Excavations suggest St. Maarten was settled around 2,500 years ago by American Indian Arawaks. Christopher Columbus sighted the island during his second voyage in November 1493, naming it without setting foot on land. The Spaniards couldn't spare the expense of military maintenance after several devastating European wars, so they literally abandoned it in 1648, enabling opportunistic French and Dutch settlers from, respectively, St. Kitts and St. Eustatius, to claim the island. After initial skirmishes, mostly political, the two nations officially settled their differences later that year. Even so, St. Maarten changed hands 16 times before it became permanently Dutch, while the French side endured the usual colonial tugs-of-war through the Napoleonic era. Alas, there appears to be no truth to the colorful legend of a wine-drinking Frenchman and gin-guzzling Dutchman walking the island to determine the border.

Recommended Books

The Caribbean has produced numerous fine authors, including Nobel Prize laureate Derek Walcott (St. Lucia), V. S. Naipaul (Trinidad), Anthony Winkler (Jamaica), Jean Rhys (Dominica), and Jamaica Kincaid (Antigua). Alas, St. Martin boasts no noted native writers. But there are a few literal "beach" reads worth mentioning. The Captain's Fund by Raina Wissing Harris, a very purple "romance suspense" novel of murder, heiresses-in-distress, and black market diamonds, is notable for its St. Maarten/St. Martin setting with such familiar landmarks as Friar's Beach Café, the Horny Toad Guesthouse, and Joe's Jewelry International. Celebrity chef/author Anthony Bourdain's comedic crime novel Gone Bamboo is also inspired by St. Martin.

Melinda and Bob Blanchard's A Trip to the Beach: Living on Island Time in the Caribbean is the true-life restaurateurs' hilarious yet sympathetic, ungarnished version of Herman Wouk's riotous fictional account of an American hotelier in the Antilles, Don't Stop the Carnival. The Blanchards' most recent guide is Changing Your Course: The 5-Step Guide to Getting the Life You Want. Murder in St. Barts is a passable Gendarme Trenet novel by J. R. Ripley (note that teasing last name, mystery aficionados), better known for the Tony Kozol whodunits. Jimmy Buffet's Tales from Margaritaville offers fictional short stories of West Indian life, many based on his years of St. Barts residency.

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