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Terre-de-Bas (Municipality, Guadeloupe, France)


Last modified: 2023-05-09 by olivier touzeau
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Flag of Terre-de-Bas - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 17 March 2023

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Presentation of Terre-de-Bas

Terre-de-Bas is a commune in Guadeloupe, in the group of Les Saintes islands, to the southwest of Guadeloupe's mainland. The archipelago of Les Saintes is divided into two communes: Terre-de-Haut and Terre-de-Bas. Terre-de-Bas is made up of Terre-de-Bas Island and several uninhabited islands and islets. The commune of Terre-de-Bas has 950 inhabitants on 6.8 km².

Olivier Touzeau, 17 March 2023

Les Saintes (Terre-de-Haut and Terre-de-Bas) is mostly populated by the descendants of colonists from Brittany and Normandy, Poitou, Saintonge and Anjou, from the first French families that lived on Saint Christopher and Nevis when it was a French colony. The population has the peculiarity of being primarily of European origin and speaks a variety of popular American French, with some terms of Old French.

Although uninhabited due to the lack of spring water, the islands were, before the European conquest, regularly visited by Kalinagos people living on the neighbourhood islands of Guadeloupe and Dominica.
During his second expedition, Christopher Columbus discovered the small archipelago on 4 November 1493 and named it "Los Santos", in reference to All Saints' Day which had just been celebrated.
On 18 October 1648, a French expedition annexed Les Saintes, already under English influence, at the request of the governor of Guadeloupe, Charles Houël. From 1649, the islands became a colony exploited by the French West India Company which tried to establish agriculture.
In 1653, the Kalinagos slaughtered the French troops in neighbouring island of Marie-Galante. The French sent a punitive expedition against the tribes in Dominica and then the Kalinagos invaded Les Saintes to take revenge. They were definitively chased away in 1658. The French West India Company was dissolved in 1664 and the archipelago was then acquired in the French royal domain by Jean-Baptiste Colbert
In 1666, the English attacked the archipelago; they surrendered on 15 August 1666, the day of the Assumption of Mary. Our-Lady-of-Assumption became the patron saint of the parish of the archipelago.

From 1759 to 1763, the British took possession of Les Saintes and a part of Guadeloupe. Les Saintes were restored to the Kingdom of France after the signature of the Treaty of Paris on 10 February 1763. To prevent further British ambitions, King Louis XVI ordered the construction of fortifications on Les Saintes. Thus began the construction of "Fort Louis" on the Mire Hill on Terre de Haut island.
On 12 April 1782, the French fleet of Comte de Grasse, which aimed to annex British Jamaica, left Martinique and headed towards Les Saintes. The French fleet was caught in the Dominica Passage by the British and 2,000 French were killed, and 5,000 men and 5 boats captured. The defeat put Les Saintes under British control for twenty years. In 1802, the Bonapartists succeeded in obtaining the archipelago from the British, under the pressure of their military assaults. In 1805, Fort-Louis was renamed Fort Napoléon.
The archipelago was reconquered by the British in April 1809, and Guadeloupe in 1810. The British destroyed Fort Napoléon in 1809.
Guadeloupe was offered to king of Sweden Karl XIV Johan in 1813. Under the Treaty of Paris signed on 30 May 1814, the United Kingdom accepted to give Guadeloupe back to France. King Karl XIV Johan of Sweden retroceded Guadeloupe to France. The French took possession of Les Saintes in December 1814.
The new governor of Guadeloupe and dependencies, the Comte de Linois, was sent by Louis XVIII to repossess the colony. With the return of Napoleon I in April 1815, a conflict broke out between Bonapartists and monarchists. On 19 June 1815, Comte de Linois rejoined the Bonapartists.
The governor of Windward Islands in Martinique, the Comte de Vaugiraud, sent a British frigate to bring back the monarchical order of Louis XVIII.
Les Saintes were annexed again by the crown of Great Britain on 6 July 1815, Marie-Galante on 18 July and Guadeloupe on 10 August.
The British troops left the colony to the French only on 22 July 1816. In 1844, during Louis Philippe I's reign, the construction of a fort began on the ruins of the old Fort Louis. The fortification was built to the technique of Vauban to protect the archipelago against a possible British reconquest. The fort was finished in 1867 in the reign of Napoleon III.
On 9 August 1882, following the church's requirements asking for the creation of Saint-Nicholas's parish, the municipality of Terre-de-Bas was created, separating from Terre-de-Haut which also became a municipality. The patron saint's day of Terre-de-Bas was then established on 6 December, St Nicholas'Day.
In 1903, the military and disciplinary garrisons were definitively given up.

During World War II, until July 1943 when the French Antilles joined the Free French Forces and the allies, Fort Napoléén had become a political jail where the dissidents were locked.
In 1957, in the municipal elections, the mysterious death of the mayor of Terre-de-Haut, Théodore Samson, while he was in the office of the National Gendarmerie, provoked an uprising of the population against the institution which was attacked with conches and stones. The revolt lasted two days before being quelled by the military and police reinforcements from Guadeloupe whom dissipated the crowd and arrested the insurgents. A frigate of the navy stayed a few weeks in the harbour of Les Saintes to restore the peace.
Touristic cruises to Les Saintes began in 1958; in 1963, the archipelago welcomed SS France during its first transatlantic voyage, and in 1969, the first hotel of the island opened its doors. In 1972, Les Saintes was equipped with a desalination plant, replaced in 1993 by a submarine supply piped from Guadeloupe.
In 1974, Fort Napoléon was restored and accommodated a museum dedicated to Les Saintes' history, culture, and environment. It also contains the Jardin exotique du Fort Napoléon, a botanical garden dedicated to local succulent plants and iguanas.
In May 2001, les Saintes joined the Club of the Most Beautiful Bays of the World.

Olivier Touzeau, 8 March 2019

Flag of Terre-de-Bas

The flag of Terre-de-Bas (photo from this page) is white with the coat of arms and the name of the commune above:

Olivier Touzeau, 17 March 2023