Guadeloupe - Encyclopedia

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GUADELOUPE, a French colony in the West Indies, lying between the British islands of Montserrat on the N., and Dominica on the S., between 15° 59' and 16° 20' N. and 61° 31' and 61° 50' W. It consists of two entirely distinct islands, separated by a narrow arm of the sea, Riviere Sala (Salt river), varying from zoo ft. to 400 ft. in width and navigable for small vessels. The western island, a rugged mass of ridges, peaks and lofty uplands, is called Basse-Terre, while the eastern and smaller island, the real low-land, is known as Grande-Terre. A sinuous ridge runs through Basse-Terre from N. to S. In the north-west rises the peak of Grosse Montagne (2370 ft.), from which sharp spurs radiate in all directions; near the middle of the west coast are the twin heights of Les Mamelles (2536 ft. and 2368 ft.). Farther south the highest elevation is attained in La Soufriere (4900 ft.). In 1 797 this volcano was active, and in 1843 its convulsions laid several towns in ruins; but a few thermal springs and solfataras emitting vapour are now its only signs of activity. The range terminates in the extreme south in the jagged peak of Caraibe (2300 ft.). Basse-Terre is supremely beautiful, its cloud-capped mountains being clothed with a mantle of luxuriant vegetation. On Grande-Terre the highest elevation is only 450 ft., and this island is the seat of extensive sugar plantations. It consists of a plain composed mainly of limestone and a conglomerate of sand and broken shells known as maconne de bon dieu, much used for building. The bay between the two sections of Guadeloupe on the north is called Grand Cul-de-Sac Malin, that on the south being Petit Cul-de-Sac Malin. Basse-Terre (364 sq. m.) is 28 m. long by 12 m. to 15 m. wide; Grande-Terre (255 sq. m.) is 22 m. long from N. to S., of irregular shape, with a long peninsula, Chateaux Point, stretching from the south-eastern extremity. Basse-Terre is watered by a considerable number of streams, most of which in the rainy season are liable to sudden floods (locally called galions), but Grande-Terre is practically destitute of springs, and the water-supply is derived almost entirely from ponds and cisterns.

The west half of the island consists of a foundation of old eruptive rocks upon which rest the recent accumulations of the great volcanic cones, together with mechanical deposits derived from the denudation of the older rocks. Grande-Terre on the other hand, consists chiefly of nearly horizontal limestones lying conformably upon a series of fine tuffs and ashes, the whole belonging to the early part of the Tertiary system (probably Eocene and Oligocene). Occasional deposits of marl and limestone of late Pliocene age rest unconformably upon these older beds; and near the coast there are raised coral reefs of modern date.

The mean annual temperature is 78° F., and the minimum 61° F., and the maximum 101° F. From July to November heavy rains fall, the annual average on the coast being 86 in., while in the interior it is much greater. Guadeloupe is subject to terrible storms. In 1825 a hurricane destroyed the town of Basse-Terre, and Grand Bourg in Marie Galante suffered a like fate in 1865. The soil is rich and fruitful, sugar having long been its staple product. The other crops include cereals, cocoa, cotton, manioc, yams and rubber; tobacco, vanilla, coffee and bananas are grown, but in smaller quantities. Over 30% of the total area is under cultivation, and of this more than 50% is under sugar. The centres of this industry are St Anne, Pointe-aPitre and Le Moule, where there are well-equipped usines, and there is also a large usine at Basse-Terre. The forests, confined to the island of Basse-Terre, are extensive and rich in valuable woods, but, being difficult of access, are not worked. Salt and sulphur are the only minerals extracted, and in addition to the sugar usines, there are factories for the making of rum, liqueurs, chocolate, besides fruit-canning works and tanneries. France takes most of the exports; and next to France, the United States, Great Britain and India are the countries most interested in the import trade.

The inhabitants of Guadeloupe consist of a few white officials and planters, a few East Indian immigrants from the French possessions in India, and the rest negroes and mulattoes. These mulattoes are famous for their grace and beauty of both form and feature. The women greatly outnumber the men, and there is a very large percentage of illegitimate births. Pop. (1900) 182,112.

The governor is assisted by a privy council, a director of the interior, a procurator-general and a paymaster, and there is also an elected legislative council of 30 members. The colony forms a department of France and is represented in the French parliament by a senator and two deputies. Political elections are very eagerly contested, the mulatto element always striving to gain the preponderance of power.

The seat of government, of the Apostolic administration and of the court of appeal is at Basse-Terre (7762), which is situated on the south-west coast of the island of that name. It is a picturesque, healthy town standing on an open roadstead. Pointe-à-Pitre (17,242), the largest town, lies in Grande-Terre near the mouth of the Riviere Sala. Its excellent harbour has made it the chief port and commercial capital of the colony. Le Moule (10,378) on the east coast of Grande-Terre does a considerable export trade in sugar, despite its poor harbour. Of the other towns, St Anne (9497), Morne a l'Eau (8442), Petit Canal (6748), St Francois (5265), Petit Bourg (5110) and Trois Rivieres (5016), are the most important.

Round Guadeloupe are grouped its dependencies, namely, La Desirade, 6 m. E., a narrow rugged island 10 sq. m. in area; Marie Galante 16 m. S.E. Les Saintes, a group of seven small islands, 7 m. S., one of the strategic points of the Antilles, with a magnificent and strongly fortified naval harbour; St Martin, 142 m. N.N.W.; and St Bartholomew, 130 m. N.N.W.


Guadeloupe was discovered by Columbus in 1493, and received its name in honour of the monastery of S. Maria de Guadalupe at Estremadura in Spain. In 1635 l'Olive and Duplessis took possession of it in the name of the French Company of the Islands of America, and l'Olive exterminated the Caribs with great cruelty. Four chartered companies were ruined in their attempts to colonize the island, and in 1674 it passed into the possession of the French crown and long remained a dependency of Martinique. After unsuccessful attempts in 1666, 1691 and 1703, the British captured the island in 1759, and held it for four years. Guadeloupe was finally separated from Martinique in 1775, but it remained under the governor of the French Windward Islands. In 1782 Rodney defeated the French fleet near the island, and the British again obtained possession in April 1794, but in the following summer they were driven out by Victor Hugues with the assistance of the slaves whom he had liberated for the purpose. In 1802 Bonaparte, then first consul, sent an expedition to the island in order to re-establish sla v ery, but, after a heroic defence, many of the negroes preferred suicide to submission. During the Hundred Days in 1810, the British once more occupied the island, but, in spite of its cession to Sweden by the treaty of 1813 and a French invasion in 1814, they did not withdraw till 1816. Between 1816 and 1825 the code of laws peculiar to the island was introduced. Municipal institutions were established in 1837; and slavery was finally abolished in 1848.

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