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History of Guadeloupe

Early History

Guadeloupe was first settled by Arawak Indians from Venezuela about 300 BC, who fished and developed agriculture on the island. Carib Indians, also from Venezuela, pushed out most of the Arawak in the eighth century. They also subsisted on agriculture and fishing. The Caribs renamed the island "Karukera" or the "Island of beautiful waters".

Discovery and Settlement

Guadeloupe was discovered by Christopher Columbus on his second trip to the Americas in 1493. He called it "Santa María de Guadalupe de Extremadura", after the image of the Virgin Mary venerated at the Spanish monastery of Villuercas, in Guadalupe, Extremadura. The Spanish made two attempts to settle Guadeloupe in the 1500s, but because of the fierceness of the Caribs the Spanish abandoned their claim to the islands.

After three decades, the French American Islands Company delegated Charles Liénard and Jean Duplessis, Lord of Ossonville, to colonise one or any of the region’s islands, Guadeloupe, Martinique or Dominica. Due to Martinique’s inhospitable nature, they settled in Guadeloupe. The French took possession of the island on June 28, 1635. They drove out many of the Carib Amerindians, planted crops and built the first sugar mill. By 1674, Guadeloupe was annexed to the Kingdom of France and a slave-based plantation was established.

1st British Seizure

Over the next century, the island was seized several times by Great Britain, the first time between 1759 and 1763. During this time Pointe-à-Pitre was developed into a major harbour enabling planters to export sugar and import North American lumber and food. Many French colonists actually grew wealthier under the British occupation and the economy expanded rapidly.

Another indication of Guadeloupe's prosperity at this time was that in the Treaty of Paris (1763) France, defeated in war, agreed to forfeit its territorial claims in Canada in return for British recognition of French control of Guadeloupe.

1789s French Revolution

In 1790, the upper classes of Guadeloupe refused to obey the new laws requiring equal rights for the free and attempted to declare independence, resulting in great disturbances. A fire broke out in Pointe-à-Pitre and devastated a third of the town. A struggle between the monarchists (who wanted independence) and the republicans (who were faithful to revolutionary France) ended in the victory of the monarchists, who declared independence in 1791. This was followed by their refusal to receive the new governor appointed by Paris in 1792.

2nd British Seizure

In 1794, the British again invaded Guadeloupe, forcing the French to send a contingent of soldiers guided by black nationalist Victor Hugues, who proclaimed the abolition of slavery and had several hundred white planters massacred. He freed and then armed the Guadeloupean slaves. Eventually, the British withdrew. Hugues is best known for authorising privateers to attack ships throughout the Caribbean, bringing great wealth to the island. With an army composed of white, mulatto and ex-slave soldiers, Hugues worked to export the revolution to neighbouring islands, including Dominica, Saint Martin, la Grenada, Saint Vincent and Saint Lucia.

Because of Hugues' attacks on American ships, American interests were threatened, creating tension between Napoleonic France and the United States, ultimately resulting in the US cancelling formal alliances with France, and catapulting French ships, known as the Quasi War. Napoleon Bonaparte responded by sending General Richepance to Guadeloupe to put a stop to the murder spree, and restore the institution of slavery, which would remain in place until 1848. A group of 26 antislavery forces led by Louis Delgrès were trapped on the slopes of Matouba Volcano. When it became obvious that the invading troops would take control of the island, some blew themselves up rather than surrender, leaving a legacy of heroism remembered to this day. The occupation forces killed an estimated 10,000 Guadeloupeans (about 10% of the population) in the process of restoring order to the island. Richepance then re-established slavery.

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