#BTColumn – 1902 volcanic disaster in Martinique

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by Sebastien Perrot Minnot

On May 8, 1902, Martinique suffered one of the worst volcanic catastrophes in modern history: on that fateful day, an eruption of Mount Pelée destroyed the brilliant town of Saint-Pierre, the “Little Paris of the Antilles”, which was the economic and cultural capital of the French colony.

The disaster claimed the lives of approximately 30,000 people, including the Mayor of Saint-Pierre Rodolphe Fouché, the Governor of Martinique Louis Mouttet and consular officials serving the interests of the United States of America, the United Kingdom, the United Kingdoms of Sweden and Norway, Netherlands, Italy and Belgium.

United States Consul Thomas T. Prentis and his colleague, Vice Consul J. Amédée Testart G., who were among the victims, were honored by the United States.

Department of State and the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA). Additionally, in 1935, American engineer and volcanologist Frank Alvord Perret dedicated a memorial to Prentis in Saint-Pierre, and in 1984, American Ambassador to France Evan Griffith Galbraith had a plaque placed on the monument in memory. of the Prentis family and Vice Consul Testart.

However, this monument has deteriorated over time. In these circumstances, the Municipality of Saint-Pierre has decided to dedicate a commemorative stele to the victims of the Prentis and Testart families, in a space intended to become a memorial to the consular corps, in the magnificent Louis Ernoult garden (behind the Cathedral).

This highly symbolic work was created by Martinican artist Hervé Beuze with volcanic rock. It was inaugurated on May 8, on the occasion of the 120th anniversary of the 1902 disaster (as part of the traditional “Mai de la Saint-Pierre”), during a major Franco-American commemorative ceremony presided over by the Mayor of Saint-Pierre Christian Rapha and involving the American consul in Barbados, Jessica A. Hartzfeld, who read a letter from the American ambassador in France, Denis Bauer. Mayor Rapha took the opportunity to recall the generous aid given by the United States to suffering Martinique in 1902.

On the other hand, a commemorative plaque was unveiled at the site of the former United States Consulate in Saint-Pierre, next to Place Bertin, the seafront square. Founded in 1790 by George Washington, this consulate is emblematic of the privileged relations woven by the United States and France since the American War of Independence.

He played a crucial role in the development of relations between the United States and Martinique and contributed significantly to the international prestige of Saint-Pierre.

In addition to Mayor Rapha, Consul Hartzfeld and the American consular agent in Martinique Leah McGaw Maurice, the ceremonies saw the participation of various personalities, including the sub-prefect of Trinité and Saint-Pierre, the president of the Assembly of the Martinique, Senator Catherine Conconne, other mayors, the Minister of the Indian Embassy in France and the Honorary Consuls of Brazil, Seychelles, Italy and Guatemala in Fort-de-France. Such a gathering of consular officials is unusual in Martinique and shows that today’s Saint-Pierre, labeled “City of Art and History” by the Ministry of Culture, has the will to remain open to the world. .

Sébastien Perrot-Minnot, PhD, is an archaeologist and lecturer at the University of the French West Indies (Martinique), Honorary Consul of Guatemala in Fort-de-France, associate member of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) [email protected]

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