Statia has been the Caribbean whipping boy for centuries. Caribs had already left Statia at the time Columbus came across the island, in 1493. Consequently, when the French arrived there was no indigenous population to be devastated by disease or enslavement. Then came the Dutch, who established the first permanent settlement here in 1636. Statia subsequently changed hands 22 times among the squabbling Dutch, French and British over the next couple of centuries.
Statia was a primary link between Europe and the Atlantic world for much of the later 18th century. As the English and French levied duty after duty on their islands, the Dutch made Statia a duty-free island in 1756. Subsequently, thousands of ships used Oranjestad as their main stopping point between Europe and the colonies in America, bringing arms and gunpowder to the rebellious colonists, among other things. At its heyday, Statia was home to no less than 10, 000 full-time residents, both European colonists and African slaves. The population rose to above 25, 000 when taking in to account the sailors that were in port for months at a time while their ships loaded and unloaded cargo.
On November 16, 1776, Statia’s most infamous moment occurred. A member of the rebellious colonies’ fledgling navy, the brigantine Andrew Doria, sailed into the harbor and fired a 13-gun salute signifying American independence. Statia responded with an 11-gun salute, cementing itself as the first foreign nation to recognize the new United States of America, and consequently the US and the Netherlands have the longest standing peaceful relationship between two nations in history. Plans are in the works to have a replica of the ship created.
Needless to say, Britain was none too pleased – although, contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t the British navy’s attack on Statia in 1781 that started the island’s downhill spiral, which produced massive emigration and ultimately saw the demise of Statia’s former glory as ‘The Golden Rock.’ It was actually the taxes imposed by the French in 1795 that eventually drove the merchants away to nearby islands such as St-Barthélemy (at the time a newly established Swedish colony) and St Thomas (designated a tax-free port by the Danish).
Statia had been part of the Netherlands Antilles, along with Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba and Sint Maarten since 1954. On Statia Day, November 16, 2004, the island adopted a new flag, but in 2005 it voted to remain part of the Netherlands Antilles. However, all four other members voted to disband the island nation group, effectually leaving Statia the sole member of the Netherlands Antilles. In December 2008 Statia will again have direct ties to the Netherlands effectively ending the half-century experiment in self-government.