Finns of the Caribbean

Yah mon, there were Finns in the Caribbean and not just on the fishes.  It all started on March 7th, 1785 on the island of Saint Barthélemy, better known as just St. Barts.  King Gustav III of Sweden would trade access to the Swedish port of Gothenburg for the island with France’s King Louis XVI.  King Gustav didn’t want to be left behind as the rest of Europe would colonize the Americas. 

As word of the new colony spread through Sweden, “island fever” erupted in Finland.  The warm sunny location and promises of protection from creditors caused a massive migration to port cities in Finland in hopes of passage to St. Barts.  Another proclamation in May of 1786 from the king would portray the meager income and cramped conditions on the island would quell the migration.  In 1785, the island was already home to 950 people.

Under Swedish rule, the main port of Gustavia would be created.  One of the first ships to arrive was merchant ship, the Exprès, from Turku.  The island was declared a free port for any type of trade under any flag.  The port would even be involved in the slave trade, until 1813.  The French Revolution and the War of 1812 would later boost the role of the port, during which 20% of US exports would go through Gustavia.  In this day and age, piracy was a common practice in the Caribbean.  Gustavia would be one of the main ports where pirates of any flag could sell their booty.

Another role for the island would be a place to put people into exile.  Robert Montgomery, commander of the Tavastehus Dragoon Regiment, a Finnish cavalry regiment.  He would be exiled here for his part in the Anjala Conspiracy, an attempt to secretly negotiate a truce with Russia over Finland, in 1789.  He would return from St Barts in 1793.

During the reign of Sweden over St Barts, Berndt Robert Gustaf Stackelberg born in Turku was the Governor of St Barts from 1812 to 1816.  When taking office the population of the island was 5,482.  From 1819 to 1831 would be the ambassador of Sweden to the United States.  While he was from German aristocracy, the family line would move to Finland.  Much of that family line is still in Finland and Estonia.

August Maximilian Myhrberg arrived in St Barts in 1842 with the Swedish military.  Born in Raahe, Finland, Myhrberg would fight in wars across Europe.  He would leave the island in 1848.

There were probably many other Finns on the island during Swedish rule.  Many probably with the military.  Unfortunately I was not able to find many facts related to Swedens rule over St. Barts.

Sweden would hold onto St Barts until 1878.  The Napoleonic Wars would take their toll on trade in the Caribbean.  As would several hurricanes (1819, 1821, and 1837) and the invention of the steam ship.  King Oscar II would sell the island back to the French for 300,000 riksdalers.  To this day, St. Barts still holds to its Swedish history.

By the way, St Barts would not be Sweden’s only territory in the Caribbean.  For a short time in 1813, 14 months in fact, the British gave the island of Guadeloupe to the king for Sweden’s participation in the Napoleonic Wars.  But Sweden never really took control over Guadeloupe.

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