French West Indies

Often referred to as the French Antilles, the French West Indies are island territories that form a part of the Antilles group of islands in the eastern Caribbean Sea. These territories are under the direct control of the French Republic and are administered as overseas departments and collectivities.

The Guadeloupe archipelago and Martinique are the two overseas departments and regions of France. Besides being an overseas department and region, Martinique is also considered as a French Overseas Territorial Collectivity.

The islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy are the two overseas collectivities of France.

Brief History

Map of the Caribbean Antilles. Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Martin and Sain Barthélemy are in the Lesser Antilles.

The town of Saint-Pierre on the island of Martinique was the first permanent French colony in the Caribbean, established by the French adventurer and trader Pierre Belain in 1635. After spending six months on Martinique, Belain returned to Saint Christopher Island (now, Saint Kitts), where he died in 1636. Upon Pierre’s death, his nephew, Jacques Dyel du Parquet, then took control over the French settlements and became the Governor of Martinique in 1637. To protect the city from enemy attacks, Parquet decided to build a seaside fortress known as Fort Saint Louis on Martinique Island. After securing the Martinique Island, Parquet then moved further southwards and established the French settlements of Saint Lucia in 1643 and Grenada in 1649.

In 1654, Dutch Jews introduced sugar plantations on Martinique Island and brought a large number of slaves from Africa to work in these plantations. The King of France officially annexed Guadeloupe in 1674. However, as the island prospered, it became the site for various battles between France and Britain. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Guadeloupe along with Martinique Island remained under British occupation. After the Napoleonic Wars, with the Treaty of Paris in 1815, Martinique and Guadeloupe were given back to France. Through the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation Document, the Government of France abolished slavery in the French West Indies in 1848. In 1946, Guadeloupe and Martinique officially became French Departments. Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy separated from Guadeloupe and became a French Territorial Collectivity in 2007.

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