Island’s History

St. Eustatius was formed when volcanic activity was frequent in this area of the Caribbean. The island has been inhabited by man since about 1,350 B.C.

More modern history started to be recorded when, according to the log of Christopher Columbus, he sailed close by St. Eustatius on his second voyage to this area in 1493. The first actual recorded sighting, however, was when Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Hawkins noted that they were off ‘Eztazia’ on November 5th, 1595. There are some records of people coming to the island during the next century, including the French who built a small fort in 1629 which later became what we now know as Fort Oranje. During Statia’s history the small island changed hands between the French, Dutch and British no less than 22 times!

In 1636 the Dutch West India Company took possession of the island. The principal intention of the Dutch, through this trading company, was to make St. Eustatius a trading center for merchandise from Europe and the far East and to ship back raw materials from the New World to the Netherlands. This was made very attractive as tax was not levied. This decision made St. Eustatius one of the world’s most successful tax-free havens.

Commerce was brisk for many years amongst many nations but was particularly brisk during the American War of Independence. From1776 to 1781 most of the guns and gunpowder which the Americans used in their Independence war were purchased in St. Eustatius.

First Salute

St. Eustatius is also famous for the ‘First Salute’. This historic event happened on November 16, 1776. On this fateful day, an unfamiliar ship entered the waters of St. Eustatius. The Dutch Governor, Johannes de Graaff, gave the order to return a salute of 11 shots to the brig, Andrew Doria which had fired an initial salute of 13 shots. This vessel was actually an American merchant ship that had been upgraded into a ‘man of war’ ship by the Continental Navy.

The ‘First Salute’ to recognize the United States of America was fired from Fort Oranje in St. Eustatius! It is a moment which Statian’s remember with pride and rightly so. This occasion is marked every November 16th with the “National Statia Day” also known as “Statia-America Day”.

It is clear that for such a small island, St. Eustatius has had an illustrious and big history. The stories are of wealth, wars, smuggling and privateers. If the roads and paths of St. Eustatius could speak, the stories would be stranger than fiction and larger than life!

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