The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

The Honorable Arthur Valk

The Saba Islander

Image (117) The Honourable Arthur Valk on the left with Mr.Irvin  Mussenden

I often heard Senator Kenneth van Putten and others talking about Mr. Valk. Usually it had to do with how smart he was for his times, his collection of books, his expert knowledge on the history of St.Eustatius, and the fact that he was a love child of Mr. Daniel James Hassell Every the owner of Schotzenhoek estate.

Years ago Kenneth gave me an old chair which belonged to Mr. Valk. Capt. Randolph Dunkin did the caning for me and Henk Bontenbal restored the old chair. Reportedly it had belonged to the Honen Dalim (The one who is merciful to the poor) Synagogue and had been used as a baptismal chair. I placed the old chair next to an old vanity set which had belonged to my mother Alma Simmons. She had told me once that it had been built…

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The Honorable Arthur Valk

Image (117) The Honourable Arthur Valk on the left with Mr.Irvin  Mussenden

 

I often heard Senator Kenneth van Putten and others talking about Mr. Valk. Usually it had to do with how smart he was for his times, his collection of books, his expert knowledge on the history of St.Eustatius, and the fact that he was a love child of Mr. Daniel James Hassell Every the owner of Schotzenhoek estate.

Years ago Kenneth gave me an old chair which belonged to Mr. Valk. Capt. Randolph Dunkin did the caning for me and Henk Bontenbal restored the old chair. Reportedly it had belonged to the Honen Dalim (The one who is merciful to the poor) Synagogue and had been used as a baptismal chair. I placed the old chair next to an old vanity set which had belonged to my mother Alma Simmons. She had told me once that it had been built here on Saba for someone on Statia. Somehow, and I cannot remember the story, it ended back up here on Saba and in her possession. It was in bad condition and I restored it myself. Somehow I felt that the two pieces belonged together.

Statia - Gallery overtrading the road is the home of Mr. Arthur Valk.

Gallery over reaching the road was the home of Mr. Arthur Valk.

There are three letters scrolled on the top of the vanity piece interlocking into one another. One day while meditating in the old chair, I, as the old people would say, deciphered the letters to read J.C.E.  I then realized that it could only be John Carl Every at one time not only the richest man on St. Eustatius, but also one of the richest persons in the Eastern Caribbean. The wealthy people then were not only the biggest land owners, but they put their land into productive use. Much can be said now as to how they used it, but these islands were poor and had no local markets for sugar and other produce, so that people like the Every’s also had whaling schooners and regular schooners to trade with and supplement their income.

It is only when I found out that the vanity piece had belonged to John Carl Every that I realized why the two pieces of furniture belonged together. Mr. Arthur Valk and John Carl were brothers. Jocelyn Gordon used to tell me that the Bible does not mention anything about half brothers so that the term half-brother should not be used. Godfred Hassell gave the chair a good restoration in 2015 and it is from this chair that I do all my writing and meditation on things past.

For some reason I always thought that Mr. Valk was of mixed race ancestry (like Obama). However Kenneth told me that his mother was a white woman.  She was Margaret Ann Hodge born November 2nd, 1825 and died May 9th, 1900. Her parents were Thomas Hodge and Susan Elizabeth Valk. Seeing the stigma that  being illegitimate carried with is, being that Margaret Ann was from an important local family at the time, Arthur decided to use the surname Valk for his entire life.

Statia - Arthur Valk and his mother

Arthur Valk and his mother Margaret Ann Hodge

He was born on St.Eustatius on July 2nd, 1855 and died July 31st,1933 at the age of 78.

He was a teacher, co-founder of the public library, renowned historian and translator of documents from Dutch to English. He was a devout Methodist. He taught not only at the Public School but also had a private school at his home which was customary back then. People with some money would send their children to a private teacher. He remained a lifelong bachelor. On his death he bequeathed one of his houses to Kenneth’s aunt Miss Miriam Rhoda. Yes the same aunt whose coffin Kenneth used to “lend out” from time to time. Before he died he had sold one of the houses to Kenneth’s grand father. And so the two large houses sitting next to each other next to the Old Dutch reformed church ended back up in the  hands of one person, namely Kenneth.IMG_0188a

Over the years I have heard much about Mr. Valk so I decided to try and bring him back on the scene.

He was so well known for his research on history and his great intellect that all of the dignitaries visiting the island would pass by him to hear him out. Some of his best books ended up as gifts to people from Curacao. The Inspector of Taxes Mr. van Werkhoven was loaned a prized first edition of Southey’s “Chronological History of the West Indies”.

Mr. Valk also translated into English all of the Dutch songs used for ceremonial occasions. These were published in 1899 as “The Celebration of The Queens Accession” in the Journaal “Geschied-Taal-en Volkskunde Genootschap” in 1899. The text of the translation can be read starting with page 17 of the Journal. They were also published in the form of a small booklet of which I have a copy in my collection.

 

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The house of Mr. Valk was situated behind the Fort on the Kerkstraat.

Mr. Valks people in the time of the “Golden Rock”, the Hodge’s and the Valks had been among the wealthy families of the island. When Mr. Valk was growing up things had changed radically. The few plantation owners, who were also the largest employers,

were obliged to live off investments made elsewhere.

The Government in the time of Governor van Grol tried through various ways to revive agriculture. But the combination of droughts, labour shortage and a mass exodus of the population to the USA, Bermuda and then to the oil refineries of Aruba and Curacao, had left the island with only a small population.

Whereas the population of the island in its glory days was 8124 registered in 1790, it had declined to 2668 in 1850 a few years before Mr. Valk was born. The population figures of the first half of the twentieth century show a steady decline.

Year 1900 a total of 1334 people, 1915 there were 955 people, 1925 only 1135, 1935 there were 1198, 1940 there were 1130, 1945 only 976 and 1950 a low point of 970 had been reached. In 1960 things started to change but only slightly. The census indicated that the population was 1014.

Mr. Valk grew up in a much quieter atmosphere than the islands have today. No motorized traffic, no boom boxes, no planes flying overhead. The peace and quiet was only disturbed at the break of morning when a myriad of roosters would break forth in a cacophony of song announcing the birth of a brand new day.

One can see how Mr. Valk was drawn to his books and research. He and Mr. Irvie Mussenden were the principal ones behind the establishing of the Public Library.

 

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Looking down the Kerkstraat with the home of Mr. Arthur Valk

The library for many years was housed in the building opposite the Government Guesthouse ( which is now the Government Administration Building). The building is owned by Mr. Siegfried Lampe now in his nineties and the last of the old white families living on Statia. The last man standing so to speak. Siegfried himself never married. His father was from Aruba and his mother a daughter of Governor A.J.C. Brouwer, so that technically his roots are not as deep on Statia as say the Pandt family who go back hundreds of years. Since this was first written Mr. Lampe passed away.

Mr. Valk being an intellectual curiosity for that period  was referred to by all as the man to see if you wanted to know about Statia’s history. I also have a copy of history that he wrote, but now to find it. An archivist would have a Herculean task to find all the paper work I have stored around the house.

 

Mr. Valk also maintained an extensive correspondence with friends and family abroad that had left the island to seek their fortune elsewhere. I will write an article on the French Hugenot families of Statia which include the Lespier family or l-Espier, one of whom is the grandmother of the late Joaquim Balaguer who for many years was President (some would say dictator) of the Dominican republic.

As for Mr. Valk, even though he was well known in his day, he is now only remembered in a small circle. That is why even though some may think he is only a ghost from the distant past, I want to highlight him as he deserves to be remembered.

Will Johnson

 

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Commissioner Alexander Theophilus Illidge.

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Two great St. Martiners, Alexis Arnell (Lexie) in front and Commissioner A.Th. Illidge right behind him. Pasangrahan Hotel 1955.

Commissioner Alexander Theophilus Illidge

By; Will Johnson

His grandson has been corresponding with me about writing something about Commissioner Illidge.

I knew him when I worked in the old Courthouse. Among other things my boss Joseph Alphonse Constantine O’Connor was also the Acting Notary for the Island. I had no job description back then. I would be called on by Lt. Governor J.J.’Japa’ Beaujon on weekends to type letters and reports and I was not even working for the Island Government. And so it was that I did lots of Notary work. Years later Notary Speetjens told me he was amazed at the number of deeds had my signature to them. Sydney Lejuez a customs officer, working with me, and I were the star witnesses for ‘Fons’ Notary practice. All unpaid for of course.

One of the people often in the office was Mr. Illidge and he lived in the Mount William Hill area. He was constantly getting various lands notarized. These he had either inherited or bought them from other families. I remember him always having a little stick which he twirled around in his mouth. It seemed to be part of his body as I can never remember ever seeing him with a stick in his mouth.

He and Fons clashed at times with Fons once remarking; ‘Man you want to claim the whole of Mount William Hill’. But in the end Mr. Illidge proved to be well documented.

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Lighter boat with car being towed into Great Bay for landing. Photo Guy Hodge.

For this article I will quote from articles in the Windward Islands Opinion to which Mr. Illidge often contributed articles and letters to the Editor. Also from Kenneth Cook’s book;” The politicians who made a difference.’

Mr. Cook gives the following information on Alexander Illidge.

‘In 1951, five members were elected to the St. Maarten Island Council. One of them became a Commissioner. His name was Alexander Theophilus Illidge, who came from a large, renowned family. Born in 1894, Illidge later became a mason and expert in granite stone making. As a young man, Illidge left Sint Maarten and worked for a company in Philadelphia Pennsylvania, known as the O’Brian Corporation. At O’Brian he worked as a contractor.

During the late 1940,s, he returned to St. Maarten and engaged in cultivation, while at the same time doing masonry work. In 1951, Claude Wathey asked Illidge to run for the 1951 Island Council election. Claude, at that time, was the leader of the NVP party. Even though he only secured six votes, Illidge became a deputy, which was the same position as a Commissioner.

Wathey had asked Illidge to join him in politics because he (Illidge), was a well-read man and a gifted speaker. According to one of Illidge’s cousins, Ramona Illidge, he was such a gifted orator he would say things that would ‘knock you off your feet’. During campaign rallies, Illidge was often quoted as saying, “the dogs are barking, but they cannot bite.’

Illidge made a difference for the St. Maarten people in various ways. He aided and lobbied scholarships for students such as Lesley Cannegieter, and he revived agriculture and held many animal exhibitions in conjunction with the French side farmers. The latter was done to determine who had the best and healthiest animals.

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Lighter with car at the pier in Philipsburg. It would still be towed to the beach and landed on the beach.

 

Towards the end of his term Illidge faced the biggest challenge of his career, which came in the form of Claude Wathey.

During an island council meeting, Wathey and Illidge signed an agreement with developers to construct a hotel. Several months later, Charles Voges telephoned Illidge and asked; “How could you do that?” Illidge was stunned and confused. Voges informed him that the Executive Council had withdrawn the license that was given to developers. Illidge stated that he knew nothing about this development. He immediately called his chauffeur, Mr. Jarvis and went to Wathey’s home. Wathey was not there, so Illidge told Cyrus Wathey (Claude’s father) that he must inform Claude to return the license to the developers. He also claimed that the act amounted to forgery. Illidge reportedly told Cyrus that if Claude was unwilling to do so, he would face the wrath of the local authorities. When Illidge met Claude they had a heated argument. Tensions between both men existed until Illidge’s term concluded in 1955. Claude vowed to never sit in an Island Council with Illidge.

In the 1955 Island Council elections, Illidge ran together with Lionel Bernard Scott. He obtained only two votes. Illidge saw this performance as a sign to discontinue his participation in politics.

Before he died in 1967, he made a crown shaped out of granite stone and presented it to Queen Juliana of The Netherlands, while she was on a visit to St. Maarten.’

I was on vacation for the latter part of 1967. I remember when I came back to work in the Receivers Office I learned that in my absence several long married couples had died shortly after one another. Theophilus Illidge and his wife were one of those couples.

In the sixties Mr. Illidge sent in letters and articles to the Windward Islands Opinion. Dependent in those days only on what you had learned from books and life’s experiences it is refreshing to see that a stonemason had such an advanced outlook on life.

On Saturday January 11th, 1964, in the Windward Islands’ Opinion Mr. Illidge published the following article.

NEW YEARS MESSAGE TO OUR GOVERNMENT AND PEOPLE

By; A.Th.Illidge

We are indeed thankful that we have been spared to make another milestone in this our transitory span through no merit of our own. But by the grace of God, it is then therefore fitting, that we rededicate ourselves anew to God in love and loyalty – this year 1964. Wishing you all a Happy and a Prosperous New Year, I now wish both the French and Dutch Government a happy continuation of administration.

And now to our Island Government, after having been instrumental in the laying of the foundation and first cornerstone in the August temple of our Independence. Today as we look around we certainly can appreciate what has been accomplished in the fourteen years of our Self Government. Great improvements have been made, in every field of human endeavor, especially in promoting as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge, for the children. In proportion as the structure of a Government gives force to public sentiment, it is essential, that public opinion should be enlightened. An Eminent English jurist says, that sentiment is more powerful than law, for law is the expression of sentiment. And cannot be enforced without its support. A distinguished French critic in writing the history of a National literature says, that the motive force in history is to be sought in human sentiment.

We have just had the Christmas play, of which I regret I was unable to attend as gatekeeper, due to a fall I got a little before. But how proud I was to listen to the public sentiment. It is evidently convincible, the most enduring moment is that which has been created in the minds of our people. Let us all hope for a yearly continuation of the play.

 

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On the left with flag was the home of the Lt. Governor upstairs and downstairs were the government offices for the Executive Council of which Commissioner A. Th. Illidge formed a part from 1951-1955.

Honored Sirs, I wish you all a happy continuation of Administration. And console yourselves with the fact that no government is free from mistakes. Mistakes are error of judgement and not of intend. We often act according to our best knowledge which often fall short of the proposition in question. So leave all comparisons to history. Being receptive to the various governments of the world I would like to examine the greatest cause for errors in the governments of the world – Julius Caesar, the great Roman General and Statesman, 44 BC – Says in deliberating on dubious matters. To be influenced neither by hatred, affection, nor anger, nor pity; the mind when such obstructs its view, cannot easily see what is right. Nor has any human being consulted at the same time his passions and his interests. When the mind is fully exerted its reasoning is sound. And it is right here all the mistakes are made in life.

Honored Sirs, continue to build upon the foundation which may someday rise to the high mature mark, and May the Guardian angel of the Island of St. Maarten, French and Dutch, guide and direct all your Councils, in the interest and welfare of the people.

And now to the people of St. Maarten – Experience has shown that more than two thirds of us are still slumbering in apathy. It is you the people that make public sentiment more powerful than law. Do you know it? And law cannot be enforced without its support. Fellow citizens of St. Maarten, we are now living in the 20th century, and not in the 19th. – Wake up! And think for yourselves, learn your power of thoughts, by thinking and power of action by acting. You must become receptive to the fact, that the intellectual development of the human race today, has been suddenly raised to a higher plain than that of our fathers and grandfathers – And we are on the brink of a mighty revolution in human thinking. An intelligent people is an asset to a government, but, ignorance is a liability and a hazard. Fellow citizens, nature endows us at birth with the instinctive desire for liberty and truth. But, whether because of negligence, or because of an inclination inherent in humanity, it is still somewhat under bond, imposed upon it, perhaps by the tradition of slavery.

Too many of us are still suffering from mental slavery. So many of us don’t believe in the axiom of God creating man equal. For the benefit of those who don’t believe – I will make it more plain. A wise person contains in himself every bit of the foolishness the foolish one contains, plus the attributes and characteristics of the wise one. But, his foolishness is held in check by discretion, and instead of energy being blown out by caprice, it is controlled by judgement. Evidently ignorance is the only slavery.

Now Wake up and become an asset to the community, state, and Government, so that we may all work with firm steps – to the August temple of Independence.

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The Old Courthouse where the Island Council would meet upstairs from time to time.

Commissioner Illidge was one of the few politicians, who was bold enough to commit his thoughts to paper.

Here is another contribution of his in the Windward Islands’ Opinion of Saturday January, 18th, 1964.

Dear Editor,

After listening to the lecture of the Hon. Teacher Mr. Arrindell of Marigot – on his theme of Education, at the Men’s Club at Marigot – And his answers to the various questions and to Mr. Bailey, teacher of Cole Bay and many others on the subject of Education, School, Teachers, Guardians and children.

The entire subject provided food for thought – and has given wings to my mind and flight to my imagination. Consequently I have seen the imperative necessity for a general meeting of all teachers, parents, guardians and children for a better understanding on the whole.

Therefore I made immediate contact with the Principals of the schools for a general public meeting, which was gladly accepted. I also spoke to Rev. Khan on the subject, who immediately agreed and offered one hundred chairs, for wherever the meeting will be kept. But, asked please not to keep it in his absence, as he would like to voice his opinion. The Honorable Principal, Mr. Lindeboom will give a lecture on the subject, all parents, guardians and children are politely invited to be present at this particular meeting. It will be one of the most constructive and important meetings of its kind. Public sentiment will be a potent factor. The Lady Principal will also voice her sentiment on this important issue. Mr. Bailey, teacher of Cole Bay has been long waiting for an opportunity to express his views – and many more including Miss Bell. This issue was brought about because of parents going to teachers with reference to the behavior of children.

Too many mothers love for her child is like the instinct of an animal – only ready to butt and bite.

Fourteen or fifteen years ago, due to some action on the part of one of the teachers who lost control, and ill treated a child – The Hon. Legislative Council, passed a law, that teachers may not whip or strike a child with their hands.

The children of today, are taking a direct advantage of this situation, no fear, no respect, one way or another; which is causing a terrible reaction in community life, State and Government. It is time that the general sentiment of the Public be moved in this particular direction – It should be understood, that the teacher is the child’s other mother. In a pure state of nature the child would need no other teacher than its mother, but the economic demands upon the poor and the social demands upon the rich; make a third party indispensable. In the average home, there is a woeful lack of love everybody is so busy. So the child is sent to school, and the other mother gives her mother’s love, her patience and her tact to bring about a pleasurable animation, a condition the average parent cannot evolve; and without which, mental and spiritual growth are impossible. Therefore teachers need the moral support and co-operation of parents – and not their ignorant displeasure. So a meeting has been planned for early February. The General public will be informed of the date and place in a later issue of this newspaper.

So we all thank the Men’s Club of Marigot for the pleasant evening of Men’s Fellowship, there were about 65 to 70 men present.

We thank the guest-speaker of the evening for his theme on education and the many persons who asked questions, on the subject of parent and children and the regulation of law governing the situation . Theophilus Illidge, Publicity Agent for the Men’s Club.

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Back when Mr. Illidge was Commissioner this was the only pier at which all cargo and  passengers arrived. The Lido Hotel and bar downstairs on the right.

There is another Letter to the Editor which I found dated February 8th, 1964.

…Really without council, purposes are lost. One can think and evolve an idea, but without council and cooperation, the thought will die where it had its birth. On Tuesday night around seven thirty a Committee of teachers, the Editor of the Windward Islands Opinion and myself met at the Sea-View Hotel for a discussion on the proposition of a meeting with parents, teachers, guardians and children.

I confess the meeting was very nice, and educational. It is an obvious fact that a great part of every man’s life must be employed in collecting material, for the exercise of genius, invention, strictly speaking is little more than a new combination of those images which have been previously gathered and deposited in the memory. Nothing can come of nothing. He who has laid up no material, can produce no combinations. The more extensive, therefore, your acquaintance is with the works of those who have excelled, the more extensive will be your powers. It was a pleasure indeed to listen to the various speakers.-

There will be a general meeting at the P.M.I.A. hall, with parents, guardians, teachers and children, on Friday night the 14th of February.

As it involves, community, State and government, Ladies and Gentlemen, this letter is in behalf of the honorable Committee- So I conclude by saying: Nature’s best use for genius is to make other men think. To stir things up so sedimentation does not take place; to break the antidote  of self-complacency, and start the stream of public opinion running so it will purify itself.

So then until the next issue

Yours truly

A.Th. Illidge

Next time you are driving along the A.Th. Illidge road be grateful for his contributions to St. Maarten. I personally feel that with his interest in education a school should have been named after him.

 

 

To the Island of Bequia

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Mr. Orton King here with his turtle sanctuary at Spring Bay.

To the island of Bequia

By: Will Johnson

 

 

On April 20th, 2009, I visited the island of Bequia with my son Chris. The ferry from Kingstown, St.Vincent was a large one. As a matter of fact I was a bit surprised at the number of large ferries which service the Grenadines out of St.Vincent. The one we were on though large was rather slow and tossed about quite a bit. It took over an hour to do the nine miles between the islands.

I had never been to Bequia before. I had read somewhere though that some Saba people had migrated to that island in the eighteen hundreds. I also found in the archives here on Saba a document in which the colonial British government was encouraging people from here to emigrate to that island. I did not think much about it as I had never heard of anyone from Saba there.

However after visiting Bequia the following day in the meeting with the OECS Ministers of Tourism the young Minister of Tourism for St.Vincent and the Grenadines, The Hon. Glen Beache teased me that after the meeting was over we would have to talk passport. This after hearing me talking about all the family I had met there.

Here is what happened. When we arrived in Admiralty Bay I looked around the shore for the Frangipani Hotel. It belongs to the Mitchell family. The former Prime Minister “Son Son” Mitchell (Sir James) is from Bequia. He served as Prime Minister of the island chain for twenty years. I corresponded with him once and sent him a copy of my book about Saba. I also read his memoirs. I never did get to meet him in person. I was hoping that even though we were only spending five hours on Bequia that I would at least get to say hello to him. However he was off-island that day.

After having breakfast  we saw a white man siitting there and everyone seemed to know him, so we asked him some directions. He said ;”Me not from heah, me ben here eighteen years. Me from Jammeny.” He was from Germany and had learned his English in Bequia .In the town we engaged a Taxi which was a pickup truck and decided to do a tour of the island. The driver would shout out from the inside of the cabin in order to give his tour. I had told him that I wanted to see the turtle sanctuary. He did his best to show us as much of the island as possible. When we arrived at the turtle sanctuary I saw Mr. Orton “Brother” King of whom I had read in “Destinations” magazine. I asked him if he was related to the King family on St.Kitts. I had not yet told him who I was. He said “I don’t know anything about them Kings on St. Kitts. I am a “Saybee”. And then he went on to tell me about his grandfather Robert Simmons who was the famous whale harpooner on Bequia and his other Simmons ancestors. He told me that he had been on Saba in 1984 for a few hours on a ferry. He had made it as far as Hell’s Gate. However he was disappointed that no one seemed to know anything about the Simmons’ family which he descended from.He said that he did see the plaque on Hell’s Gate dedicated to my uncle Captain Charles Reuben Simmons. I then told him that I was from Saba and that my mother was a Simmons. It was like a family reunion. His turtle sanctuary is at Spring Bay.

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A Simmons sail maker of Bequia in former times. This could be Nolly’s father but I forgot to ask him.

Brother King insisted that I must see Nolly Simmons before I left the island. So the taxi driver took us up to an area called “The Level”. Nolly is an architect, a builder and part owner of the stone quarry and other businesses. Nolly was in the process of building a new home with a fantastic view looking down to the town. I joked with one of the workers in the yard to go and tell Nolly that I had come to take him back home. Nolly is in his late sixties, early seventies. A tall ,brown skinned, man. When he came around the corner of the verandah he looked intently at me. He said:”I understand you have come to take me home? Well the only other home that I have is Saba.” After talking with him for awhile he asked me, “You wouldn’t be Will Johnson by any chance?’ When I told him yes, he said;”Man I have read your book about twelve times.” Brother King had complained to me that Nolly was hanging out with the girls down at the Frangipani Hotel. I did not ask Nolly but after I got home I speculated that he had gotten my book from “Son Son” James Mitchell. I guess Sir James had heard him talking so much about Saba that he had given him the book.

After the tour was over the taxi dropped us off at the Frangipani. Nolly was there waiting on us and took us back to the ferry. We had a callalou soup at the frangipani. When paying the bill I joked with the girls that I had come to take Nolly back home. One of the girls said;” Lord I hope you joking. Where you planning to take Nolly?” When I told her Saba she said:” Don’t tell him that. He is my boyfriend. All he talks about is this Saba where his people came from.” The ladies promised me that when the Frangipani closes down for a month in September that they will be coming to see Nolly’s ancestral home. Some years ago when I was Acting Governor a lady named Mrs. Drewy from Virginia came to see me. Her family was Simmons’ and had been in Virginia since the early sixteen hundreds. They own vast tracts of land there. She told me that she had never heard of Saba. She had been visiting Bequia as she understood there were Simmons’ there. At the bar in the Frangipani she had been told by the bartender that a man from the Dutch island of Saba had written a book about the Simmons’ of Saba. I always wondered who that man could have been. That is until I met Nolly of course. He confirmed that it was he who had told the lady about me. Also he knew Linda Garfunkel quite well .She used to have a home on Saba. Nolly told me at the hotel about his father the famous sail maker. He also told me about his ancestors from Saba who at one time had owned large portions of Bequia along with the Hassell family (now spelled Hazell there). On one of my trips to the United Nations with Mr. Xavier Blackman, the lady who is chairman of the Decolonization Committee Margareth Hughes Ferrera told me: “You don’t have to tell me about Saba, Mr. Johnson. My ancestor was Captain Hercules Hassell of Saba.”

Nolly also asked me if “Brother King” had told me why he had started the turtle sanctuary. I told him that we had been too busy talking family. Turns out that after the Second World War Brother King had been shipwrecked on a schooner. He was the only survivor. He was more than two days in the water holding on to a piece of the wreckage. He could see that he was drifting in to the island of Martinique. He was about to give up from exhaustion when he drifted into a bay on the Windward Coast of the island. However he dreamt that his brother was telling him not to give up. When he awoke he could feel the sand under his feet. However it was rough and he was so tired he felt he would not make it. All the while he was in the water some porpoises and turtles had surrounded him as if to protect him from sharks. A man from Martinique on his way home from work saw what he thought was a large turtle coming in to lay her eggs. He told his wife about it. He got a friend to go with him to turn the turtle. When they got there,”Brother King “was being tossed about in the waves just about dead. The two would be turtlers recognized his plight and saved him. Brother King then made a vow that he would do everything he could to save the turtles and that he is doing today.

When I got back home to Saba I sent both of them my books and I looked up family information for them.  I also found a book “Under the Perfume Tree” edited by Judy Stone with several short stories about the islands.

One of the stories is by Peter Stone entitled “Marooned by Pirates” taken from a family history entitled “Ten Little Islands”, and I quote from the book:

“After the European explorers came the European settlers. They did not have an easy time of it. Based on actual events, this extract from the family history ‘Ten Little Islands” recreates the struggles of several pioneering Dutch and English families in the late 18th century. Bound for a new life in St.Kitts, the emigrants’ first experience of the Caribbean was to be chased by pirates and marooned on the sheer rock now known as Saba. Peter Stone, late of Trinidad & Tobago and a direct descendant of the heroic master craftsman Hercules Hassell, tells how the settlers eventually escaped the island; how they encountered free blacks, the slaver Zong and an abolitionist: and how Hassell came to establish the famous boat-building industry in Bequia.

“The Dutch merchantman Van Dyck, out of Rotterdam, was bound for Wilhelmstadt. There were Dutch passengers aboard and two English families picked up at Plymouth to be dropped off at St. Kitts. These latter were Devon folk, the one family consisting of a schoolteacher named Simmons, his wife and two teenage children, a boy and a girl, and the other family a blacksmith, Henry Newton, his wife and infant son. The vessel had made the crossing in less than five weeks, and was still going well when, rounding St.Maarten, she acquired a tail.” You will have to read the book for the rest of the story.

Also in “Emancipation School” by John Hazell we read the following;” Following its settlement by Europeans, the island of Bequia flourished, and so did the Dutch-English descendants of Hercules Hassell, the hero of the preceding account. In his brief autobiography “The Life of John H.Hazell, Hassell’s grandson, who was to serve as Speaker and later President of the Legislative Assembly, Assistant Justice of the Supreme Court and Member of Queen Victoria’s Privy Council, sketches a contemporary view of the developing society in this tiny island during the early 19th century. I will quote briefly from his book:” I made one or two voyages with my father in his sloop ‘Messenger’, having been still fourteen years old when, in 1831, I had assisted at the repairs of this vessel, working as an apprentice at the ships carpenter’s trade. My father taking charge of his sloop and returning to his occupation at sea, I accompanied him. But I proved a very bad sailor, and suffered so much from seasickness that, after a voyage to St.Thomas and one to Barbados, I sought and obtained employment in the grocery and liquor store of Alexander Glass Esq., a Jewish Scotchman, whom I served until the early part of 1834. I then sought and obtained employment in the lumber and provision business of Adam Skelly Esq., a Scotch merchant and dealer in estates’ supplies, whom I served to the day of his death in 1840. I finally closed his business in 1841. Having accomplished this I commenced my own career in business, of which I will write hereafter.”

The following memorial is placed at the Anglican Church in Bequia – “In Memoriam Hercules Hazell who died in September 1833 at the age of 84 years, and Elizabeth his wife, were among the early settlers in this island. Their son, Hercules Hazell died in September 1848, aged 63 years and with his parents is buried in this churchyard. His wife Elizabeth died in August 1869, aged 83 years and is buried in St. George Churchyard, Kingstown. This tablet is erected in their memory by John H. Hazell in 1876.

Another tablet reads: In loving memory of John H. Hazell who died at the island of Mustique 22 November 1886 and was buried at St.George’s Cathedral, Kingstown, aged 70.

If you ever visit Elizabethtown you will find Nolly Simmons at the bar of the Frangipani. If you want to hear history tell him that his cousin Will sends greetings from Saba. And now you know something about the “Saybees” of Bequia. The “Country Cousins” band, the Leslies will also tell you that via the Simmons’ they too have roots on Saba.

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Far From The World’s Turmoil. Part 1

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The St. Martin he loved.

Far From the World’s Turmoil. Part One.

By. F.S. Langemeyer Civil Engineer

After I went to the trouble to translate this article from Dutch, from the West Indische Gids, I discovered that the same article had been published in a booklet entitled Tropical Mirror. Anyway I felt that many of our readers of Under the Sea Grape Tree would be especially interested in reading this.

Frans Silverius Langemeijer was born in Zeist, The Netherlands, on May 13th, 1886. After finishing his education he was employed by the Rijkwaterstaat in Maastricht and Hoorn before leaving for the Dutch West Indies.

In Hoorn on April 24, 1917 he married Antonia Maria Winkel who was born there on November 15, 1894. They had two children: Eugenie Frances Antonia born March 10th, 1919 on St. Maarten, and Henri Cornelis Gerard born September 22, 1922, in Terneuzen.

In the Dutch West Indies he worked for the colonial government in Curacao and conducted a study on the building of a harbor on St. Maarten. For this article I will concentrate on the human interest aspects of his sojourn at the Vineyard and people he met.  After his return to The Netherlands he worked again for RWS in Terneuzen from 1921 to 1925 and in Zwolle and Alemlo from 1930 to 1951. During the intervening five years, 1925 to 1930, he was employed by the Shell in Balikpan (Borneo), Indonesia. He died in Zwolle on October 23, 1954.

 

‘Putting down my reminiscences of a two year’s stay in the Caribbean cannot be done easily because my mind is captivated by events far more important in our precarious times. Nothing spectacular, or anything shocking, occurred in this tiny spot of Dutch territory at the very moment when Europe was ablaze. Topics of the hour lose topicality many years afterwards and in recalling what must be remembered one may err without the lively image of what has just happened.

Still, blurred images come to me and, recalling those years long past, I cannot disengage from the perusal of old letters and documents. Just now, with old feelings of hatred from 1940 flaring up again, a longing surges for this small island’s tranquility, segregated from hotbeds of war and corruption outside in the big world, yet certainly not beyond Gods own big world.

Admittedly its people lived far away from circles of development and culture, away from theater and movies. Europeans in St. Maarten might dispense with variety and liveliness, but not so with the proper meaning of life. They would have had cars rarely, if ever, and factories never, but they did know a magnificent soft rain and sunshine too, glowing over dark green slopes and endless expanse of ocean.

And since neither people nor animals come across perfect peace anywhere, the St. Maarten resident also was aware of human passion and desire, of joy and grief reflected in the minds of male and female inhabitants, of whites and blacks alike. Almost nowhere can you find a spot wholly devoid of such emotions.

In those years around 1918, many St. Maarteners went to work in the sugar plantations of Santo Domingo which apparently were prospering at that time. Some of the more enterprising men set out to sail; other people went to the American continent. On their homecoming they told, or put in writing, their stories of the outside world. One of the men who took a job as a bricklayer or stonemason in the USA during the construction of a harbor even gave me a piece of advice as to how Philipsburg could develop its own port. They did not lose their interest in their native island, ‘the best place in the world.’

We were very pleased, of course, to receive daily publications and magazines in those quiet days since, as young people, we could not possibly give up our contact with the world. We wanted to live and to experience adventure. Let me now try to arrange my experiences in neat order.

Schooner Estelle belonging to Capt. Thomas Charles Vanterpool.

Schooner the “Estelle’ at Fort Bay. Owner Capt. T.C. Vanterpool.

The very last day of May, 1918, the government packet ‘Estelle’, a schooner, dropped anchor on her last monthly trip to Great Bay, the final destination for me and my wife. The ship anchored near Fort Amsterdam which was situated at the outermost western point of the bay, which from there curved inwards in a straight line to the town.

Philipsburg appeared ahead in its tropical setting of high palm clusters and dark green manzanillo trees, its houses looking bright and prosperous whilst an early morning sun bestowed luster and loveliness upon the surrounding scenery. Up on deck we watched as all of the sails flapped downwards in succession. The ever-present noise of the propelling wind disappeared from the ship all of a sudden. Just a calm lapping sound we heard at the bow when the ship slackened momentum, followed by a curt command, the screeching anchor chains running down, and then complete silence and standstill. Far out in the bay, the lighter men were drawing near already, rowing with agile black hands which reminded us of a similar scene in the Haiti harbor, except for a lot more shouting. Indeed, one had to recognize that the cool hand of the Dutch had put its seal on the black population here, because everything took place with outward calm and good order.

The passengers – the last ones- because the ‘Estelle’ had already called at S aba and St. Eustatius – were taken over the side into one of the boats, along with necessary luggage, and rowed to the small jetty in the town Center where Customs did not make great demands on our time. The officer in charge Mister Huith by name and always on duty because he happened to be the only one, was a genial ex-colonial fellow who had kept puttering about on the island, marrying a mulatto. I got to know him better as a well-spring of information. He was always fully abreast of tidal movements in the bay as well as of the export figures for salt.

The customs office at the pier-end, serving as a Post office at the same time, contained a third room occupied by the island’s second authority who combined such varied functions as tax collector, counsel for the prosecution and postmaster – very much alert to all of them.

At the landing stage Mister A.J.C. Brouwer, the Administrator, gave us a cordial welcome. He was a kind, elderly gentleman whose tropical service made him look older. With retirement drawing near, he was very much aware that a higher office would not be given to him.Image (1436)

Mr. Brouwer guided us to an elderly lady of Anglo-colonial descent Mrs. Dinzey. She was expected to give us board and lodging for a couple of days until we could find our own home. Mrs. Dinzey was an unassuming lady of retiring disposition, who appeared to be afflicted by the difficulties of life itself, difficulties which, by the look of her, ennobled her character. We might have wished her a better fortune in a less vulnerable position than that which was imposed on her by life’s vicissitudes, yet attaining old age in peace was the very best which would happen to her. Although we later spent two years in this small community, we saw her rarely, if ever.

Obviously looking for a house was to be my first job. While aboard our ship we had seen, shining above the green manzanillo around the eastern bay corner, a little white house top adorned with a big yellow star, looking very inviting from a distance. The estate belonging to it bore the sonorous name of ‘The Vineyard”, and it proved to be untenanted – although regrettably we could not find any grapevines.

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Close up view of ‘The Vineyard.’

I had to put up with a fairly stiff rent by St. Maarten,s standard but was not sorry because it happened to be the most suitable home imaginable. Our house was situated on the face of a steep hill, richly grown and strewn with boulders. When walking home through Front Street we often fell under the spell of the spot, especially so in bright moonlight, enhanced by the mysteriousness of the sounds of the living creatures in the wild darkness of the hills.

Because of its location, slightly elevated, the house afforded a splendid and varied view from our front veranda. Both of the green-walled village streets ran between the bay, always vivid and fidgety with the wide sea looming in the background, and the darker, nearly purple, water of the large salt pond.

Fort Amsterdam, situated in a narrow neck of land, manifested itself as a boundary between the bay and the Caribbean. Casting a glance from there to the right you could follow the upward line of the hills, resting finally on the highest summits of Sentry Hills, Mont des Accords and Flagstaff Hill. Their contours were shaped like a reclining giant in the background of the salt pond and, further up north, we saw the plantation house of ‘Madams Estate’ and the hills of Prince’s Quarter.

Imagine the Vineyard being no less than a ten minute walk from this cozy corner. I now shake my head at such a youthful obstinacy but at the time we, the reckless newlyweds, had no objections.

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Front-street as it would have looked in 1918.

After having fixed up our home I started hiring some laborers for my survey in the country. The surveyor in my company was a heavily built, tall, mulatto, middle-aged man from Curacao by the fine Dutch name of Van den Beld, sporting an impressive moustache and toupee. He was a blacksmith by trade, properly speaking, but he was a loyal assistant during my surveying work, handling levelling and drilling operations.

Van den Beld selected and took care of a small work gang setting out with me daily for several months and performing jobs like holding the beacons, fastening pickets, introducing drilling pipes, and similar work involving the engineering survey. If I remember rightly, at that time they made about f.1.00 to f. 1.40 a day, considered to be good wages in St. Maarten. To the best of my recollection two of these chaps stuck faithfully with me till the end of my work. They were totally dis-similar from each other and went by the names Nathy and Julio. Surnames were not that important with the St. Maarten blacks, who carry a fine variety in first names given from the books.

Nathy, or Nathaniel, was a splendid fellow. I think back to him with compliments, a good natured character from ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, dark as ebony, strong as an elephant, always walking around in tatters. When there was a hole in his trousers, hardly a small one, he put a second pair of trousers over the first, and though the garment might not be hold free either, it would cover up anyway. The trousers were made of a kind of raw cotton fabric of vague color, turning to brownish-grey when clean, in general the prevailing shade for working clothes at that time. Nathy never wore anything else, though I gathered that he had a good wash on Mondays.

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Another view of ‘The Vineyard’ around 1918.

Nathy was a priceless worker, calling me “Chief”, perhaps mocking me in a mild manner, but it never hurt and he would go through fire for me in adverse circumstances while doing his job. I did not take advantage most of the time, being aware of his unremitting good will. Nathy was a native of Anguilla, one of the British Antilles, and this had left its mark clearly upon him. The influence of colonizing nations on those colonized is most remarkable, as I observed later in the East Indies as well. Nathy could put on a solemn face and speak almost unctuously. In this he differed greatly from Julio (pronounced the Spanish way), a fervid, cheery and lighthearted chap from Curacao, an island ruled by the Dutch for more than three centuries, though liable to a substantial Spanish and Portuguese influence – a lasting influence being the proximity of Venezuela and Columbia.

Characteristically different traits between Britons and Spaniards were expressed in their religions as well. Nathy was a Methodist; Julio a Catholic. The latter just loved sauntering about the streets on Sunday after Mass, looking trim and neat, wearing shoes of an unlikely vivid brown.

I have digressed from giving an account in detail of my daily business in St. Maarten but I cannot let the opportunity slip by altogether. My first and foremost job was checking the prospects of building a port in one of the Windward Islands, one which might stand a fair chance of serving as a port of call on the navigational route from Europe to the Panama Canal. There existed some apprehension about Curacao, as being too far south, whereas Saba and St. Eustatius did not have a suitable bay at all. So, St. Martin’s Great Bay had to be considered for closer inspection. It seemed that this bay offered a proper bottom surface affording safe anchorage, even for heavy draught vessels, except in the event of a southern gale which, however, seldom occurred.

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Front Street in former times.

There existed a good recent topographical map of the island of St. Maarten but I disregarded the older maps which lacked accuracy. I also was able to avail myself of the nautical charts of the Great Bay. Making a detailed sketch came first and to this purpose we had to lay a secondary three way-way network across the bay and surrounding terrain, to be measured by the primary network of a polygonal survey. For a polygonal survey, though, we had to carry out altimetry using the theodolite, because, as a rule, the disparities in height were too large for water levelling. Therefore, for the survey we had to climb two hilltops, Battery Hill and Naked Boy, with heights of 200 and 300 meters respectively. Reaching these summits was far from easy because their precipices and smooth rocky faces, overgrown with opuntias (prickly pear) and other cacti, impeded our ascent.

I remember crawling over a moist and slippery rock projection near Battery-Hill, when I lost my footing. I felt the ground sinking from beneath me and, in panic, caught the first support available. Unfortunately, it happened to be a tree cactus. Its thorns stuck into my hand and the plant broke, but so did my fall and then we were able to proceed.

The lineal distance from The Vineyard to the summit of Battery Hill was not more than 700 or 800 meters but it took three to four hours of climbing. For all of that, it was the less difficult of the two.

Apart from surveying we also had to obtain soundings and earth drilling samples in and around Great Bay. Having settled errors of perception, we could then draw an accurate map and plan for a Port of Call.

An adequate terrain for sheds and further port facilities might present a special problem, but we could possibly solve this by constructing a breakwater pier sheltering the harbor completely from southerly winds, as well as offering a mooring site for heavy draught vessels. Pointe Blanche valley, situated East of the Bay between Battery Hill and Pointe Blanche hill, was considered for various buildings. Ships of rather shallow draught, having fairly normal trim, were to be accommodated by the construction of a quay-wall equipped with derricks, so that several ships, could be handled at one time, thus encouraging the establishment of a regular shipping line.

It stood to reason that engineering these works would require a vast sum of money, but any expense less would not be worth considering. All information and data gathered were sent up in a technical report to the Governor and submitted later to the States-General through the Minister who might evaluate its cost and find it prohibitive for either the whole or part of it.

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The Vineyard situated below the rock on which Michel Deher is pictured here sitting.

This had been happening also to the companies involved in St. Maarten’s salt industry, as recommended in a report compiled at the same time, which advised a number of corrections in and around the big salt lake near Philipsburg. Private enterprises were supposed to initiate such corrections but could not afford its outlay.

A vicious circle was at stake here: since the output of salt could not be trusted because of too much rainwater, vessels calling at St. Maarten could not depend on its production and did not come to fetch it. Therefore earnings were low, thus eliminating the capital needed for expensive improvements.

What would be necessary, first of all, was to separate completely the rainwater pouring down from surrounding hills, from the proper area of the salt pond. During the time we passed in St. Maarten we found that the water courses in existence could not absorb the total water flow, thus flooding the saltpans. There was a spillway constructed in the western barrier for fear of its collapse and, besides, the northern rainwater reservoir had been separated from the saltpans by only a very low dam.

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Harvesting the salt.

Furthermore, the subdivision of saltpans lacked adequate differentiation between pans of more or less concentrated brine, and the final salt forming pans were too deep.

The first concessionaire, a Frenchman, A.F. Perrinon (1858), had envisioned an operation based on the ‘Salines au Midi’ in France as a model, but, due to lack of capital, failed to make a satisfactory beginning. Nevertheless, reasonable and even important salt production sometimes occurred under the existing conditions, when circumstances were favorable.

We observed salt production once in those two years which, although not remarkably abundant, cheered up all of the island. Willing workers, men and women, came to Philipsburg to lay by a little money. Salt pond and environs bustled happily with life for several days, from the wee hours in the morning till the heat of the day hampered busy work.

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Bagging salt for export

In those days it was not easy to get sufficient manpower because many workers went looking for work in Santo Domingo. Therefore production took longer and could barely be completed.

Production was contracted for in shifts, each one having its ‘captain’, ‘mate’ and six to nine sailors, some of them females. The men stood knee deep in the pans, purple with infusoria, and brought up the salt cakes by hand, carrying them on so-called flats, or small boats, to the nearest dam, and from there re-loaded and transported to the village on somewhat bigger flats. The salt was piled up there in the open air, encrusting it with a hard layer so that little salt was lost, even under heavy rain showers.

As far back as to the time when the pans were public property, each collector selling his salt to merchants at a low price, the situation of the working class was practically unchanged owing to payment by piece rate. Granting concessions did not explain the scanty results. On the contrary, if concessionaries had been doing a proper building job, its advantage to the industry would have been obvious.

Concessions granted were subject to an export duty, payable to the community, for each and every cask of salt loaded aboard ship. On the ship, measuring-casks were installed with measurement under supervision.

F or that matter, loading a ship provided an exciting spectacle. The salt was cut up from the pile with a pickaxe by the males. Bags were filled by women and children, to be carried on their heads to the lighters. Schools were not attended properly in those days and, though the work was rather heavy, I suspect that the little black fellows with smooth lithe bodies and big eyes in pretty faces would have liked it by way of a nice change. An overseer was always present, a shouting bully brandishing a small bough, reminding me of slavery, although the little ones did not seem to be bothered, what with their cheerful cries and laughter.

Just once we saw a ship from America arriving to fetch salt, a three master, M.S. “Emily”, measuring 600 tons and loading a quantity of 5000 barrels, rather a lot for St. Maarten. In former days ships arrived more frequently from the U.S., having unloaded some cargo in a nearby harbor and then taking salt back home as a return cargo.

However the higher operating expenses of the more modern ships made more efficient operation mandatory, not wishing to spend any more on the risk of a futile voyage. The quantity of salt taken away by a few schooners from the French Antilles did not amount to very much at that time.

Apart from salt, St. Maarten was a supplier of cotton and mules. In years gone by there had existed sugar cultivation in the ‘Grand Plaine’ but it was no longer remunerative. The cotton of these islands, known by the tradename of ‘Sea Island Cotton’, nevertheless was of excellent quality.

Well, so much for the economy. I do not want to be reproached for being far from complete in this coverage, so from now on I shall give you an idea of our stay in a remote island.

I dare say that we observed little direct poverty, for all the population’s subsistence being none too luxurious. People made some money out of working in the saltpans or on the estates of the whites. They grew food in the garden and eventually when displeased, they went out into the wide world for some time. Actually people in the tropics just have a few needs: fire, shelter in a casual way, and eating fish along with their own corn, yams or sweet potatoes to their satisfaction.

As a rule, whites and a happy few of the colored lived by business and the proceeds of their plantations, although one could not be too proud of its volume, which was usually confined to some downhill pastures and farmland – that is all. You found some cows, horses, donkeys and mules grazing on the land, each cow draped with opuntia leaves. Goats and sheep would be fooling about everywhere. Larger herds of cattle pastured in former cotton fields.

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Another nice view of Philipsburg from the mid 1960’s.

In the estates (a row of them were situated in the “Cul-de-Sac’ Valley) you usually found a country house: a one-story, low brick structure accessible via a wide outside staircase. Its furnishing was very simple: a couple of round or oval tables, some chairs – so-called rockers, most of them cane-bottomed – and a cupboard in some places. Guests were always given a genial welcome and served cocktails and pastry both homemade.”

‘Cul de Sac’, strewn with fine trees, made a pleasant impression despite houses and gardens not having been looked after properly.

Country estates were occupied only occasionally. People did not live there because all European families owned a house with business in the township.

One of the Van Romondt ladies ran a small bakery, though bread really would be food for whites. In the old days everybody took care of their own b read, but then we obtained it from the bakery. When she sometimes left for St. Kitts on a holiday, we had to do the baking ourselves, which became the so-called ‘journey-cakes.’ Butter, marmalade, tea or coffee could be had in one of the stores, but things like refined pastry were home-made items.

 

 

The Jews in the Dutch West Indies

THE JEWS IN THE DUTCH WEST INDIES

By; Will Johnson

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Various emblems of the Dutch West India Company.

This article alone cannot do justice to the great role played by the Jews in the Dutch West Indies. Much has been written about them by prominent historians. For this article I can only give a brief outline as to why they settled in these islands.

The Iberian Peninsula was captured by the Muslims from Arabia and North Africa shortly after the death of the prophet Mohammed in 1707 and they retained control of what is now Spain and Portugal until 1492 when the last Muslim Prince was forced to abandon his lovely Granada and move over to Morocco. They had been very tolerant to the Jews and the Christians as well during their more than seven hundred years of control of the peninsula. Not so with the Christians. In the same year they sponsored Columbus’ expedition to worlds unknown in the West and came into possession of what later was known as North and South America.

Besides expelling the Moors as they were called, the Christian Kings also expelled the Jews. At the time The Lowlands were under control of the Hapsburg Kings of Austria who later married into the Spanish Royal family. Many of the Jews headed to The Netherlands which included Flanders and Wallonia as well. They were the ones who helped The Netherlands after independence from Spain in 1648 and even before to become a highly successful commercial nation.

Sinagogue Mikve Israel- Emanuel Curacao

Oldest Synagogue in the Americas Mikve Israel (Hope of Israel) in Willemstad Curacao and on the property also a Museum.

When Johannes van Walbeeck and Pierre Le Grand captured Curacao in 1634 they carried a Portuguese Jewish interpreter Samuel Coheno with them who was employed by the West India Company. He was described as a loyal and ingenious man. He remained on Curacao until 1642. Some years later a departure of Jews began to the island. In 1651 the Company granted Joao de Illan (also known as Jeudah de Illan) from Amsterdam permission to carry fifty Jews to Curacao as colonists. The Jewish community in Amsterdam was able to get a passport for some of them. De Illan formed with them a Jewish Community on the island and called it Mikve Israel (Hope of Israel).

A charter granted to David Nassy (also named Joseph Nunes de Foncesca or Cristovao de Tarvora) the following year for settling fifty Jews did not go ahead because of the war between England and Holland. Between 1654 and 1656 however a number of Jews from Brazil came to Curacao via Amsterdam.

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S.E.L. Maduro one of the Jewish business pioneers on Curacao.

In 1659 the Company gave Isaac d’Acosta of Amsterdam favorable conditions and privileges to bring Jewish colonists to Curacao. He was able to bring several families consisting of around 70 people. Among the Sefardim who came to Curacao between 1654 and 1675 among others the following families belonged; Alvares Correa, Henriquez, Jesurun, Levy Maduro, Marchena, Henriquez Moron, Namias de Crasto and Pardo, from whom there are still descendants living on Curacao. Because the first Jewish colonists had come out with the orders to go into agriculture, they lived originally outside of the city walls in the Jewish Quarter, where the old Jewish cemetery Beth Haim is located and where they also built a synagogue. Also in town there lived several Jews and they too had a synagogue which in 1674 had to be expanded.

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Lovely Penha Building one of the oldest Jewish merchant establishments in Willemstad dating to 1708.

Despite the problems of climate and the land the Jewish colonists dedicated themselves to taking care of their numerous gardens and plantations. The often occurring dry periods were also a reason for them ever since the time of De Illan to become involved in commerce.

They imported finished products from Holland and exported colonial goods which they purchased in the nearby countries.  From very early the Jews also owned their own sailing craft; between 1670 and 1900 they owned in total more than 1200. The firm Jesurun alone during the nineteenth century had more than 100 ships in the trade. Many of them sailed to New York and some of them even to Holland. During this period at least 200 Jewish captains stood behind the wheel. Jewish Curacao merchants bought many slaves from the depot of the West India Company which were principally sold to neighboring countries. Philippe Henriquez (Jacob Senior) was a well-known slave trader from the 17th century and empowered by the Admiralty to buy slaves directly from Africa.

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Slave ships in the harbour of St. Eustatius.

In the 18th century there was a serious depression, which in 1769 forced the parnassim to introduce a finta (church tax). Twelve of the wealthiest Jews were so strongly opposed to this idea that this plan did not go through until the English occupation. The war of independence of the North American colonies (1775-1781) for that matter had brought with it a revival for the Jewish merchants who sent weapons and food to various Caribbean islands to provision the American rebels. The relationship between the Curacao authorities and the ‘Jewsih Nation’ remained good during this century; often Jews were given official tasks to the neighboring countries. In turn they contributed to the maintenance of the forts, to the leper colony and the insane asylum, the hospital for soldiers and mental patients.

The French interim government on Curacao (1796-1800) and the English occupation were also for the Jews not a favorable time. Just like other islanders the Jews lent large sums of money to the Government of Curacao, which was cut off from The Netherlands. In this same period some of them also took part in the activities of Simon Bolivar whether in his real struggle (Benjamin Henriques as Captain and Juan (Isaac) de Sola as colonel) or otherwise as host of ‘El Libertador’ after his defeat (De Meza), or of his sisters (Mordechay Ricardo). And Luis Brion a national hero of Venezuela alongside Simon Bolivar himself.

Although in the course of time and especially in the economically disadvantaged Curacao in the nineteenth century many Jews moved to elsewhere (St. Thomas, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Jamaica, Central America, Venezuela, Colombia, and the United States) those who remained were successful in maintaining their considerable social and economic position. Also because of their good schooling – especially German Universities where they went to- twenty years after the Jewish emancipation (1825) Jews occupied several high positions in the colonial government administration. Also in the following centuries the Portuguese Jews were leaders in the banking system and many of them have always been active in the public, intellectual and social life of the island. From a historical perspective there has been a decline which can be proven by figures. Around the year 1700 there were around 1500 members of the Jewish community and in 1983 there were only 275 Sephardic Jews on Curacao. Although small in numbers the ancient Jewish population still plays a prominent role in the economic, social and cultural life of their native Curacao.

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An old painting of St. Eustatius

St. Eustatius

It is known that Jews from Curacao visited St. Eustatius from the second half of the seventeenth century – among them a certain David Seraiva in 1660. In the beginning of the 18th century Jewish travelers continued to visit the island. In 1772 there were 21 Jewish resident with 16 slaves. In 1730 the West India Company gave the same rights to Jews as the other island residents, including freedom of religion. In that same year the Jews established their own synagogue which they named Honen Dalim (charitable to the needy) and created a cemetery; the oldest inscription dates from 1742. Seven years later they built a synagogue of which the ruins are still there. Differences of opinion between the Ashkenazim and the Sefardim in 1760 required the intervention of Commander Jan de Windt. During these years Samuel Hoheb was the most outstanding leader of the community. The Jews gave freely contributions Palestinian and other Jewish communities. The great hurricane of August 31st, 1772 obliged them to rebuild their synagogue up from the ground. Of the readers of the community the names of Rabbi Yehezkel (1775) and Jacob Robles (died 1790) remain known.

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Ruins of Honen Dalim (1738) synagogue on St. Eustatius. (Charitable to the needy).

The government and people of St. Eustatius gave support to the American rebels. Especially the Jews supplied the American colonists with food and munitions. When Admiral George Rodney and General John Vaughan took over St. Eustatius on February 3rd, 1781, they took money and valuables from the Jews and deported 30 Jewish men to St. Kitts, leaving their ruined families behind.

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Remains of the old Jewish Cemetery on St. Eustatius

Many of the deported Jews however returned to St. Eustatius and in 1790 the Jewish community consisted of 190 persons. David Abendanone function then as Chairman and Isaac David Pereira as Treasurer. In that year they paid out more than one thousand pesos in salaries for the Reader for the sexton, to social funds for the poor etc. From 1795 on the Jewish population declined; many immigrated to St. Thomas, Danish West Indies. Between 1850 and 1924 there were never more than three Jews on the island at the same time.

St. Maarten

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The Synagogue is supposedly to have been in the back of the Buncamper home at the head of the Front Street in Philipsburg.

In 1735 a Jacob Gomes lived there with his four slaves; besides him the widow Silva with her son and daughter. Already in 1783 there was an organized Jewish community, considering that their Parnassim in that year requested legalization from the West India Company. A synagogue was built on the ‘East end of the Back Street on the South Side.’ M.D. Teenstra around 1828 the ruins of the building. The Jewish population declined since the end of the 18th century. In 1983 there were less than 20 adult Jews on the island, and most if not all of these were from the United States and Curacao. I personally never heard of any local St. Maarten Jew living there.

Saba

In the last years I have done three DNA tests. The first one by the C.I.A. at New York airport. I was pulled aside and taken to a room for interrogation even though I was a Commissioner and Act. Lt. Governor of Saba. I was given the choice of having something looking like flit sprayed in my mouth or for them to take a swab from my mouth. As my flight was about to leave I chose the path of least resistance and let them take a swab from my mouth. At the time I did not even know what a DNA test was.

The second one was my own choice. I thought I was dealing with the National Geographic but it turned out to be a Canadian site. Anyway they concluded that among my other ancestry all from Europe one exception was 7% Berber.

Finally I decided to get one done from the National Geographic. Their conclusion was something like 44% Northern European (U.K. Denmark, Finland, Russia, German), 38% Mediterranean (Iberian Peninsula), 15% Southwest Asia (Persia) and the rest Neanderthal and Denisovan.

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Despite its small size people from many nations in the past and now again came to settle here.

I wondered where the 38% Iberian Peninsula had come from. On the Saba population list of 1715 there is a Moise Correa listed with 4 daughters. One of them Rebecca married Peter Simmons the Saba Governor. In my research on my ancestors I am 80% certain that I am descended from this couple. Not only me of course but a number of the Simmons’ also, many of whom left Saba and moved to the United States, Bermuda and elsewhere. Those with Simmons ancestry from Saba are known for their enterprising spirit in whatever field they take on, something which is part of the Jewish heritage.  Recently a young man was talking to me. We are related. In our family the women were blonds mostly with Mediterranean skin.  We were told that we descended from an Annie Morton. The young man told me that his grandmother had told him that one of our ancestors was from Portugal. I do not know for sure, but Moses Correa had four daughters and perhaps another daughter married into one of the families and she would have been the mysterious Annie Morton. And we continue to try and solve the mystery of our ancestry. Eddie Senior a Jew from an old Curacao family was married to Marie Hughes of Saba and he spent his last years on Saba. When he passed away in his nineties the recently deceased Julio Meit came over from St. Maarten. We churched Eddie in the Roman Catholic Church in Windward Side and he is buried in the church cemetery there. Jews look out for each other it would seem. I remember once a young Jewish soldier came to the Tourist Bureau and asked if there were any Jews living on Saba. I sent him to Eddie’s house and for the next few days I saw Eddy driving the young blond man around. Eddy in his late eighties then was a road runner and I wonder what the young man thought about Eddy driving so fast on Saba’s roads.

There were also Jews on Aruba and Bonaire to a lesser extent, but Jewish names abound in the islands still. Though they are not Jews on the island of St. Eustatius you still find names like Henriquez, Suarez, Lindo, Maduro, Erasmus, Zimmerman, and Simmons and so on. These names came down from after the days of slavery were over. The Jews certainly made their contribution to the Dutch West Indies and are still doing so!

 

 

 

YOUR HONOUR

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Village of Palmetto Point, pictured here, together with Middle Island which according to my research were established by refugees from St. Kitts around 1629.

Your Honour,

Saba, March 16th, 1857

  • This letter is from the Roman Catholic priest on Saba Father J.C. Gast on Saba to the Governor on St. Eustatius W.H.J. van Idsinga former Governor of Surinam and who also served as Governor of St. Maarten.

The Governor had asked Father J.C. Gast to write a report on conditions on Saba as he found them. Father Gast did not remain too long on Saba. Already on May 31st, 1858 he left Saba and returned to Holland. His report was so interesting that in 1885 The Netherlands Geographical Society printed his article even though he had died at the age of 56 on October 1st, 1878 in Helden Limburg.

I have translated this interesting report from the Dutch so that our native English speaking people can enjoy reading how things were on Saba in 1857.

‘Due to some engagements connected with my function, as well as research in connection with the requested information, I have been prevented to present this information to Your Honor before now. I trust that my slow reaction to your request will be excused.

With respect to the amount of acres of land, which are to be found on this mountain, it is impossible to give a correct report on this, and very difficult to determine from close up, in the first place this is very oddly divided, and, and while on the other side more than half of  these acres are covered with stones, that in the lower grounds, which is destined for corn, one has to work with scrapers between the rocks to get the seed in the ground (which becomes often the prey of rats).

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A Roman Catholic Priest on horseback.

I believe, that an estimate of three hundred to three hundred and fifty cultivatable acres more or less will be the extent of the cultivated land here.

The most important product here consists of the sweet potato which immediately after maturity is subject to spoilage, and much inferior of those on St. Eustatius. However as far as the cassava and corn is concerned, an ordinary harvest supplies sufficient food for the inhabitants, who generally are not accustomed to anything else. The American potatoes and the cabbage are generally exported. A small amount of corned fish which often arrives here from St. Thomas half or completely spoiled in general provides for breakfast evening and midday meals. Few are accustomed to bread and still fewer who are accustomed to meat; their goats, pigs, chickens and eggs are transported to St. Thomas. For these articles and often by the same captain, flour, items of clothing, salt fish and such matters are brought back. Other imports, at least in general, I am not aware of; other than with a bad harvest this necessitates them to order their flour from elsewhere. In former times their trade was with the inhabitants of St. Bartholomew, nowadays, principally with those of St. Thomas. From St. Eustatius the much looked for rum is ordered.

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The Church of England took over from the Presbyterian Church around 1770 and was the largest congregation for a long time. The Roman Catholic Church built its first Church in the Windward Side in 1860.

Although some private persons have terrain in abundance suitable for agriculture and even desire to hire this out, is however in general, that which can be planted, worked out, or used for pasturage for their cattle. The mountain tops are amply provided with fire-wood; timber to the contrary is not found there, or very little and only suitable for the building of boats. The same is imported from elsewhere whether for the ships or for the houses. The limestones must be brought from below to above and burned there. It is in the hamlet of Hell’s Gate that people there busy themselves with the burning of limestone.

In general the women are engaged in making straw hats, which bring in a considerable amount of money. This, as far as I know, is the only general branch of industry which is practiced here. Making of baskets and knitting is not done on a large scale.

Concerning the peace on the island this is generally lacking. It often happens during the day that I must put aside my books in connection with the noise, caused by fights, quarrels or otherwise; besides at night every item must be carefully hidden away to save them from being stolen. Those who have potatoes or other necessities of life in their fields, must guard these armed with loaded weapons.

In general it cannot be said that prosperity is declining. It was so that during my stay there several new houses and ships were built. However the opportunities to get rich do not exist here. The most homes are built from the income of wages, which they receive from working on vessels.

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The schooner The Three Sisters in Curacao harbour. The Sabans built many schooner on the island and purchased others from the East Coast of the United States.

The craving for luxury in furniture, but especially in clothing, is great. It is therefore only for this that their money seems to be disposable. With an ordinary harvest one cannot complain about poverty. Most people are properly clothed and look healthy and cheerful. Nevertheless one only heard complaints and when these have valid reasons the loving care and support of private persons is the only recourse for help. With the failure of the crops I do believe that poverty reaches its peak. I only experienced this halfway.

The dominant illness under the people is leprosy and the elephantiasis which they label as the Rose, and from which few families are spared of the latter. In special cases they call on the help of one of their friends who have knowledge of herbs and some medicines which they order from St. Thomas which is more known to them than others. There is also a man who can clean veins, and this is the only medical practice which can be found here.

Among each other and in the street and at home they live as one and the same household; besides they are nearly all related to one another and a large number of marriages are between first cousins.

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The only form of transportation to the Fort Bay up until the 1940’s was by head or by donkey.

Although the whites are very much appreciative of their color, one sees however white and black, master and slave cultivating the soil side by side, entering into negotiations  and so forth.

Without a doubt in general people are fond of rum. Public drunkenness however to which many secretly surrender is not so general that it is easily visible. But once drunk, because of this a fight is the normal consequence. A fight is usually the result of an insult received. This takes place on the public road. From both sides the closest relatives come running, in order to be either witness or to choose parties; something which brings running out fifty to sixty persons, without which, as far as I know, there are any regulations to avoid this uproar. The heads of the families, if they do not want to be involved in the fight, must stand aside as it is only in the circle of the household, that they can exercise some influence                .

Fighting and drunkenness are the most obvious misdeeds.

Added to this is, that even if the government of this island wished to avoid this, the lack of respect for the established order is such that in the present situation of the island this would be very difficult.

The amount of mixed race people is very small in comparison with the so-called whites. It is extremely seldom that a white man will take a black woman as a concubine. The civil marriage is almost universal among the white population.

General popular amusements are not known here. One only sees now and then a gathering of blood relatives and friends where the violin is played and people dance.

When there is a case to be handled in which everyone is concerned, such as keeping the watch, quarantine etc. a meeting takes place in one of the private homes. Normally the meetings end up in quarrels and disagreement.

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Photo from around 1950 with Administrator Max Huith inspecting the road being beuilt for motor vehicle traffic. My father (Daniel Thomas Johnson) in the white shirt was one of the foremen who worked on the building of the road.

Due to lack of good cisterns there is with a not too long of a drought immediately a shortage of good drinking water. Those whose cisterns are in good condition, sell theirs and sometimes for enormous prices. Those who do not have any means for this must bring same from the sea-shore, which only takes place with great effort. Added to this that in the three wells which are on the seashore everybody washes their clothes, something which is even more unsanitary, as one is aware of, which is why most families suffer from elephantiasis .

As for education there are no public schools here. Some individuals keep themselves occupied teaching their own children or those of their relatives. Although very few people can write, knowledge of reading under the whites of Windward Side and The Bottom is generally universal.

Mister Toland, Episcopal Minister, garners his meager existence from voluntary and agreed contributions garnered from the proceeds of the collections.

Monseigneur Nieuwindt takes care of the maintenance of the Roman Catholic faith. The Protestant church in which on Sundays ten or twelve and sometimes five or six people attend, has been built up with contributions collected  from neighboring islands, and with voluntary contributions, is repaired now and then.

Concerning the police, much is left to be desired. Everyone is concerned about their own and many times cannot prevent that his potatoes, goats etc. are stolen. Only with a murder or complaints made the police functions, and while there is neither militia nor any other armed body, guns are only owned by private individuals. When there is common danger in order to avert this a meeting is held, in which discussions are held over the means, and in order to cover costs there is a voluntary inscription.

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Policeman Jeremiah Leerdam on patrol in the Windward Side around 1950.

Certain market places or days do not exist here. The normal price of sweet potatoes is f.0.15 for six pounds, and that of fish is not regulated. The normal price of transportation to St. Thomas if f. 2.50 per person and f.0.25 a barrel.

Concerning the roads these are cleaned once or twice a year. A general summons is the sign for this. To improve these however no effort is made.

Vagabondage is less known but begging is general. I do not know if there are laws concerning this, because as long as I find myself here I have not heard any mention hereof. Everything is based on a so-called ancestral rule.

The Court does not convene unless there are disputes to be dealt with; as I understand things take place in the same manner as in the meetings.

Several Sabaens have moved away to St. Bartholomew and St. Thomas. Some to reside there, others to hire themselves out, or to provide for their existence by some means or the other. Foreign families do not emigrate here, and foreigners who visit the island general desire, after being here for one or two days, to head home again.

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Roman Catholic School. Father Mulder with horse and the photo is from around 1900.

I am not aware that anything is being done to prevent the spread of leprosy. To the contrary everything is done to promote same. They live and reside, eat and drink, among each other as if they were not afraid of any contamination.

That families exist which one can classify as wealthy, according to me, this is without a doubt. The normal daily wages of a good laborer is f.0.50 to f. 0.60; but there are few landowners who work with paid labor to practice agriculture. In general the land is rented for half or a third of the crop.

As for the lot of the slaves this is not as intolerable as on the other islands. Corporeal punishment is rare, and the relationship between master and slave here can be compared with Piet and Jan, once day laborers and landowners in Holland. That the slave is not very pleased with his lot, is the fact – that every night there is the opportunity for them to flee. I myself found by my last return here from St. Eustatius, three slaves in a boat, who around seven o’clock in the evening came up with me. Concerning the education, religious as well as morally, this did not exist for them before now. Only those who practiced the Roman Catholic religious belief, enjoyed education at the same time as the whites.

Because since the last visit of Your Honor one hundred and fifty slaves have embraced the Roman Catholic religion, this week I have begun three times per week to personally give lessons for the adult slaves which consist of sixty persons, while also a similar number of slave children find themselves daily in school, which I trust through help of Monseigneur Nieuwindt , will develop to the desired level.. The slave population of Windward Side is now nearly exclusively Roman Catholic; under those circumstances the slave in future will receive education from which he has been thus far excluded. And should the Dutch government offer me a hand I trust then that to present them with a cultured black population rather than uncivilized ones, and to reap the same fruits which has been the result achieved among the blacks by the labor of the Roman Catholic clergy on Curacao and elsewhere. Concerning their lot after the emancipation, this was thus far questionable. They would be denied land, take away their land etc. Now however that most of the slave owners have offered me their slaves, and because they come faithfully to church, it is my hope, that the whites, to the satisfaction of the slaves, will maintain them in their midst.

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Pounding small or Guinea corn in a handmade wooden mortar was vital for survival back then.

Concerning the history of the island, very little or nothing is known about that. This alone appears to me to be the most likely, that most of them are descended from three or four families from St. Kitts and elsewhere who abandoned there in order to avoid leprosy and elephantiasis, and in this supposition I am strengthened, in the first place while nearly all of them carry the last surname, and on the other hand while the mentioned illnesses is so generally spread among them, they say to have inherited these from their ancestors.

All sorts of money is in circulation here, even the Dutch cent is cut in half. Only on summons from the local Government they contribute a little to promote local interests.

Concerning taxation, that is a thorn in their eyes. They desire, at least a lot of them, a change in government, as long as there are no taxes. Any sudden introduction of a tax would not be   implemented without causing a commotion.

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Although I am not absolutely certain of this I am of the opinion that this photo was taken in 1913 in commemoration of fifty years of emancipation.

In my opinion for the present the importation and sale of rum would be the only thing on which a tax could be levied. A good fine for all state violations will do much good.

Burdened with many extraordinary activities, it is presently impossible to make a small map of this mountain; hoping in the coming week to be able to do so, I remain with all respect.

Your humble servant

J.C. Gast, priest.

Notes: In 1857 Saba had a total of 1771 people. In 1862 the populations was 1867 of which 1159 were whites and 708 were enslaved people of African descent.

The Government of Saba in 1857 was composed of the following persons.

Edward Beaks, Lt. Governor and former active pirate.

Advisory Committee:

J.B. Hassell and J.E. Hassell, members.

Court of Justice.

Edward Beaks, Lt. Governor President.

Members James Horton and Josiah Peterson.

Assessors; Moses Leverock, William Simmons and A. Simmons.

Moses Leverock - Lieutenant Governor of Saba

Moses Leverock was Lt. Governor of Saba on July 1st, 1863 when the slaves whose forebears were from Africa were liberated. The term enslaved Africans in my book is not correct as most if not all of the slaves liberated had been on Saba and in the Caribbean for generations before being emancipated.

Court Recorder; Hercules Hassell, Jr.

Priests of the Roman Catholica Church J.C. Gast and J.Ph. G. Kock.

This letter written in 1857 for the most part if written today would contain most of the observations made Father J.C. Gast about meetings, and abhorrence to pay taxes of any kind, with the exception of the mixing of the races. Many who were white once are black now and many who were black once have blond hair and blue eyes, so you cannot question color alone anymore.

 

Alan Richardson, a great friend remembered.

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Alan Richardson as a young man.

 

MISTER SQAUWKBOX

By: Will Johnson

The relationship between him and I can be summed up in this brief letter from him to me dated July 24th, 1975.

“Hello Will:

What happened to you last week? Everybody almost was here for Claude’s mother’s funeral except you. God dam it man don’t you think that you should have come over for at least one day in order to pay respect to Mrs. Wathey?

Allan.

All in capital letters of course as if it was a telegram.

I first met Allan in the nineteen sixties. After the 1971 elections in which I was barred from holding office, I started a column in the “New Age” which was highly critical of the Democratic Party and its leader Claude Wathey. So much so that in the fifth year of its publication the St. Maarten Star edited by Allan acknowledged that the paper had to thank me as it had only come about to counter the vicious attacks on the party by me and so they had to do something. Fact of the matter is that the column was very popular at home and abroad.

Allan must have gotten the name “Sqauwkbox” from our mutual friend the late Mr. Frank Mingo Sr. Whenever Mr. Mingo joined our company from the distance when he saw Allan, a look of glee would come over his face. Allan and Frank had worked together in the ESSO oil refinery on Aruba. Allan had a writing gene from his father, and on Aruba he had a column in the ESSO news I believe entitled “As I see it”, and so he earned the nickname from Frank and others of “Sqauwkbox”

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It was a state secret between Alan and I as to which of Governor Brouwers  two sons was his father. This is ‘Broertje’ the Editor of De Slag om Slag and an unlikely rebel as a Governor’s son and six feet and seven inches tall.

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In 1969 when I was running against Claude for the Senator’s seat, Allan avoided me like the plaque. Staunch supporter that he was of Claude Wathey and in a sort of business together, Allan figured better leave that friendship and see what the election result would bring. Anyway at some point later on we must have gotten back together. He was always good company and eccentric to the core. Paid all my bar bills for me just to have me around for conversation on local and international matters. Once a month I acted as his lawyer for an old lady which he rented a house from in Sucker Garden. In order to increase her rent she would lambaste him with religious quotations about his business activities and had she known she would have never rented him her house. It was my job to be his “lawyer” and put her in her proper place. For that once a month letter and my company as a drinking partner he paid all my bar bills and believe me at today’s exchange they would amount to a nice salary for someone. He changed bars from time to time depending on the company. For some years we would meet at the old Juliana Airport, also at the Sea View Hotel, Hunter House and so on. You could rest assured that sooner or later joining the table would be people like Clem Labega, Claude Wathey himself, Sam Hazel and so on. Everyone would be beating up on Allan and pulling tricks on him. One day at the airport bar which was downstairs in the old building he was showing off his new briefcase. Sam tried to open it to no avail. Allan informed all present that it had a combination lock and no one would ever open that briefcase. I picked it up and put in the combination 101. Well that briefcase opened with such a pop that the whole airport could hear it. Allan was furious. And it had other problems for him. He forgot to lock the briefcase back, and the next day he called to tell me the trouble I had put him in. With no combination lock on, according to him the wife had opened the new briefcase and found some compromising letters in it. To make matters worse I told him that I had bet with a number seller on the number 101 with the $20.—which he had given me and I had won a thousand dollars. He said:” So I guess you have money now I won’t be seeing you for some time.” But the next afternoon there we were sitting together again, telling jokes and enjoying each other’s company. I remember once walking into the Sea View Hotel to meet him and Clem Labega there. As soon as I walked up he said: “Well Henry Kissinger is in China.” Which China I asked him?

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Alan in his later years as Editor of The Star and  The Clarion.

 He shouted out at me: “Man (leaving off the expletives here), there is only one China and that is China.” There was a man sitting at a table close by taking down notes of our conversation. The next week in Time Magazine which Allan always read the headline was:”There is only ONE China and that is China.”

From a young boy Allan loved to read. He was an only child of his mother, from Anguilla. He told me that his mother was a maid and that she received ten guilders per month, and that he kept rabbits to help substitute the family income. He also delivered newspapers for the then popular newspaper “De Slag om Slag” (Blow for Blow). The editor was the well known “Broertje” Brouwer(Anthony Reynier Waters Gravenhorst Brouwer) son of Governor A.J.C. Brouwer. The printery was located in Brouwers home on the beach side of Front street just a bit down the road and across the street from the Oranje Café. Now Allan’s mother had not confirmed anything to him, but rumor had it that “Broetje’s” brother (Othon Egidius Henri Anthony Waters Gravenhorst Brouwer) was his father. The two brothers both born on Saba had married two sisters daughters of August Alexander van Romondt. One day as he was getting the papers together to deliver Brouwer came in from a heavy drinking bout at the Orange Café, looked at him intently and told him “Boy, I am your father, you know.” Brouwers wife, who was twelve years older than him and had always suspected the truth, overheard the remark from the next room and war was on. Many years after I met Allan I had been with him all day on St. Maarten and then came to Saba. That same night A.J.C. “Jan” Brouwer (son of Broertje) and also a special friend called me from Aruba. The moment he started talking I could hear Allan’s voice, the same intonation and everything. So I told him that I had been with Allan Richardson the whole day, and did he Jan Brouwer know him. “Know him? Man my father used to catch hell from my mother accusing him that she knew that he was Allan’s father and not his brother. So in fact we are brothers.” He asked me for Allan’s number and the next day, Allan called to tell me that Jan had called from Aruba to discuss “family matters.”Image (1436)

In any event Allan’s grandfather was Governor A.J.C. Brouwer(born in Parimaribo, Surinam of Dutch parents on 29.11.1858, who had served on all three Windward Islands for a total of no less than 30 years. In his book “In the shadow of the Governors), Mr. W.F.M. Lampe who as a young man worked under Brouwer said that Governor Brouwer was the smartest man he had ever known. His son “Broertje” whom we have written of before was a tall man some six feet and seven inches tall. You mostly associate rebelliousness with little men like Napoleon and “Papa Doc”.

Allan St. Clair Richardson was born on March 31st, 1921. I did not find a record of his birth so he may have been born on the French side or on Anguilla.   His mother was from Anguilla, lived on the Back Street and there is where he grew up. He loved to read from early on and from this reading he developed a love for writing.

Allan went to Aruba at an early age. He resided there for a number of years and led a colorful existence and according to Frank Mingo, that Allan had been the same person in old age as he was when he was a young man on Aruba. He also served in the army during World War 11. Allan would regale us with stories about the war. One of the stories which I forgot to mention when I did the eulogy for him in the Methodist Church was the following. Allan had strict orders when guarding the army camp in the night if he heard any strange noise to call out “HALT” and then with no response to let go with all shots available in his rifle. One night, between sleep and wake, while on duty Allan heard a strange noise coming at the camp from the bushes. He shouted out the obligatory “Halt” and thinking it was a whole squadron of German soldiers he let go with everything he had. Well the whole army rushed out of their barracks with guns ready to help Allan in the struggle. On Aruba during the War a German submarine had attacked the oil refinery and as a result killed a good number of sailors on the tankers in harbor and many of these men were from Saba. So it is not as if Aruba had not lost any lives in the conflict. Well the poor donkey which Allan had riddled with bullets was not counted among the war dead on Aruba. But I do believe that the Aruban Government though belatedly should recognize the poor donkey shot by soldier Richardson as the only land victim of the Great War.Image (1433)

Allan did not live this one down with his friend Frank who with his usual teasing looks would say to Alan:’ hear anything more about the donkey lately?” And then Frank would belly up with the laughter at Allan’s expense.

I have so many stories I could tell about Allan. Space will not allow for all. Once I was out on a boat with Edward Buncamper and Commissioner Rene Richardson. I was not drinking at the time. Some twenty years I was on the wagon. When we docked up at the Great Bay Marina, there was Claude, his son Emile, Allan and some others. Rene in his cups was not in a pleasant mood and you could see that an argument was brewing between him and Claude. Allan did not want to get in the middle of that. Of a sudden he jumped up left his hat on the table and his drinks of course and some keys. He told us he was going to make a phone call. About fifteen minutes later the barmaid told me there was a phone call for me. No one in the world knew I was there. So I went to the phone and it was Alan. I said to him, “But I thought you were going to make a phone call?” He said:” Man this is the phone call, bring me my hat and keys to my house when you get a chance.” When I got back to the table, Claude turned to me and said: “That was Alan of course.” I answered:”How did you know it was Alan?” A stupid question on my part of course as if anyone knew Alan it was Claude.

Alan, after the “Star” started his own newspaper “The Clarion”. It seems that the more you write the more you like to write. After the incident with the briefcase Alan fortified his bedroom like Fort Knox, with six or more locks on the door, his own fridge inside, and desk for writing the paper. So when I did visit his house by the time he had opened all the locks at least a half hour had passed. I also got a German shepherd dog from him once. I named her Tanya, after Che Guevara’s German girlfriend as my cat was already named Che.

Alan and I remained good friends throughout. I came across a letter he sent me after I sent him copies of photos of his grandparents. His letter is dated November 23rd, 1983 and I quote from it;

“Willie me lad,

I am always glad to hear from you. I know having read the last several issues of the Clarion, after Bishop’s demise; you must be wondering how I stand with the C.I.A and the local anti-communist, anti-Castro, anti-socialist and ultra pro right wing holier than thou purists. –That’s quite a mouthful there, by the way.

Well the old man is still alive and kicking; but a little more wary than usual, as you would understand. And, I always value your critical opinion –pro-or-con. But the occasion for this letter is to thank you for your always thoughtfulness; in this instance sending me the “dope” on the grandfather. Believe me I appreciated it immensely, and I had a lot of fun showing my daughters the picture, and explaining things to them. Patsy immediately found some resemblance to him and me, around the area of the “nose” which is B.S. as you well know.

Anyway Will, once again, I appreciate hearing from you, any time. I will be putting the old grandfather, complete with picture in the next issue of The Clarion (Thursday, December 8th, 1983). And I’m going to let everyone know where and from whom I received it; among other things that people should appreciate about people like you.”

Please call me whenever you are in town, I’m always happy to talk with you.

Your old friend

Allan.”

P.S. Will, I envy your stationary, and I feel so ashamed of mine, I’m going to do something about it, pronto!”

Allan passed away on April 18th, 2003 and he was buried on April 28th, 2003. I was asked by the family to do the eulogy which I gladly did. I cannot put my hands on it but it was more or less along the lines of this article. Even the Anglican priest the Reverend Irad Hodge who churched him in the Methodist had a few humorous stories to tell about Allan to the amusement of family and friends present. As you can see, we were good friends indeed and may he rest softly.

 

 

BERMUDA JOURNEYS

I find scraps of paper lying around at times all over the house and my office. When I came back from Bermuda I found such a scrap of paper based on a story which Richard Austin Johnson  once told me.

According to Austin he and my father (Daniel Thomas Johnson) went to Bermuda together in 1929. My father had been there before. They worked at the Bermuda Dockyard which took care of the British West PhotoScan 743 Lady Hawkins. fleet. Great Britain was still ‘Great’ at the time until World War II broke the back of the ‘British’ Empire.

Austin only stayed for one year because he contracted typhoid fever but my father stayed on for a few more years and one of the things I remember was that my father brought back the first oleander slips to Saba and planted them at the gate of our house at ‘Behind-The-Ridge’. Austin also told me that my father was the boxing champion of Bermuda. He was a stocky man and could hold his own in a fight. Austin and the many Saban young men who worked in Bermuda at the time heard about a fight fore the championship. The fellow who had the title was a skinny Britisher and the Sabans were sure that my father could knock him down. S o they went down to wherever the fight was taking place and my father managed to hit him a knockout punch and for a day was the champion boxer of Bermuda. There are none of the old guard left who would remember that far back so I cannot verify that other than what Austin told me.

He said the two of them left Saba in 1929 and to St. Kitts where they took the Canadian Maple Line on the S.S.Hawkins and in three days time they were in Bermuda.

The dry dock they worked at employed around five thousand people back then. There were many Sabans living in Bermuda in those days and many of them remained there and their descendants are still there.

On my most recent trip to Bermuda the ship docked up at the Dry Dock and I recalled many stories told to me by Austin and others about those days. One of them was that he and my father were painting one of the large buildings. The side of the roof they were painting was facing the sea and it had a large slope. One afternoon they decided to take a siesta and fell into a sound sleep. Austin woke up first and looked over the cap of the roof, woke my father and told him  ‘Johnson’ we are in trouble ;”The last ferry to Hamilton has left, and we will have to walk.’ Although Bermuda is only twenty one square miles it seems a lot longer as it is stretched out. It is supposed to consist of 181 islands many of which are not big enough for a fowl to make a decent nest on.It would have been a long walk,  but A ustin told me that he was only teasing my father and they were able to get the ferry.

Richard Austin Johnson

Richard Austin Honson returned to Saba and later became a policeman.

What is remarkable though that only yesterday I found this note again. I thought to myself let me look on the Internet and see if I can find anything on the ‘S.S.Hawkins’.

And behold I was able to find the information I wanted and even a photograph of her. The ‘Lady Hawkins’ was 7,988 tons and was pretty new when Austin and my father travelled on her. She was completed in  1928 and was owned by Canadian National Steamships Ltd. Montreal and her homeport was Halifax. On January 19th, 1942 she was attacked by a German U-boat the U-66 with Captain Richard Zapp. Her position was 35 00,N and 30 W-.

Her compliment was 322 (251 dead and 71 survivors). NOtes on the event: At 07.43 hours on 19 January 1942 the unescorted Lady Hawkins (Master Huntly Osborne Giffen) was hit by two stern torpedoes from U-66 and sank after 30 minutes about 150 miles from Cape Hatteras. The Master, 85 crew members, one gunner and 164 passengers (including two DBS) were lost. The chief officer, 21 crew members and 49 passengers were picked up after five days by the Coamo and landed on Puerto Rico on 28 January. The chief Officer Percy A. Kelly was awarded the MBE and the Lloyds War Medal for bravery at sea.

 

The Lady Hawkins would normally carry 2908 tons of general cargo and 213 passengers. The  Lady boats gave good service to the West Indies back in the day.

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Here I am sitting in the Drydock where my father and Austin took their siesta on one of the roofs in the background in 1929.

 

 

 

THE BUSH LAWYER

The Bush Lawyer

By: Will Johnson

Frontstreet Philipsburg nineteen thirties.

Wallace’s father Alfred lived in the house on the left and had his grocery on the right when I first met him in 1955.

I started to work in the old Courthouse in Philipsburg on October 10th. 1960. I worked in the Post office, but also did work for the Receivers Office, the Curacao Bank, and the Notary and even assisted the Court when needed. As I was fluent in both Dutch and Papiamento and had a smattering of French and Spanish as well this was considered an asset to those who paid me fls. 192.50 Per month. Among the small staff was Miss Laurel Peterson a lifelong friend who is married to Cor Eybrechts and has lived these many years on Curacao.

The St. Maarten community was quite small back then, and so by the time Christmas rolled around, I got to know everyone on the island, and had renewed acquaintances with those I had met on my yearly trips back and forth to Curacao starting in 1955.

One of the important people, at the time, undoubtedly was Laurel’s father Mr. Wallace Bradford Peterson. He was born on September 3rd, 1912 and died March 20th, 1981. On August 22nd, 1934 he married Margaret Sophia Peterson born October 30th, 1916 and together they had six children. His parents were Daniel Alfred Peterson (born August 25th, 1875 and died December 5th, 1968) and Ann Elizabeth Albertha Vlaun (born October 31st 1878 and died June 26th, 1954). My paternal great grandmother was Sarah Elizabeth Vlaun. The Vlaun’s are all descended from one Jean Valaen who lived on St. Eustatius already in 1680. Descended from the so-called “Courlanders”, mercenary soldiers brought out from Latvia and Estonia by the Dutch West India Company. The bastion of the Peterson family was Simpson bay of course, though Wallace used to tell me that there was an Anguilla connection as well. Simpson bay was cut off from the rest of Dutch St. Martin in the great hurricane of 1819 for over one hundred years and it was easier to trade with Marigot by boat. And so, many of the leading families in Marigot were connected with families from Simpson bay as well.

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Wallace Bradford Peterson, detective, writer, and known to all as “The Bush Lawyer’.

Wallace had served as a member of the police force and had been a detective. He had gone to work on Aruba in 1939, then to Curacao in 1945 and on August 17th, 1956 returned to St. Maarten. Having served as a detective on the police force brought with it an aura of distinction, and the detective part brought with it a great deal of respect. A people who did not know the workings of the law would stay well clear of a detective, even a retired one, for fear that for any silly reason “he might lock me to hell up.” Better safe than sorry. And so Wallace after his retirement stuck with the legal profession and became known to all as the “bush-lawyer”. Those whom he opposed meant it in a derogatory way to imply that he knew nothing of the law. However by the time he passed away many lawyers with diploma’s and big law firms were singing his praises and wondering how he had won certain cases. He was eulogized at his funeral as a “raconteur par excellence” by Richard Gibson, a leading St. Martin attorney. Twelve years later, another lawyer, Roland Duncan, recalled how Peterson confounded visiting Dutch Judges and lawyers in the courtroom with his knowledge of the law, though he had no formal training or degrees in jurisprudence. Gibson at his funeral stated:” Pete’s linguistic ability was put to excellent use during the past 20 years in exercising his profession as a “legal practitioner.’ His years in exercising his services were virtually rendered Pro Deo for humanitarian reasons. The unfortunate could always count on Pete to champion its cause. Pete was known by his colleagues as the ‘walking encyclopedia.’ Call a name of a person on St. Maarten, and Pete would be able to recite that person’s whole family tree. Ask Pete about a piece of land, and Pete could give you, ‘stante pede’, a complete history of that land, going back to its original owner. Indeed, he was a Census Office and a Cadastre Office all in one.”

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Map of Simpson Bay village and the area known as ‘The Corner’ with a listing of the popular names of the families who lived there.

Mr. Leo Chance told me recently that he stuck the label on him at a political rally on the square in Philipsburg. However already at a young age Wallace was defending cases before the Court. In the newspaper “De Slag-om-Slag” in its edition of April 17th, 1937 which mentions several cases brought before the Court, we read the following: “Mr. G. Katsaras spouse of Marie E.Vlaun, Mr. L.A. O’Connor spouse of Lolita W. Vlaun and Mr. C.V. Vlaun are suing Mr. J. Vlaun for fls.950.—being for 3/7ths of rents collected from a property which Mr. Vlaun bought from the mother of the plaintiffs 15 years ago. Mr. Wallace B. Peterson, mandatory for the plaintiffs; Mr. A.R. Brouwer mandatory for the defendant.”

Back then already in the column “Sambo and Buddy Jep” the phrase “bush lawyer” was being used for anyone who was defending cases before the COURTS as a legal practitioner and even as early as Mr. Josiah Charles Waymouth’s time when he defended cases for people.

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Wallace loved to write and in hi9s time he wrote for De Slag om Slag and The Windward Islands opinion.

At the time Wallace lived in Cole Bay and was an all rounder. In an advertisement in the same newspaper in 1936 we read: “Fresh Beef and Mutton. Saturdays and Tuesdays, respectively. Young animals butchered. Delivered at any address in town. Cheaper than anywhere else. Order your meat from; Wallace B. Peterson, Cole Bay.”

I knew Wallace from the political world of course. In 1963 Wallace took on the task of opposing Claude Wathey in the Island Council elections and in 1966 in the Federal elections, and then in 1979 after putting down his sword he ran on the same list with Claude for the Island Council elections. From an early age Wallace was interested in politics. He used to contribute articles to “Broertje” Brouwer’s newspaper “De Slag om Slag”.In this newspaper of October 17th, 1936 No. 87 we read the following:”

During the meeting of the Court of Policy held on Monday 5h inst., His Honour the Gezaghebber (J.D.Meiners) said that the St. Martin people did not give him the impression of being in need. The people, it appears, of whom there were between 50 and 60 present in the Court-hall, immediately decided to give a demonstration and prove to His Honour their poverty. On Friday 9th instant, both Local Councillors were asked by Mr. Wallace B. Peterson, who undertook to conduct the demonstration, to join the people and act as spokesmen for them.” The demonstration took place on Monday October 12th, 1936 starting at the bridge by the Long wall and the 150 people present marched silently around the town.

I have a notice from the “Slag om Slag” which reads as follows: “The undersigned hereby wishes to sincerely thank all those who voted for him at the last election for Local Councilor. Also all those who sent Bouquets and congratulations, and especially Messrs. Wallace B. Peterson and Andries Vlaun who stuck to him so devotedly through the whole campaign. St. Martin N.P. July 22nd, 1936. A.R. Brouwer.”

The other newspaper was “De Bovenwindse Stemmen”, edited by Mr. W. Netherwood. These two papers were constantly at each others throats. Many times Wallace would recite from memory a poem which he had written in the “Slag-om-Slag”. When Mr. Netherwoods first wife (a van Romondt) died, he married a young lady, daughter of the well-known Methodist Minister Charles McIntosh Darrell.  The poem was a ribald commentary, done in West Indian calypso style questioning Mr. Netherwoods ability to consummate the marriage. And believe me if Mr. Netherwood had any doubts, and if he read that poem before the honeymoon, it would have put him in such a frame of mind as to further weaken his ability to consummate the marriage. But then who knows. Back then everything eaten was fresh from the land or the sea. And so you wonder if Wallace’s poem had the intended effect.

In the “Slag-om-Slag” there was a column entitled “Sambo and Buddy Jep,” to which Wallace also contributed his share. Later when Mr. Joseph H. Lake Sr. started the Windward Islands Opinion (July 1st, 1959) a column was started under the title “Wally and Joe.” You need not guess who the “Wally” was. When I had my own newspaper I resisted the temptation to have such a column. There was no need for it. Four of the five “Letters to the Editor”, from “a concerned citizen”, “an angry voter” etc. would take care of the need to teach an opponent a lesson.

I learned many lessons from Wallace including who fathered whom. And so I too got to know of many of the skeletons in people’s closets thanks to Wallace. Politics on St. Maarten were rough back then. Lots of name calling at public rallies. Wallace could hold his own when it came time for him to defend himself.

Once I recall an incident which took place in which I was supposedly a key witness. I was at the Little Bay Hotel. It must have been around 1966 or so. My boss Fons 0’Connor was in his cups and in the casino. I was trying to avoid him. Just like the general public was of the opinion that Wallace once having been a detective could at his discretion “lock you to hell up,” for me too a boss in his cups formed an imminent and present danger so that I might end up without a job. And so I tried to avoid my boss. But it was not to be. Wallace was out on the town that night. He was not a drinker as far as I can recall. Anyway an exchange of words took place, a scuffle broke out and a few blows were passed. Not the Mohammed Ali – George Foreman type of blows. No. No. It was just a few pushes and shoves that was all. The casino people quickly intervened and I thought that was the end of the story.

A couple of days later a Dutch police officer came to fetch me at Captain Hodge’s Guesthouse with a long “proces- verbal”  in which document I was the key witness to an incident whereby “lawyer” Peterson had mishandled the “local Judge”, the latter believe it or not was one of the many functions assigned to my boss Fons. The police officer a friend of the established order informed me that at long last they had enough evidence to put the bush lawyer behind bars where he belonged and to disqualify him as a lawyer. I said to the Police Officer “And you expect me to sign that?” “Of course,” he said. And he went on to inform me as to what risks I ran as the established order was depending on me to get the case started. Of course I did not sign it and told him in front of witnesses what use he could put that paper to and if he wanted to lock me up for not signing he could take me to jail right away rather than wait.

Word got around and that evening I found myself in a hornet’s nest at the bar of Sea View Hotel. Nel Bergland, a friend, and considered as Claude’s bodyguard came to my rescue by telling the angry crowd that they could curse me all they wanted, but if they laid a hand on me that they would have him to deal with, and that kept the belligerents at bay, but scarcely so.

I don’t know if the case of the judge versus the lawyer made it to the bar. But it was without my signature and Wallace appreciated that. Fons was relieved as he got caught up in a political current pushed by others and I don’t think he ever wanted the matter to go to Court.

And believe it or not when I ran for office on Saba in 1971, I was officially still a civil servant on St. Maarten but registered as a voter on Saba. Wallace was sent to Saba by the Democrat Party to make a case to have me removed from the voters list. “No hard feelings, Will”, he said, “but I have a job to do.” Luckily for me there was an Old Dutch lawyer who I had brought in to defend a case for a young lady, so I engaged him there and then to defend me. Anyway the Judge ruled that I could take part in the election.

Wallace and I remained friends nevertheless and he still would tell me who fathered who. Wallace was honoured later in life by having a street in Ebenezer named after him. During his years of appearing before the court, Peterson was the “zaakwaarnemer” for four hundred and fifty nine cases. His first and last court appearances involved rent issues. In his eulogy attorney Richard Gibson concluded with the following statement “On Friday, March 20th, 1981, the Court, under case Nr. 5, had scheduled Marianna Peterson, represented by Wallace Bradford Peterson, against the Rent Commission. Pete appeared and pleaded his case as he had done so often in the past. In the evening, at home with his wife and family, Pete rehearsed, as he so loved to do, the fine points of that case against the Rent Commission. Immediately thereafter, Pete was no more. He had pleaded and rehearsed his last earthly case.”

He was good friends with the poet Charles Borromeo Hodge Jr. who had high praise for the times he spent with Wallace discussing events of the day. I have a fourteen page letter written to me by Borromeo from New York in which he comments on his friends on St. Maarten including Wallace. And I am certain that Wallace, “Broertje” Brouwer and Wilhelm Netherwood are still slugging it out beyond those pearly gates while I am here on earth still trying to find that poem which Wallace wrote back in the nineteen thirties.

May their work here on earth be remembered and placed in the context of the time in which they lived.

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The St. Martin he loved.

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