Along with the other overseas regions of France, Martinique is an integral part of the French Republic. Therefore, as part of France, Martinique enjoys the status of being part of the European Union. Accordingly, its currency is the Euro. The official language is French. However, virtually everyone on the island also speaks Antillean Creole.
Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus landed on Martinique on 15 June 1502, after a 21-day trade wind passage. This Atlantic crossing was his fastest ever ocean voyage. He spent some days there refilling his water casks and relaxing before making an onward journey.
Columbus discovered Martinique
The island was initially called “Jouanacaëra-Matinino”. This name came from a mythical island once described by the then Tainos of Hispaniola. According to the historian Sydney Daney, the Caribs named the island “Jouanacaëra”, which means “The island of Iguanas”.
In 1502, Columbus christened the island as “Martinica”. Eventually, this name evolved into Madinina (“Little Island of Flowers”). Finally, through the influence of the island of Dominica (La Dominique), it came to be known as Martinique. Although Christopher Columbus discovered Martinique in 1493, Spain showed little interest in developing the territory.
Claimed by the French
On 15 September 1635, the English managed to drive the French off the nearby island of St. Kitts. The ousted French governor, Pierre Belain d’Esnambuc, landed in the harbour of St. Pierre with 150 French settlers. D’Esnambuc claimed Martinique for the French and the “Compagnie des Îles de l’Amérique”, establishing a settlement at Fort Saint-Pierre. D’Esnambuc passed away in 1636, leaving the company and the island under the control of his nephew. Accordingly, Jacques Doyel du Parquet inherited the title and formally became Governor in 1637.
The indigenous Caribs
In 1636, the indigenous Caribs rose against the French settlers to drive them off the island. It was the first of many battles. The French managed to repel the native people and force them to retreat to the eastern part of the island. When the Caribs again revolted against French rule in 1658, the Governor Charles Houël du Petit Pré retaliated by declaring war against them. Many indigenous Caribs were killed during the conflict. Some, however, survived and were taken captive. Any survivors who escaped the war fled to Dominica or St. Vincent, where the French finally agreed to leave them in peace.
Martinique was successfully occupied several times by the British, including once during the Seven Years’ War. During the Napoleonic Wars, the British captured it twice. Britain controlled the island almost continuously from 1794–1815. They traded with France and eventually returned it to the French during the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars.