Category: Stories of St. Martin

Where the Streets Have Names

For several years I’ve had a dream that St. Martin was covered in signs explaining everything that makes the island unique and special. The island does have a few, but they’re mostly found at particularly old ruins and they mostly explain political and economic history from the colonial era. The actions of European-appointed leaders or the rise and fall of the sugar and salt industries are part of history, but so many other things are left unexplored.

Imagine 1,000 signs on the island, revealing 1,000 stories. I would love to read about Simpson Bay during the hundred years when the sea cut it off from the rest of the Dutch side of the island. I would love to learn about the artists and craftsmen who carved the delicate gingerbreading that can still be seen local houses, or produced the decorative cinderblocks that frame so many porches.

French and English meet on a street sign.

As it turns out, there are hundreds of signs on St. Martin. They don’t actually explain all these things, but they offer plenty of clues. Street signs, where they still exist after Irma, may tell a broader story than the signs designed to educate.

One that caught my eye many years ago was Rue des Gun Dove in French Quarter. I didn’t know of any bird known as the Gun Dove. It seemed possible that it referred to a dove that people hunted, but to my knowledge local hunters preferred hunting the larger pigeons. I looked it up on Google Maps today and it was shown as Rue des Ground Dove. The Ground Dove is a bird found here. Is “Gun Dove” a local name for it, or possibly a miscommunication when printing the sign?

Nearby, a sign marked Rue Rond the Pond. This mix of French and English is a reflection of St. Martin. The road itself runs around part of a pond, or ‘round the pond. The French rond, translates more directly as round, as in circular. A more direct translation of around would be autour, but that is certainly not as lyrical as Rond the Pond. Google shows it as Rue de Round de Pond, which is even less poetic.

From Rue Lady Fish in Sandy Ground to Manjack Drive in Cole Bay, street names give countless clues to the history and culture of the island. There are streets named after people, plants, animals and features of the landscape. What are your favorite street names, and do you know the story behind them? Write in to The Daily Herald, or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com and tell us about them!

The King of Tintamarre

The “King of Tintamarre” wasn’t a king, but his story remains one of St. Martin’s most popular tales. What is his story, and how has it remained so intriguing?

Diederick Crestiaan van Romondt was known as D.C., and his family was considered the wealthiest and most powerful family on St. Martin at the time. He owned the Mary’s Fancy estate, but left it in 1902, moving to Tintamarre reportedly to avoid paying local taxes.

A house still stands on Tintamarre.

On Tintamarre, he built a home and ran several businesses. He hired workers from St. Martin and Anguilla to grow sea island cotton and to raise cattle and sheep. They also produced butter and cheese on the island. He imported 30,000 old Dutch coins to pay his workers, who spent them at the store he built.

D.C. became “king” in 1913 when a French reporter wrote an article about him titled “Le Roi de Tintamarre” in a Paris newspaper. According to legend, this publicity attracted the attention of would-be queens in Europe who sent letters to him. He didn’t take a bride, and he moved back to Mary’s Fancy in 1932. In 1948, the van Romondt family name died along with D.C.

These ruins on Tintamarre still carry the king’s initials.

There are plenty of reasons why this story endures. The Caribbean is a wild and mysterious place, and Tintamarre is the wildest and most mysterious part of St. Martin. The idea of a rebellious individual creating their own kingdom in the wilderness is inspiring. The idea of independence is powerful on an island that has never been independent. He wasn’t a king, but in our imagination perhaps he is.

Like any story, there are a few questions lurking behind the fairytale. Is a wealthy person fleeing to avoid taxes an inspiring story to those of us who have never been rich? What was his relationship with the people who worked for him? Having control of the island, the currency and the only store is a perfect setup to take advantage of workers. Is this a story of a man striking out against the system, or powerful person using the system to his full advantage?

Do you find inspiration in the King of Tintamarre? What does this story mean to you? Write in to The Daily Herald, or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com and share your thoughts!

A Tale of Two Countries

St. Martin’s status as a two-nation island is often recited as a piece of trivia. It is called the smallest island split by two countries, though strictly speaking that’s not true. Although we know that the split is something that makes the island unique, we don’t always give context to this fact. What is the story behind the trivia? What does it tell us about what St. Martin was, and what it is today?

This is a story that can be taken in many directions, but let’s try out this one: St. Martin was split out of necessity—out of practicality. Neither the Dutch nor the French had the resources to claim, colonize and defend the whole island. The Treaty of Concordia that divided St. Martin explicitly calls for the joint defense of the island against attackers threatening either side. St. Martin was at the edge of European influence. It was on the frontier, so a frontier runs through it.

Frontier fables are part of the St. Martin story.

This perspective on the splitting of St. Martin leads us to a variety of related thoughts. St. Martin has a culture all its own that is clearly neither French nor Dutch. These colonial powers controlled laws and land ownership, and brought slavery to the island, but they didn’t really define its culture.

In fact, one could argue that connections with other Caribbean islands were, in many ways, closer and more important than connections with Europe. English has always been spoken here, and St. Martin families have connections throughout the region.

Connections across the two sides of the island are even stronger. For over 100 years, Simpson Bay was separated from Philipsburg by water, but was tightly connected to Marigot. Estates spanned the two sides of the island. Today, many prefer the terms North and South over French Side and Dutch Side. 

Today, St. Martin is a melting pot of people and cultures. But that truly goes back all the way to the beginning of its history. It was a frontier land where planters from other nations were encouraged to farm. It is a place where African traditions persisted and evolved, despite the horrors of slavery. It was closely connected to the islands around it, a crossroads in the Caribbean. This perspective tells us much about what St. Martin is today, what makes it unique and what makes it strong.

There is, of course, another story that is told about the splitting of the island: a Frenchman and a Dutchman—each drinking a different alcohol—head off in opposite directions around the coast. They divide the island at the spot where they meet up again. It’s not literally true, but perhaps there is some meaning to the story and the fact that we still tell it.

What is your tale of two countries? What does the border mean to you? Write in to The Daily Herald, or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com and share your thoughts!

A Million Stories

Amuseum Naturalis was a free nature museum in Grand Case that was open the last two years. This year, the Les Fruits de Mer association is relaunching the Amuseum at the former site of The Old House museum in French Quarter. The scope of the museum is expanding to include heritage and culture, with the goal of telling the story of St. Martin.

The story of St. Martin is really a million smaller stories—pieces of a puzzle. These stories come together to tell us what St. Martin was like, and how it came to be the way it is today. They’re stories that are unique to this island, and stories that reveal St. Martin’s connections with the world.

A place to tell the story of St. Martin.

These stories are about everyone, not just the handful of white men who wrote a book or got mentioned in one. They’re stories that celebrate the humanity of every man and woman. No Amerindian was defined by the style of their pottery, no enslaved person was defined by their enslavement. It can be a challenge to find and tell stories that were deliberately hidden and ignored, but together we can find a way.

These stories are about the things that were made and done here. They explain why houses on St. Martin look distinctive, and how gingerbreading was carved by hand. They connect us with traditions in agriculture and cooking, even if the names of the inventors and innovators have been lost to time. They are about how people lived, and how we live today.

Theses stories are about a history that sometimes isn’t that old. The story of brothers making tiles in Sucker Garden that are still underfoot in hundreds of homes on the island. The story of how monkeys got to St. Martin. The stories of surviving Donna and Luis and Irma.

The story of St. Martin is in thousands of minds right now: a sentence here, a paragraph there, maybe a chapter in a diary or photo album. The goal of the Amuseum, and the goal of this series of articles, is to help collect and share these stories—to help St. Martin tell its own story.

Please join this process by sharing your stories. Write to info@lesfruitsdemer.com or connect with Les Fruits de Mer on Facebook. And tell us what you think we get right and wrong. There may be different ways to tell a story—even different truths—but together we can get to something honest and real.