Marie-Galante is an island of the Caribbean Sea located in the Guadeloupean archipelago. Marie-Galante is constitutionally part of France, as Guadeloupe is an overseas région and département.
The island of Marie-Galante has a land area of 158 km² (61 sq. miles), and a population of 12,009 inhabitants at the 2006 census (down from 16,341 inhabitants at the 1961 census). The population density in 2006 was 76 inh. per km².
With an area of 158.01 km² (61.01 sq mi), the island comprises three communes with a combined 1999 census population of 12,488 inhabitants. The island is more commonly known as "La grande galette" (Big Pancake) due to its round shape and almost flat surface (its highest peak, the hill Morne Constant, rises to 670 ft). Once counting over 106 sugar mills, it is also called the "Island of a hundred windmills", or the "Grande dependence" (the biggest island depending on Guadeloupe). The island is undulating substrate calcareous, sprinkled by the trade wind but such a subjected to the cyclones and the 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 since the heart 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 from which it is protected by a coral barrier.
The Huecoides is the oldest known civilization to have occupied Marie Galante. The Arawak tribe followed them. Then around AD 850 the Carib Indians arrived. Among the islands of the Guadeloupe archipelago, Marie Galante was the first one 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 after his flagship, Maria Galanda. It was previously called "Aichi" by the Carib Indians and "Touloukaera" by the Arawaks.
On November 8, 1648, Governor Houel organized the settlement of the first French colonists, they were about fifty men near the site of Vieux-Fort in Saint Louis. 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.
Sugar cane most probably originated from India 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 Carib Indians 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 slaves 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" (Punch pond) in memory of these tragic events.
The Guadeloupe archipelago is made up, principally, of the islands of Grande-Terre, Basse-Terre, Marie-Galante, Saint-Martin, Saint-Barthelemy, Terre de Haut, Terre de Bas and Desirade. It has been an overseas French 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. These were designated a county community on January 8, 1994, the first to be created in a French Overseas department.