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Migration period


Migration Period

Post abolition

Life on St. Maarten was not easy after the abolition of slavery, the days of our (great) grandparents, here were very few jobs and there was a lot of poverty in the community, even amongst the plantation owners. With the end of the plantation era, people returned to subsistence agriculture and fishing.


The first group of St. Maarteners left the island due to lack of work in 1890 and settled on the surrounding islands and the USA. The second wave migrants from St. Maarten went to the Dominican Republic for seasonal work in the cane fields, returning to the island in time for harvesting of salt. The third wave occurred in the 1920’s. Massive migration from St. Maarten to Aruba and Curacao took place. St. Maarteners went to work in the oil companies of Aruba and Curacao, resulting in a decline of the population to 1458 in 1952.

In the 1950’s automation was introduced in the oil refineries in Aruba and Curacao. The migrated workers from St. Maarten lost their jobs. They returned to the island. As of 1955 with the opening of the first tourist hotel “Little Bay”, jobs became available in the emerging tourist industry. This caused people from other countries to migrate to St. Maarten, bringing the population to a total number of 2928 in 1961, 9006 in 1972 and 12.207 in 1978. As the tourist industry continued to grow throughout the following decades, the population increased drastically to more than 51.000 on the Dutch side and 29.000 on the French side in 2008




Slavery and emancipation


Slavery and emancipation on St. Maarten

When the French and the Dutch settled on St. Maarten in the 17th century, they established the plantation and salt industries. A great shortage of labor arose, and therefore it was decided to bring enslaved Africans. The Africans, brought in against their own free will and under inhumane circumstances, cultivated indigo, tobacco, cotton and sugarcane. They toiled in the sugar factories, and picked salt in the salt ponds. These salt ponds functioned as the primary meeting place for freed and enslaved Africans, to socialize and exchange information, such as calls for emancipation.






Driven by innate desire to be free, the enslaved made strong efforts to escape to the hills and other save havens, forcing the insular authorities to pass anti maroon

 (runaway slave) legislation in 1790. Abolition of slavery ended this “unholy institution” on the northern part of the island. (the French side) in 1848. Slaves on the southern part (the Dutch side), having learned this, set out to the border to become free. Fearing further revolt, the slave owners on the Dutch side pleaded with the authorities for abolition, but received no official reaction. Therefore they decided to release their slaves from bondage, and to pay wages for work. Slavery ended in fact on St. Maarten in 1848; however, the official abolition of slavery for the Dutch West Indian colonies was not proclaimed until the 1st of July 1863.



Emancipation declaration for the Netherlands Antilles

Here you can read the emancipation declaration for the Netherlands Antilles

written by the Governor of Curacao in 1863.



___________________The Governor___________________


To the affranchised population of Curacao and dependencies.


In the month October of last year has been proclaimed in your island the law

by which it pleased His Majesty, our most gracious King, to decree that on

the 1st of July 1863 slavery should ever be abolished in Curaçao and

its dependant Islands


That happy day is here now there.

From this moment you are free persons and enter society as inhabitants of the colony.

Most heartily do I congratulate you with the blessing bestowed on you by the paternal care of the King; sincerely may rejoice in the same, but you must also make yourself worthily of this benefit.


In your previous state you have always distinguished yourself by quite, orderly behavior and obedience to your former masters: now as free persons, I am fully confident of it, you will orderly and subordinate to the government perform your duty as inhabitants of the colony, working regularly for fair wages, which you may dispose of at your pleasure, to provide for yourself and your family.


The government will attend to your interest and promote the same as much as possible.

If you require advice address yourself to the District- commissary of your district or to the other competent authorities they shall assist you in every thing which may tend to promote your well being

Curaçao, the 1st of July 1863.

J. Crol




Fort Amsterdam


Fort Amsterdam

The first European settlers on St. Maarten were: the Dutch

They officially claimed the island in 1631 and built a Fort on the peninsula, between Great Bay and Little Bay.

The Spanish invaded the island in 1633. At the time the population consisted of 95 Dutch men, 2 Dutch women, 20 Negro men and 10 Negro women, and one Indian woman. The Dutch loss of St Maarten, led to the conquest of Curaçao.





The Spanish occupied St. Maarten until 1648. During their occupation they expanded the fort. The Dutch made an attempt to recapture St. Maarten in 1644. Stuyvesant failed to do so and lost his leg during this battle.

In 1874 Fort Amsterdam was used for the last time with the firing of a canon in honor of King William III silver reigning anniversary. 

In 1987 a group of Dutch archaeologists, coordinated by Jan Baart archaeologist of the city of Amsterdam excavated a large portion of the fort during their three month stay. Some of the most important findings were the skeleton of a Spanish officer who died in the battle with the Dutch in 1644 and artifacts presenting the Spanish, Dutch  and English occupations.



Salt industry

Salt industry

Salt has always been a precious natural resource for people. The Arawaks named the island “Soualugia”, meaning land of Salt. When the Dutch moored on St. Maarten (1624) to repair damage they had sustained  during their voyage, they soon “discovered” The Great Salt Pond. This was a major find, because now they had access to a vast supply of valuable goods. The salt was sold to traders in the Caribbean and “New England” in the USA. St. Maarten had become very important to them. The salt was stored at three locations in Philipsburg without protection from the elements. If, for a prolonged period of time there was no rain, the salt yields were very substantial. The salt industry was a very hard life for all those involved in it. During harvest season (6 – 7 months of the year) at least 500 people, including children and senior citizens, slaves and free citizens from the Dutch and the French side of the island, would work in different groups with each person having a special task to fulfill. The Dutch side stopped production of salt in 1949, to be followed by the French side in 1967. After which the salt industry came to an end on the island.




Processing of salt

The sun causes the evaporation of water from the sea water, which leaves a crust of salt crystals. These can be removed by shoveling and scraping.

Another method was by putting stakes in the salt ponds and removing the formed salt cakes around the stakes by hand (reaping). The technique used at the Salt factory located at Foga, consisted of heating salt water to high temperatures until the water evaporated and salt crystals were formed. The Salt factory, built in 1862 by Slotemaker and Ademante, did not produce as expected and was abandoned.

Ruins of the factory can still be seen at the Salt pond opposite Philipsburg.





Plantation period

Plantation period
The plantation period covers different aspects of the industrial history of the island.
It started with the first Dutch arriving on the island in 1624. When they landed here to repair their ship they soon discovered the great Salt Pond and that the island had no habitants. These two facts led to the interest of other Europeans nations.
With the result that the island frequently changed hands during the following centuries. In 1735 John Philips, born in Arbroth Scotland, was appointed by W.I.C
(Dutch West India Company) as commander of St. Maarten.
He revived and increased the agriculture and salt industry, rebuilt the fort and named it Fort Amsterdam in 1737 and invited more investors (mostly English) to settle on the island. The increase of industry required more labour thus more enslaved Africans were brought in. In 1790 the island reached its peak of prosperity, with 92 small estates. In 1848 slavery was abolished (officially by the Dutch 1863). During this period most of the estates were in a state of decline with only a few remaining active around 1950. Some descendents of enslaved Africans bought/“inherited” the estates of their former “owners”. A few own this property up to this day.


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