The Sieur La Revardiere, sent out in 1604 by Henry IV to reconnoitre the country, brought back a favorable report; but the death of the king put a stop to the projects of formal colonization. In 1626 a small body of traders from Rouen settled on the Sinnamary, and in 1635 a similar band founded Cayenne. The Compagnie du Cap Nord, founded by the people of Rouen in 1643 and conducted by Poncet de Bretigny, the Compagnie de la France Equinoxiale, established in 1645, and the second Compagnie de la France Equinoxiale, or Compagnie des Douze Seigneurs, established in 1652, were failures, the result of incompetence, mismanagement and misfortune.
From 1654 the Dutch held the colony for a few years. The French Compagnie des Indes Occidentales, chartered in 1664 with a monopoly of Guiana commerce for forty years, proved hardly more successful than its predecessors; but in 1674 the colony passed under the direct control of the crown, and the able administration of Colbert began to tell favourably on its progress, although in 1686 an unsuccessful expedition against the Dutch in Surinam set back the advance of the French colony until the close of the century. The year 1763 was marked by a terrible disaster. Choiseul, the prime minister, having obtained for himself and his cousin Praslin a concession of the country between the Kourou and the Maroni, sent out about 12,000 volunteer colonists, mainly from Alsace and Lorraine. They were landed at the mouth of the Kourou, where no preparation had been made for their reception, and where even water was not to be obtained. Mismanagement was complete; there was (for example) a shop for skates, whereas the necessary tools for tillage were wanting. By 1765 no more than 918 colonists remained alive, and these were a famished fever-stricken band. A long investigation in Paris resulted in the imprisonment of the incompetent leaders of the expedition.
Several minor attempts at colonization in Guiana were made in the latter part of the century; but they all seemed to suffer from the same fatal prestige of failure. During the revolution band after band of political prisoners were transported to Guiana. The fate of the royalistswho were exiled on the 18th Fructidor (1797), was especially sad. Landed on the Sinnamary without shelter or food, two-thirds of them perished miserably. In 1800 Victor Hugues was appointed governor, and he managed to put the colony in a better state; but his work was brought to a close by the invasion of the Portuguese and British. Though French Guiana was nominally restored to the French in 1814, it was not really surrendered by the Portuguese till 1817. Numerous efforts were now made to establish the colony firmly, although its past misfortunes had prejudiced the public mind in France against it. In 1822 the first steam sugar mills were introduced; in 1824 an agricultural colony (Nouvelle Angouleme) was attempted in the Mana district, which, after failure at first, became comparatively successful. The emancipation of slaves and the consequent dearth of labour almost ruined the development of agricultural resources about the middle of the century, but in 1853 a large body of African immigrants was introduced.
Then infamous penal colony of Devil's Island was eliminated slowly between 1938 and 1951. The European Space Agency established a satellite launching facility in 1964 in the city of Kourou.
The economy is tied closely to the larger French economy through subsidies and imports. Besides the French space center at Kourou (which accounts for 25% of GDP), fishing and forestry are the most important economic activities. Forest and woodland cover 90% of the country. The large reserves of tropical hardwoods, not fully exploited, support an expanding sawmill industry that provides sawn logs for export. Cultivation of crops is limited to the coastal area, where the population is largely concentrated; rice and manioc are the major crops. French Guiana is heavily dependent on imports of food and energy. Unemployment is a serious problem, particularly among younger workers.
French Guiana History Bibliography
* Portions of this text are from the public domain print version of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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