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Ancient relics date the island's first settlers, probably Ciboney Indians (a subgroup of Arawaks), back to 3,500 years ago. Then another group of Arawaks migrated from South America's Orinoco basin around 800 A.D. Because of St. Martin's salt-pans they called it “Sualouiga,” or “Land of Salt.” Mainly a farming and fishing society, the Arawaks lived in villages of straw-roofed buildings which were strong enough to resist hurricanes. Their tranquil civilization valued artistic and spiritual pursuits.
Their lives were turned upside-down, however, with the descent of the Carib Indians from the same region they had come from. A warrior nation, the Caribs killed the Arawak men and enslaved the women. When Europeans began to explore the Caribbean, Carib society had almost completely displaced the Arawaks.
In 1493, on Christopher Columbus second voyages to the West Indies, upon first sighting the island he named it Isla de San Martín after Saint Martin of Tours because it was November 11, St. Martin Day. However, though he claimed it as a Spanish territory, Columbus never landed there, and Spain made the settlement of the island a low priority.
The French and Dutch, on the other hand, both coveted the island. While the French wanted to colonize the islands between Trinidad and Bermuda, the Dutch found San Martín a convenient halfway point between their colonies in New Amsterdam (present day New York) and Brazil. With few people inhabiting the island, the Dutch easily founded a settlement there in 1631, erecting Fort Amsterdam as protection from invaders. Jan Claeszen Van Campen became its first governor, and soon thereafter the Dutch East India Company began their salt mining operations. French and British settlements sprang up on the island as well. Taking note of these successful colonies and wanting to maintain their control of the salt trade, the Spanish now found St. Martin much more appealing. The Eighty Years' War which had been raging between Spain and the Netherlands provided further incentive to attack. Although the Spanish had been the first to import slaves to the island, their numbers had been few. But with the new cultivation of cotton, tobacco, and sugar, mass numbers of slaves were imported to work on the plantations. The slave population quickly grew larger than that of the land owners. Subjected to cruel treatment, slaves staged rebellions, and their overwhelming numbers made them impossible to ignore. On July 12, 1848, the French abolished slavery on their side of St. Martin. The Dutch followed suit fifteen years later.
Into the 20th century
After abolition, plantation culture declined and the island's economy suffered. In 1939, St. Martin received a major boost when it was declared a duty-free port. The Dutch began focusing on tourism in the 1950s. It took the French another twenty years to start developing their tourism industry. Currently, tourism provides the backbone of the economy for both sides of the island.
On September 5 1995, Hurricane Luis severely pounds the islands causing numerous damages after 35 years day by day after Hurricane Donna.
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