St. Maarten & St. Martin have changed hands many times between the Spanish, Dutch and French. The old stone forts, which guard many of the islands inlets, are proof of the island’s turbulent past.
Historic settlements have been found on the Island dating back to 4,000 BC. Around 800 AD most Caribbean islands were settled by Arawak Indians who arrived from South America to settle down to a life of fishing, hunting and farming. However, in the 14th century, the cannibalistic Carib Indians followed the Arawak Indians. They were a much more war-like tribe. They also named St. Maarten / St. Martin as Soualiga, which means “Salt Island”. This was due to its main mineral deposit. In fact, the remains of the Great Salt Pond can still be seen in Philipsburg today.
The legend says that St. Maarten / St. Martin receives its name from the day Christopher Columbus landed on the island. That was on November 11th 1493, the holy day of St. Martin of Tours and now St. Maarten / St. Martin / Sint Maarten's Day, too.
Even though the Spanish sighted the island, they didn’t settle here immediately. Conversely, in 1630 the Dutch and French established small settlements on St. Maarten & St. Martin. The Spanish saw this as a threat to their influence in the region and launched attacks on the island - driving out both the Dutch and French settlements.
The Dutch and French fought together to beat back and repel the Spanish, and finally in 1644 they achieved their goal so the Spanish finally abandoned their claims to the Eastern Caribbean altogether. In 1648 and after driving out the Spanish, the Dutch and French agreed to divide the island. Over the next few years, the boundary was the subject of numerous disputes, which were not settled until 1817. In this timeframe the island changed hands between the two powers 16 times.