French West Indies

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Les Salines in Martinique.

The term French West Indies or French Antilles (French: Antilles françaises) refers to the seven territories currently under French sovereignty in the Antilles islands of the Caribbean:

Due to proximity French Guiana is often associated with the French West Indies, such as in the University of the French West Indies and Guiana.

History[edit]

Pierre Belain d'Esnambuc was a French trader and adventurer in the Caribbean, who established the first permanent French colony, Saint-Pierre, on the island of Martinique in 1635. Belain sailed to the Caribbean in 1625, hoping to establish a French settlement on the island of St. Christopher (St. Kitts). In 1626 he returned to France, where he won the support of Cardinal Richelieu to establish French colonies in the region. Richelieu became a shareholder in the Compagnie de Saint-Christophe, created to accomplish this with d'Esnambuc at its head. The company was not particularly successful and Richelieu had it reorganized as the Compagnie des Îles de l'Amérique. In 1635 d'Esnambuc sailed to Martinique with one hundred French settlers to clear land for sugar cane plantations.

After six months on Martinique, d'Esnambuc returned to St. Christopher, where he soon died prematurely in 1636, leaving the company and Martinique in the hands of his nephew, Du Parquet. His nephew, Jacques Dyel du Parquet, inherited d'Esnambuc's authority over the French settlements in the Caribbean. In 1637, His nephew Jacques Dyel du Parquet became governor of the island. He remained in Martinique and did not concern himself with the other islands.

The French permanently settled on Martinique and Guadeloupe after being driven off Saint Kitts and Nevis (Saint-Christophe in French) by the British. Fort Royal (Fort-de-France) on Martinique was a major port for French battle ships in the region from which the French were able to explore the region. In 1638, Jacques Dyel du Parquet (1606-1658), nephew of Pierre Belain d'Esnambuc and first governor of Martinique, decided to have Fort Saint Louis built to protect the city against enemy attacks. From Fort Royal, Martinique, Du Parquet proceeded south in search for new territories and established the first settlement in St.Lucia in 1643, and headed an expedition which established a French settlement in Grenada in 1649. Despite the long history of British rule, Grenada's French heritage is still evidenced by the number of French loanwords in Grenadian Creole, French-style buildings, cuisine and places name (For ex. Petit Martinique, Martinique Channel, etc.)

In 1642 the Compagnie des Îles de l'Amérique company received a twenty-year extension of its charter. The King would name the Governor General of the company, and the company the Governors of the various islands. However, by the late 1640s, in France Mazarin had little interest in colonial affairs and the company languished. In 1651 it dissolved itself, selling its exploitation rights to various parties. The du Paquet family bought Martinique, Grenada, and Saint Lucia for 60,000 livres. The sieur d'Houel bought Guadeloupe, Marie-Galante, La Desirade and the Saintes. The Knights of Malta bought Saint Barthélemy and Saint Martin, which were made dependencies of Guadeloupe. In 1665, the Knights sold the islands they had acquired to the newly formed (1664) Compagnie des Indes occidentales.

Dominica is a former French and British colony in the Eastern Caribbean, located about halfway between the French islands of Guadeloupe (to the north) and Martinique (to the south). Christopher Columbus named the island after the day of the week on which he spotted it, a Sunday (domingo in Latin), 3 November 1493. In the hundred years after Columbus's landing, Dominica remained isolated. At the time it was inhabited by the Island Caribs, or Kalinago people, and over time more settled there after being driven from surrounding islands, as European powers entered the region. In 1690, French woodcutters from Martinique and Guadeloupe begin to set up timber camps to supply the French islands with wood and gradually become permanent settlers. France had a colony for several years, they imported slaves from West Africa, Martinique and Guadeloupe to work on its plantations. In this period, the Antillean Creole language developed. France formally ceded possession of Dominica to Great Britain in 1763. Great Britain established a small colony on the island in 1805. As a result, Dominica speak English as an official language while Antillean creole is spoken as a secondary language and is well maintained due to its location between the French-speaking departments of Guadeloupe and Martinique.

In Trinidad, the Spanish who were in possession of the island, contributed little towards advancements, with El Dorado the focus, Trinidad was perfect due to its geographical location. Because Trinidad was considered underpopulated, Roume de St. Laurent, a Frenchman living in Grenada, was able to obtain a Cédula de Población from the Spanish king Charles III on 4 November 1783. Following the cedula of population French planters with their slaves, free coloreds and mulattos from the French Antilles of Martinique, Grenada, Guadeloupe and Dominica migrated to the Trinidad. They too added to the ancestry of Trinidadians, creating the creole identity; Spanish, French, and Patois were the languages spoken. The Spanish also gave many incentives to lure settlers to the island, including exemption from taxes for ten years and land grants in accordance to the terms set out in the Cedula. These new immigrants establishing local communities of Blanchisseuse, Champs Fleurs, Paramin, Cascade, Carenage and Laventille. Trinidad's population jumped to over 15,000 by the end of 1789, from just under 1,400 in 1777. In 1797, Trinidad became a British crown colony, with a French-speaking population. This exodus was encouraged due to the French Revolution.

French West Indies[edit]

Islands of the French West Indies
Name Largest settlement Population
(Jan. 2011)[1]
Land area
(km2)[2][3][4]
Population density 
(inh. per km2)
Status
Martinique Fort-de-France 392,291 1,128 348 Overseas department / region
Guadeloupe proper
(Basse-Terre & Grande-Terre)
Pointe-à-Pitre 388,795 1,436 271 Overseas department / region
Saint Martin Marigot 36,286 53 685 Overseas collectivity, detached from Guadeloupe
on 22 February 2007.
Marie-Galante Grand-Bourg 11,404 158 72 Forms part of the Guadeloupe region.
Saint Barthélemy Gustavia 9,035 25 361 Overseas collectivity, detached from Guadeloupe
on 22 February 2007.
Les Saintes Terre-de-Haut 2,882 13 225 Forms part of the Guadeloupe region.
La Désirade Beauséjour 1,554 21 74 Forms part of the Guadeloupe region.
French West Indies 842,247 2,834 297

French Caribbean[edit]

The term French Caribbean varies in meaning with its usage and frame of reference. This ambiguity makes it very different from the term French West Indies, which specifically refers to the islands that are French overseas departments—which means they have overall the same laws and regulations—but collectivities can be included too. In France French Caribbean is lesser used, unless the speaker want to accentuate he's talking about all the French dependencies in this region.

In popular culture, the French Caribbean islands are usually considered to be those belonging to France: Guadeloupe (including surrounding islands: Les Saintes, Marie-Galante and La Désirade), Martinique, Saint Martin, and Saint-Barthélemy.

Nevertheless, all Caribbean regions that are predominantly French-speaking and/or French Creole-speaking are:

The two official French overseas departments are Guadeloupe and Martinique. St Martin and St Barthélemy, formerly attached to the department of Guadeloupe, have held separate status as overseas collectivities since 2007. These Caribbean Départments et Collectivités d’Outre Mer are also known as the French West Indies. The term "French Caribbean" can also refer to any area that exhibits a combination of French and Caribbean cultural influences in cuisine, style, architecture, and so on. While Dominica and Saint Lucia are officially English-speaking only, French Creole languages are widely spoken by the islands' populations.

When used as an adjective, as in "French Caribbean islands" or "French Caribbean style", the term is also ambiguous and dependent upon the user's frame of reference and context.

Former French West Indian islands[edit]

In addition, some of the islands of the present and former British West Indies were once ruled by France. On some of them, a French-based creole language is spoken; specific words and expressions may vary among the islands.

Former French West Indian islands:

See also[edit]

References[edit]