Saint-Barthélemy, officially the Territorial collectivity of Saint-Barthélemy, is an overseas collectivity of France. Often abbreviated to Saint-Barth in French, or St. Barts or St. Barths in English, the indigenous people called the island Ouanalao. St. Barts lies about southeast of St. Martin and north of St. Kitts. Puerto Rico is to the west in the Greater Antilles.
Saint Barthélemy was for many years a French commune forming part of Guadeloupe, which is an overseas region and department of France. In 2003, the island voted in favour of secession from Guadeloupe in order to form a separate overseas collectivity (COM) of France. The collectivity is one of four territories among the Leeward Islands in the northeastern Caribbean that comprise the French West Indies, along with Saint Martin, Guadeloupe ( southeast), and Martinique.
Saint Barthélemy, a volcanic island fully encircled by shallow reefs, has an area of  and a population of 9,035 (Jan. 2011 estimate). Its capital is Gustavia, which also contains the main harbour to the island. It is the only Caribbean island which was a Swedish colony for any significant length of time; Guadeloupe was under Swedish rule only briefly at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Symbolism from the Swedish national arms, the Three Crowns, still appears in the island's coat of arms. The language, cuisine, and culture, however, are distinctly French. The island is a popular tourist destination during the winter holiday season, especially for the rich and famous during the Christmas and new year period.
Before European contact the island was possibly frequented by Eastern Caribbean Taíno people. Christopher Columbus was the first European to discover the island in 1493. He named it after his brother Bartolomeo. Sporadic visits continued for the next hundred years until formal colonization began taking shape.
By 1648, the island was settled from St. Christopher, but the settlement was attacked and destroyed by Caribs six years later. These first French settlers had been encouraged by De Poincy, the lieutenant-governor of the French West India Company and comprised about 50 to 60 settlers. Led by Jacques Gentes, the new arrivals began cultivating cacao, until the Carib attack forced them to retreat.
De Poincy was the dominant administrator in this period and a member of the Order of Saint John. He facilitated the transfer of ownership from the Compagnie des Îles de l'Amérique to the Order. He continued to rule the island until his death in 1660. Five years later, it was bought by the French West India Company along with the Order's other possessions in the Caribbean. By 1674, the company was dissolved and the islands became part of the French Kingdom.
There was a very brief takeover by the British in 1758. The island was given to Sweden in 1784 in exchange for trade rights in Gothenburg. It was only after 1784, when King Louis XVI exchanged the island to Sweden, that the island's fortunes changed for the better. This change of control saw progress and prosperity as the Swedes declared Gustavia a free port, convenient for trading by the Europeans for goods, including contraband material.
Slavery was practiced in St. Barts under the "Ordinance concerning the Police of Slaves and free Coloured People" of 1787. The last legally owned slaves in the Swedish colony of St. Barts were granted their freedom by the state on 9 October 1847. Since the island was not a plantation area, the freed slave suffered economic hardships due to lack of opportunities for employment.
In 1852, a devastating hurricane hit the island and this was followed by a fire. Following a referendum in 1877, Sweden gave the island back to France in 1878, after which it was administered as part of Guadeloupe.
On 19 March 1946, the people of the island became French citizens with full rights.
Many men from St. Barts took jobs on St Thomas in order to support their families. The island received electricity circa 1961. Tourism began in the 1960s, developed in the 1970s, and led to considerable international popularity beginning in the 1980s. Today the island is known for its exclusivity and posh tourism.
Saint Barthélemy was for many years a French commune forming part of Guadeloupe, which is an overseas region and department of France and is therefore in the European Union. Through a referendum in 2003, island residents sought separation from the administrative jurisdiction of Guadeloupe, and it was finally accomplished in 2007. The island of Saint Barthélemy became an Overseas Collectivity (COM). A governing territorial council was elected for its administration, which has provided the island with a certain degree of autonomy. The Hotel de Ville, which was the town hall, is now the Hotel de la Collectivité. A senator represents the island in Paris. St. Barts has retained its free port status.