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Saint-Claude (Municipality, Guadeloupe, France)

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Last modified: 2019-12-19 by ivan sache
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Flag of Saint-Claude - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 27 March 2019


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Presentation of Saint-Claude

The municipality of Saint-Claude (10,289 inhabitants in 2016; 3,427 ha; municipal website) is located just south of Basse-Terre.

Saint-Claude, self-styled "Volcano's Town", was established on the slopes of the volcanoes of southern Guadeloupe. Saint-Claude maintained difficult relationships with the adjacent town of Basse-Terre, the administrative capital of Guadeloupe; disputes for territorial limit were already recorded in 1838.
The name of Saint-Claude, adopted on 15 July 1858 by the Municipal Council, was approved on 15 April 1859 by the Governor of the island; the name was coined by Louis François Albert Souque, who served as Delegate Mayor from 1857 to 1866. In 1953, four boroughs (Desmarais, Morne à Vaches, Circonvallation, and Rivière des Pères) were transferred from Saint-Claude to Basse-Terre.

The area was originally colonized around 1656. At the same period, Dutch settlers coming from Brazil set up sugar estates; in 1669, there were eight estates on Bellevue mountain, another eight on Beausoleil, and five on Espérance. The estates were subsequently split into smaller colonial estates (Ducharmoy, Le Pelletier, and Bologne), locally known as "habitations".
Permanent settlement started in Matouba. in an area known as Le Parc, which had been reserved for Houël, Governor of the island from 1650 to 1664. The parish of Le Parc was blessed on 21 September 1768, to be used as the government's residence. During the Nolivo government (1765-1768), German settlers coming from Guyane attempted to clear the forest to establish a cattle farm, to no avail.

The town of Saint-Claude subsequently developed away from Matouba, on the left bank of Black River, close to the camp established by Admiral Jacob in 1844, after Governor Courbeyre had expropriated Madame de Monteran. The next year, the "colonial road" connecting Basse-Terre to Camp Jacob and Matouba was inaugurated. Saint-Claude emerged between hospital Camp Jacob, erected in 1853, and the parish church, erected a few years earlier. The governor's residence was moved from Matouba to th new town.

The D'Anglemeont estate, located in Matouba, was on 28 May 1802 the place of the last episode of the insurrection raised by Louis Delgrès (1766-1802) against Consul Bonaparte.
A mulatto born in Martinique, Louis Delgrès enrolled in the Martinique militia. Appointed sergent, he exiled in 1791 to Dominica after the French Royalists had taken control of his birth island. Sent in 1795 to Guadeloupe and, subsequently, to Saint Lucia to fight the English, he was appointed Captain after having hoisted the French tricolor flag on Mount Rabot, seized in a violent assault. In Saint Vincent, leading a commando sent from Guadeloupe, he set up an alliance with Joseph Chatoyer's Garifunas. Captured on 16 June 1796, he was deported to England; released in September 1797, he stayed in Le Havre<.A>, Rouen and Aix island.
Back to Guadeloupe in 1799, Delgrès was named on 27 July Interim Commander of Basse-Terre district. In 1801, Counter-Admiral Lacrosse (1760-1829) succeeded General Antoine de Béthencourt (1759-1801) as the Captain General of Guadeloupe, which caused the rebellion of mulatto officers led by Delgrès and Joseph Ignace (1769-1802). Delgrès ordered to bomb the vessels of General Richepance's expeditionary corps sent by Consul Bonaparte to suppress the rebellion and re-establish slavery. The corps' landing caused very violent fighting in Basse-Terre and the neighborhood of the town.
On 10 May 1892, Delgrès redacted with the help of Sergeant Major Genral Monnereau a proclamation ("To the entire universe, the last cry of innocence and despair") calling for general insurrection.
Delgrès and Ignace entrenched themselves in the fort of Basse-Terre (today, Fort Delgrès). The tradition reports that Delgrès played violin on the fort's wall to mock his attackers. To protect the population of Basse-Terre and to avoid a racial war, Delgrès and Ignace evacuated the fort on 22 May. Ignace and his troops withdrew to Fort Baimbridge, where they all died. Loyal to his oath "To Live Free or Die", Ignace committed suicide.
On 28 May, Delgrès and his 300 brothers in arms decided to blew up their shelter rather than surrender. The few survivors were slaughtered. In spite of the resistance of maroons, slavery was re-established for the next 46 years, to be eventually abolished in 1848.
[Guadeloupe 1e, 28 May 2017]

Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 27 April 2019


Flag of Saint-Claude

Tha flag of Saint-Claude (photo) is white with the municipal coat of arms, "Azure a fess wavy argent charged with a crescent gules in chief two stars or in base mounts or. The shield surmounted by a mural crown or and surrounded by tropical plants proper."

The arms are based on the arms of Antoine Le Pelletier de Monteran, Knight of Liancourt, who inherited in 1755 the Beausoleil estate from his godfather, Michel Antoine de Bourdaise de Monteran (d. 1755; King's Councillor and Dean of the Guadeloupe Higher Council).
According to the Nobiliaire universel de France, the Le Pelletier family, rooted in Chartres, was ennobled for services in the king's army, especially in artillery. Antoine Le Pelletier was the son of Louis-Auguste Le Pelletier, Lieutenant-General of the King's Armies and Inspector General of Artillery; the grandson of Laurent Michel Le Pelletier, Lieutenant-General of French Artillery in the department of Brittany; and the grand grandson of Michel Pelletier, Ordinary Commissioner and General Warden of the French Artillery.
The arms of Le Pelletier family are given as "Azure a fess argent charged with a crescent gules surrounded by three stars, two in chief one in base. The shield supported by two she-hares. Motto 'Fidelis et audax' (Loyal and Audacious)".

The lower star in Le Pelletier's arms is substituted by a realistic representation of the volcano La Soufrière (1,467 m, therefore the highest mountain in the Lesser Antilles) overlooking Saint-Claude.
A Pelean stratovolcano still active, La Soufrière, locally known as The Old Lady, has been watched since 1950 by a dedicated observatory managed by the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP).

The last eruption of the volcano (1976-1977) caused the "volcano's war" between experts in volcanology. In July 1976, the seismographs operated by the observatory detected unprecedented activity. The director of the observatory, Michel Feuillard (1932-2013) recommended the evacuation of the population threatened by an imminent eruption; accordingly, 73,000 inhabitants of Basse-Terre and the neighboring towns were evacuated on 15 August. Feuillard's risk analysis was based on comparison with the eruption of Mount Pelée in Martinique, which suppressed in 1902 the town of Saint-Pierre, claiming 25,000 lives, and on the detection of fresh magma in lava and ash samples. The analysis was supported by two prominent scientists sent from Paris, Robert Brousse (1929-2011), Professor of Petrography and Volcanology at Orsay University, and Claude Allègre (b. 1937), Professor of Geochemistry at University Paris VII and newly appointed Director of the IPGP.

The evacuation order was strongly criticized by a third expert, Haroun Tazieff (1914-1998); a self-taught volcanologist, Tazieff popularized volcanology by his films and conferences. In spite of a significant record of scientific publications, he was considered by several scientists as a movie director, an explorer or an adventurer rather than a geologist. Eventually hired in 1972 as a Research Director by the CNRS, he was appointed the next year director of the volcanological observatories at IPGP. Back from a mission in Ecuador in late August 1976, Tazieff visited the volcano with Allègre - both were injured by hot gas. He concluded that the volcano did not release magma and that the eruption was of phreatic rather than magmatic character, without big risk for the population. The controversy infuriated until Allègre, as the head of IPGP, sacked Tazieff and obtained from the scientific council of IPGP the banning of Tazieff from French volcanoes.
A few weeks later, Italian and American laboratories confirmed that the lava and ash analyses, seemingly performed in a hurry by an inexperienced student, were erroneous: clay material had been mistaken for magmatic glass. No magmatic eruption occurred and damages were very limited. Tazieff publicly accused Allègre to have exaggerated the risk as an official expert to increase his personal power. An international commission gathered from 15 to 18 November 1976 dismissed the risk of magmatic eruption and recommended to stop the evacuation; the commission also recommended to preserve pluralist expertise and to set up a National Committee of Evaluation of Volcanic Risks. The Committee, created in 1983, was presided by Tazieff in 1983-1984 and 1998-1995; as expected, it was consistently attacked by the IPGP until its suppression in 2007.

in 1980, the Administrative Court cancelled the sacking of Tazieff by the IPGP as "inappropriate"; refusing to be re-incorporated to the IPGP, Tazieff founded a new volcanology laboratory in Gif-sur-Yvette. Several scientists wrote letters to the editors of the popular monthly La Recherche, criticizing Tazieff as "obsolete" and protraying him as a quack doctor. Martine Barrière, editor-in-chief, published the letter sent by Maurice Mattauer, Professor of Geology at the University of Montpellier and President of the French Society of Geology, to his collegues to organized the anti-Tazieff campaign. The malicious character of the bashing campaign was recognized by the Court of Appeals of Montpellier. Ironically, Mattauer subsequently became one of the main opponents to the geologists of the IPGP.

The two main protagonists of the Volcano's War entered in politics. Tazieff served as the State Secretary for the Prevention of Main Technological and Natural Risks from 1984 to 1986. Allègre served as the Ministry of National Education, Research and Technology from 1997 to 2000. Subsequently, he became the head of the French global warming skeptics, supported by Vincent Courtillot (b. 1948), Director of the IPGP (1996-1999; 2004-2011).
[J. Varet. 2009. Haroun Tazieff (1914-1988). Des années Afar au secrétariat d'État (1967-1986): la difficile mutation institutionnelle. Travaux du Comité français d'Histoire de la Géologie. 3e série, 23, 115-145]

Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 27 April 2019