About St. Maarten
St. Maarten is the smallest Island in the world to be shared by two sovereign governments-namely the Dutch and French. The Dutch side, with Philipsburg as its capital occupies the southern 17 square miles of this 37-square-mile island; St. Martin, a French dependency, occupies the northern half. The dual nationality adds variety to this most unique of island gems in the Caribbean Sea. Both Dutch St. Maarten and French St. Martin have maintained a peaceful coexistence for over 350 years, the longest of any two bordering nations. The two territories have enjoyed harmonious relations through their history and have shared the prosperity of many years without dispute. The Treaty of Concordia executed on March 23rd 1648 established this coexistence and has the unique distinction of being the oldest Treaty still in force today.
As part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Dutch St. Maarten has been both politically and economically stable. The territory is not only a safe and pleasant place to do business, but also to establish roots and raise a family. The total population has grown from 13,156 in 1980 to nearly 39,000 in year 2000. It is estimated that the population of St. Maarten consists of 77 different nationalities. The native languages are English and Dutch.
St. Maarten has an excellent seaport and airport, which makes the island very attractive as a hub. Government is presently in the process of a major road enhancement project, which includes the construction of new roads, the re-paving of existing roads, the implementation of roundabouts and traffic lights.
St. Maarten has a modern and up-to-par telecommunication system. 3 companies offer telephone services and cellular phone services. St. Maarten also several Internet providers and a cable TV company that offers over 50 different channels. Electricity and water is produced and distributed at the island by Government controlled companies.
The history of the Caribbean is filled with stories of colonial imperialism where islands changed hands form country to country. St. Maarten was no ace in the imperial holdings, but had its share of skirmishes and smoky gun battles, which caused the island to change hands many times between the Spanish, Dutch and French powers. The old stone forts which guard many of the islands inlets is proof of the islands turbulent past.
The island's true history started peacefully - traces of Stone Age people have been found on the island, dating back to 4,000 BC. Around 800 AD the island, as many of its neighbors was settles by Arawak Indians who arrived from South America to settle down to a life of fishing, hunting and farming.
The Arawaks were not alone, however. They were followed in the 14th century by a much more war-like tribe - the cannibalistic Carib Indians. These new arrivals are the ones who gave the region its name, and knew St. Maarten as Soualiga, or "Salt Island" after its main mineral deposit. The remains of the Great Salt Pond can still be seen in Philipsburg today.
According to legend, Christopher Columbus sighted Soualiga on the 11th of November in the year 1493, the holy day of St. Martin of Tours, and he named the island after him - hence the name St. Maarten. The 11th of November is celebrated to this day, as St. Martin/St. Maarten's Day.
Although Columbus sighted and named the island, the Spanish made no initial attempt to settle here. Around the year 1630 the Dutch and French established small settlements on the island. The Spanish must have not taken to well to this settlement - they saw it as a threat to their influence in the region and attacked the island - driving out both the Dutch and French settlements.
The Dutch and French joined forces to repel the Spanish, and finally achieved this goal around 1644 when the Spanish finally abandoned their claims to the Eastern Caribbean altogether. After driving out the Spanish, the Dutch and French signed an accord (in 1648) and agreed to divide the island. Over the next few years, the boundary was the subject of numerous disputes. which were not settled until 1817. In this timeframe the island changed hands between the two powers 16 times.