In Search of Paradise
By Roland and Laura Richardson
Mankind has always dreamed of Paradise, perhaps even seeking to return to that which was lost from the start.
This same search drew humanity to St. Martin thousands of years ago, when small bands of Amerindians left their shores of South America in canoes of hollowed tree-trunks, journeying hundreds of miles to discover and colonize this tiny, 36 square mile island. Even now, though recognized as one of the Caribbean’s most popular tourist destinations, St. Martin remains a barely discernable spec on the map in a strand of other miniscule land formations emerging from the Caribbean Sea, charted as the Lesser Antilles.
Only in the 15th century do records of this region begin, with Columbus venturing “the Green Sea of Darkness” whose reach went beyond the edges of the world. Columbus’ westward route to India in 1492 claimed forevermore these lands as the West Indies, and just in passing, when days of feast were ceremoniously offered to the saints, Saint Martin of Tours was honored with Colombus’ new sighting.
The tale that earned this great Knight his sainthood reminds us of the peaceful accord that uniquely marks this bi-national island. It is said that Martin of Tours took his cloak off his back and split it in two to share with a beggar who, after this noble act of kindness, revealed himself as Christ. Is it just a coincidence that hundreds of years later this little island, Saint Martin/Sint Maarten is peacefully shared by two European Nations?
It took war and constant shift of domination to earn this peace. The race for land and resources, driven by the wealth of the Church, set the Spanish on course for the New World. England, France and Holland soon followed in the early 1500’s, all at the sacrifice of the natives, considered heathens, who cultivated these islands as Eden. In less than 100 years, their ancient culture was buried forever with the turn of the soil.
In 1624, the first Dutch to arrive found the island uninhabited. Five years later, in 1629, the first French were washed to shore in a hurricane on the northeast coast, eventually forming the small colony, French Quarter. From the sea, it would have been possible to view the formerly cleared and cultivated lands, fruit trees, and village site based where a fresh water well still bears the spiritual mark of pre-Columbian man in the form of a petroglyph.
Following the example of the Amerindians, the French and Dutch picked salt and cultivated tobacco, which quite probably was grown here before their arrival. Originally called “Sualouiga”, an Amerindian name meaning “land of salt,” the island’s salt ponds were a valuable commodity to Europe, the Dutch taking Great Bay pond and the French in Grand Case.
----------------------------- Marigot by Sir Roland Richardson
In the course of those 160 years, this small spot on the map changed hands at least 16 times in battles waged between the France, Holland, Spain and England, each victor repeating the dismantling of the former’s restoration, destroying valuable records and vestiges of the past.
Finally, on March 23, 1648 on Mont des Accords, known more popularly as Mont Concordia, the Partition Treaty was signed between Holland and France. The actual boundary line separating the two countries in the form of a stone wall was not built until 124 years later.
Towards the end of the 18th century, Fort Amsterdam was rebuilt on the Philipsburg peninsula around 1765, establishing the shipping port and capital of Dutch St. Maarten. Fort Louis was commissioned by Louis XVI and, in 1778; Marigot was made the French capital and main harbor.
---------------------------- Big Street by Sir Roland Richardson
Cotton was principally grown for the first half of the 17th century, when in the early 1700’s cane spread and prosperity followed for almost a hundred years. Stately homes and manicured “Habitations,” plantations, marked the era with romantic names as: “Jardin D’Eden,” “Delight,” “Windy Hill,” “Les Sables de Marigot,” “Diamant,” “Grizele,” “Chambard,” regally positioned with majestic overviews of their estates. Seemingly endless walls of neatly piled stones separated cotton fields from cane fields, bordered orchards and flower alleys. From Pic Paradise to the Hope, from Fonds d’Or to the Lowlands, from La Barriere and Les Anses Marcel to the Belvedere, from Belle Plain to Dutch Quarter to Middle Region to St. Peters they stretched. Neat and well ordered, all were built in bondage by slaves. Just over a hundred years later, little remains of the 62 Sugar Plantations of St. Martin but their slave walls remain, criss-crossing the landscape, as quiet monument.
By the time of the abolition of slavery reached the French colonies in 1848, nearly 80 percent of the population of St. Martin was black. The Dutch side tottered for another 15 years before it too, abolished slavery. The economic collapse left St. Martin a community struggling once more. Work was sought on other islands, in other cane fields, or oil fields and construction sites, while two World Wars were fought across the ocean. The flying machine advanced from single gliders to engine-propelled fleets.
In 1944, St. Martin received its first visitors by air on a little strip field christened in person by Princess Juliana. The search for Paradise began anew.
Sir Roland and Laura Richardson happily invite you to discover their beautiful gallery in Marigot at a charming Creole landmark building with private garden. They would be delighted to hear from you!
Magic Jack, Tel: 1-443-982-0683
Visit their beautiful gallery at:
Roland Richardson Gallery Museum
#6 rue de la Republique, Marigot, St. Martin
Where Fine Art, History and Nature abound!
(c) copyright Laura and Roland Richardson 2013