Saint Barthélemy

WE GUSTAF, by the Grace of God, King of Sweden, of Goths and Wends &c. &c. &c. Heir to Norway, and Duke of Schleswig Hollstein &c. &c. Make it publicly known, that We for promoting trade on the island of St. Barthelemy belonging to the Swedish Crown in the West Indies, graciously consider it good to declare this island as a Free Port, or as so-called Porto Franco, where all kinds of merchandise and goods may be stored, sold or sent from there to other places; This means that all persons there, be they domestic or alien, who are willing to ply the above-mentioned trade may possess a unhampered opportunity to enjoy of all the benefits that the advantageous situation, healthy climate and good harbour thus offer; We will hereby grant to all Nations, without discrimination, an unlimited freedom to arrive with their vessels at the said island of St. Barthelemy, be it war or peace, to unload and load, and a permission to everyone to settle down there and to ply their trade and navigation and enjoy a free practise of religion, and all the other freedoms and rights already or later granted to this island; Furthermore We hereby will also grant for such people who are running away from their creditors a free town on the foregoing island, for ten years, irrespective where they come from. This is to be obediently executed by all those in charge. In faith thereof We have signed this with Our Own Hand and let Our Royal Seal be affixed here. Drottningholm Castle on the 7th of September 1785.


Sweden had bought the island of Saint Barthélemy from France in 1784 and possessed it as a colony until 1878, when it was sold back. An aerial view. The foregoing proclamation from the year 1785 by Gustavus III, the promise of being protected from creditors for ten years and the idea of the tropical location of the island caused unrestrained migration in Finland. Poor peasants arrived in thousands to coastal cities to wait for - as they thought - the king's free voyage to the West Indies. This led to numerous tragedies which made the king to give a new proclamation in May 1786 warning about the crammed space and meager income on the island. The province governors were ordered to make the proclamation publicly known.The island fever did not end before the autumn 1786.

The Swedish Baron, Major Salomon Mauritz von Rajalin (1757-1825) was appointed as the first governor of the island. The island soon became a port of call to Nordic navigators. The brig Exprès (Capt. Granberg) of the merchant L.J. Escholin from Åbo (Turku) stayed at the island for nearly two months in 1787. The Swedes founded the town of Gustavia as their administrative center on the island. The island was, like other remote places, very suitable for sending people to exile. The commander of the Finnish Tavastehus Dragoon Regiment, Colonel Robert Montgomery (1737-1798), who took part in the Anjala plot against Gustav III, was sentenced to death in 1789. The sentence was, however, commuted to exile to the island of St. Barthélemy. He returned from here in 1793. St. Barthélemy was separated from the Swedish state administration in 1812. It remained as a personal possession of the king (Carl XIV Johan) and its revenues were directed to a foundation supervised by the king. A Finnish adventurist and freedom fighter August Maximilian Myhrberg (1797-1867), born in Raahe, was appointed as the sectary of the Great Council of the island in 1842. He returned from the island in 1848.

The Swedish Diet abolished slavery on the island in 1845 (Britain had abolished it throughout her Empire in 1833). The island's economy entered a slump and the state had to subsidise it. In1868 the Diet proposed to the king selling of the island which then was carried out in 1878. The last inhabitant of Swedish ancestry, seamstress Selma Justina Milander, died on the island at the age of 90 in 1939.

Sources Bengt Sjögren: Ön som Sverige sålde (Zindermans, Uddevalla 1967); Göran Skytte: Det kungliga svenska slaveriet (Askelin & Hägglund, Stockholm 1986); Resan till S:t Barthélemy. Dr. Christopher Carlanders resejournal 1787-1788. (Kungliga Vetenskapsakademien, Stockholm 1979)


A previous case for colony: The Queen Kristina of Sweden had on May 26, 1650, bought a small land area called Cabo Corso from King Futu Bredeva at the Guinean coast (in the present day Ghana). The acquisition got into difficulties later in 1658 when former Governor Henrik Carloff aided by Danes got hold of the fort. The Swedish African Company renewed the acquisition again 1660 in an agreement with the Danes. The Dutch captured the fort 1663 and the British a year later. The present name of the city is Cape Coast or locally Gua.
Back to the history page.