The first settlers to set foot in Rodrigues were Frenchman François Leguat and a band of seven Huguenot companions fleeing religious persecution at home in search of a place where they could follow and live their religious principles freely. The conditions of their voyage from Bresse were incredibly terrible. They arrived there on April 25, 1691. The captain of the ship dropped them on the island and promised to come back later. He never did.
Leguat and his companions visited the island and decided to settle in a nice cove on the North-west of the island. This place will be later known as Port Mathurin.
Leguat and his companions had bought crop seeds from the Cape of Good Hope and started sowing immediately upon arrival. Some of the crop seeds did not germinate or were destroyed by pests. Some of the fruit seeds they had brought from the Cape, especially melons and water melons, thrived very well. After some time, they managed to improve the crops. They were living very well on their crops. Meat from the birds and tortoises as well as fish was abundant.
Even so, after two years, life on a paradise island began to lose its attraction. The reason was not really because of the lack of women but they all felt lonely. They had no opportunity to meet and talk to other people than themselves. With no boat of their own, Leguat and his friends could not make the trip to Mauritius to get the supplies they needed.
So they decided to build a boat, out of driftwood, to leave the island. The first attempt was a failure resulting in one of Leguat’s companions, Isaac Boyer to die of extreme fatigue after about four weeks of sickness.
Eventually, Leguat and his companions succeeded in leaving Rodrigues on May 29, 1693 and, after a nine-day voyage, they reached the coast of Mauritius after having been roughly shaken by bad weather and plagued by doubts about missing Mauritius altogether. They steered their boat into a small bay and entered the mouth of a small river. They were all very weak but also very happy of having made what they thought was a very risky enterprise. After having had some rest for a rew days, they sailed along the West Coast of Mauritius and finally found a small Dutch settlement consisting of 3-4 houses inhabited by a few Dutch families living from hunting and vegetables and fruits grown in their gardens. Leguat’s party stayed a month with this small Dutch settlement before they decided to travel to Fort Frederik Hendrik to advise Governor Rodolphe Deodati of their presence in the island. Fortunately, he was passing by Black River and they met him. He assured them that they could stay on the island as long as necessary.
Following a problem with the possession of grey amber, Leguat and his companions were imprisoned on an island opposite to the fort. They suffered the tyranny of the Cruel governor Deodati until September 6, 1696
As from 1792, colonists came to settle down with the other few who had stayed back in the devastated island.
The first of the permanent settlers on Rodrigues was Germain Le Gros who arrived in September 1792. He was followed closely by Michel Gorry and Philibert Marragon who came in 1794 in a view to develop farming and stockbreeding. It was during this period that the ancestors of the present population came into the island: African slaves were brought from Mauritius to Rodrigues. The Rodriguan population is a mixture of African and European stock. The earliest census in 1804 records 22 whites and 82 slaves who had been brought over from Madagascar and Mozambique
They made their living through fishing and trade and Le Gros went into partnership with Marragon to build the first ship and engaged the services of Mathurin Berhinier, a marine carpenter, to build the ship 'L'Espoir'. The name of Mathurin is closely associated with Rodrigues and is one of few possible origins for its main town.
Marragon became the first ruling authority of the island. He settled at Montagne Charlot with his wife and mother in law. His daughter Stephanie was born in 1802, the first recorded human birth on the island. Marragon is remembered as being autocratic and unhelpful in assisting others to establish themselves. In fact, he did not encourage more families to come and settle on the island.