The Arawaks, the first human inhabitants of St. Maarten, originated from the Orinoco basin in Venezuela. Archaeological findings indicate their presence on the island between 600 –1200 AD. They made their living by fishing and harvesting wild fruits.
Stones and shells were used as tools. For transportation between the different islands canoes were used, called Piroques. Housing consisted of temporary settlements, (for example at Cupecoy on the Dutch side) or permanent housing, villages (for example at Hope Estate on the French side) The
Arawaks were a spiritual people, they believed in the power of supernatural beings surrounding them.
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, also known as the Foga Ruins, were 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.
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 safe 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.
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.
HMS Proselyte (shipwrecked 1801, Great bay)
H.M.S Proselyte was originally a Dutch war Frigate, named “Jason”, was built in Rotterdam in 1770. Through mutiny the ship was handed over to the British Royal Navy in
June 1796. The British altered it from a 36 piece (canon) to a 32 piece (canon) and renamed it H.M.S. “PROSELYTE”. The Ship sank in full view of Philipsburg on September 2nd, 1801 when it hit a coral reef. The “PROSELYTE” today lies on her starboard side just beyond the mouth of Great Bay at Philipsburg. The “PROSELYTE Reef” has become a popular dive site.
A model of the ship and many collected artifacts found on the seabed can be viewed in the museum.
St. Maarten is what it is today thanks to the dedication and efforts of some very special people. These hard working men and women are our National Heroes. If you would like to learn more about our National heroes then, come to the museum, see them on the wall and we are more than willing to provide you with further information.
Our wall counts twenty-five heroes. If you think some other persons deserve to be on our wall of National Heroes, please contact us. We are always open for suggestions.
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.
Master House- where the slave master lived
Slave Quarters- where the slaves slept
Boiling House- where the cane juice would go to be purified and turned into sugar
Cattle Mill- Where the animals use to walk in a circle to turn the gears, that would be used to squeeze the juice out of the sugarcane.
PARTS OF A PLANTATION
THE MASTER HOUSE
The Master house or Great House is where the master (owner of the plantation) used to live with his family.
THE BOILING HOUSE
The boiling house is where the cane juice is carried to. The juice would be put into large pans and are boiled.
The mill, also known as the animal or cattle mill. Is where the sugar cane was crushed by rollers, which squeezed out the cane juice and is carried to the boiling house. The animals would walk in a circle which causes the rollers to turn.
The windmill would be one of the largest structures on a plantation. It was used as an alternative method of turning the rollers.
The cistern collects rain or well water, which is used in the production of sugar.
The cure house is where the sugar is carried to be settled and molasses drip from the sugar crystals.
The slave housing/village is where the slaves lived.
Where the rum was made.
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. More information can be founded under National Symbols.
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
WHAT IS IT
The cottage industry has been part of Sint Maarten culture for centuries. This home-based industry was carried out by family members, using their own equipment. Also working at hours that are suitable to them. The finished products would be sold on the local market or traded for other goods.
EXAMPLE OF COTTAGE INDUSTRY ON SINT MAARTEN:
Expand Your Knowledge
Our Museum has several different types of rock formations on display that gives the visitor an insight in the geological history of the island. An example of this is a piece of Point Blanche rock formation. This layered rock is a result of crystallization of lime stone and dates back to about 15 million years.
About two million years ago St. Maarten, Anguilla and St. Barths were one island. This was visible because the sea level was about 36 meters lower than it is today.
In the Museum a 3dimensial map of what was then know as greater St. Maarten can be viewed.
For more information see "ENVIRONMENT."
Hurricane Luis hit our island on September the 5th and 6th of 1995.
This exhibit presents you with a display with a collection of newspaper clippings, images and eye accounts of the aftermath of the monster hurricane Luis.
Visitors of the Museum can also request to watch a video about Hurricane Luis.
For more information about hurricanes go to the menu environment and see the hurricane sections
Hurricane Irma hit our island on September 6th of 2017 which was the twenty-second (22) anniversary of Hurricane Luis. The effects of Irma are still felt today as Sint Maarten is still recovering from the damage that was caused.