MARTINIQUE, an island of the West Indies, belonging to the chain of the Lesser Antilles, and constituting a French colony, between the British islands of Dominica and St Lucia, 25 m. S. of the one and 20 m. N. of the other, about 14 40' N., 61 W. Its length is 40 m., its greatest width 21 m.; and the area comprises 380 sq. m. A cluster of volcanic mountains in the north, a similar group in the south, and a line of lower heights between them, form the backbone of the island. Its deep ravines and precipitous escarpments are reduced in appearance to gentle undulations by the drapery of the forests. The massif of Mont Pele in the north is the culminating point of the island (4430 ft.); that of Carbet is little inferior (3963 ft.), but the mountains in the south are much lower. Mont Pele is notorious for an appalling eruption in May 1902.
Of the numerous streams which traverse the few miles of country between the watershed and the sea (the longest radiating from Mount Carbet), about seventy-five are of considerable size, and in the rainy season become deep and often destructive torrents. On the northwest and north the coast is elevated and bold; and similarly on the south, where a lateral range, branching from the backbone of the island, forms a blunt peninsula bounding the low-shored western bay of Fort de France on the south. Another peninsula, called Carayelle, projects from the middle part of the east coast, and south of this the coast is low and fretted, with many islets and cays lying off it. Coral reefs occur especially in this locality. Plains, most numerous and extensive in the south, occupy about one-third of the total area of the island.
The mean annual temperature is 80 F. in the coast region, the monthly mean for June being 83", and that for January 77. Of the annual rainfall of 87 in., August has the heaviest share (11-3 in.), though the rainy season extends from June to October; March, the driest month has 3-7. Martinique enjoys a marked immunity from hurricanes. The low coastal districts are not very healthy for Europeans in the hotter months, but there are numerous sanatoria in the forest region at an elevation of about 1500 ft., where the average temperature is some 10 F. lower than that already quoted. The north winds which prevail from November to February are comparatively fresh and dry; those from the south (July to October) are damp and warm. From March to June easterly winds are prevalent.
The population increased from 162,861 in 1878 to 175,863 in 1888 and 203,781 in 1001. In 1902 the great eruption of Mont Pele occurred, and in 1005 the population was only 182,024. The bulk of the population consists of Creole negroes and halfcastes of various grades, ranging from the " Saccatra," who has retained hardly any trace of Caucasian blood, to the so-called " Sangmle," with only a suspicion of negro commixture. The capital of the island is Fort de France, on the west-coast bay of the same name, with a fine harbour defended by three forts, and a population of 18,000. The other principal centres of population are, on the west coast Lamentin, on the same bay as the capital, and on the east coast Le Francois and Le Robert. The colony is administered by a governor and a general council, and returns a senator and two deputies. There are elective municipal councils. The chief product is sugar, and some coffee, cocoa, tobacco and cotton are grown. The island is served by British, French and American steamship lines, and local communications are carried on by small coasting steamers and by subsidized mail coaches, as there are excellent roads. In 1905 the total value of the exports, consisting mainly of sugar, rum and cocoa, was 725,460, France taking by far the greater part, while imports were valued at 596,294, of which rather more than one-half by value came from France, the United States of America being the next principal importing country. In 1903, the year following the eruption of Mont Pele, exports were valued at 604,163.
Martinique, the name of which may be derived from a native form Madiana or Mantinino, was probably discovered by Columbus on the 15th of June 1502; although by some authorities its discovery is placed in 1493. It was at that time inhabited by Caribs who had expelled or incorporated an older stock. It was not until the 25th of June 1635 that possession was taken of the island in the name of the French Compagnie des lies d' Amerique. Actual settlement was carried out in the same year by Pierre Belain, Sieur d'Esnambuc, captain-general of the island of St Christopher. In 1637 his nephew Dyel Duparquet (d. 1658) became captain-general of the colony, now numbering seven hundred men, and subsequently obtained the seigneurie of the island by purchase from the company under the authority of the king of France. In 1654 welcome was given to three hundred Jews expelled from Brazil, and by 1658 there were at least five thousand people exclusive of the Caribs, who were soon after exterminated. Purchased by the French government from Duparquet's children for 120,000 livres, Martinique was assigned to the West India Company, but in 1674 it became part of the royal domain. The habitants (French landholders) at first devoted themselves to the cultivation of cotton and tobacco; but in 1650 sugar plantations were begun, and in 1723 the coffee plant was introduced. Slave labour having been introduced at an early period of the occupation, there were 60,000 blacks in the island by 1736. This slavery was abolished in 1860. Martinique had a full share of wars. In early days the Caribs were not brought under subjection without severe struggles. In 1666 and 1667 the island was attacked by the British without success, and hostilities were terminated by the treaty of Breda. The Dutch made similar attempts in 1674, and the British again attacked the island in 1693. Captured by Rodney in 1762, Martinique was next year restored to the French; but after the conquest by Sir John Jervis and Sir Charles Grey in 1793 it was retained for eight years; and, seized again in 1809, it was not surrendered till 1814. The island was the birth-place of the Empress Josephine.
Martinique has suffered from occasional severe storms, as in 1767, when 1600 persons perished, and M. de la Pagerie, father of the Empress Josephine, was practically ruined, and in 1839, 1891 and 1903, when much damage was done to the sugar crop.
Earthquakes have also been frequent, but the most terrible natural disaster was the eruption of Mont Pele in 1902, by which the town of St Pierre, formerly the chief commercial centre of the island, was destroyed. During the earlier months of the year various manifestations of volcanic activity had occurred; on the 25th of April there was a heavy fall of ashes, and on the 2nd and 3rd of May a heavy eruption destroyed extensive sugar plantations north of St Pierre, and caused a loss of some 150 lives. A few days later the news that the Souffriere in St Vincent was in eruption reassured the inhabitants of St Pierre, as it was supposed that this outbreak might relieve the volcano of Pele. But on the 8th of May the final catastrophe came without warning; a mass of fire, compared to a flaming whirlwind, swept over St Pierre, destroying the ships in the harbour, among which, however, one, the " Roddam " of Scrutton, escaped. A fall of molten lava and ashes followed the flames, accompanied by dense gases which asphyxiated those who had thus far escaped. The total loss of life was estimated at 40,000. Consternation was caused not only in the West Indies, but in France and throughout the world, and at first it was seriously suggested that the island should be evacuated, but no countenance was lent to this proposal by the French government. Relief measures were undertaken and voluntary subscriptions raised. The material losses were estimated at 4,000,000; but, besides St Pierre, only one-tenth of the island had been devastated, and although during July there was further volcanic activity, causing more destruction, the economic situation recovered more rapidly than was expected.
See Annuaire de la Martinique (Fort de France); H. Mouet, La Martinique (Paris, 1892); M. J. Guet, Origines de la Martinique (Vannes, 1893); G. Landes, Notice sur la Martinique (with full bibliography), (Paris, 1900); M.-Dumoret, Au pays du sucre (Paris, 1902); and on the eruption of 1902, A. Heilprin, Mont Pelee and the Tragedy of Martinique (Philadelphia and London, 1903) ; A. Lacroix, La Montagne Pelee et ses eruptions (Paris, 1904) ; and the report of Drs J. S. Flett and T. Anderson (November 20, 1902), who investigated the eruptions on behalf of the Royal Society; cf. T. Anderson, " Recent Volcanic Eruptions in the West Indies," in Geographical Journal, \o\. xxi. (1903).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)