The first port-of-call following MS Adventure of the Seas departure from San Juan, Puerto Rico, was an eight o’clock a.m. anchorage in Great Bay, off the town of Philipsburg, capital of the country of Sint Maarten. The ship sailed approximately 240 miles (386 kilometers) overnight to reach this port. The town is situated on a narrow stretch of land between Great Bay and the Great Salt Pond and functions as the commercial center of Saint Martin island, of which Sint Maarten encompasses the southern half. The northern 60% of the island constitutes the French overseas collectivity of Saint-Martin.
The card took its own sweet time journeying to Thailand. Marilyn dropped it into a post box on July 20:
Here is the card getting mailed from our first stop in St Maarten. It was a little red box on the wall. Took me a long time to find it because I was looking on the ground where they usually are. It was right at the port area.
It doesn’t appear that the St. Maarteners are in too much of a hurry to process mail as this card wasn’t postmarked until more than a month afterwards — August 31. It arrived in Phuket on September 24 which isn’t that bad of a travel-time, but I’ve decided to track it from the time it went into the postbox: 66 days total, then.
Before October 10, 2010, Sint Maarten was known as the Island Territory of Sint Maarten (Eilandgebied Sint Maarten), and was one of five island territories (eilandgebieden) that constituted the Netherlands Antilles. The island was first sighted by Christopher Columbus on November 11, 1493, but there was already an Arawak settlement there before his discovery. Upon first sighting the island he named it Isla de San Martín after Saint Martin of Tours because it was St. Martin’s Day. However, though he claimed it as a Spanish territory, Columbus never landed there, and Spain made the settlement of the island a low priority.
The French and Dutch, on the other hand, both coveted the island. While the French wanted to colonize the islands between Trinidad and Bermuda, the Dutch found San Martín a convenient halfway point between their colonies in New Amsterdam (present day New York) and Brazil. With few people inhabiting the island, the Dutch easily founded a settlement there in 1631, erecting Fort Amsterdam as protection from invaders. Jan Claeszen Van Campen became its first governor, and soon thereafter the Dutch West India Company began its salt mining operations. French and British settlements sprang up on the island as well. Taking note of these successful colonies and wanting to maintain their control of the salt trade, the Spanish now found St. Martin much more appealing. The Eighty Years’ War which had been raging between Spain and the Netherlands provided further incentive to attack.
Spanish forces captured Saint Martin from the Dutch in 1633, seizing control and driving most or all of the colonists off the island. At Point Blanche, they built what is now Old Spanish Fort to secure the territory. Although the Dutch retaliated in several attempts to win back St. Martin, they failed. Fifteen years after the Spanish conquered the island, the Eighty Years’ War ended. Since they no longer needed a base in the Caribbean and St. Martin barely turned a profit, the Spanish lost their inclination to continue defending it. In 1648, they deserted the island.
With St. Martin free again, both the Dutch and the French jumped at the chance to re-establish their settlements. Dutch colonists came from St. Eustatius, while the French came from St. Kitts. After some initial conflict, both sides realized that neither would yield easily. Preferring to avoid an all-out war, they signed the Treaty of Concordia in 1648, which divided the island in two. During the treaty’s negotiation, the French had a fleet of naval ships off shore, which they used as a threat to bargain more land for themselves. In spite of the treaty, relations between the two sides were not always cordial. Between 1648 and 1816, conflicts changed the border sixteen times.
Philipsburg was founded in 1763 by John Philips, a Scottish captain in the Dutch navy; the settlement soon became a bustling center of international trade. The entire island came under effective French control from 1795 when Netherlands became a puppet state under the French Empire until 1815. In the end, the French came out ahead with 20 square miles (53 square kilometers, or 61%) against 13 square miles (34 square kilometers; 39%) on the Dutch side.
With the new cultivation of cotton, tobacco, and sugar, the French and the Dutch imported a massive number of slaves to work on the plantations. The slave population quickly grew larger than that of the land owners. Subjected to cruel treatment, slaves staged rebellions, and their overwhelming numbers made them impossible to ignore. In 1848, the French abolished slavery in their colonies including the French side of St. Martin. Slaves on the Dutch side of the island protested and threatened to flee to the French side to seek asylum. The local Dutch authorities relented and emancipated the colonies’ slaves. While this decree was respected locally, it was not until 1863 when the Dutch abolished slavery in all of their island colonies that the slaves became legally free.
After the abolition of slavery, plantation culture declined and the island’s economy suffered. In 1939, St. Martin received a major boost when it was declared a duty-free port. In 1941, the island was shelled by a German U-boat during World War II. The Dutch side began focusing on tourism in the 1950s, with the French side following suit two decades later. Because of being split up into a Dutch and a French part, the tourist boom was heavier on Sint Maarten than on the surrounding islands. Its Princess Juliana International Airport became one of the busiest in the Eastern Caribbean. For much of this period, Sint Maarten was governed by business tycoon Claude Wathey of the Democratic Party.
The island’s demographics changed dramatically during this period as well. The island’s population increased from a mere 5,000 people to around 60,000 people in the mid-1990s. Immigration from the neighboring Lesser Antilles, Curaçao, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the United States, Europe, and Asia turned the native population into a minority.
Sint Maarten became an “island territory” (eilandgebied in Dutch) of the Netherlands Antilles in 1983. Before that date, Sint Maarten was part of the island territory of the Windward Islands, together with Saba and Sint Eustatius. The status of an island territory entails considerable autonomy summed up in the Island Regulation of the Netherlands Antilles. The island territory of Sint Maarten was ruled by an island council, an executive council, and a Lieutenant Governor (gezaghebber) appointed by the Dutch Crown.
In 1994, the Kingdom of the Netherlands and France signed the Franco-Dutch treaty on Saint Martin border controls, which allows for joint Franco-Dutch border controls on so-called “risk flights”. After some delay, the treaty was ratified in November 2006 in the Netherlands, and subsequently entered into force on August 1, 2007.
On October 10, 2010, Sint Maarten became a constituent country (Land Sint Maarten) within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, making it a constitutional equal partner with Aruba, Curaçao, and the Netherlands proper.
The island is famous for its runway at Princess Juliana International Airport, in which landing aircraft pass within less than 35 meters of Maho Beach below, due to the close proximity of the runway to the ocean. The planes appear to land dangerously close to beach goers. The thrilling approaches and ease of access for shooting spectacular images, made the airport one of the world’s favorite places among planespotters, as pictured on the postcard. The airport is named after Juliana of the Netherlands, who as crown princess landed here in 1944, the year after the airport opened. There is also an airport on the French side of the island, called Aéroport de Grand Case or L’Espérance Airport.