The history of St. Maarten/St. Martin began long before European exploration. Arawak Indians arrived on the island from Central America around 800 A.D. Hundreds of years later, Christopher Columbus spotted the island from his ship on his1493 voyage, but never landed on the place that he named St. Martin. Over the next couple hundred years, lured on by the rich salt deposits of the Great Salt Pond behind where Philipsburg is today, the island went through a succession of occupations by the Dutch, Spanish, English and French trading back and forth. The dual nation island followed some of the same historical patterns that were prevalent throughout the Caribbean region, including the introduction of the sugarcane industry and slavery.
The French and Dutch colonists reclaimed the island and both groups were set on inhabiting St. Martin. Initially, the French and Dutch had a few spats of disagreement, but eventually, both groups accepted the fact that neither was going to leave St. Martin without a fight. In 1648, both sides signed the Treaty of Concordia, which divided the island between the two nations. Even with the treaty, conflicts arose between the two sides of the island, as well from external attacking European forces.
The inhabitants of St. Martin come from all over the world, including various European, African, and Caribbean countries. Of course, the government is strongly influenced by the French and Dutch on their respective sides of the island. St. Martin is an overseas collectivity of France, with their governing body being a Territorial Council headed by a president. Sint Maarten, was formerly a part of the Netherlands Antilles, and governed by the Kingdom of the Netherlands. In October of 2010, the Netherlands Antilles dissolved and Sint Maarten became an independent governing body with ties to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, much like Aruba is. St. Martin has a total area of 36 square miles, with a population of nearly 90 thousand people. The city with the highest concentration of residents, Marigot, is on the French side of the island, but the Dutch side of the island has a larger overall population.
Language is one of the most explicit indications of culture on St. Martin. The official language of St. Martin is French, while the official language of St. Maarten is Dutch. Other cultures are manifest in religion and the island's music, which is rooted in African culture, and food, which tends to mix French delicacies with Creole heat.
St. Martin's economy suffered a severe blow with the emancipation of black slaves on the island and the end of the sugar industry. But this tiny island has managed to maintain its economy with the tourism industry and its relationship with other countries, like the U.S., from which St. Martin imports a lot of goods. This is important because St. Martin has very limited sources of agriculture and natural resources. The economy of St. Martin definitely centers on tourism, with 85 percent of the labor force employed by the tourism industry.