At least 3000 years BCE, Guadeloupe was first populated with amerindian peoples, as shown by several archeological discoveries. Thereafter, Arawak Indians settled in the area ; a pacific people of farmers and fishermen originally from the Orinoco basin (Venezuela). However, towards the VIIIth century, they were obliterated by newcomers, Carib Indians who came from the same region. Guadeloupe actually owes them its name, Karukera, which means “the island of beautiful waters” in Carib language.
In November 1493, Spanish navigator Christopher Columbus landed in Saint-Mary, on the island he would subsequently call Guadeloupe in honour of the Santa Maria de Guadalupe monastery of Extremadura. Nonetheless, it was not the Spanish but the French who took possession of the island, on June 28th, 1635, after overriding the Indian population. From then on, settlers chose to cultivate sugar cane intensively. To do so, they needed a workforce and thus decided to bring in slaves from West Africa to the Caribbean.
In 1674, Guadeloupe became a colony of the French kingdom, where strove a plantation economy and where, starting in 1685, slavery was regulated by the Black Code.
The XVIIIth century was a troublesome time period for Guadeloupe. It was again occupied by the British from 1759 to 1763 (Seven Years War) and then given back to France (Treaty of Paris), once more occupied by the British in 1794 but immediately recovered by Victor Hughes, Commissioner of the Convention, who proclaimed the abolition of slavery. However, on Bonaparte’s orders, General Richepance disembarked in Guadeloupe in 1802 to reestablish slavery. He faced resistance from Delgrès, Ignace, Solitude and their companions, whose heroism went down in History.
Finally, slavery was abolished by the decree of April 27th, 1848, based on a proposal by Victor Schoelcher. Abolition was made effective a month later. In order to compensate for the lack of work force in plantations, indentured workers arrived from India starting in the second half of the XIXth century.
With the law of March 19th, 1946, Guadeloupe became a French Overseas Department. Installed in 1947, Henry Poignet was its first prefect. On December 31st, 1982, it was promoted to the mono-departmental region status.
As part of the constitutional law of March 28th, 2003 regarding the decentralised organisation of the Republic, three consultations were established in Guadeloupe, Saint-Martin and Saint-Barthelemy, on December 7th, 2003. They defined potential statutory or institutional evolutions of overseas communities. The majority of Saint-Martin’s and Saint-Barthelemy’s residents voted in favour of statutory evolution for each of the two islands based on article 74 of the Constitution.
Guadeloupeans rejected the project of creating a unique assembly. The two new Overseas Collectivities (COM) of Saint-Martin and Saint-Barthelemy were created by the law of February 21st, 2007.