French St. Christophe, or English St.Kitts?

by Philippe et Bernadette Rossignol

extracted from Généalogie et Histoire de la Caraïbe N° 72 page 1380

translation by Tian Uddenberg

'Baedeker' is a set of tourist guides frequently used by speakers of English; and a French edition also exists. It served as the source of an article which appeared in the SIG newsletter of April 1994, where the following appeared:

1605 England takes possession of the entire island.
1623 The first 16 colonists, led by Sir Thomas Warner, establish themselves on the island.
1625 A damaged French boat is authorized to put in at Basseterre for repairs. Led by Belain D'Esnambuc, the distressed Frenchmen succeeded in gaining a foothold on the island.
This was the first French attempt to colonize the Caribbean.

We are unfamiliar with Baedeker's Caribbean, including Bermuda , but it does not seem to be a reliable source of History.
Lets try to bring things into focus.
We must first place ourselves at that time in history and understand
1. The Treaty of Tordesillas gave the Americas to the Spanish and the Portuguese. The English and the French had no right to establish themselves in the Caribbean.
2. The only ones to stand up to the Spanish were the Dutch.
3. Frenchmen, particularly Normands, settled in numerous places in the Caribbean and America in the C16; but these settlements were private in origin and temporary. (see Les origines de la colonisation française aux Antilles, Le Havre 1918)
It was probably the same for the English.
4. In wartime and particularly in negotiating treaties, it was necessary to 'prove' that one had been the first 'owner' of the land. In the case of St. Christopher this problem came up several times, but it does not seem that the documents provided by the English could not have been taken into account. We do not know by what Act of 1605 "England took possession of the entire island". In any case, this statement is in contradiction of that saying "1623 The first 16 colonists, led by Sir Thomas Warner, establish themselves on the island".

A claim of possession without occupation is of no juridical significance.

As for Warner (in French texts "an English captain called Waërnard"); he had no commission from the King of England but represented a private society.
It is deceiving to say " a damaged ship was given permission to put in for urgent repairs at Basseterre". There was no government, and 'Basse-Terre' would have been the French part of the island, which proves there were on Englishmen there.

In fact, when D'Esnambuc disembarked in St. Christopher, "he met on this island several Frenchmen who had arrived there in different ways and at different times, who lived wisely with the savages" ( Fr. J.B. DuTertre, Histoire Générale des Antilles habitées par les français, ed. T. Jolly, 1667-1671). According to other documents it appears that these Frenchmen had settled there to produce tobacco and were Normands and Protestant.

D'Esnambuc returned to France and returned to St. Christophe with a commission from Cardinal de Richelieu. This, then, was the first Official colonization of the island by France. It was not "the first attempt to colonize the Caribbean".

In fact, it can be said that the French and the English took possession of St. Christophe/St. Christopher at the same time, and that they became allies to oppose the Caribs and the Spanish. They were supported by the Dutch who came to the island to find the salt with from which they derived great profit (using it to salt cod).

It would be interesting to know what, if any, incontrovertible documentation the French and the English were able to produce at the time of the treaties; and so which of them could claim to have been the first to have taken possession of St.Christophe/ St.Christopher.

From 1626 to 1666 the English and the French lived in peace under the threat of the Caribs and the Spanish.
In 1666, for the first time the war between France and England had repercussions in the Caribbean . On 20 January of that year, the French and English governors renewed the agreement they had made in 1626, according to which and among other provisions, they undertook not to go to war themselves even if their sovereigns did so in Europe. Willoughby, Governor General of the English islands refused to ratify this accord.

War was declared on 26 January. The French conquered the English portion of the island (April 1666) and the English who did not want to become "subjects of the King of France" had the possibility of leaving and selling their possessions to the French. In 1667 the English recovered their territory by the Treaty of Breda. The French Archives has lists of English inhabitants who reclaimed their goods before a notary.

In June 1690, Codrington took over the French portion of St. Christophe/ St. Christopher. The English wanted to prevent the return of the French in the event a peace would be signed. The French families were dispersed in a horrible way: the women and children on a boat to France, certain men and children were sent to Martinique, others to St. Domingue, etc. Certain families were never reunited, and that is why one finds branches of the same family in different Caribbean islands.

In 1697, the French part of St. Christophe/St. Christopher was returned by the English, but it was completely ruined and pillaged. Few families returned.

On 16 July 1702, St. Christophe/St. Christopher again fell into the hands of the English.
In 1706, the French retook St. Christophe/St. Christopher, but did not keep it.
On 11 April 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht spelled out the definitive loss of the island by France.

In 1782 (the war of independence) St. Christophe/St. Christopher was taken by the French.
On 3 September 1783, The Treaty of Versailles gave St. Christophe/ St. Christopher to the English.

Note to genealogists: 1. A magnificent census of 1671 exists, the nominative section of which has been published by the Centre de Généalogie et d'Histoire des Isles d'Amerique.
2. There are almost no registers of Baptisms, marriages, or deaths for the French period.
3. In 1689 the French populations of St. Martin and St. Barthélemy were transported to St. Christophe.
4. An undated census exists (in reality that of 1689 or 1690) in which those who came from St. Barthélemy and St. Martin are recorded.
5. On the history of the French portion of St. Christophe/St. Christopher, the work of Fr. Du Tertre must be consulted.
6. St. Christophe was the cradle of the French Caribbean, and it is a matter of some pride for a Caribbean family to be able to claim as an ancestor a settler on this island.
7. Of great interest is Trois Siècles d'Histoire antillaise: Martinique et Guadeloupe de 1635 à nos jours by Alfred Martineau and L. P. May (Société de l'Histoire des colonies françaises et Librairie Leroux, Paris, 1935. 282 pp.) The first chapter is entitled : The Origins of St. Christophe.

About the 'Baedeker', we have at hand the French edition published by Hachette "completely updated" (???). Regarding Guadeloupe we found:
"In the first half of the eighteenth century, other crops were cultivated (than sugar cane) notably indigo, then cotton, coffee, cocoa and tobacco. The labour force was recruited from among freed transportees, Protestants, loose women and black African slaves." And, (preceded of course, by the words, "it is thought"), the habitual myths about the white Matignon, Victor Hugues, and the Grimaldi family. We hope that one day authors and editors or tourist guides would avail themselves of historians and genealogists to avoid publishing nonsense under cover of exoticism.

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Révision 26/08/2003