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Flag of Saint Martin
Saint Martin
(overseas collectivity of France)

Map of Saint Martin
Although sighted by Christopher COLUMBUS in 1493 and claimed for Spain, it was the Dutch who occupied the island in 1631 and set about exploiting its salt deposits. The Spanish retook the island in 1633, but continued to be harassed by the Dutch. The Spanish finally relinquished St. Martin to the French and Dutch, who divided it amongst themselves in 1648. The cultivation of sugar cane introduced slavery to the island in the late 18th century; the practice was not abolished until 1848. The island became a free port in 1939; the tourism industry was dramatically expanded during the 1970s and 1980s. In 2003, the populace of St. Martin voted to secede from Guadeloupe and in 2007, the northern portion of the island became a French overseas collectivity. Its languages are: French (official language), English, Dutch, French Patois, Spanish, and Papiamento (dialect of Netherlands Antilles).
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