21 January 2015
 Gustavia, St. Barts: Tres French, in a Swedish Way

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Saint Barts is tres, tres French…in a Swedish kind of way.

Its European history began, as much of this region did, with Christopher Columbus. On his second voyage, he sailed past—he did not land—an island he named Saint Bartholomew, one of the twelve Apostles.



In 1648, the French were on the prowl in the Caribbean and they claimed the island. They renamed the place with a Gallic version: Saint Barthélemy.

For much of the next century, the principal industry of Saint Barts was piracy. French privateers (or buccaneers, as they were known) would set sail from the island’s natural harbor to prey on Spanish galleons.

STBARTS Shell Beach (c) SANDLER-4

STBARTS (c) Sandler-6

In 1784, as France began to totter toward Revolution, the French crown gave Saint Barts to Sweden in exchange for the right to engage in trade with the developing port of Gothenburg in the Baltic.

The Swedes wanted a foothold in the Americas as a place to sell iron ore and products. They renamed the village at the harbor Gustavia after King Gustav III and they founded the Swedish West India Company. That brought Swedish governors and Swedish merchants and Swedish slave traders to the Caribbean. That’s right: Swedish slavery.

In 1878 Sweden sold Saint Barts back to the French.

And today, the narrow lanes and handsome harbor are patrolled by tourists, oligarchs, and those that make a handsome living indulging them quite well.

STBARTS (c) Sandler-5


All photos copyright Corey Sandler, all rights reserved. If you would like to purchase a high-resolution copy of any image, please contact me.


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