Saint Barts is known by many names: Saint-BarthÃ©lemy, Saint Barths, or Saint Barth. This French collective is composed of the island of Saint-BarthÃ©lemy proper and several offshore isles. The Collectivity of Saint-BarthÃ©lemy (CollectivitÃ© de Saint-BarthÃ©lemy), was established just last February 22, 2007.
Named after Christopher Columbus’ brother Bartolomeo, the first European settlers of the island were the French colonist who came in from the nearby St. Kitts. The settlement didn’t last, however. The island was sold off to the Knights of Malta. They too, never stayed long in the islands. The fierce Carib Indians wrecked havoc in the colony, and killed off all the settlers.
A hundred years pass before the island was inhabited once more by European settlers. It was the French mariners from Normandy and Brittany who were able to successfully establish a colony. The community and economy of the small island began to flourish. Though unlike their Caribbean neighbors, St. Barts was too small an island, too rocky and dry; they were never part of the sugar economy.
In 1784, St. Barths was sold by the French to the Swedes. In exchange for the island, the French get trading rights in the Swedish port of Gothenburg. St. Barths became a free port, a center for trading in the Caribbean. Their status as a free port remained even when they reverted back to French rule. Traces of the Swedes are still apparent in the island: some architecture, cemetery, street signs, and the name of the harbor and capital, Gustavia.
Today, St. Barth is a playground for the rich and famous, who come to the island seeking refuge in its white sand beaches, fine dining restaurants, luxury accommodations and high-end shopping.