MARGARITA, an island in the Caribbean Sea belonging to Venezuela, about 12 m. N. of the peninsula of Araya, and constituting, under the constitution of 1904, with Tortuga, Cubagua and Coche a political division called the Eastern Federal District. The island is about 40 m. long from east to west, has an area of 400 sq. m., and consists of two mountainous extremities, nearly separated by the Laguna Grande on the south, but connected by a low, narrow isthmus. The highest elevation on the island is the peak of Macanao, 4484 ft., in the western part, the highest point in the eastern part being the peak of Copei, 4170 ft. The higher valleys of the interior are highly fertile and are well adapted to grazing and stock-raising. The principal industries are fishing and the making of salt. The pearl fisheries, which were so productive in the 16th and 17th centuries, are no longer important. A domestic industry of the women is that of making coarse straw hats, which are sold on the mainland. The products of Margarita, however, are insufficient to support its population, and large numbers periodically emigrate to the mainland, preventing the increase in population which its healthful climate favours. The population was estimated in 1904 at 40,000, composed in great part of half-caste Guayqueri Indians. The capital is Asuncion (pop. about 3000), on the east side of the island, and its principal port is Pompatar on the south coast. The two small ports of Puebla de la Mar (Porlamar) and Puebla del Norte are merely open roadsteads.
The island of Margarita (from Span. Margarita, pearl) was discovered by Columbus in 1498, and was bestowed in 1524 upon Marceto VUlalobos by Charles V. In 1561 the freebooter Lope de Aguirre ravaged the island, and in 1662 the town of Pompatar was destroyed by the Dutch. For a long time Margarita was attached to Cumana, but in the eighteenth century it was made administratively independent. Its traders and sailors rendered invaluable assistance to the revolutionists in the war of independence, and the Spanish general, Morillo, was driven from its shores in 1817; in recognition of this it was made a separate state and was renamed Nueva Esparta (New Sparta). In 1904-1909 it was a part of the Federal District with Asunci6n as its capital. The first Spanish settlement in South America was Nueva Cadiz, founded in 1515 on the barren island of Cubagua; but the place was abandoned when pearl-fishing and slave-trading ceased to be profitable.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)