaders. Jan Claeszen Van Campen became its first governor, and soon thereafter the Dutch East India Company began their salt mining operations. French and British settlements sprang up on the island as well. Taking note of these successful colonies and wanting to maintain their control of the salt trade, the Spanish now found St. Martin much more appealing. The Eighty Years’ War which had been raging between Spain and the Netherlands provided further incentive to attack.

Spanish forces captured Saint Martin from the Dutch in 1633, seizing control and driving most or all of the colonists off the island. At Point Blanche, they built Old Spanish Fort to secure the territory. Although the Dutch retaliated in several attempts to win back St. Martin, they failed. Fifteen years after the Spanish conquered the island, the Eighty Years’ War ended. Since they no longer needed a base in the Caribbean and St. Martin barely turned a profit, the Spanish lost their inclination to continue defending it. In 1648, they deserted the island.

With St. Martin free again, both the Dutch and the French jumped at the chance to re-establish their settlements. Dutch colonists came from St. Eustatius, while the French came from St. Kitts. After some initial conflict, both sides realized that neither would yield easily. Preferring to avoid an all-out war, they signed the Treaty of Concordia in 1648, which divided the island in two.”

…and so it has remained!  Coexistence has tended to work out for both sides, and was, of course, greatly facilitated by the emergence of the European Union, the Euro, etc…In fact, when you drive from the French side to the Dutch side (where the lingua franca is English, btw) there is such a small sign that you might well miss it.  Another interesting factoid:  most of the French people really can speak pretty good English…ie more  like Montreal than Paris.

So, what am I getting at?  There is nothing inevitable about violent conflict.  Cooperation is/was possible, even centuries ago.  And, lo and behold, it seems to have been profitable to everybody concerned.  Surprise, surprise! 🙂

IGbarb says:  “Vrede is de weg!”


October 5, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

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