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Southeastern view from the historic Tour Modèle watchtower in Terre-de-Haut, Les Saintes

LES SAINTES / A Brief History

The history of Les Saintes is as rich as their cuisine. Columbus spied these islands on November 4, 1493, three days after the Feast of All Saints. He named the archipelago Los Santos which was later revised by the French to Les Saintes. (Every November 1, Les Saintois observe All Saints Day (Toussaint) by illuminating their cemeteries with a profusion of candles.)

The first French settlers ventured here in the mid-l7th century, and the neighboring seas subsequently served as the battleground for many a skirmish with the British. One of the most famous, the great naval battle of l782 between Admirals Rodney and de Grasse, was fought in the channel of Les Saintes, and resulted in three decades of British rule. The Saints were returned to the French through the Treaty of Paris in 1815.

Some of the history is recalled in Terre-de-Haut's most important annual event, La Fête des Saintes, a two-day affair celebrated every August. On August 15, it commemorates the first expulsion of British invaders in l666 and on August 16, it honors the Virgin Mary and all local sailors ever lost at sea. There are speeches and parades, a blessing of boats and ribbon-cutting for various enterprises related to fishing and the sea, which support the bulk of the island's economy. It is also, of course, a time for wining, dining, and dancing. But because Terre-de-Haut is so small and its festival so popular, these two days in August are best left for the homefolk to enjoy by themselves, or with visiting relatives and yachtsmen from nearby islands.

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