French Guiana History

French Guiana History

French Guiana is an overseas French territory located on the north coast of South America, bordering Brazil to the east and south and Suriname to the west. French Guiana is included, along with Suriname (formerly Dutch Guiana), the state of Guyana (formerly British Guiana) and parts of Venezuela and Brazil in the Guyana region. It is South America’s smallest and most sparsely populated country.

According to, the capital of French Guiana is called Cayenne.

In French Guiana, you will find, among other things, ESA’s launch center in Kourou (it is only 5 degrees from the Equator) and Devil’s Island, which is 13km from the coast and Kourou.

Many Native Americans occupied the northern edges of South America for centuries before Columbus visited the country. In the early 16th century, Holland and France tried to colonize the country, but they were hopelessly unprepared for the inhospitable jungle conditions, and many died at the hands of Native Americans and tropical diseases. English, Portuguese and Spanish explorers hunted in vain great wealth of treasure here, but failed. France, however, was the only persistent ruler in the area.

The interior of French Guiana is called Inini and is characterized by wooded, hilly hilly terrain. Here, 6-700 Indians live in their own, isolated communities, just as in the rest of northern South America there are small, diffuse communities of Arawak and Carib Indians isolated from their “mother countries”.

French Guiana is the last of the former mainland colonies of a European country.


1498 – Christopher Columbus visits the country on his second voyage of discovery in his quest for the New World en route to Venezuela. However, he never went ashore.

1500 – The Spanish explorer Vicente Yanez de Pinzon spotted the coastline. He had sailed with Columbus on the first voyage to the New World in 1492, as captain of the Niña. In 1508 a again traveled to South America with Juan Díaz de Solís and disappeared from the records in 1514.

1604 – When Spain ignores the area where Cayenne later became the capital because they found the area too hot and poor, it was France, led by Daniel de La Ravardiere, who colonized the area first. The Portuguese destroyed the colony because they were determined to enforce the provisions of the Treaty of Tordesillas.

1654-1664 – Cayenne occupied by Holland. African slaves were brought to the country in 1654.

1656 – Dutch Jews build sugar mills in Cayenne.

1664 – France establishes the city of Sinnamary between Kourou and Iracoubo. The city was the second French colony in the area.

1674 – Guyana comes under French control, and agricultural development begins.

1676 – The French part of Guyana finally comes under the French throne and Louis XIV.

1764 – Recruitment campaign in the eastern provinces of France, persuades 15,000 in Alsace-Lorraine to travel to the colony of Guyana ; 12,000 died in the first year from yellow fever, dysentery and malaria.

1794 – Slavery abolished. Two years later, it was officially reinstated, leading to slave revolt and oppression.

19th Century – In the middle of the century, after decades of struggle and thousands of deaths, several French plantations ran fairly successfully on the northern coast, unfortunately with the help of African slaves. France ended slavery at this time, and shortly after, plantation life and all related profits from the same collapsed. It was only when the French government faced a serious problem of overcrowded prisons that they decided to make French Guiana a penal colony, and in time thousands of prisoners were transported to Iles du Salut and the now infamous Devil’s Island. Read more here.

1801 – French Guiana becomes a colony.

1848 – Slavery is abolished. 16,000 slaves left the plantations, causing the collapse of the agricultural economy.

1852 – Napoleon III founded a prison colony, later famous / infamous under the name Devil Islands, which was a collection of a total of four prisoner colonies in the area, one of which was located on the mainland of Kourou, and two on other small islands. Devil’s Island, was not as bad as its nickname, as epidemics did not reach the island so easily. It was only the prisoners who were the biggest threat that came on Djævleøen – everything from political prisoners to murderers. Among the known prisoners were the innocent convicted Jewish officer Alfred Dreyfus and the later author Henri Charrière. Due to Dreyfus ‘ fate, much attention was paid to the island in 1895. Charrière, most commonly known as “Papillon” (“butterfly”), managed to escape and wrote the book Papillon about his experiences on the island. The book was later filmed with Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman in the lead roles. However, it later emerged that Charrière had lied about his stay on the island (he had escaped from a prison on the mainland).

1854 – Penal colony established at Saint-Georges, prisons helped build the city, over two-thirds of prisoners died due to ill-treatment, harsh climate or suicide.

1856 – Yellow fever strikes French Guiana.

1894 – French officer Alfred Dreyfus is arrested on October 15 for espionage by the Germans, and on January 5, 1895, he was convicted in a secret trial and banished to Devil’s Island. It was soon rumored that Dreyfus was innocently convicted because it suited the General Staff to hit a Jew. The struggle for the resumption of the case came to engage an entire world. The case lasted from 1984 to 1899, when the martial law was overturned. He was released but nevertheless convicted again, but was granted amnesty. In 1904, he resumed the case, and on July 12, the verdict finally fell – all accusations against him became known untrue. Later he got full recovery and all his military honors back. However, the case divided France far into recent times.

1920 – René Belbenoît was sentenced to 8 years of hard work in the penal colony, but because he had a veteran’s pension, he avoided the hardest work. Two weeks after arriving in the colony, he tried to escape for the first time with another man on a raft to Suriname, but was captured and sent back again. He began to jot down his memories of the stay, and tried several escape attempts, all of which failed. On November 3, 1934, he was finally officially released, but was not allowed to return to France. He made money by catching butterflies and making things out of natural rubber and selling them. During his prison years, he had lost all his teeth. He managed to escape to the United States, where in 1938 and 1940 he published two books on his remarkable exploits.

1920 – Guyana Air Transport Society, French Guiana’s first airline, is founded. It went bankrupt two years later due to a plane crash.

1930 – French Guiana is divided into two parts: Inini in the interior, Guyana along the coast.

1938 – France officially stops sending prisoners to Devil’s Island, but it is not until 1953 that the prison system is finally closed. Many prisoners returned to France, but some chose to stay in French Guiana.

1946 – The area is granted French department status. The penal colony on Devil’s Island was disbanded, and 145 prisoners traveled to Marseilles, France.

1964 – Center Spatial Guyanais (CSG) is established to compensate for France’s lost rocket base Hammaguir in the Algerian desert. After 355 rocket launches, CSG was put in the mothballs in September 1975 and the rocket launchers were allowed to decay.

1977 – CSG becomes relevant again after ESA decides that their future Arian rocket should be launched from CSG. The ELA-1 ( l’Ensemble de Lancement Ariane ) rocket launch was built for the Arian rocket 18 km from the nearest settlement. In 1986, ELA-2 was introduced to supplement ELA-1 and in 1996, Ariane 5 ‘s ELA-3 became operational.

1980s – was marked by attacks on French power and by border conflicts with Suriname.

1986 – Survivors of the Moiwana massacre, other residents, fled to French Guiana during the Suriname guerrilla war.

1990s – Economic problems led to unrest and accusations against France for not helping adequately.

1994 – Guyana joins the Caribbean Cooperation Organization CARICOM as an associate member.

1996 – ESA’s Ariane 5 rocket is destroyed as it deviates from its course post-launch from Kourou on 4 June. It was an expensive mistake after a decade and 7 billion. dollars. The rocket and its cargo cost 500 million. dollars, and the error was later judged to be a software error in the inertia system.

2000 – During an official visit to the country in March 2000, the French Deputy Minister for Overseas Affairs, Jean-Jacques Queyranne, refused to receive a delegation of pro-independence activists. This triggered a wave of demonstrations in which both police and protesters were injured. The independence-oriented national organization called for a general strike in protest of the arrogant French stance and police brutality.

2002 – Europe’s most expensive satellite to date begins in 2002 its journey into space from the French space base in Kourou. Through 2003, new European missions came to the country to complete space projects. Kourou continues to play a key role in the European space program.

2003 – Europe’s first lunar mission leaves French Guiana.

2007 – At the beginning of the following year, France gave in to pressure from environmental movements when it abandoned the creation of a gold mine. The area was instead laid out as a nature park.

2017 – A bridge over the Oyapock River that separates Guyana and Brazil finally opened after more than 10 years of construction, in March, so Guyana finally became “landlocked”.

French Guiana History