Saint Pierre and Miquelon, officially the Overseas Collectivity of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, is a self-governing territorial overseas collectivity of France, situated in the northwestern Atlantic Ocean near the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It is the only part of New France that remains under French control, with an area of 242 square kilometers (93 sq mi) and a population of 6,008 at the March 2016 census.
The islands are situated in the Gulf of St. Lawrence near the entrance of Fortune Bay, which extends into the southwestern coast of Newfoundland, near the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. They are 3,819 kilometers (2,373 mi) from Brest, the nearest point in Metropolitan France, and 25 kilometers (16 mi) from the Burin Peninsula of Newfoundland.
Archaeological evidence indicates that native peoples, such as the Beothuk, visited St Pierre and Miquelon; however, it is not thought that they settled on the islands permanently.
The Portuguese explorer João Álvares Fagundes is thought to be have been the first European to have landed on the islands; he visited them on 21 October 1520 and named the St. Pierre island group the ‘Eleven Thousand Virgins’, as the day marked the feast day of St. Ursula and her virgin companions. They were made a French possession in 1536 by Jacques Cartier on behalf of the King of France. Though already frequented by Mi’kmaq people and Basque and Breton fishermen, the islands were not permanently settled until the end of the 17th century: four permanent inhabitants were counted in 1670, and 22 in 1691.
In 1670, during Jean Talon’s tenure as Intendant of New France, a French officer annexed the islands when he found a dozen French fishermen camped there. The British Royal Navy soon began to harass the French settlers, pillaging their camps and ships. By the early 1700s, the islands were again uninhabited, and were ceded to the British by the Treaty of Utrecht which ended the War of the Spanish Succession in 1713. The British renamed St Pierre to ‘St Peter’, and small numbers of British and American settlers began arriving.
Under the terms of the Treaty of Paris (1763), which put an end to the Seven Years’ War, France ceded all its North American possessions, but Saint-Pierre and Miquelon were returned to France. France also maintained fishing rights on the coasts of Newfoundland (French Shore).
With France being allied with the Americans during the American Revolutionary War, Britain invaded and razed the colony in 1778, sending the entire population of 2,000 back to France. In 1793 the British landed in Saint-Pierre and, the following year, expelled the French population, and tried to install British settlers. The British colony was in turn sacked by French troops in 1796. The Treaty of Amiens of 1802 returned the islands to France, but Britain reoccupied them when hostilities recommenced the next year.
The Treaty of Paris (1814) gave the islands back to France, though Britain occupied them yet again during the Hundred Days War. France then reclaimed the now uninhabited islands in which all structures and buildings had been destroyed or fallen into disrepair. The islands were resettled in 1816. The settlers were mostly Basques, Bretons and Normans, who were joined by various other peoples, particularly from the nearby island of Newfoundland. Only around the middle of the century did increased fishing bring a certain prosperity to the little colony.