00 33 2 98 39 62 25
Fax (by appointment) :
00 33 9 50 04 32 70
Contact Headquarters : 5 Hent Meneyer, 29 950 Gouesnac'h, France.
Postal address : 2 impasse de Kervégant, 29 350 Moëlan sur mer, France.

A short history…

The island of Saint-Barthélemy was discovered in 1493 by Christopher Columbus, during his second voyage. He marked the occasion by naming the island after his brother, whilst the indigenous people called it Ouanalao.

Occupied initially by corsairs, Saint Barthélemy was later taken back from the English and was colonised in 1648 by French settlers from the neighbouring island of St Kitts (although known at that time as St Christopher’s), led by governor Longvilliers de Poincy. However this first colonisation was not a great success, so in 1651 the island was sold to the Order of St John. In a tragic event in 1656, Carib nationals massacred the population but more settlers arrived in their place, determined to colonise a land which was at that time very hostile.

Gustavia autrefois
photo © comité territorial du tourisme de Saint Barth

Then, in 1674, France acquired the Order of St John. However Saint-Barthélemy, which did not produce any riches, fast became considered of no real use.

It was then that French sailors, from Normandy and Brittany in particular, settled here. They liked the island and managed to support themselves, albeit notably by looting from Spanish galleons making their way around the Antilles, laden with merchandise and treasure. These acts of piracy would go on to engender the legend of the pirates of the Caribbean. Little by little, though, the buccaneers became merchants, then shopkeepers, and there were also fishermen and small scale farmers, despite the lack of water. Indeed, the island was too small, too rocky and much too dry (with no rivers) to be a part of the cane sugar industry like the neighbouring islands, which had more land and more water.

Then, due to the treaty of 1st June 1784 between Gustave III King of Sweden and Louis XVI King of France, Saint-Barthélemy was exchanged against trading rights for French ships in the port and warehouses of Gothenburg and as a dowry for the wife of the Swedish ambassador. From that point a free port under Swedish law, St Barts served a purpose and became prosperous. Commerce played a part but its main business was providing supplies for the different nations at war during this colonial era, which lasted the whole of the 18th century. This wartime period of great prosperity for the island rapidly ended with the end of hostilities, and also because sailing ships were being replaced gradually by steam ships.

Furthermore the island was to face a series of natural catastrophes, cyclones and earthquakes, and it soon became a money pit for the Swedish Crown.

Therefore, about a century later, with the treaty of 10th August 1877, and 320,000 gold francs, Saint-Barthélemy was retroceded to France, and officially came under the administration of Guadeloupe. This treaty nevertheless guaranteed the island’s status as a free port, and it was approved by the population of St Barts, who were consulted by referendum.

Port de Gustavia
photo © Tourist Board of Saint Barth

canon à l'entrée du port de Gustavia
photo by Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock.com

canons à l'entrée du port de Gustavia
Photo © Tourist Board of Saint Barthélemy

In December 2003, the inhabitants of St-Barts voted in high numbers to become an overseas territory free from the administrative jurisdiction of Guadeloupe, and to retain its unique status and fiscal privileges.

A decisive year in St Barts’ modern history must certainly be 1957, when David Rockefeller bought a 27 hectare property there for just a few thousand dollars. This set in motion a metamorphosis of the island, making it an exceptional destination, wonderful to visit during the northern winter. Perhaps unique in the world, it assures wealthy tourists of an ambiance which is both welcoming and discreet, also festive, but above all offering a high level of security, setting it apart from every other Caribbean island.

Gustavia Bucket Regatta
photo © Tourist Board of Saint Barth

The cost of a second home here, or even of staying here, is fairly – or even very – high, and access by air is challenging (due to the runway only being suitable for small aircraft). And with the port of Gustavia being reserved for luxury yachts only, St Barths has definitively distanced itself from the mass tourism market. It rather dedicates itself to an international, although principally North American, clientele looking for the very highest quality, and this type of tourism has been the bedrock of the island’s economy from Rockefeller’s purchase to the present day.

photo by Natalia Barsukova / Shutterstock.com