History of St. Barts

Saint-Barthélemy – St. Barts is the Caribbean’s most elite, expensive and picturesque island. A hip and happening retreat for the world’s rich and famous who come to see and be seen. Tranquil beaches, quaint villages, coral reefs, and clear ocean waters that lap the glistening sands. It’s a tropical paradise exuding French flair, fashion, and fun!

St. Barts Gustavia Harbor

An island worth fighting for

Up until 30 years ago, St. Barts was known as one of the Caribbean’s poorest back waters, with a tumultuous and fascinating history out of proportion to the tiny island. The streets of Gustavia still tell the story of an island worth fighting for, an archipelago where pirates once buried their treasure, an island that went from famine to fame.
Christopher Columbus added St. Barts, then named Ouanalao, to his collection of discovered lands in 1493. Inhabited then by the fierce and cannibalistic Carib Indians, Columbus claimed the island for Spain naming it after his brother Bartoloméo. A barren land, the Spanish neglected the island, which was then unsuccessfully settled by French colonists from the nearby island of St Kitts in 1648 and sold on to the Knights of Malta in 1651. After being ruled by the Knights of Malta for five years, the Caribs destroyed their settlements, killing the settlers and leaving the island abandoned until 1673 when it once again became a French Colony, settled by Frenchmen from Normandy and Brittany.
Except for a brief takeover by the British in 1758, St. Barts remained in the hands of the French until 1784 when France traded the island to Sweden, who renamed the picturesque harbor town to Gustavia and declared it a free port. Charming reminders and legacies of the Swedes are still found today in the streets of Gustavia. Traders made their fortunes until 1813 when the prosperity ended after the abolition of slavery, and Sweden proposed to give the island back to France. France reclaimed the island in 1878, however declined trading. At that time, disease and a destructive fire had sadly affected the island.

Famine to fame

 The mystique and attraction of St. Barts truly began in 1957 when American millionaire David Rockefeller bought a property on St. Barts, and so the transformation of famine to fame began. Spectacular yachts, including Onassis’s Christina, began to fill the beautiful Gustavia harbour. Luxury hotels and lavish villas dotted the hills and tranquil bays, and chic restaurants and boutiques lined the scenic pathways. The rich and famous were lured by the glitz and glamour of this tax-free tropical paradise. A relaxed and exclusive atmosphere. Or, perhaps they are all in search of the pirate’s treasure that to this day remains hidden between the secluded coves of Anse de Gouverneur and the sparkling sands of Saline!

St. Barts - C'est tres bien