Like most siblings of a similar age and size, Anguilla and St Martin have held a close rivalry since days immemorial. These days such pairing might seem lopsided but, believe it or not, there was a time when Britain ruled over both, and the future looked brighter for the people of Anguilla.
It was in the second quarter of the XVIII century, a period of relative prosperity on the island, when under the leadership of Arthur Hodge, Deputy Governor from 1741 to 1749, Anguillians launched an expedition to take the French half of St Martin.
The wider context of this attack was the War of Austrian Succession (1740-48), which for once drew Britain and the Dutch Republic on the same side. More relevant, however, was the radical decline of French interests in the Leeward Islands from the end of the XVII century onwards, so crudely exposed in France’s inability to protect St Christopher during the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1713).
Anguilla’s primary industry at the time was cotton, and the constant threat of drought would have made the prospect of acquiring land in the more fertile and humid St Martin eminently attractive. Indeed, since the end of the War of Spanish Succession Anguillians had been furthering their interests on the neighbouring island, before another war in Europe afforded Hodge with the opportunity to make official what for so long had been developing.
Lore has it that Hodge attacked with 300 men—which would probably amount to close to all white men on the island and the entire population—black or white—of French St Martin. Unsurprisingly, then, the initiative was successful. Less so were Hodge’s attempts to have Britain claim permanent possession of the territory once the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle was agreed. French rule was legally restored in 1748 but, de facto, Anguillian influence was heavily felt on St Martin well after that—as a matter of fact, it can still be sensed today in the prevalent use of English on both sides of the island, in the local strands of the Hodges, the Gumbses, the Richardsons and many other families, and in the enduring—if antagonistic—love of these two, the most inseparable of rivals.
An abridged version of this piece was published in Design Anguilla (Issue 9, Vol. 3) in November 2014.