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Marie-Galante is an island of the Caribbean Sea located at the South of Guadeloupe and at the North of Dominica. Marie-Galante is an dependency of Guadeloupe, which is an overseas department and region of France.
Marie-Galante covers a land area of about 158 km² (61 sq. miles). Its population counts 12,009 inhabitants on the 2006 census (down from 16,341 inhabitants at the 1961 census). The population density in 2006 was 76 inh. per km².
The three communes of Marie-Galante formed an intercommunal entity in 1994: the Community of Communes of Marie-Galante (French: Communauté de communes de Marie-Galante). This is the oldest intercommunal structure in overseas regions of France.
The Huecoids is the oldest known civilization to have occupied Marie-Galante. The Arawak tribe followed them. Then around AD 850 the Carib Indians arrived. Marie-Galante was the first island reached by Christopher Columbus during his second voyage. He arrived at the place called Anse Ballet in Grand-Bourg, on November 3, 1493. He named the island in honor of his most important Caravel : "Maria Galanta". It was previously called "Aichi" by the Carib people and "Touloukaera" by the Arawak people.
On November 8, 1648, Governor Charles Houël organized the settlement of the first French colonists : they were about fifty men near the site of Vieux Fort, Saint Lucia. Jacques de Boisseret bought the island back from the French Company of the Islands of America on September 4, 1649. In 1653 the Carib Indians slaughtered the few remaining colonists, who had not given into the harsh living conditions, as reprisal for rapes committed on the island of Dominica by sailors on a barge coming from Martinique.
Sugarcane most probably originated from India and had been imported to the French West Indies by Christopher Columbus. In light of its industrialization, it was cultivated in Guadeloupe in the beginning of 1654 thanks to deported Brazilian colonists who incited the creation of the first sugar plantations equipped with small oxen-powered mills to crush the cane.
In 1660, at Basse-Terre Chateau, a peace treaty was signed between the Caribs and the French and British who authorized them to settle on the islands of Dominica and Saint Vincent. The Island was now at peace leaving way for human and technological means to unite, developing the economic market based on plantations as the center of production and labor by imported African slaves.
In 1664, Madame de Boisseret gave up her rights to Marie-Galante to the Company of the West Indies, and the Island then had its first four (oxen-powered) mills. In 1665, her son, Monsieur de Boisseret de Temericourt became governor. The map of the island he established carries his coat of arms. The Island was plundered by both the Dutch in 1676, and by the British in 1690 and 1691. These raids, which resulted in the destruction of the mills, the refineries and the depopulation of the Island, caused the Governor-General of Martinique to forbid the re-population of the Island until 1696. The British took over the island again from 1759 to 1763.
Windmills were first seen in 1780. By 1830, 105 mills existed, half of which were still oxen- drawn. Today 72 mill-towers are still standing. From November 1792 to 1794, Marie-Galante, which was Republican, separated itself from the royalist government of Guadeloupe. Slavery, first abolished in 1794 then reinstated in 1802, finally came to an end in 1848, thanks to the combined efforts of abolitionists, such as Victor Schoelcher, and repeated Negro slave revolts.
The legislative elections of June 24 and June 25, 1849, the first time former slaves were permitted to vote, were marred by bloody suppression of protesting groups. These groups rose up out of the black majority of the population in response to ballot-rigging orchestrated by wealthy white plantation owners. Many black people were killed during these uprisings which lead to the dumping of rum and sugar from the Pirogue plantation into a nearby pond. Today this pond is known as "la Mare au punch" (The Punch pond) in memory of these tragic events.
Guadeloupe (Grande-Terre and Basse-Terre), along with its dependencies (Marie-Galante, Saint-Martin, Saint-Barthélemy, Les Saintes and la Désirade), has been a French overseas department since 1946 and a single-department region since 1982. (In 2007 Saint-Barthelemy and the French part of Saint-Martin both became separate administrative units, however it is expected that until 2012 they will be represented in the French Parliament by Guadeloupe.) The three administrative counties of Marie-Galante are Capesterre, Grand-Bourg and Saint-Louis. Together, these were designated a county community (Communauté des Communes) on January 8, 1994, the first to be created in a French Overseas department.
Steven Callahan, who was lost at sea in a small life boat for 76 days, was found alive on the coast of Marie-Galante.
With an area of 158.01 km² (61.01 sq mi), Marie-Galante comprises three communes (Grand-Bourg, Capesterre-de-Marie-Galante, and Saint-Louis), with a combined 1999 census population of 12,488 inhabitants. The island is more commonly known as "La grande galette" (The Big Cookie) due to its round shape and almost flat surface (its highest peak, the Morne Constant Hill, rises up to 670 ft). Once counting over 106 sugar mills, it is also called the "Island of a hundred windmills", or the "Grande dependence", being the biggest dependency of Guadeloupe. The island is undulating substrate calcareous, fanned by the trade winds and subject to cyclones and earthquakes.
The northern coast is characterized by a high cliff. A fault called the "Bar" separates the northern quarter from the remainder of the island. To the west beaches and mangroves extend along the Caribbean Sea. The rivers of Saint-Louis and the Vieux-Fort run out there after having crossed the insular plate originating at the center of Marie-Galante. In the East and the South, the plate becomes dull to rock inclined towards a littoral plain. This one skirts the Atlantic Ocean from which it is protected by a coral reef barrier.
The colonial economy developed on the island the cultures of tobacco, indigo, coffee and cotton. But as of the 17th century, sugar cane became a very important source of income. It was maintained into the 19th and 20th centuries, adapting to the abolition of slavery and the great sugar crisis.
During the dominance of the sugar cane industry, Marie-Galante acquired the nickname "the island with a hundred mills". In 1818 there were over one hundred mills to process sugar cane. The cane juice was transformed into sugar or rum. The mills were originally powered by oxen, after 1883 steam powered mills replaced oxen.
The 19th century brought the disappearance of the economic organization of the old days. Gradually, all the small sugar refineries were restructured into sugar factories. In 1885, five sites controlled the activity. In 1931, 18 sugar distilleries and four factories were in production. The large plantations made accommodations with small farms, organized in the 20th century around co-operatives. But agriculture in all the French West Indies is subject to strong international competition. At the beginning of the 21st century, one sugar refinery (factory of Large Handle) and three distilleries (Bellevue, Rod, Poisson) remain on Marie-Galante. The white rum which is produced there is the subject to a label of origin. The biological sugar production could also be an innovative development, but the current political impetus to end European subsidies puts the future of agriculture in jeopardy and thus threatens the economic future of Marie-Galante and its inhabitants.
Remains of the old economy still exist. This historical richness is a new development for tourism: a nature trail with some 70 turns including two restored mills (Mill of Bézard), colonial dwellings and old sugar refineries (Murat Dwelling) produces a network of paths for hikers to discover the island and its people.
Marie-Galante has thus experienced, like the other islands of the area, the economic changes accompanying tourism. But the development of this industry is based on a policy of nature conservation and inheritance, whether it is pre-Columbian, colonial or contemporary. Unfortunately, Marie-Galante Airport is located on Pointe des Basses, halfway between Grand-Bourg and Capesterre, thus making access difficult.
Marie-Galante counted 30,000 inhabitants in 1946. Strongly marked by the massive exodus of its young people towards Guadeloupe and France, the island counted fewer than 12,009 inhabitants in the 2006 census. This fall of the population is related to the decrease in the sugar cane economy. The population density in 2006 was 76 persons per km².
- Constant d'Aubigné (1585–1647) was governor of Marie-Galante, accompanied by his daughter, Francoise d' Aubigné. Several years later she would become Madame de Maintenon but, from her stay in the West Indies, she would continue to be known by the nickname, Beautiful Indian.
- Charles-François Bonneville (1803–?) was mayor and general council of Grand-Bourg from 1854 to 1860. As president of the Chamber of Agriculture, he was the architect of the revival of cultivating long-thread cotton, which he pioneered at the Thibault estate.
- Armand Baptiste, the premier Guadeloupean sculptor, resides on Marie-Galante.