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Swedish colony of Saint Barthélemy

Photo about 1865

The Swedish colony of Saint Barthélemy existed for nearly a century. In 1784, one of Louis XVI‘s ministers ceded the French Caribbean island to Sweden in exchange for trading rights in the Swedish port of Gothenburg. Swedish rule lasted until 1878 when the French repurchased the island.[2]


Following problems experienced by early French settlers, Saint Barthélemy was successfully colonized by French mariners in 1763.[2] Attracted by the island’s prosperity during the American Revolutionary War, Gustav III of Sweden agreed to exchange French trading rights in Gothenburg against Swedish colonization of the island. In addition to its fresh water sources, the island produced moderate amounts of cotton, sugar, cocoa, tobacco and fruits while it promised substantial revenue from trade through its natural harbour on the island’s west coast.[3]

On 1 July 1784, the island became a Swedish possession. The king informed Sweden’s privy council of the acquisition on 23 August. On 1 September, Swedish officials under the leadership of Salomon von Rajalin (1757–1825), the island’s first Swedish governor, were appointed to administer the island. They sailed from Gothenburg on 4 December 1784 on the frigate , arriving in Saint Barthélemy on 6 March 1785. In January 1785, the Swedish merchants Jacob Röhl and Adolf Fredrik Hansen had already arrived to establish a trading post with warehousing. At the time, the island had a population of some 750 of whom 281 were slaves. French was spoken in the rural areas while English was spoken in the capital.[4][5]

History of Swedish rule

On 7 March 1785, the French commandant Chevalier de Durant ceded authority to von Rajalin who, on 16 April 1785, introduced tax free trading for visiting ships. On 7 September, he established Saint Barthélemy as a free port. The French port of La Carénage was renamed Gustavia after the Swedish king.[5]

From 28 August 1786, slave trade was included in a royal letter and on 12 March 1790 the taxation regime for the shipment of slaves was established.[6] Between a third to half of Saint Barthélemy’s population were registered slaves in year 1819 (estimations are between 1,283 and 2033 slaves).[4][7] On 31 October 1786, the Swedish West India Company was established on the island with responsibility for maintaining the port and the employment of Swedish officials. By the end of the century, around 1,330 ships visited the port of Gustavia annually.[4]

By the beginning of the 19th century, the population had grown to around 6,000, with some 5,000 living in Gustavia. From 19 March 1801 to 10 July 1802, the British occupied the island.[4] The weekly journal The Report of St Bartholomew was published from 1804 to 1819 documenting life on the island over a period of 15 years.[5] Following rioting between the island’s French and English communities in September 1811, an administrative council consisting of the governor and six officials was established on 25 September to govern the island. Arrangements were also made for popular representation within an assembly which met every three years.[1] Trade continued to flourish during the War of 1812 between Britain and the United States when 20% of American exports were routed via St Barthélemy.[5]

In 1812, the Swedish parliament transferred the colony to the king as his private property. A colonial department was established in the king’s chancellery and customs duties and revenues were paid into the king’s Saint Barthélemy fund. Revenues from 1812 to 1816 amounted to around SEK 1.9 million and from 1817 to 1830 to SEK 1.8 million providing a total surplus of SEK 2.2 million. In 1839, Gustavia lost its role as a free port. Thereafter Sweden provided the necessary financial support.[5]

In 1840, around 300 died when a feverish epidemic hit the island, reducing the population to about 2,500. In 1850, the island also suffered a severe drought.[4]

In the mid-1840s, the Swedish parliament ruled that Saint Barthélemy should again be included under national administration. The parliament also abolished slave trading and slavery on the island. A census in late 1875 indicated there were around 2,300 living on the island, 800 of whom resided in Gustavia. That year only 399 ships sailed to the island of which 227 were from Britain and 132 from Sweden.

As a result of increases in the financial support required to administer the colony, the Swedish authorities began negotiations with France for the island’s repurchase. On 10 August 1877, the transfer agreement was signed in Paris. It was ratified in Stockholm on 9 November 1877 and in Paris on 4 March 1878. The transaction price was 80,000 francs for Swedish assets and 320,000 francs for the repatriation and retirement of Swedish officials.[8] On 16 March 1878, the French officially reoccupied Saint Barthélemy.[9]


The first Swedish governor, Salomon von Rajalin.

  • Salomon von Rajalin (March 1785 – March 1787)
  • (April 1787 – June 1790)
  • (June 1790 – November 1795)
  • (November 1795 – January 1801)
  • (January 1801 – February 1812)
  • (February 1812 – October 1816)
  • (October 1816 – September 1818)
  • (acting governor September 1818 – August 1819)
  • (August 1819 – 2 May 1826)
  • and Lars G Morsing (May 1826 – October 1833 )
  • (October 1833 – August 1858)
  • (August 1858 – August 1868, also acting governor July 1841 – November 1842, July 1844 – November 1845, May 1853 – October 1854)
  • (acting governor August 1868 – December 1868)
  • (December 1868 – 16 March 1878)
  • (acting governor June 1874 – November 1875)


  1. ^ a b c d e f Linder, N, ed. (1878). Nordisk familjebok: konversationslexikon och realencyklopedi innehållende upplysningar och förklaringar om märkvärdiga namn, föremål och begrepp (in Swedish). 2nd. Stockholm. pp. 17–18. Retrieved 3 July 2015.
  2. ^ a b “St. Barts island history”. St.Barths Online. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
  3. ^ Norman, Hans (1994). “När Sverige skulle bli kolonialmakt” [When Sweden would become a colonial power]. Populär Historia (in Swedish) (4). Retrieved 1 July 2015.
  4. ^ a b c d e “St. Barthélemy under Sverigetiden” (in Swedish). S.T Barthélemysällskapet. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
  5. ^ a b c d e “S:t Barthélemy” (in Swedish). Maritime Museum. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  6. ^ “Le ” Code Noir ” suédois de Saint-Barthélemy” (in French). Retrieved 2 July 2015. External link in |publisher= (help)
  7. ^ “List of voyages”. The Trans Atlantic Slave Trade Database. Archived from the original on 29 June 2015. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  8. ^ “History of St. Barthelemy Island”. Wimco. Retrieved 4 July 2015.
  9. ^ “Saint-Barthélemy”. Rulers. Retrieved 4 July 2015.