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Musings on Caribbean History

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Did you know that it wasn't just the British, Dutch, French and Spanish who were involved in territorial acquisitions and exploitation in the Caribbean. There were other European actors in the region who also wanted their piece of the pie.

In the 17th and 18th century when King Sugar reigned supreme, owning a Caribbean colony was a much sought after status symbol among European states, as overseas colonies were a symbol of power and prestige at that time. Anybody who was anybody owned one. It was this need for status that brought the United Kingdom of Denmark and Norway and the Kingdom of Sweden into the Caribbean. Of course, by the time the Danes and Swedes entered the arena the territorial pickings were very slim so Denmark had to settle for the Virgin Islands (consisting of the islands of Saint Thomas with 32 square miles (83 km2); Saint John (Danish: St. Jan) 1672 – 1917 with 19 square miles (49 km2); and Saint Croix with 84 square miles (220 km2)) and Sweden ended up with tiny St. Barthelemy with an area of eight square miles in a barter deal with the French.

One of the most unexpected entrants into the competition was the Duchy of Courland, a tiny Baltic state that was part of the present day very small state of Latvia. With a population of less than a quarter of a million and an area of about ten thousand square miles as early as 1637, made the first of several unsuccessful attempts to found a colony on Tobago. 

It wasn’t just states that made a bid for Caribbean territory. Perhaps the strangest of all was the Roman Catholic military religious order the Knights Hospitaller of Malta which decided to try their hand at the very secular business of colonial territorial acquisitions and slavery. During the 17th century (1651 – 1665) the Knights owned four Caribbean islands (Saint Christopher, Saint Martin, Saint Barthélemy, and Saint Croix) until 1665 when the Knights sold their colony to the newly formed French Compagnie des Indes Occidentales (West India Company) because it wasn’t making a profit.


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