Today in History: Mount Pelée erupts in Martinique

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In the Caribbean, on the French island colony of Martinique, there is a town by the name of Saint Pierre.  This town was once dubbed the “Paris of the Caribbean” and was seen as culturally superior to the island’s capital Fort-de-France.

St. Pierre lay in the shadow of the massive volcano, Mount Pelée.  Most believed the volcano to be dormant, a sleeping giant.  In April 1902, stirrings from the volcano began.  Several signs were evidenced through disruptions to the landscape and wildlife. No heed was paid to these natural warnings.

On the morning of May 8, there was an infernal blast of hot gas and volcanic debris which wiped out St. Pierre.  The entire population of the town, as well as people from neighbouring villages were killed.  Only two survivors were reported.  A prisoner, who had been arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct the day before, was saved by the thick stone walls of his ‘cell’.  The other survivor, Léon Compère-Léandre, was a shoemaker who lived at the edge of the city.

For a vividly described story of the 1902 eruption of Mount Pelée, see Earth Magazine.

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I’m a Latin American Studies teacher, teaching Latin American History and Politics and Basic Spanish. I love reading, writing, teaching and travelling. 

10 thoughts on “Today in History: Mount Pelée erupts in Martinique

  1. Wow. “A prisoner, who had been arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct the day before, was saved by the thick stone walls of his ‘cell’.”. How’s that for mad crazy luck?

    1. You know?! He became quite infamous and went on to tour with Barnum and Bailey circus. The man who survived… or something like that. Lol.

      1. Exactly. Although, he would no incentive to stop behaving drunk and disorderly… hmm…

  2. We talked about this last Sabbath in church and many people were like ‘Lucky man!’

  3. How fascinating, and so dreadful. I had never heard this story before. I hope that the prisoner reformed after this ‘second chance’ at life.

    1. Apparently he became a bit of a celebrity and joined the Barnum and Bailey Circus… the man who survived…

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