Cemetery of the Week #124: the Cemetery of Marigot on Saint Martin

Palm trees and sailboat masks from the cemetery. Photo by Kathleen Rhoads.

Palm trees and sailboat masks from the cemetery. Photo by Kathleen Rhoads.

The Cemetery of Marigot on Saint Martin
aka Cimetiere de Marigot-Saint Martin
Boulevard de France
Saint Martin Island
GPS coordinates: 18°3’54″N 63°5’18″W

Marigot, capital of the island of Saint Martin, has been called “the most French in spirit of all the cities of the Caribbean.” A steady influx of cruise ships supports everything from cafes to luxury boutiques, including Chanel and Lacoste.

The first people came to Saint Martin around 1800 BCE, when they arrived from South America. They left behind stone tools. Another wave of immigration happened after 500 BCE when more people arrived in 60-person canoes. Their presence was marked by polished stone tools, worked shells, painted pottery, and tombs. A replica of one stands in the city’s museum.

Photo by Kathleen Rhoads.

Photo by Kathleen Rhoads.

Life on the island remained pretty sedate until the French arrived in the 1760s. They built plantations and imported African slaves to grow sugar cane, which they exported back to Europe and the Americas. They also fermented the cane juice into rum.

Chevalier Jean de Durat, governor of the island and Saint Barths, oversaw the construction of Fort Louis (or Fort St. Louis, sources disagree) above Marigot Bay in 1767. The plans for the fort had been sent from the court of Louis XVI at Versailles. The fort was meant to defend the island’s warehouses full of salt, coffee, sugar cane, and run.

In 1772, de Durat married the heiress to the plantation of Saint Jean. Although he died in 1814, his children and grandchildren continued to run the plantation until slavery was abolished in 1848. Even after that, sugar production continued on the land until 1860, when the plantation was abandoned. The ruins still stand along the main road from Marigot toward Philipsburg.

Photo of grave decorations by Kathleen Rhoads.

Photo of grave decorations by Kathleen Rhoads.

The Dutch occupied Fort Louis temporarily after the slave revolts on Guadeloupe in 1789. After the French regained the fort, the English attacked from their base on Antigua to loot the warehouses on a regular basis throughout the 19th century.

Martinique-born Francois-August Perrinon is Marigot’s most famous resident. As a shareholder in a company that produced salt from Saint Martin’s swamps, he experimented with paying slaves. He discovered, unsurprisingly, that slaves who were free — and paid — worked harder than those who were mistreated. He joined Victor Schoelcher’s Commission in Paris that lobbied to abolish slavery. Schoelcher announced the abolition of slavery throughout the French Colonies on April 27, 1848.

Afterward, Perrinon retired to Saint Martin to resume his salt harvesting. He died in 1861. His tomb still stands in the Marigot Cemetery.

These days, the cemetery stands between the bay and the marina. Grave plots are often surrounded by a poured concrete curb. Some are completely covered with slabs of imported granite or with ceramic tile. Epitaphs tend to be in French. Decorations range from ceramic or silk flowers to conch shells to hearts outlined with small stones.

Photo by Kathleen Rhoads.

Photo by Kathleen Rhoads.

Lately, dengue fever and chikungunya fever have grown to epidemics on Saint Martin. Wear long sleeves and pants or use DEET-based bug repellent when exploring the cemetery, where water might be standing in vases, giving a home to the mosquitoes who carry the disease.

Useful links:

Some history of the town of Marigot

Information on amenities in Marigot

A map to the cemetery

Center for Infectious Disease Research story on dengue fever and chikungunya

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About Loren Rhoads

I am the author of the essay collection Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel, co-author of the novel As Above, So Below, and editor of The Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two. In addition to blogging at CemeteryTravel.com, I blog about my morbid life at lorenrhoads.com.
This entry was posted in Cemetery of the Week and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Cemetery of the Week #124: the Cemetery of Marigot on Saint Martin

  1. coastalcrone says:

    Interesting history built around a cemetery. Nice photos.

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