From Grand Case to New London, Connecticut

In the early 20th century, Saint-Martinois people came to the coastal city of New London as it was an epicenter of fishing and manufacturing. After establishing a tight-knit community in the heart of the city, Saint-Martinois spread around New London, breaking the cultural and social barriers that existed when they first arrived in the city. Their experience as migrants was shaped by discrimination and racism in New London. Moving forward, the Saint-Martinois people have assimilated into New England society while maintaining their cultural heritage as they hold annual family gatherings.

Life in New London
The Saint-Martinois community maintains close bonds with their extended family and have frequent family reunions. The older members would not permit their children to socialize with Americans as they feared their culture was different than their own as they have different morals as well.

The Saint-Martinois identified themselves as West Indian and did not accept the racial system of the United States that called them black; they were not “colored” but rather “West Indian.” Racial discrimination was part of daily life upon emigrating from Saint Martin. This discrimination came in the form of low-pay, menial labor, as well as a struggle in school due to their accents, which were perceived as ‘broken English,’ even though they were native English speakers.

In New London, St. Martin identity is expressed through food, dance, and social gatherings. Johnnycakes and their importance were noted throughout the interviews, as well as the significance of seafood. Although recipes were not always written down, which has caused some level of difficulty to recreate traditional meals, the community cooks dishes that remind them of their childhood and their heritage.

The Impact of Hurricane Irma
Hurricane Irma heavily impacted the St. Martin community in New London. Contacting their families on the island was their first priority, but it was difficult because communications were disrupted. Eventually, through word of mouth, people on the island communicated with their relatives. A relief committee was created to raise funds and awareness for the disaster. It raised several thousand dollars which went towards food and shelter for those affected by the hurricane.The devastation from the hurricane was widespread and there remains much work to be done. Many homes were destroyed and have not been replaced. Seeking refuge, several families from St. Martin temporarily stayed in New London after the hurricane.

In addition to raising thousands of dollars, this committee also reinforced the sense of community in New London, giving people a reason to come together through a common desire to help.

Facebook page for the relief committee


Students in the History of Anthropological Theory course in fall 2018 conducted interviews with members of the St. Martinois community living in New London, Connecticut.