Little Bits of History

Islands of the 11,000 Virgins

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 21, 2015
Sainte Pierre aerial view

Sainte Pierre aerial view

October 21, 1520: João Álvares Fagundes is the first European to discover the Sainte Pierre and Miquelon. He originally named the two islands as “Islands of the 11,000 Virgins” because he found them on the feast day of Saint Ursula and her virgin companions, said to have numbered 11,000. The islands are located in the northwest portion of the Atlantic Ocean near present day Canada. Fagundes was a Portuguese sailor/explorer who led expeditions to present-day Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. Although there are artifacts indicating indigenous people had visited the islands, there was no aboriginal population there when Fagundes found the area.

Even the first Europeans who came to the islands did not live there permanently. Basque fisherman came during the fishing season, but then returned to the mainland during the off-season. The first permanent settlement was established in the middle of the 17th century when the French produced settlements. There were about 200 people living on the islands. During King William’s War (1689-1697) and Queen Anne’s War (1702-1712) there were at least five British attacks on the islands. Eventually all the permanent settlers fled. The Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 ended the wars and France ceded the islands as well as Newfoundland to Great Britain. The British took possession of the islands and the larger of the two was already called Sainte Pierre. They changed the name to Saint Peter’s.

The British gave the lands back to the French in 1763 and French settlers moved back in. During the American Revolutionary War, the French supported the rebellious Americans and the British once again began attacks on the islands. The French Revolutionary War led to more upheaval for the small islands in the west. Rule of the lands switched back and forth between England and France until France finally ended up with control after Napoleon’s second abdication in 1815. The French fishing industry thrived there for the next 70 years. During Prohibition in the US, the islands had a boom economy as they were a great place for smuggling in banned alcohol. During the Vichy France era of World War II, the islands were Nazi-controlled. They were liberated in 1941.

Today, the overseas collective is under the French and therefore the President of France, Francois Hollande is the head of state. Stephane Artano is President of the Territorial Council. The total land area covers 93 square miles. There are about 6,000 people living there. They are 3,819 miles from the closest point in Metropolitan France but only 16 miles from the Burin Peninsula of Newfoundland. Regardless, they are French with French being the official language and the euro being the official currency. Fishing in the area is depleted and can no longer support the economy. They wish to bring in tourists and built a new airport in the hopes of luring visitors.

Everyone’s free to embark on either a great clipper or a little fishing boat. An artist is an explorer who oughtn’t to shrink from anything: it doesn’t matter whether he goes to the left or the right — his goal sanctifies all. – George Sand

Fish stimulates the brain, but fishing stimulates the imagination. – Thomas Robert Dewar

If you don’t go fishing because you thought it might rain you will never go fishing. This applies to more than fishing. – Gary Sow

He liked fishing and seemed to take pride in being able to like such a stupid occupation. – Leo Tolstoy

Also on this day: Suicide Pilots – In 1944, the first kamikaze attack took place.
Apple Day – In 1990, the first Apple Day was held in Covent Garden, London.
USS Constitution – In 1797, the ship was launched.
Disaster – In 1966, the Aberfan disaster took place.
Rudolph Valentino – In 1921, The Sheik debuted.



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