The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

OUR OWN COMMODORE TOM SIMMONS

Our own Commodore Thomas Simmons

By: Will Johnson

Image (25) He was born on Saba on April 4th, 1895 son of Margareth Jane Simmons and Joseph Benjamin Simmons. The sea was very much into his blood. His mother ‘Maggie Jane’ was born in New York to a Saban father who was lost in the North Atlantic and her mother was a Manning from Barbados. Many Sabans married into Barbados families back then as there was so much trade and contact with Barbados.

He also lost two brothers at sea. On a plaque in the Christ Church Anglican church in The Bottom one can read:” In loving memory of John Simmons, age 52, David Simmons, age 40 years, Richard R. Simmons, age 22 years. Isaac Simons age 16 years. Lost at sea September 1918. ‘We cannot Lord thy purpose see but all is well that’s done by thee.”

Capt. Tom Simmons 11  They were on the Danish registered schooner the ‘Blanford’ from St. Thomas. The vessel and its crew were lost coming out of Miami and bound for these islands.”

Like most young men of Saba, Commodore Tom Simmons, started his career at the age of sixteen on sailing ships through the West Indies and along the coast of the United States. Many of these schooners although registered in English territories (like Barbados), Swedish (St. Barth’s) and Danish (St. Thomas) were owned by Sabans many of them family of his.

He worked his way up to second mate on schooners and then joined the American Hawaiian Line as Quarter Master. In 1917, he went over to the Munson Steamship Line as third officer on the passenger Liner “Murio”. He later became captain and was in Command on the maiden voyage of the old 32.000 ton Argentina, as well as the new 22,000 ton luxury liner by the same name.

The old ‘Argentina’, under his command, was the first troop ship to enter the ports of Australia during World War II, and also to stand by for D-Day in England. He was captain of various ocean liners such as the “Western World”, the “American Legion”, the “Southern Cross”, and the “Pan American”. He later became Commodore of the Moore-McCormack Line. He spent fifty two years at sea and was awarded the highest decoration by the government of Brazil given to a foreigner.

Capt. Tom Simmons 10  On January 25th, 1963 the Director of Public Relations of Moore-McCormack Lines issued a release on his career with the company.

Commodore Thomas N. Simmons, friend and counsellor to a myriad of international travelers, culminates 50 years on the sea when he commands the S.S. ARGENTINA on her “Sea-Safari” cruise sailing from New York, February 13th. This 63 day trip will be Commodore Simmons’ last, as he has announced his retirement affective upon his return, April 17th.

And, coincidentally, another 50 years are celebrated in 1963 – the 50th anniversary of Moore-McCormack Lines, founded in 1913, one of Americas foremost steamship owners and operators, whose fleet includes the two new passenger lines, ARGENTINA and BRAZIL, and 42 modern cargo liners.

Capt. Tom Simmons The innate modesty of the Commodore camouflages a colorful career. To him all the flavor and excitement of the sea is not commonplace—far from it—but so much a part of his life that he accepts the unusual as the everyday, the crisis as the norm! The highlights of his career are people he knew and knows, and loves: The Duke of Windsor, Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, corporate presidents, Cardinals, artists, singers. Summing up, all are Tom Simmons’ “exciting moments.”

The Commodore was born on Saba Island, in the West Indies, of forefathers who were Dutch nationals of seafaring bent. He started his sea career in sail as a deck-boy on ships trading out of New York, Boston, the Gulf of Mexico and the West Indies.

After working up to second mate in sail, he turned to ships of steam as a quarter-master on the American-Hawaiian Line. He went into the South American run in 1917 as Third Officer on the Munson Liner ‘Munrio’ and has been almost continuously in that trade. Before joining Mooremack he had been in command of the passenger ships PAN AMERICA, WESTERN WORLD, SOUTHERN CROSS AND AMERICAN LEGION.

uniex-brasil-nyc  Commodore Simmons joined Mooremack in 1938 to take command of the old ARGENTINA on her first voyage to South America. During World War II, he continued in command of this ship while it was in military garb as a troop carrier. After the war, he and the ARGENTINA went back into the South American cruise trade until the ARGENTINA was retired in August of 1958. When the new luxury liner BRAZIL made her maiden voyage in 1958, Commodore Simmons was on the bridge. He also captained the first trip of the sister-ship- the new ARGENTINA, where he has remained.

Commodore Simmons wartime recollections are, he says, completely full of lack of excitement. He never mentions that his S.S. ARGENTINA was the first troop ship to carry U.S. troops to Australia, the first at Oran and among the first into England for stand-by for the D-Day invasion of Europe.

ARGENTINA (US)(1958)(Moore-McCormack) image 2 8x10 copy But one instance stands out in his memory; he was Captain of the old ARGENTINA returning with troops from Australia through the Caribbean during a period when enemy submarine action was particularly intense. At full speed, all precautions, red alert, a lookout spotted a raft. It was lonely, pitiful, occupied by one feeble scarecrow of a man. At the alarm, Tom Simmons turned his ship, slowed and —despite a natural reluctance to expose the ship, plus adverse comments from military experts aboard — quickly rescued the sole survivor of a torpedoing. Then turned the ARGENTINA back on her course and sped safely away. This act of mercy was typical of the Commodore. But more typical is his shrug of the shoulders in denying that it was anything “special” that anyone else wouldn’t have done.

Commodore Simmons last trip takes him amidst friends in the Caribbean port of Barbados, in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. Thence he and the ARGENTINA sail to South and East Africa, thru the Suez, to the Mediterranean and homeward via Italy, Spain and Portugal. These are familiar friendly places to Tom Simmons, faces of friends whom he relishes visiting. At many of the ports, officials, old cronies, travelling companions and the ‘Simmons people’ are planning commemorative ceremonies marking the 50th and retirement year of service of Commodore Thomas N. Simmons.

A grandfather over a dozen times, Commodore Simmons enjoys his holidays at his home on Long Island. But the sea is part of him and anyone can see from his ARGENTINA that he is a man of the sea.”

Commodore Tom Simmons was married to Enid May Simmons by whom he had six children. Her father was Solomon (Butchy Coonks’) Simmons who was a captain of square riggers. Her mother was the daughter of a Scotsman who lived in Montego Bay Jamaica and she had two sisters and one son. The son remained in Jamaica while the daughters went to New York. One married Captain Cameron Dudley Simmons and the other one married Tom Simmons.

As mentioned earlier he retired in 1963 and later moved to Florida where he died on March 27th, 1970 at Palm Beach Gardens.

 

THE BRICK BUILDING

The Brick Building

By; Will Johnson

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Last week I walked along the streets in Philipsburg to see if anything was left of the buildings I knew as a young teenager. What a pleasant surprise it was to see that the ‘Brick Building’ had been relieved of its coat of cement.

On a recent visit to St. Martin I decided to walk around the town of Philipsburg to see if anything from my youth there remained in place.

On the Back Street I was most pleasantly surprised to see that the cement plaster which had encased the ‘Brick Building’ of the Methodist Church had been removed. I was writing for the Windward Island’s Opinion in the nineteen sixties when the building was paved over with cement. I think it was the Reverend Muffett who did it. There was no public outcry at the time. Perhaps people preferred cement to brick. And perhaps like in so many other instances people had no interest in the history of the island or the wish to preserve that history. Like what happened to Fort Amsterdam. Or to Fort Belair where Peter Stuyvesant lost his leg and where I sleep when visiting my family. I will write an article on the loss of his leg and the story of the battle to regain the island from the Spanish. I believe that now more than formerly people, young and old, are more curious to know how things were back in the day. At least that is the impression enforced on me by my many supporters of “Under the Sea Grape Tree”. Everywhere I go on the islands people are running me down to tell me how much they enjoy my column and how they keep them.

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The Methodist Church as it looked when completed in 1851 and started a new chapter in the history of St. Martin.

I have a large collection of books and photos of the West Indies in general and the Dutch Islands in particular.

With regard to the ‘Brick Building” I am consulting ‘A Hundred Years of Methodism in Dutch St. Maarten by R. Colley Hutchinson and ‘Memories of St. Martin 1852- 1926. By Josiah Charles Weymouth whose ancestor on mother’s side owned the ‘Brick Building’.

There was a time that I represented the Windward Islands on a National Committee to honour well known island personalities by issuing Postal stamps in their memory. When the time came to honour writers I chose to present Mr. Weymouth. However no ‘likeness’ could be found of him though I checked everywhere I could. I also wrote Rene Johnson who was residing in Florida at the time. He had been a student of Weymouth’s daughter Sue when she was a teacher on Saba. Like President Macron of France he took a liking to his teacher and they got married and moved to Aruba. Rene said to me that he did not have a photo but had a book which he mailed to me and said I was welcome to keep.

Years later when I wrote an article about the life of Josiah Charles Weymouth I received a letter from someone in England who claimed to be a grandson of Mr. Weymouth and could I return the book to his mother. Yeah I thought wait on it! This is the most prized possession in my book collection along with Steve Kruythoff’s original book from 1928 which was given to me by  Daisy Hoven-Carter Rey, a granddaughter of Johannes van Romondt who lived in Canada and with whom I was friends back in the sixties.

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Mission House built by young contractor Lionel Bernard Scot in 1931. I have a photo of the old one as well which was a wooden building.

In his book ‘Memories of St. Martin N.P.” Mr. Weymouth writes the following:

“In the period mentioned (1785-1816) numbers were born and still in their teens. Many were full of maturity and had done duty in the Schutterij (National Guard). One of these, who in the year ’85 was in his 53rd year and whose name in that year, 1785, stands as Gezaghebber of this Netherlands part of St. Martin, was the writer’s great-great-great, grandfather, mother’s side – the Hon. Johannes Salomons Gibbes, who was father of Thomas Gibbes, who begat J.S. Gibbes Tz. Who begat Louisan Augusta Gibbes who was the mother of Suzanna Gibbes who from the matrimonial contracted with the Reverend William T. Weymouth in 1851 when Superintendent of the Wesleyan Mission here, was destined to be the parent of the individual who indicts these lines.

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Contractor Lionel Bernard Scot at a young age when he started out in business. He went on to become one of the most prominent and influential people on St. Martin and respected by all.

“It will be quite sufficient for us to say just here that the number of the Gibbes was legion; that they were men of prowess in arms and learning: did not shun encounters with the English when under Col. Nicholson and Tucker they had possession of the island. In the Courts sometimes, where there was always a strong Gibbes representation, their association with the English element was not always confined to peaceful argumentation. The legal prowess of the grand-son of the first J.S. Gibbes, who was the son of Thomas Gibbes was so great on the liquidation of his grandfather’s succession his wife, who was a marvel of frugality was able to produce and hand over to her husband such a sum as enabled him to purchase at the auction the large sugar estate then known as “Gibbes Sight”, and has remained in the direct line of Gezaghebber Gibbes’ succession ever since – being today the property of Mr. T.G. Weymouth a great grandson of the purchaser Mrs. Ann Burnett Gibbes,  and brother of the writer.

Tombstone of Commander Gibbes on St. Eustatius.

Thanks to Walter Hellebrand, Statia Island historian for providing this photo to enhance the article. The tomb of Commander Gibbes is on property now owned by Nu Star oil terminal.

After a life of 69 years, Gezaghebber J.S. Gibbes died and was buried by a party of the English garrisoned at “Statia” in 1802. He was Lt. Governor or ‘Commander’ of the island from February 5th 1785 until February 11th, 1792.

His devoted wife, Vrouwe Margaretha Stokvis, of Rotterdam, by whom he had 13 children, survived him at St. Martin 15 years and her earthly remains were in 1817 deposited beneath the sod in the cemetery of the Dutch Reformed Church of which a few years before Pastor Brill had been in charge and had baptized the infant Louisan Augusta her own great-granddaughter. Sorry we are to state that after a repose of one hundred and three years the remains of this good lady and six other celebrities were exhumed in 1920 and reburied at Little Bay.

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The ‘Oranje School’ when it was first built and which Mr. Weymouth wrote about. He was upset that the remains of his grandmother and other eminent people had been removed from the old Dutch Reformed cemetery located there and their remains were moved to the cemetery in Little Bay.

The event which furnished the occasions for these exhumations was the excavation which had then begun under architect Sass for the two massive concrete structures which have since been opened under the name of Orange Public School.”

The writer Wemouth goes on to list the various families into which the Gibbes were married and then continues: “It was during this Governor’s administration (Diederic Johannes van Romondt) that Methodism made such rapid progress. After the conversion of the Hon. George Illidge’s spouse Susan born Warner, it was an open secret that during the years in which the ministries of the Rev. Janion, Jeffreys, Rogers and Tregaskis were conducted in the island from 1822 to 1849, the Brick Mansion situated at the corner of the Back Street and St. John’s Alley which continued until 1857 to be, and was, in the 1820’s the residence of the Hon. George Illidge, was the favourite resort of the Methodist and no less of official circles. This it was that gave impetus and success to the efforts of

St.Masrtin Day by Day

St. Martin’s first newspaper published by Josiah Charles Weymouth. Lest we forget!

Christian workers.”

In ‘One Hundred Years of Methodism’ is recorded that: “The first Methodist preacher known to visit St. Martin was Parson Hodge, a free coloured man who had established a Methodist Society in Anguilla and who came to St. Martin in 1819. He preached to large congregations on the French side but not being looked upon with favour by the authorities, came over to the Dutch side. Some prominent ladies of Philipsburg are said to have disguised themselves by putting kerchiefs about their heads and to have attended his services. Among them was the wealthy Louisan Augusta Illidge, whose husband was a brother of the Lord Mayor of London, and one of whose sisters was the wife of the Viscount D’Arnauld, a French aristocrat. The daring lady is said to have driven through Paris wearing the white cockade when the city was in the hands of the mob.

The conversion of Mrs. Illidge was an event of importance and consequences. She became the ‘Mother’ of Methodism in St. Martin. Her residence, the brick mansion at the corner of St. John’s alley and the Back Street, was the favourite resort of the Methodist as well as of official circles. The Governors of those days, and particularly Governor P.R. Cantzlaar and the Hon. Diederic van Romondt (the first van Romondt to come to St. Martin), gave their hearty support. Mrs. Illidge rallied the English families among the settlers, some of them Methodists, and in all probability was the one who got protection for Parson Hodge from those who resented his preaching. During one of his services he was threatened by a band of people led by a lady with a cowhide whip, and he narrowly escaped being ‘tarred and feathered.’ Appeal by his supporters to the Governor resulted in a guard of soldiers being sent to keep order at his services.’

 

The Old Brick Building under French occupation in World War 11.

Thanks to Mr. Alfonso Blyden, St. Martin island historian and collector of old photo’s (like me) for this photo. I have a copy somewhere lying around but he made it possible to avoid a long search. With the occupation of Holland by the Germans in World War 11, the French authorities occupied the Dutch side and station their military here in the Brick Building. In a few weeks France itself was defeated by Germany and the defense of the Dutch West Indies was taken over the the British followed by the United States.

In a description of the effects of the 1819 hurricane goes on to mention:” In the Illidge mansion 4 feet of water effected its entrance into the basement and the remains of the old English Church were no longer to be seen.”

From this we can see that the brick building was already there in 1819. Lt. Governor Johannes Salomons Gibbes was born in 1732. The Brick Building was his private residence. In my book “For the Love of St. Maarten’ I wrote the following of the ‘Brick Building’.

“The ‘Brick Building’ situated on the St. John’s alley and the Back Street (which in the 1960’s was covered with a coat of cement plaster) is probably the oldest existing building in Philipsburg. It was the home of Mrs. Louisan Augusta Illidge, an early convert to Methodism and an active worker in the church. Her residence was a favourite meeting place of Methodists as well as of government officials before the Methodist Church was built by the Hon. Johannes Salomon Gibbes in 1785. In the hurricane of 1819 the water stood four feet deep in this old mansion. Between 1822 and 1849 the Methodists gathered there for services.’

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Mr. Weymouth’s home is the two story one sticking out over the sidewalk. It is there when he was already past seventy years that he wrote his book ‘Memories of St. Martin.’

Methodism has been a pioneer in education, and many schools in the West Indies bear witness to its energy and enterprise in the field. In St. Martin from the very beginning, schools were founded for the benefit of the children. In Philipsburg the Illidge mansion (Brick Building) toward the end of the eighteen hundreds was opened as a day-school by the Rev. Frederick Coward. Many still living in the island (1951) received their education there. The school was recognized and subsidized by the Government, the first teacher to be appointed being Mr. J.C. Weymouth. The school was unfortunately closed by the Rev. A.R. Kirby in 1914 for the lack of funds. Later attempts to re-open it were discouraged by the authorities because of the serious effect it would have on the Government School (Oranje School). The Brick Building now (1951) accommodates a Kindergarten school, which is being supported by the Department of Education, from which a number of children go year by year to the Government school.

 

In the booklet “One Hundred Years of Methodism in Dutch St. Maarten” by R. Colley Hutchinson there are several references to the Illidge Mansion popularly known as the Brick Building.

“ A hundred years ago the Methodists of Dutch St. Maarten, a vigorous and growing community known in those days as Wesleyans, needed a larger place of worship in Philipsburg, the capital town, and a petition was sent to H.M. King William III of Holland, asking for a vacant piece of land known as ‘The Old English Church Lot.’ The site had been lying vacant since 1819, when a great gale wrecked many elegant buildings in the town and irrevocably ruined many of the sugar estates on the island.

I recall using the Brick Building on one occasion. Working in the Receivers Office, Sydney Lejuez, Joe Richardson and me, decided to start a debating club, so Sydney being a Methodist arranged for us to use the building. Some of Claude Wathey’s supporters stood outside looking in. I overheard one of them say:” This ain’t no debating club. This is trouble brewing.” As soon as Sydney finished explaining the purpose of the meeting Mr. Vincent Doncher stood up and asked: “what is the name of the new political party you boys are forming?’ Well that was the end of the debating club but all three of us served on the Island Council of the Windward Islands later on and Joe and I in many other political and appointed functions.”

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Another view of the ‘restored’ brick building which was the home of Commander Johannes Salomon Gibbes and was built by him in 1785. A national treasure of St. Martin.

God Bless those who saw the need to bring back the Governor Illidge mansion built in 1785 back to life by removing the cement plaster covering the beauty of the ‘Brick Building.’

 

DOMINICAN NUNS ON SABA

The Dominican Nuns on Saba

By. Will Johnson

 

Sacrede Heart School

Booklet for the 112th anniversary of the start of Roman Catholic education on Saba.

In 1896 nine Roman Catholic Nuns from St. Martin visited the island of Saba for nine days in The Bottom as well as in Windward Side. They were given such a hearty welcome as if they had come to stay forever. This remained a wishful dream however.

In 1905 a good opportunity presented itself. The number of pupils of the existing private school dropped to ten and the teacher did not get a subsidy any longer.

Msgr. J.A. van Baars O.P.  Requested the government once again for a subsidy. He obtained this on the condition that one of the teachers would have a degree of assistant teacher. Sister Betranda Greene had that degree and thus she together with Sister Euphrosina van den Brink were the ones chosen to work on Saba. Prioress Regina Egelee brought both Nuns from St. Eustatius to Saba on August 18th, 1905, where until 1909 they lived in the Presbytery in The Bottom.

The school building which had been rented up until then was rented from the Government. It was situated in Upper town, The Bottom in the home of Lovelock Hassell.

BB096On August 28th, 1905 the school was opened with 63 pupils and this number grew by the day. Father Laurens Mulder requested and got approval from Msgr. J.A. van Baars to build a new school. On August 5th 1906 the new St. Joseph School was dedicated and the amount of pupils grew quickly to 101.

In 1907 Sister Betranda Greene went to live in the “Quarter” in order to take over the so-called “Mountain School.”.

Up until that time the sisters Mrs. Gertrude Johnson bron Hassell and Miss Peter Elenor Hassell had given private lessons there. Sister Bertranda organized with primitive means a classical system for the school. Each weekend she would walk up and down to visit her fellow Nuns in The Bottom and to discuss the progress of their work with the youth of Saba. The accommodations of the Nuns left much to be desired. In the most primitive living accommodations they were obliged to live and to carry out their mission.

An improvement came about when in The Bottom the newly built school was taken into use as a church. To the sacristy a room was added on for the Nuns.

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The former residence of the Dominican Nuns in The Bottom

From 1956 until 1962 the Nuns lived in a home belonging to the Government which was used to house off-island Receivers before that time. It was later incorporated into the home for the aged and forms the entrance to that building. In 1964 a small cement convent replaced the former wooden home used by the Nuns in The Bottom.

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Nuns in the long boat going off to the schooner the ‘Blue Peter’ to sail to St. Maarten.

Also in the Windward Side were facilitated in a small wooden house located between the Presbytery and the Primary School.  In 1948 a large wooden house was purchased from Mr. Eugenius Hassell ‘Mijnheer” as he was called. The Nuns gave it the name ‘Providence’. When the Nuns left Saba this building was sold to Mr. Frank Hassell and was purchased before his death by Mr. Ronnie Johnson whose son Mark recently restored it and has it for rent and he did a wonderful job with the restoration of this ‘convent’.

Further development in education continued under the Nuns. In Windward Side in 1955 a new school was opened. In 1954 I recall as a boy, breaking stones for gravel to be sold to the school. Back then there was no stone crusher so you gathered large stones and gradually broke them down with a hammer so they could be mixed with concrete.

In 1957 The Bottom also got a new School built by the same contractor Jacques Deldevert of St. Martin. This school got the name ‘Sacred Heart School’.

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The Nuns getting ready to go on the ‘Blue Peter’ (with sails up) to St. Maarten for a little rest and relaxation during school vacations.

Because of the isolation of the villages from each other there were two elementary schools on Saba. The one in The Bottom served that village and the village of St. John’s. The one in the Windward Side or “The Quarter” served that village and the village of Hell’s Gate.

In 1967 it was decided to combine the two schools and transport the children by bus. So if the first grade was in The Bottom, then the second grade would be in Windward Side and so on. I remember going to the 6th and 7th grade in The Bottom before the two schools were combined into one elementary school for the entire island. Living in Windward Side I would have to walk to school in The Bottom and back home each day. Only when the road construction reached the Windward Side the government Willy’s pickup which brought the material for the construction of the road was allowed to give us a lift in the back of the truck. That’s only if it was going in the direction we were and was not loaded with construction material.

 

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School group early nineteen hundreds. Father Mulder in front with horse.

In 1970, the Foundation ‘Catholic Education Windward Islands’ was founded. Sister Edelberta de Barbanson was the first President and the late Mr. Henry Every was the first member representing Saba on the board of this foundation.

In 1974, the first local teacher Mr. Franklin Wilson was appointed Principal of the Elementary School. Over the years many locals who had attended a teachers training facility on St. Martin were later able to find employment with the Roman Catholic Schools on Saba. Among them were my brother Walter Frederick ‘Freddie’ Martinus Johnson, Floyd Every, and Frank Hassell all of whom stood before the class for their entire career.

Nuns on Saba  In August 1986 the Foundation for Catholic Education was founded and relocated to the new elementary school on St. John’s.

On September 17th, 1989 hurricane Hugo did extensive damage to this new school and it had to be rebuilt and hopefully no other hurricane will bring the disaster which was experienced with hurricane ‘Hugo’.

The abandoned school in The Bottom came in handy as a teaching facility for the newly established Medical School Foundation by Dr. David de Braauw and my brother Thomas Eric Johnson assisted by then State Secretary Max Nicholson and I as Senator. Because of the local nature of the School we were able to get all the necessary permits from the world health organization in Geneva Switzerland and got the school off to a good start. When David Frederick a former teacher at a school in Dominica was brought in to the picture by me on the urging of Mr. Max Nicholson, the school became a strictly commercial enterprise. We will get back to that on another occasion.

The school in Windward Side was turned over to the Saba Lions Club to manage as a public facility and where they could keep their meetings. The building has been well maintained over the years and was recently renovated.

Father de Groen center with Nuns.

Left to right. Sister Vincentia, Father Zoetmulder, Father van Weerelt, Father de Bruin, Prionress Agnes (seated) then standing from front to back: Sister Euphrosine, Sister Winnefrida, Sister Gabriela,  and Sister Georgine -Saba around 1920.

In 1948 the Dominican Nuns were charged with the management of a Kindergarten. This school was temporarily located in the former house of the Nuns above the Presbytery in the Windward Side. I remember it well. Went there for only three months and then moved on to grade one. My teachers were Dika Peterson, Hildred Johnson and Gladys Hassell. They were in training and teaching at the same time. I remember an incident which drew up the whole village. A dentist was visiting the new Kindergarten. One of the children was asked to open his mouth. Another student (not me) whispered to him that the dentist was going to pull out his remaining teeth. He put down such a bawling and led a choir of screamers that everyone in the village came running to see what had happened. I had not had to deal with Sister Arcadia as yet so no need to fear. Later kindergarten teachers were Mrs. Elaine Peterson-Johnson, Mrs. Janice Johnson and her

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Rose Johnson kindergarten teacher in The Bottom 1948.

sisters Patsy and Velma.

In The Bottom the Kindergarten was started in 1948 as well and was in the room used by the Nuns as a Convent before that. Rose Johnson was a teacher there in the beginning, also Claudia Johnson, Velma Johnson and Janice Johnson up until the nineteen sixties.

In 1974 a new Kindergarten school was opened (The Honey Bees), thanks to the Development Aid Fund of The Netherlands which paid for 75% of the building and the furnishings. In 1967 the Kindergarten teachers received additional training in St. Maarten which courses were under the leadership of Sister Dominica Hillen.

The Dominican Nuns were involved in many more lasting activities. In 1960 Sister Waltruda Jeurissen composed what is now the Saba National Song. ‘Saba, oh jewel most precious, in the Caribbean Sea. Memories will stay of thy beauty, though we may roam far from thee.” etc.

The Christmas before her death in The Netherlands I received a Christmas card from her as did many more of her friends on Saba. She must have had a premonition of her death. In my collection I am most sure that card is still somewhere among the many other letters which I have kept over the years.

 

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Church in The Bottom, which in 1935 became a school.

The duties of the Nuns consisted of much more than the study to get teaching certificates, preparing lessons for the students and organizing education in general. They also took care of the cleaning and upkeep of their own homes and gardens, also of the schools, playgrounds, youth club locations, churches and sacristies. For their own housekeeping they did their own purchases and they also cooked for themselves when the maid was not available. They were also responsible for the school meals of the children. Besides that they did their own laundry and only in the nineteen sixties they got a washing machine. Before that with the help of local women all the laundry was done by hand.

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Presbytery in The Bottom. Torn down and rebuilt into a mansion by the Saba community for the use of the Living Water Community in which to live and conduct their Christian mission in educating the Youth. We will be watching to see what is going to be done with  the building.

The Nuns were also sextons for the churches and took care of the sewing and darning for the church and presbytery. Besides that they took care of the Administration of the Schools, the youth work and their own housekeeping.

In 1974 Sisters Arcadia O’Connor and Waltruda Jeurissen left permanently for The Netherlands and the Catholic education in The Bottom was turned over to laymen.

In 1983 the last two Nuns residing at Windward Side Sister Agatha Jansen and Sister Benedicta Bisschop left for Holland.

Group photo Nuns on St. Maarten 1902  The departure of the Nuns was not without its controversy however. The two homes of the Nuns were sold to the opposition (religiously speaking) and people who were of the opinion that these buildings belonged to the church were disappointed. Father Anton Janssen who came to Saba from Cameroon was very upset that no provisions were made for a religious group to follow. Both Ronny Johnson and I offered to pay passages for two Nuns from Cameroon to come and work here. He was thankful but after reflection he told me that he had found a group in Trinidad called ‘The Living Water Community’ and he thought that culturally and linguistically they would be closer to Saba and he was right of course. They came here in 1988 and became a much loved part of the Saban community.

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Group photo in Windward Side with two Nuns around 1951 or so.

In 2017 the Sacred Heart School put out a booklet on the 112th anniversary of the school. I provided most of the old photo’s for the booklet. This article is not a history of the school however but of the involvement of the Nuns in education on Saba. In 2017 the community was once again sorely disappointed with the departure of the Living Water Community whose work is clearly illustrated in the booklet of the school anniversary.

Just a couple of years ago under the direction of the late Mr. Franklin Johnson the old Presbytery in The Bottom was torn down  and rebuilt in a community effort for use by the Living Water Community. We did not think then of putting the building under a Foundation for the use of this religious group for their work with the youth of Saba. We are grateful to them and to the Dominican Nuns for their work with the Roman Catholic Schools, the church and the children of Saba. Worldwide the Church of Rome is in a serious dilemma. The big question now is Quo Vadis Roman Catholic Church of Saba?

In the eighties there was a proposal to place us under the diocese of Antigua. I was all for it. Others cried shame on me for not wanting to stay with Curacao. People here who tried to get a meeting with the Bishop of Curacao were ignored, and the situation shows no sign of improvement. It is what it is and we will have to wait and see what the future of the church on Saba will be, if there is a future.

Hartog Collection - Saba - dept. Arubiana/Caribiana - Biblioteca Nacional Aruba

Former Home of Eugenius Hassell ‘Meneer’ purchased by the Nuns in 1948 and named ‘Providence’. Now belongs to Mr. Mark Johnson and had been lovingly restored.

Sources; Translation by me from Gods Wijngaard in de West by Valdemar Marchar .

Mathias S. Voges’ book in Dutch on the history of the Nuns in the Dutch Windward Islands.

Also Dr. J. Hartod “De Bovenwindse Eilanden”.

Geschiedenis Missie Curacao, and other publications in Dutch of the activities of the Roman Catholic Mission in the West Indies.

 

 

 

Man-of-the Sea: James Anthony Simmons

Man of the Sea – James Anthony Simmons

Schooner Ina Vanterpool

The “Ina Vanterpool” stranded on St. Eustatius September 1928.

By Will Johnson

The following was an article I wrote about Mr. Simmons before he died. I also did the eulogy for him in the Roman Catholic Church in The Bottom when he died and used much of the same article in the eulogy. I want to post it with appropriate photo’s on The Saba Islander and on Facebook so that his family , friends and general readers can enjoy the story of his life.

In 1984 I interviewed James Anthony Simmons. He is still alive and active(early 2009) and will be 95 years of age this year.

He was born on Saba on August 9th, 1914. His mother was Caroline Maria Simmons born Every who died around 1956. Her parents were Mamselle Every called “Zellie” whose people originally came to Saba from St. Thomas, and her husband was named Peter Every.

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The schooner “The Three Sisters” in Curacao harbour.

James Anthony’s father was named James Arthur Simmons and he died around 1943 in Barbados at the age of 55. His parents were Sally Jones and Alexander Simmons. They were all dead before James Anthony was born.

His father James Arthur Simmons had left Saba and went to live in Barbados to work for “Redhead” Joe Simmons who had moved from Saba as many Sabans had done at the time. Red Head Joe used to own Walmar Lodge which was a plantation at the time.

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James Anthony was a dedicated man to the Roman Catholic Church and helped out with all church activities.

James Anthony had not known his father and as so many young boys at the time he decided to go to sea and the usual age in those days was 14. And so at that young age James Anthony went to work as a mess boy on the schooner the “Ina Vanterpool”.It was a large schooner measuring 105 feet long, 26 feet wide and 218.90 tons. This three master schooner belonged to Captain Tommy Vanterpool. The Captain was Herman Simmons. They sailed between Curacao and the Windward Islands with the mail. The schooner had no motor and a trip, depending on weather conditions going and coming would take as much as ten days each way. Going down to Curacao would be faster and would usually take three to four days, but coming back could be from ten to twelve days. He also sailed on the “Georgetown” a schooner which was 81 feet long, 26 feet wide and 118.72 tons.

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A small painting of the “Marion Belle Wolfe” hangs in his home. He told me he loved this schooner.

This schooner would carry as many as 75 passengers who had to rough it on deck mostly. They made a monthly trip to Curacao and in between would sail usually between Saba and St.Kitts. Around 1929 or 1930 the “Georgetown” went ashore on the island of Nevis and got destroyed there. James Anthony was not on board at the time, though I had an Uncle Herbert Simmons who was just a young boy himself who went ashore with her. In those days it took several weeks before my grandparents knew that he was safe and sound. James Anthony also worked on the “Three Sisters” with Capt. Will Leverock.

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His wife Aline Hughes to whom he was very dedicated.

After that James Anthony sailed on the “Rhode Island” a two master which sailed to Curacao and which took the place of the “Three Sisters.” She also belonged to Captain William Benjamin Hassell. Her captain at the time was Aldrick Dowling. She was destroyed in a hurricane in Frederiksted, St.Croix around 1929. James Anthony and the crew had come to St.Thomas from Curacao. They went south to run from the hurricane and struck a reef just off the harbour of Frederiksted. No lives were lost. When daylight cleared the pilot boat came out and took the passengers and crew ashore. They were unable to save the boat but most of the supplies were saved. Mr. Labega (a son of Freddie Labega of St.Maarten) who was married to a red haired girl from Saba and who lived there put them all up at his home. There were about twenty passengers on board when the accident happened. The two master schooner “Mary C. Santos” also belonging to Capt. Ben Hassell then came up from Barbados to St.Croix to pick them up. The passengers were all from the surrounding islands.

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The “Francis W. Smith” a schooner on which he also sailed.

After that he went to work on the two master schooner the “Francis W.Smith” a salt fish runner from Canada which belonged to Captain Johnny Vanterpool and them.

The Captain was Aldrick Dowling. These schooners were all built in Canada. They would bring in codfish and lumber to Barbados and the Sabans would buy them there. On the “Francis W.Smith” he was an ordinary seaman and sailed to Trinidad, Demerara, Martinique and Guadeloupe carrying gasoline in drums from Trinidad. He did this for three years. The schooner was sold and then the captain went fishing off the coast of Guyana.

Around 1935 he went to Curacao where he worked for “Pletterij Nederhorst,” and then on to Aruba where he joined the “Mosquito” fleet. This was a fleet of tankers which belonged to ESSO on which a number of Sabans lost their lives in World War II. They brought the crude oil from Lake Maracaibo which was processed in the refinery on Aruba.

Many of the survivors who worked 15, 20 and more years and who then still lived on Saba got a big fat pension of fls.20.- and less per month (Yes, That much) for having risked their lives before during and after the war for ESSO on Aruba. James Anthony worked for about twenty years on the fleet. He mostly sailed between Aruba and Lake Maracaibo, but sometimes to Barbados, Brazil and to Mobile Alabama and Norfolk Virginia and to Cristobal Colon in Panama.

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Well into his eighties he was still on roofs painting. He made a living after a long life at sea from painting houses.

In 1945 he married Aline Hughes from which marriage three children were born. After he came back to Saba he sailed with Capt. Randolph Duncin on the sloop the “Eden Rock.”, mostly between Saba and St.Kitts. All the trade was with St.Kitts back then. The last time he sailed on a regular basis was on the sloop “Santa Lou” also belonging to Capt. Dunkin and which carried the mails between Saba and Sint Maarten in the sixties when Saba had an empty airport and they said no plane could land here.

James Anthony was also active in the politics since the sixties and was on the WIPM list each election since 1971 with Peter Granger and myself.

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He was a joiner and a dedicated WIPM supporter and ran on the list of candidates several times. When he did not run it was because he had pledged to support Mr. Cessie Granger.

He was a joiner. When Miss Carmen and they started the Women’s Organization he joined. When asked why he had joined he said “Them poor women need help.” If the Women’s Organization still exists I am sure that he is still a member in good standing. It reminds me of the time the WIPM had to send a delegate to St.Lucia for a Youth Conference. None of the younger ones could attend. Mr. Carl Anslyn then seventy five years of age volunteered to attend. The average age attending the conference was 18. You can imagine the St.Lucia press had a field day with Saba’s delegate. When he got back Mr. Anslyn was full of praise for the way he had been received by the young people. He said to me “And I told them a thing or two.” I am sure he did.

James Anthony has been one of the main servers in the Roman Catholic Church in The Bottom. He has been a pillar of his church and was a member of the Parish council and is also a Member of the Living Water Community.

For many years he was also a house painter by profession. I remember once when he was painting my roof that my son Teddy who was a little boy back then used to think that he was “Santa Claus” because it was around Christmas time and he had learned that Santa always landed on the roof. And since old James Anthony was on the roof for a couple of days, Teddy thought that he was Santa.

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The “Marion Belle Wolfe” on her way to Guyana. He also had many stories of this large schooner of Capt. Will Leverock.

When he could get around he was always to be found to help out with all kinds of social activities and was a real asset to the people of The Bottom in particular and the people of Saba in general. He retired from the sea when he was in his eighties but he still used to go fishing with his friend Elmer Linzey especially, and he has fond memories of a life spent at sea. Especially the years he spent on the old Saban owned schooners trading throughout the West Indies.

And as is often the case in small island communities such as ours we also have a family relationship. As a boy I remember a big tall brown man stopping me and asking me if I was Johnson’s boy and I said;” Yes.” He said to me “You know me and you are family.”

You bet I thought to myself. How can you be family to me? Anyway when I went home I asked my mother and described the man to her. She laughed and said;” That must be Long Charlie. Yes he and your father are first cousins.” Turns out my great uncle Henry Johnson was his father. “Long Charlie” was Charles  Simmons and a brother of our friend James Anthony.

James Anthony attends every event he can make it to and is fully alert as to what is going on around him. He will be 95 this year. I made a speech for him at his 90th birthday and it seems like yesterday. He still lives at home and is surrounded by his grandchildren and great grandchildren and it is always a pleasure to see how they appreciate having him around.

We salute James Anthony Simmons and wish him many more happy years here with us

James Anthony Simmons

Friends to the end. Our friendship never wavered nor faltered.

on Saba and thank him for being an inspiration for us all.

Shortly after this article was written he passed away on May 4th, 2009 leaving behind a legacy much to be appreciated and admired by his children and his other descendants. May he rest softly!

LETTER FROM SWEDEN

the_calm_sideLETTER    FROM   SWEDEN

By: Will Johnson

On February 2nd last I received an e-mail from Dr. Karin Simmons in Sweden which reads as follows:

Dear Will,

I am writing to give you some sad piece of news from Sweden. Gosta died peacefully on the 11th of January. He spent his last six weeks in a hospice in northern Stockholm where he was very comfortable and happy to be close to Petra and Richard and also his lady friend. The letter continues with information on his problems with cancer and then states: “I supported him in his work with the West Indies family history. Right now I am in touch with the Swedish National archives discussing where to house his material. I am the one with the best knowledge. Found this e-mail address among Gosta’s papers. We still have not got full access to his computer. But I hope this message reaches you. I am remembering with gratitude my visit to Saba and also your visit to Sweden. Love and best wishes from Sweden. Karin.”

Gosta Simmons and I go back through the generations to Governor Thomas Dinzey and through the Simmons family. Our correspondence started more than forty years ago. In his book “Labyrinths” the famous Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges mentions in a passage “for the innumerable ancestors who merge within me.” Gosta was on a sort of Don Quixote mission, but in his case that of genealogy to identify the innumerable ancestors which merged within him. Just a few months ago I had my last contact with him. I was aware of his problems with cancer. In that last letter he confirmed that things did not bode well for him. Around the time of his death he was strong on my mind. I even told Raymond Simmons, the sage of the Venezuelan branch of the Simmons family, that I should find out something about Gosta. My e-mail to Gosta went unanswered. I felt that something was wrong, and then I received the letter from Doctor Karin.

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Gosta Simmons here with a friend from Sweden at Juliana’s Hotel on Saba.

Gosta never published anything about his research. I have print-outs of much of his material which he would download and send to me. He also had his own website and face book , on which he placed many of his research documents. For him the joy was in the chase rather than in the capture.

His ancestor Abraham Simmons, like many other Sabans at the time, settled in the Danish island of St. Thomas in the early eighteen hundreds. There he became the Fire Chief and landed himself a good lay away plan by marrying the daughter of one Hardjemaal, a wealthy Danish planter with plantations on all three Danish islands. His son went to Kiel Germany, became a medical doctor, married a Swedish lady, returned to the Virgin Islands for some years and then immigrated to Sweden. In the early nineteen seventies while still living on St. Maarten I received my first letter from Gosta. He had been referred to me by Brigitha Abrahamsen, another distant relative in Stockholm who visited St. Barth’s frequently and was a member of the Swedish/St.Barth’s friendship society. Many letters followed. There was no internet then and so I had to delve into the government archives for Gosta which at the same time proved a learning process for me as well. Of course after the advent of the internet research became much easier and expanded. Gosta visited Saba at least four times to consult with me. I remember one night I got a call from him around 8pm. I said to him:”Man you did not go to bed yet?” thinking he was in Sweden. He answered: “No, but my time is your time. I am here at Scout’s Place and hoping to see you in the morning.”

Gosta was especially interested in the Dinzey/Simmons’ and related families, so he frequently visited St. Barth’s, St. Kitts and St. Thomas as well and had many friends on each of those islands. Families like the Pereira family on St. Kitts are also descended from Governor Thomas Dinzey, something which I learned from Gosta.  Through his research he is a national hero of sorts in the mulatto Walhalla of Santo Domingo. One of the white grandsons of Governor Thomas Dinzey, via the Dinzeys on St. Barth’s and St. Kitts had two sons by a black woman on St. Kitts. These boys emigrated to La Romana around nineteen hundred. Now you should know that if you like the female of the species, no better place to go to. One brother had fifty six children and the other thirty four. No one of the present Dinzey clan there disputes that, except as to which brother had 56. The Dinzey family became prominent there. Just an example as to how bloodlines flow. In October 2002, I along with my wife, my son Peter, my dear friend Elmer Linzey accompanied the Pony League little league baseball team from the Windward Islands to Santo Domingo. Despite they throwing big men with mustache like my grandfather’s, to play against our little ones, our team out of eleven games won something like ten. Of course we had taken a number of kids with us of Santo Domingo descent so we did have some advantage there as baseball is in their genes. Our team played in several cities like San Pedro de Macoris, La Romana, Higuey and so on. In El Valle a small city up in the hills while being received by the Mayor in his office, his attractive Vice Mayor looked in my direction and she said something to the Mayor. The moment the speeches were over they came over to me and asked:”Are you related to Doctor Dinzey of San Pedro”? The day before while looking up Windward Islands names in the San Pedro telephone book, I had come across the name of Dr. Dinzey and my thoughts had gone to Gosta and his research. I told them: “We share an ancestor from three hundred years ago.”

 

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Here at Gosta’s house in Nortalje Sweden in 1980.

In his ancestor quest Gosta traveled and visited with many of the prominent Simmons family members in the United States including Professor Eric Simmons who is in his nineties. Gosta also visited the archives in London, Denmark and The Netherlands. He linked up with a number of men and women who were similarly interested in West Indies genealogy.

I based the title of my article on a short story in Dutch by Mr. L.J. van der Steen from which I will translate parts:

“Have you ever heard of a name for the Fort on Saba?” Frans Brugman asked me in the fall of 1993 when he was in the Netherlands. Ir. F.H. Brugman, associated with the University of the Netherlands Antilles, hopes in September 1994 to take his doctoral degree in Delft on the buildings of Saba. “No”, I said, “no now that you say that, no. No mahn, we just call it the fohd”, in a certainly failed imitation of the Saban accent. But I promised him to keep a look out. That his question kept me busy day and night, I cannot really admit to.

And then the letter came from Sweden. A gentleman in a hamlet which is not to be found one, two, three on the map, ordered a publication of the “Natuur wetenschappelijke Studiekring voor het Caraibisch Gebied”, about the archaeology of St. Eustatius (Versteeg & Schinkel, 1992). That was no reason for a great surprise because the University Library of Stockholm is on the regular mailing list of the Society. But what did give reason for contemplation was the fact that the envelope, besides the formal order form, also contained a small yellow handwritten letter. In that letter the sender asked for more information on the Society. Furthermore he wanted to know if we had published anything else about the Windward Islands and namely in the field of history.

I looked once again at the name, and then the bells started to ring loud and clear. A name which on the hardly one thousand head population of Saba is only used together with a first name, as otherwise people would not know who you are referring to. I looked at the telephone book once again and indeed there were fifteen connections with the name Simmons. And how was that again, the Swedes had also had a colony in those parts? St. Barth’s, eventually French, but with the revealing name of the capital, Gustavia?

 

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Here on an island not far from Gotenberg with Gosta and his sister Karin

My curiosity was good for a long letter, which was promptly answered with an even longer letter. Mr. Simmons turned out to be an amateur genealogist, “a devoted tree climber,” as he described himself. It is true that he,” after almost fifteen years of devoted work had not found anything that actually proves my progenitor’s connection with Saba,’ but in the meantime he had collected a great deal of information concerning West Indian families. Moreover he was not discouraged, and was happy to have made contact with me. Perhaps I could help him to translate some Dutch documents of which he sent copies.”

This story by Mr. van der Steen though interesting, is far too lengthy to carry in its entirety here. The gist of the story is that from documentation in the Bancroft collection in which the name of the fort on Saba was “Fort Roadstead”.  This was clearly underlined in the documents of Engle S. Richardson when Saba surrendered to the Dutch on February 21st, 1816. Few people at the time knew of the Bancroft collection at the University of California until Gosta brought this to the attention of Mr. van der Steen.

Since that correspondence in 1993 Gosta continued his research, and did identify Abraham Simmons as his Saba ancestor, but research purist that he was he just continued on his ancestor quest until shortly before he passed away. A typical letter to me from Gosta last year (and there were many over the years), begins like this:

Hi Will,

I just got this message from Karin Tolan. There I see that she intends to get in touch with you and I just wanted to speed up the process. Besides, I attach a few Vanterpool files that I don’t think you have got before.

In the long letter he goes on to say: “Have I told you how much I enjoy your “Daily Herald” articles? I’m feeling the sweet smell of a new book – A Caribbean bestseller? If only I had been on the Nobel Prize Committee of Literature!”

Raymond, please remind me to dedicate the book “Under the Sea Grape Tree”, to Gosta when we get that far.

And Gosta, though I don’t think my style of writing qualifies for anything close to Nobel Prize material, thanks for the thought.  And to you my friend and distant sharer of the innumerable ancestors, who merge within me, farewell my friend, fare thee well, and may you rest softly.

**************************************

MY FRIEND RALPH

MY FRIEND RALPH

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“Meneer” Ralph Berkel, teacher, school principal, member of the Island Council, State Secretary.

Something strange when you look back on a lifelong friendship and cannot remember when and how this friendship started. When I heard of the passing of my good friend Sir Ralph Berkel on St. Eustatius yesterday, I searched my mind to try and remember when I first met him.

It may have been in 1969 when I was running with the URA party and lost the election on Statia with only 22 votes. We used to keep our internal meetings at the home of Mrs. Christine and her husband William Flanders where they also had a snack bar. I met his wife Elizabeth around the same time.

Ralph was born on Curacao on December 6th, 1938 but the family moved to Aruba and it is there that he grew up and from where most of his memories of growing up were from.

In 1970 he and I were among those from the three Dutch Windward Islands who formed the political party the Windward Islands People’s Movement (WIPM). I was living on St. Maarten at the time and despite the good showing I had at the polls in 1969 the new party was being formed without me. It is Ralph who when invited to join told the others that he would not join without me and also told the others “What message are we sending to the people who voted for Will? I would be hard pressed to explain to people what reason there could be.” Jocelyn Arndell was also in my corner. Remarkable is that after all these years the WIPM party is alive and well on Saba and governs that island.

The following year in 1971 the party won the elections on both St. Eustatius and Saba and acquired a majority of seats on the Island Council of the Windward Islands. With internal differences in the party on Statia the WIPM after only two years in government had to make a coalition with the Democrat Party of Mr. Vincent Lopes.

We were also knocking at the doors of the Federal Government on Curacao for recognition. And so in 1975 Ralph and I were appointed on the Kingdom Committee to represent Statia and Saba in the negotiations for the independence of Surinam.

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1967. Ralph Berkel number three in the lineup. Council of the Island Territory the Windward Islands.

Ralph and I both tried hard to keep the territory of the Windward Islands intact. We used to love the Island Council of the Windward Islands and used every opportunity in the combined meetings to throw licks into Claude Wathey’s skin but we could yet be magnanimous when required. In 1981 the WIPM had 8 seats and SPM of Vance James Jr. Had two seats with a combined combination of 10 seats for the coalition and 5 seats for the Democrat Party. Island Council Member Claude Wathey’s friends wanted to commemorate the fact that he had served thirty years on the Island Council. Lt. Governor Max Pandt a boyhood friend of mine called me and asked if I would be willing to come to the meeting and form a quorum. Without us the meeting was impossible and he told me that Ralph was willing to help out but not the SPM. So without me with five seats on the Island Council of Saba the meeting could not go through. I called Ralph and we agreed to go. I went dressed up in my usual Fidel Castro outfit. The meeting was attended not only by Mr. Wathey’s family and friends but many dignitaries from around the world including the United States consul on Curacao. I remember Ralph mentioning in his speech that even though we were separate from Mr. Wathey in our way of thinking but who knows he said: “You can never tell, Mr. Wathey in his infinite wisdom might see the light and one day decide to cross over and join us.” After my speech and when the ceremony was over Mr. Julian Conner told me that several times during my speech he had his heart in his mouth fearing that I would spoil the party, but that in the end I had made it all right. I used that opportunity to throw some blows first and then say that I recognized that this was a ceremony which Mr. Wathey and his friends and family were looking forward to and then went on to point out that even though he had defeated us in several elections that the Johnson’s had beaten him in their numbers. While he was the only Wathey to have served on the Island Council we had some 8 Johnson’s who had served on the Island Council.

 

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Ralph standing number three in the line up from the right. July 2nd 1975.

Ralph and I really tried to make the Island Council work. However at the Federal Government Level we would never have been able to get representation in the Legislature with the phenomenal growth in the population of St. Maarten We therefore came up with a plan to ask the people of Saba and St. Eustatius to do something different and they followed our advice and boycotted two elections.

In order to get some form of representation in the Legislature on Curacao we had to break up the Island Territory. The representation we got was limited to a Spokesman in Parliament who was put under so many restrictions that it did not amount to very much. Ralph and I had served on many committees since 1971 and attended numerous meetings together because of the desire of Aruba to achieve an autonomous status. We learned a lot from those meetings on a personal level as well.

 

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Meeting of Kingdom Committee with Her Majesty Queen Beatrix.

I remember once after a whole week of meetings with more to follow on Monday we decided to go to Aruba for the weekend. I stayed at the Astoria Hotel a magnified name for a few rooms above a Chinese restaurant. At the airport on Aruba I saw Ralph talking with Mr. Henny Eman. We had been with him in the meetings on Curacao for most of the previous week.

While I was busy checking in at the Astoria they told me that there was a call for me. I wondered who could have known where I was staying. The person calling told me that Betico Croes had just arrived from the United States and that he would be calling in at the hotel to see the political leaders of Statia and Saba. He first had to attend the opening of a large store in Oranjestad. After several calls he showed up with his wife and small daughter. In the meantime a sizeable crowd had gathered outside. Though they were not his voters he was such a celebrity at the time that they wanted him to see them as well. We pleaded with him to take his family home and get a rest as we would be meeting with him on Monday anyway. Finally he left and I went with Ralph to a ‘snack’ along the road for him to buy some Salem cigarettes. On the way back to the hotel he asked me if I had seen Henny Eman and him talking at the airport. I told him yes and he said: “See the difference between the two men. When I greeted him he asked me who I was and if he had ever met me before. “And Betico tired as he and his family were had come to greet us as two heads of state.”

I don’t know if the doorbell incident took place on that trip. His sister lived in the vicinity of the village. I walked across from the hotel to meet Ralph there the following day. While banging away on the door one of his teenage daughters was coming from school. She promptly walked up and asked me why I was trying to knock down the door, and said “Just ring the doorbell”. Who would have thought that a house in the village would have a doorbell. Ralph was not amused and I told him that his daughter meant well, so laughingly he accepted my plea to have mercy on her. A joke we shared for many years.

 

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Ralph and I here together as members of the Island Council the Windward Islands and I was also Commissioner at the same time. Meeting hall on St. Maarten 1979.

We travelled for so many years together that he got to know my habits very well. In the beginning years I was a heavy drinker and smoker and ate very little. In later years when I stopped both habits and started eating a regular meal he would say in amazement: “Well look at Johnstone finishing up his food.” He and Clem Labega both called me “Johnstone”.

WE also served together in the Pourier government. I was a Senator and his cousin Kenneth van Putten was the Senator elected on Statia. Ralph served as State Secretary for some years and once again we travelled a lot together and saw each other on Curacao.

Our final Committee we served on together was the Jesurun Committee. We came to the conclusion that the Netherlands Antilles in its new form after 1986 was unworkable. The Dutch had to take responsibility for the smaller islands, something which they had always refused to do.

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Fighting Logo of the WIPM party of which Ralph was one of the founders.

So many memories I have of Ralph and his family. Once he called me to book a hotel for his sister-in-law. I told him that she could stay by me as I had an apartment which was not being used. Just like her sister she was a knockout with good looks. When I had an operation in Eindhoven there was a gentleman in the same room with me who had four daughters who all seemed to be nurses and all good looking. One night after my wife and son had left the room, a beautiful lady entered carrying a bouquet of red roses. She spoke so softly and all I could remember when she left was something she said about Ralph. The ladies jumped on me right away to find out who the mystery lady was. It was then that I remembered that she was the sister-in- law of Ralph. She too was a nurse and Ralph had called her to look me up.

On another occasion Ralph and I were standing up opposite the Finance Department in The Hague. There was a huge demonstration going on with teachers heading to Government headquarters to state their grievances. All of a sudden a woman broke ranks with the crowd and started running towards us. I thought she had bad intentions until she shouted out “Ralph” and started hugging him up. Turns out she had gone to teachers training college with Ralph when he was studying in The Netherlands.

On another occasion on the pier in Nevis in 1983 Ralph and I were waiting to go back to St. Kitts with a coastguard boat from Trinidad and Tobago. I saw a woman running towards us. Turned out to be Margarita Palacios a friend of mine and Secretary to President Lusinchi of Venezuela. This was the independence day of St. Kitts and Nevis and Venezuela had a huge man-of-war there for the occasion. Margarita insisted that Ralph and I join her on the trip back to St. Kitts. The Commander was in agreement. We went on board and ended up in the commanders private salon and joined in a game of dominoes. All of a sudden we heard a bugle playing. Turns out it was for then Prime Minister Don Martina. When he came into the salon he looked at us a bit perplexed as if he did not know who we were. He started laughing as he joined us and I told him that Margarita Palacios had brought us on board as her guests.

The last years we were not in regular contact but I knew I had a friend in Ralph and he knew the same of me. The last time I saw him he was going into Cost-U-Less with one of his daughters. Since all three of them live on St. Maarten he would spend lots of time there as well as going up to Sweden to visit his son Robby and his family.

I have to end this on a sad note. As I am typing this I remember the following. I am unsurpassed as a eulogist for funerals on all three Windward Islands with many eulogies for friends on all three islands. On St. Maarten I did a number of eulogies among them one for my friend Eddy Buncamper. As I walked out of the church Ralph was standing in the crowd outside the Roman Catholic Church. When he saw me coming out of the church he shouted out to me:” Johnstone boy when I pass away I want you to do the talk for me.” We were both a lot younger then with death far away from our minds. Little could I realize then that indeed I would be here writing out the “talk” for my friend Ralph.

Our sympathy goes out to his children and other family members and to the people of St. Eustatius who have lost a great son. He could have remained in Holland or he could have gone to Aruba where he grew up. As a teacher the opportunities were there. But he chose to come to Statia which at the time had no electricity and lacked most of the conveniences which people enjoy there today. He and his wife put up with many inconveniences but he never gave up on his people on his beloved St. Eustatius!

May his memory be always blessed and my friend Ralph rest softly.

 

NOUVELLE GEOGRAPHIE DE L’ILE D’HAITI

Dantes Fortunat

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Marie Madeline Lachenais. Had children by two Presidents

The introduction of this unusual book states that it contains historical and topographical mention on the other Antilles. It was authorized for use in secondary education on October 6th, 1877. Published in Port-au-Prince and Paris in 1888.

The author introduced it to Madame Michel Dominique wife of President General Dominique on September 29th, 1875. There is also a long letter dated May 29th, 1877 to Mr. A. Thoby, Secretary of State for Public Education. The letter was for official approbation for the book to be used in schools. He listed as collaborators Beaubron Ardouin, Diana Ramsay and Thomas Madiou.

The book was brought to my attention by Mr. Christophe Henocq some years ago and was printed out for me by Brigitte Halley of St. Martin. The reason why Mr. Henocq thought I might be interested as the book contained a nice lithograph of the Governor of Saba Mr. Moses Leverock.

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General Alexander Petion President 1807-1818

Since the author introduced the manuscript to Madame Micehel Dominique in 1875 I am assuming that his research was done before that time. Governor Moses Leverock passed away at the age of 61 on August 1st, 1875.

In various articles Mr. Dantes Fortunat is referred to as a young man. He must have travelled throughout the West Indies in order to get the information he needed for the chapters on the Spanish, English, French and Dutch colonies. He was either a painter himself or travelled with someone who was as the book has many fine lithographs of many of the towns in the West Indies at the time.

The book has more than five hundred pages and was filled with information on the world and the people who inhabited it with a description of each race of mankind who inhabited the planet. As for the Republic of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, he travelled extensively to bring geographical knowledge to the students of secondary education in Haiti.

I have not yet been able to find too much personal information on the writer other than that he was born in 1851. He would have been 19 years of age or in his early twenties when he visited Saba. Reference is made to his young age in the book. So that alone is remarkable in an age when slavery had just been abolished for a young black man from Haiti to travel the West Indies and be received by the authorities of the various islands. Remarkable as well that Haiti would embark on a project to educate its young people not only about their own geography but also that of the rest of the Antilles.

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The last military President of Haiti Raoul Cedras. He deported President Aristide to South Africa.

I am busy reading several books on the Dominican Republic and its turbulent history. So many of its citizens live among us in the Dutch West Indies nowadays that in some cases they may well be in the majority.

In this article I want to dwell briefly on the color issue and give a very brief history of the dissolution of France’s once most productive colony. Much has been written about the Haitian revolution as if it was a one night affair and through simplification misinform our present generation at the same time. Especially history as interpreted by writers from the United States. In their view anyone who is not 142% white is black thereby ignoring the ‘Mulatto’ factor in Haiti and the Spanish speaking Caribbean. Especially in Haiti this has played a big role even in slavery times. Even today the struggle in Haiti is between the mulatto and the black elite. The black elite hedge their bets by marrying mulatto women (Papa Doc and Baby Doc, Father Aristede et al) or having mulatto advisors when they have the power and vice versa. Haiti might be a poor country but if only one percent of the population have money you are talking about one hundred thousand or more people with money.

In David Nicholls book: ‘A work of combat’ (Mulatto Historians and the Haitian past (1847 -1867), he examines the way in which a circle of mid-nineteenth century historians from Haiti’s mostly mulatto French educated , French speaking elite – rewrote Haitian history to strengthen the position of this ruling class and to justify its ascendancy:

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General  Benoit Joseph Andre Rigaud Born 1761 died 18 September 1811

“ The general effect of the mulatto version of the Haitian past is however, to encourage Haitians to unite under the leadership of the most patriotic, civilized  and technically qualified group in the country, to legitimate the mulatto ascendancy in the social and economic field, and to lend weight to their claim to guide and control development in the political sphere.”

In brief the French colony of Saint Dominique dissolved over a period of at least 15 years. First when the French revolution broke out the whites in Haiti broke up into Royalist supporters and those of the revolution. This caused many people to start leaving for Louisiana. Then the French educated mulatto’s started their own revolution to get equal rights with the whites. After that came the revolution of General Toussaint L’Ouverture  a descendant of people who ruled the Kingdom of d’Adra in Africa. He was raised by white plantation owners who were allowed to leave Haiti undisturbed. Then came the betrayal of Toussaint among which were a number of mulattos. After that Napoleon’s brother-in-law came to recapture the colony and his twenty thousand troops died within a short time in battle and with yellow fever. With Leclerc many of the Mulatto elite returned from France. Among them Rigaud, Petion, and Boyer. Once they realized that slavery was to be reinstituted they joined forces with the blacks for the final battle of liberation. Then the recognized liberator of Haiti General Dessalines won the war of liberation and declared Haitian independence on January 1st 1804.

After that the real trouble started. Dessalines declared himself Emperor and two years later he was assassinated. Haiti was split up for many years in the Kingdom of the North under Emperor Christophe who was from St. Kitts and favored the English. He was very successful for a while and there was law and order in the North and a good economy.

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President Henri Namphy

The South including the capital city of Port-au-Prince fell under the Mulatto republic of the South. In Saint-Dominique the free people of colour constituted a third place between the whites and the enslaved Africans. While restricted in political rights, many received social capital from their father’s and became educated and wealthy landowners, resented by the petit blancs who were mostly minor tradesmen. Following the French revolution of 1789 the ‘gens de couleur’ led a rebellion to gain voting and political rights they believed were due them as French citizens. This was before the slave uprising of 1791. At that time most free people of colour did not support freedom or political rights for enslaved Africans and free blacks. The affranchise numbered 28.000 in 1795 and were mostly mulattoes born of a French father. Not all mulattoes were free as 40.000 of them were still slaves. But with the ensuing conflict and with many whites moving out to Sanato Domingo and places like Trinidad and Louisiana the influence of the mulatto’s grew and is still strong in Haiti. Remember President Namphy with blue eyes like a Norwegian and his wife from Italy?

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Baby Doc son of a mulatto mother here marrying a daughter of a wealthy mulatto merchant.

The three main mulatto first Presidents of the South of Haiti were General Benoit Joseph Andre Rigaud (1761-18 September 1811). He was the leading Mulatto military leader during the Haitiain revolution. Among his protégés were Alexander Sabes Petion and Jean Pierre Boyer, both future Presidents of Haiti. His father was a wealthy French planter and his mother was Rose Bossy Depa a slave woman. His father acknowledged him as a young man and sent him to Bordeaux where he was trained as a gold smith.

In 1810 the new Haiti split in two. Petion who succeeded Rigaud as President of the South was much influenced by his (as well as his successor’s lover) Marie Madeliene Lachenais. She had two daughters for Petion (Cecile and Hersille) and also a daughter Azema for Boyer.Alexander Sabaes Petion (April 12 1770 – March 24, 1818). He was born in Port-au-Prince son of a wealthy French father and Ursula a free mulatto woman which made him a quadroon (one quarter African ancestry).

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Jean Pierre Boyer served 25 years as President of Hispaniola from 1818 to 1843. An exception in the history of Hispaniola.

When Petion died from yellow fever in 1818 he was succeeded by Jean Pierre Boyer (1818-1843). His father was also a Frenchman and Boyer was educated in France. He united all of Haiti under his rule and in 1822 invaded the land of Santo Domingo land of the Mulatto’s and kept that part of the island under his control until he was overthrown in 1843, exiled to Jamaica and later moved to France where he died and is buried.

When the writer Dantes Fortunat visited Saba around 1870 the entire West Indies had some four million people. Saba had 2800 inhabitants and French St. Martin had 3.485.

Among his findings on Saba there were five fresh water springs and four Sulphur springs were located in the East of the island. He also gave a description of the fine potatoes grown on the island as well as cabbage, bananas, lemons and so on.

He states that; L’Ile de Saba s’estime hureaux d’avoir donne le hour aux lieutenants-gouverneurs Beaks et Leverock’.

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A lithograph of Governor Moses Leverock made by Dantes Fortunat on his visit to Saba around 1870

Of the men of Saba he has this to say: ‘Aussi, cherchera-t-on vainement, dans toutes les Antilles, des marins plus inteligents et plus intrepides que les hommes de Saba.’

It is my intention when I am finished reading my two large books on the Dominican Republic to give a short review like this one of the history of that country and its troubles relations with its neighbor Haiti. A class and ethnic struggle which continues to this day with mass deportations of Haitians and with changing laws that if someone from Haiti is born in the Dominican Republic they do not automatically get rights and are even subject to deportation. All of this goes back to the days of slavery and the strong influence of the mulatto class in Haiti which is still strong. I will post some photos of leaders of some of the most prominent mulatto leaders of Haiti as well.

There are many great books written about Haiti in the past which recognize this division of the people’s more than recent histories which leave the mulatto influence out of the picture.

Furthermore I want to thank Mr. Dantes Fortunat on his wonderful book on the Geography of Haiti and the rest of the Antilles.download (8)

Deputy Mayor Felix Choisy

Felix Choisy, deputy MayorTHE HONOURABLE FELIX CHOISY

BY; WILL JOHNSON

‘Looka me wuk fo me,’ as the old timers would say. I never knew he was born on St. Barth’s. Such a strong St. Martin identity and occupying a high position in government I always believed that he had been born in Marigot.

I only found out this when I opened the latest DISCOVER magazine and found an article about him.

I knew him and Doctor Petit well. Although I was a young insignificant civil servant I somehow ended up being surrounded by all of the top officials from both the Dutch and the French side. (I don’t use this North and South thing, reminds me too much of places like Vietnam and Korea, whereas the reality is what I state here).

Mr. Choisy was a tall man who always came over as a calm and soft spoken person. He was a sort of philosopher King when it came to his views on not only local but international affairs. He had a distinctive voice. One which I still remember as I write this article.

I have quoted him in the past in articles and in my books on his views of Caribbean race relations. I found the following quote in an interview in a KLM, Holland Herald Magazine which is buried somewhere in my archives and which I could not find back for this article. But here is what he was quoted as saying and which shows his take on us Caribbean people.

It is an important statement. Nowadays on social media you read so many unrealistic statements about race and family, ignoring the reality of how small island Caribbean people evolved. He said:

“I have traced the roots of quite a few island families, and have reached the conclusion that it’s a misconception that black Caribbean’s are descended from African slaves only. My mother had a Spanish name, and my maternal grandmother had German and Flemish blood. On my father’s side, I have ancestors from Scotland, the Balearic Islands, and Portugal. My great grandmother was an Indian who was taken to St. Barthelemy by a sea captain. I think I owe my high cheekbones to her. I believe we Caribbean people are a separate ethnic group, with our own Antillean personality. The colour of our skin is irrelevant. I have seen families change from black to white and vice versa in three or four generations.”

I am at that age now where I can say that I have seen the same thing in many families, a process which is still going on and with a new people evolving out of the mix.

I met Mr. Choisy in the late nineteen fifties. He was pointed out to me as being the Deputy Mayor of the French Side. A concept which was only later cleared up to me as to exactly what that meant. That was done by Mr. Clem Labega with whom I used to pal around, even when I was opposing his party. He taught me how real friendship should be carried out. We would go to Marigot and invariably would end up in the company of Mr. Choisy. The Mayor, Dr. Hubert Petit was too busy running the hospital to participate in the standard politics of the day. Meeting your voters at certain drinking locations (rum

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From left to right Madame Claudine Petit, Deputy Mayor Felix Choisy and Mayor Doctor Hubert Petit.

shops as I would call them).

My brother Eric told me once that he had heard an old man on the radio explaining why he was voting for Doctor Petit.

‘The man can mix cement, milk a cow, do anything you and me can do, and above and beyond that he can also operate on you in the hospital which he runs, so I voting for him.’ Good enough reasons in my book I would say.

And so the burden of managing the day to day affairs of the local government was in the hands of Mr. Felix Choisy.

The French side had a different political system. I learned to appreciate the elections on the French side through Captain Austin Hodge and his wife Mrs. Bertha Lawrence both of whom were from Grand Case and could still vote in the French elections. When election season was in the air I can still hear Miss Bertha saying;”Lawd, Austin I hearing that Daniel out to make trouble this election.’ She was referring to Daniel Beauperthuy who was reported to have thrown the ballot box from Grand Case out in the street in a previous election and the people’s votes were scattered all over the place. Where the Lolo’s are now was blanketed with voting ballots flying around. Daniel was with the Flemings of course, as I suspected that the Captain and Miss Bertha were also on their side.

Continuing with Daniel. Transportation was scare in those days. ‘Brother Joe’ Mathew used to deliver telegrams for the Cable office (Landsradio Dienst), and he lived next door to us on the Front Street. One afternoon after work he said to me;” I have to deliver a telegram in Cole Bay and we can take a swing in Marigot to see how the elections are going on.’ Now elections on the French side back then was considered to be very risky. Like going on the front lines in Vietnam to see who was winning the battle. So it was more than with a bit of apprehension that I accepted the invitation. We had hardly passed the area close to the Court House where the elections were being conducted in a school when we saw the crowd start to move. A crowd back then consisted of probably fifty people, but primordial instinct tells you when a crowd starts to move, get out of the way. There have been studies done on crowd movement and the consequences of being

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Opening of the water plant in Marigot with Deputy Mayor Felix Choisy in attendance.

caught up in it.

We started to move along and heard someone screaming out;’Lawd, Daniel shoot dee poor man,’ Now Daniel I knew well too and some of his children and grandchildren I am good friends with. Not trying to bad talk the man. Just giving the story as if I was a reporter, in that Daniel had come to Marigot with as objective to halt the elections by firing a shot at the Doctor. He had left the scene already and Daniel concluded that he should not come from Quartier d’Orleans in vain and so told the man behind the desk ‘since I come here to stop this election I might as well shoot you.’ I don’t think that he actually shot the man but the threat was enough and the shot which was supposed to go around the world in the end did not stop the elections after all as later in the night we heard that Dr. Petit and Felix Choisy had won the elections after all.

So many stories were told about election rigging and stuffed ballot boxes that it made the French side seem like a very sinful place and to be avoided at all costs especially on election day. But as so much from that period in my life I loved the excitement caused by elections over there. There was also a constant war of words between Joseph H. Lake Jr. in his ‘Windward Islands Opinion’ and the Petit/Choisy faction that Dr. Petit declared him ‘Persona non grata’ on the French side, something to be taken quite seriously. Good thing Mr. Lake was on the same side of the political stomping grounds as was Daniel, or else he might have been fair game for anyone in the mood to prove a point.

But back to Deputy Mayor Felix Choisy I want to quote what is written about him in the DISCOVER MAGAZINE.

‘Felix Choisy was born into a prominent family in Saint-Barthelemy on October 30, 1915. The Choisy family enjoyed a reputation as excellent sea fishermen but Emile, Felix’s father distinguished himself from the others by achieving his academic success (As my friend Fred Tren would have said ‘Boy dem Choisy’s is a bunch of ‘brainsers’, me son.’) The French administration promoted him to school principal first in Saint Barth, then in St. Martin. He was a patriot and a man of honour (as his son would be later, as we shall see). For these reasons, when Marshall Petain ordered all French civil servants to collaborate with Germany, he refused and found himself obliged to accept a premature and forced retirement. No longer allowed to teach, he bought a plot of land at La Savane and raised cattle. This episode must have made a profound impression on the young Felix.

After studying at the Lysee Carnot in Guadeloupe where he was taught law and philosophy, Felix Choisy narrowly escaped military conscription and so avoided the horrors of war. When he returned to St. Martin the economy was sluggish and it was difficult to find a job corresponding to his level of education. Determined to work and highly resourceful, he became a self -taught marine diesel mechanic and was put in charge of cargo on the ‘Mary Stella’, a ship that sailed throughout the Caribbean. But his sea faring adventures were destined not to last. Soon he would meet his future wife, Angele Petit. Married in 1947, their union produced 7 children. As he was now a “family man”, Felix decided to give up the dangers of a life at sea and to begin a career in construction. It was a wise decision! He built the first villas in the Terre-Basses as well as the first hotels on the French side. It was at this time that he began to get involved in politics. Being a young novice in the election campaign, he failed to beat the incumbent Mayor (Elie Fleming) of the time, but he made a strong impression on the young Doctor Hubert Petit, just back from completing his studies in France. In 1959 they joined forces to present a common front and won the following elections. Felix Choisy was appointed first deputy to the Mayor. It is for this role that he will always be remembered, as he became one of the most respected and popular politicians Saint Martin has ever known. The fact was, Doctor Petit had far too much work to do with his patients to also efficiently run municipal affairs. Placing his entire confidence in Felix Choisy, he delegated that role to his deputy. It was an alliance that surprised many. Doctor Petit was a confirmed Republican, Felix Choisy a diehard socialist. However, they worked

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Mayor Doctor Hubert Petit up front on September 18th, 1963 attending the opening of the Juancho Irausquin airport on Saba.

successfully as a team for close to 20 years.

Felix Choisy remained close to the people. Everyone knew him and he was very well-liked. Ambitious with a fighting spirit, he was a man of convictions who never used political double speak. He knew what he wanted and everything he got was obtained for the benefit of the people of Saint Martin. He believed probably rightfully (in the context of that era) that France administered this tiny overseas territory more than 7000 km away, as a colony, with no thought for special local reality. And so he developed his entire life to helping and advising his fellow citizens all the while respecting their fundamental rights. Deeply humanitarian, he was also a Freemason (he founded the Concorde-Perrinon lodge). But his actions were felt far beyond the scope of the Town Hall and its institutions. People would seek his help at all hours of the day and night to deal with a problem or settle a family dispute. His word was law, he acted as a trusted mediator. When a hurricane threatened, he was the last to take shelter and the first out to help. As a building contractor, he could be seen for hours on end, hammer in hand, nailing up boards to protect the homes of the poorest citizens and making sure everyone respected the confinement order. He was the very embodiment of the expression “help thy neighbour’. In 1971 he was made Chevalier of the Ordre du Merite Nacional.

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Deputy Mayor Felix Choisy

Felix Choisy fought on many fronts. He was appointed President of the hospital in Marigot and Conseiller General de Guadeloupe (1973-1979). At the end of the 1970’s, he withdrew from politics, leaving an unforgettable impression in the heart of the people he had governed. He also quietly retired, although he still did some building for pleasure. Felix was a true Saint. Martiner but he believed first and foremost in a Caribbean identity. He died on November 18th, 1989, a few days after Saint Martin’s Day, a festival he had founded along with Clem Labega and Claude Wathey. His funeral will be remembered as one of the grandest ever seen on the island, as the whole population turned out to pay him their respects.

I must mention this. In later years I was going through a tough election on Saba. I was on St. Maarten trying to get some donations for my campaign. At one particular stop I got a dressing down from a merchant as to why I would think that he should donate to my campaign on Saba. I thanked him and left. I must have looked upset as Mr. Choisy was passing by, stopped to say hello and then invited me to go with him to have a cup of coffee. He told me that he could see I was upset. After relating the story to him he advised me as follows: “Will if after you have done so much for Saba you have to come to St. Maarten and get insulted trying to get donations to win an election, my advice is to go back to Saba and let whatever has to happen take place. If you lose this one there will be others to come in the future. Perhaps you are destined to lose this one in order to gain strength for the future.” He was right of course. I did lose that one and came back to win many more.

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Tribute to Sir Cuthbert Montraville Sebastian

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Left to right. Prime Minister Dr. Denzill Douglas, Governor- General Sir Cuthbert Sebastian and Commissioner Will Johnson at a ceremony in the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis.

TRIBUTE TO SIR CUTHBERT MONTRAVILLE SEBASTIAN.

By; Will Johnson

A great man has departed from our region. He was a Prince among men.

When I was once again Commissioner in the Period from 1999 to 2007 I conducted my own foreign affairs. Whenever I was invited to a meeting of the O.E.C.S. Ministers of Tourism I would make sure and attend. The last meeting I was at in Grenada I got a standing ovation from the other Ministers as it turned out that I was the only one who had attended all the meetings whereas some of the real members had not attended all.

In our now status Saba is isolated from our neighbors and the region. We are no longer addressed in our native language English and there seems to be no authority which we can complain to.

With St. Kitts and Nevis after 1999 we established a special relationship and we were invited to a number of events. The same goes from our side. We invited the dignitaries from the Federation to come to Saba. On more than one occasion the authorities there loaned us their defense force band to come to Saba and give luster to the Saba Day celebrations. Many people tell me they miss the ceremonies with the defense force band parading in the village of Windward Side and The Bottom on Saba Day.

Around 2000 the Government of Saba and St. Eustatius formed a delegation to meet with the authorities on St. Kitts to renew the ties which had existed in former times. From St. Eustatius we had Senator Clyde van Putten and Commissioner Brown and from Saba I was there in my

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Governor General Sir Cuthbert Sebastian here visiting Saba.

capacity of Commissioner with Dave Levenstone as my aide de camp.

During that visit we also had the pleasure to meet formally with Governor General Sir Cuthbert Sebastian at the home of the Governor. As a Senator and ‘formateur’ of one of the National Governments of the Netherlands Antilles, I had many formal meetings with various Governors of the Dutch islands in the palace on Curacao. I was surprised that the same protocol was observed at the home of the Governor-General on St. Kitts as that on Curacao.

We were also invited to attend a reception hosted by Prime Minister Dr. Denzill Douglas. When I introduced Dave Levenstone to the Governor-General he introduced himself as ‘Levenstone’. I told him ‘Dave man give Sir Cuthbert your St. Kitts name. The moment he did so, Sir Cuthbert without hesitation exclaimed;’ Oh so you are from ‘Monkey Hill’. I told the Governor-General ‘Lord why did I not know that before, this man just ran against me in the elections on Saba and I would have had a field day with ‘Monkey Hill’. In later years I did have occasion to refer to Dave’s politics as those of ‘Monkey Hill’.

At the dedication of the new terminal building on Saba we had the honour of Sir Cuthbert Sebastian joining us here on Saba and for the Saba Day celebrations as well. He was accompanied by Members of the St. Kitts/Nevis defense force on that occasion.

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Here at the opening of the new wing of the hospital on St. Kitts. The funds were donated by the Dutch Government and the Master of Ceremonies thought we were there representing the Dutch Government. I told them Holland has plenty money, ask for anything you want. Joking of course!

I had been invited by the Government of Prime Minister Dr. Denzill Douglas to witness the arrival of the first direct flight to St. Kitts from Atlanta. I accompanied Sir Cuthbert and his aide de camp back to St. Kitts. He informed me that I was to accompany him in his limousine. He was accompanied by a Police Escort and he had them take me to the Marriott Hotel. He informed me that he would be back at 2pm to pick me up. I was waiting on him. A number of tourists had seen me all dressed up and must have wondered who I was and where I was going. Imagine their surprise when the Police escort and Sir Cuthbert in his Rolls Royce pulled up. As I went down the steps one of the Policemen was there to open the door and see that I was properly seated alongside His Excellency.

As we were entering the airport premises a large number of young students were greeting us as we passed by. Because he was in his military uniform I believe that the students must have thought that it was I who was the Governor-General by the enthusiastic way they were waving at my side of the limousine. I thought to myself; Isn’t this a privilege for a small island politician?’

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Delegation from Saba and St. Eustatius on an official visit to the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis.

We were on friendly enough terms for Sir Cuthbert to confess to me that he had broken his oath as a doctor once and had lied to a patient. He asked me to find out for him who the man was. He told me that the patient had been brought to Cunningham Hospital with a burst appendix. However coming to St. Kitts with the ‘Blue Peter’ had taken so long that there was no hope of survival for the man. Dr. Cuthbert told me that the young man pleaded with him and told him that he had a wife and two small children on Saba and to tell him that he was not going to die. Dr. Cuthbert realizing that it made no sense to tell him the truth reassured him that he was not going to die, and within minutes Gerald Hassell smiled and turned over and died. I was able to get the information on Gerald these many years later and Dr. Cuthbert was happy to get the information.

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The Governor-General gave me a copy of his book.

Sir Cuthbert Sebastian assumed the post of Governor-General of the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis on January 1, 1996, and retired 17 years later on January 1st, 2013. He died on March 25, 2017, at the age of 95. He was 91 when he retired as Governor-General and you would never have believed that he was that age.

During World War 11 he served as a rear gunner in H.M. Royal Air Force and as a captain in the Scottish Army during the 1960,s, as well as in myriad capacities within the Federation’s healthcare sector.  He also served in the St. Kitts-Nevis Defense Force as its longstanding captain surgeon.

Dr. Timothy Harris the Prime Minister of St. Kitts-Nevis noted that Sir Cuthbert had mastered every one of those positions, making a name for himself, in his own right and stepping out of his father’s shadow during the process. Sir Cuthbert’s father was Joseph Matthew Sebastian, a well-educated, successful trade union leader and politician.

Sir Cuthbert worked as a learner dispenser at Cunningham Hospital; then in 1945 he was appointed senior dispenser and steward (hospital administrator) and remained at Cunningham Hospital for the next five years.

He would go on to study in Canada, earning Bachelor of Science degree from Mount Allison University and an MDCM (doctor of medicine and master of surgery) degree from Dalhousie University. He later pursued training in obstetrics and gynecology at Dundee Royal Infirmary in Scotland, United Kingdom.

Upon his return to the Federation, he worked again at the hospital as Medical Superintendent and obstetrician/gynecologist, and later served as Chief Medical Officer.

Prime Minister Harris said on learning of his death On Saturday night:” Sir Cuthbert was a renaissance man, demonstrating many talents and a penchant for excellence, even at a very early age when he was a ‘pupil teacher’ teaching the younger boys at the school he attended in Basseterre. We have lost a treasure, but how blessed we are to have had him. Tonight, the many mothers and fathers whose babies he delivered are thinking of him. Sir Cuthbert Sebastian’s body is gone, but his legacy lives on in countless ways.”

I can see St. Kitts from my house. It is still there. I would want to hope that the centuries old relationship we have enjoyed with the Federation of St. Kitts-Nevis will not be lost to this generation of Sabans.

People on Saba should never be led to believe that because some of the other islands are Dutch that we have some kind of special relationship with them. Linguistically and historically we have more in common with St. Kitts and St. Maarten than with Bonaire. My hope is that we will not lose those connections because of a colonial policy being imposed on us from The Netherlands.

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The Governor- General here inspecting  the defense force of the Federation of St. Kitts/Nevis.

I want to pay tribute to Sir Cuthbert Montraville Sebastian and thank him for also taking Saba into account when he was Governor-General. My wife Lynne said to me, ‘with a common name like Johnson you should have perhaps thought of naming one of the boys Cuthbert Montraville Johnson’, it would have sounded more unique. I pass hereby that suggestion on to my youngest son as you can never tell. Those distinguished old names seem to be going out of style nowadays, but a word of caution to those who are giving their children all kinds of names. Take a look at the record of Sir Cuthbert Montraville Sebastian and see how far his name brought him in this world. May he rest softly in his well-deserved peace in the Lord. Amen.

 

Dr. George Illidge van Romondt

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Dr. George Illidge van Romondt (1809-1854). This photo must have been taken before his death as photography was in its early stages back then.

Dr. George Illidge van Romondt

By; Will Johnson

Doctor van Romondt was born on St. Maarten on December 9th, 1809 and died there on July 2nd, 1854.

His parents were Diederick Johannes van Romondt born in Amsterdam on February 16th, 1781 and died on St.Maarten on April 19th, 1849. He arrived on St. Maarten in 1803. In 1804 he married Ann Hassell born on St. Maarten in 1784 and died in 1845. She was a daughter of John Hassell and Susanna Westerbrand.

Diederick Johannes served as Governor from 1820 to 1840, and was the progenitor of the powerful Van Romondt family who dominated St. Martin economically and politically until the death of Diederick Christian of Tintamarre and Mary’s Fancy fame in 1948.

At a young age George went to Holland in order to prepare for his planned academic

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This house before being sold to the Roman Catholic church was the home and perhaps clinic as well of Dr. George Illidge van Romondt.

studies. That was customary in those days as there were no secondary schools in the Dutch West Indies. His parents left him behind at the home of a certain Johannes van der Zandt, with whom he built up an excellent relationship, seeing the fact that in his dissertation George mentions him as his dearly beloved uncle. He dedicates his dissertation, written in Latin to him:

‘Tu! Carissime Avuncule! Senex plurimum venerande! J. van der Zandt, qui jam a juventute, dux, mihi vitae exstitisti cujus curis, ego, puer, a perentibus meis carissimis, committebar!’

(My beloved uncle, respectable J. Van der Zandt, who already from my youth has been a leading mentor in my life and to whose care as a young boy I was entrusted by my beloved parents.

So goes his song of praise for a number of sentences further to the figure of his foster father.

It is probably useful to stand still at this phenomenon. Only in the Second World War a Secondary School was established on Curacao which was also frequented by pupils from the other islands and from Suriname where there was also no institute for secondary education.

That meant that up until 1940 young people from the Dutch West Indies, who had ambitions for secondary education (middle school, high school, university) already at the age of  between fourteen and fifteen years left for a long period for the Netherlands. They landed in boarding schools or were turned over to foster families.

That sometimes strong ties developed between pupil and foster parents is obvious from the emotional dedication to his foster father in his dissertation.

Van Romondt studied medicine at the University of Leiden and is part of the Corps Leiden’s Freedom Fighters, and as such takes part in the military activities of 1830/1831 against the Belgians, and thus also took part in the Ten Days Campaign. Because of this he lost a year and on October 3rd, 1831, after demobilization, he continued his studies. And then followed on August 7th, 1834 his graduation in Leiden with in the meantime his famous thesis; Rationem, qua systema cutaneum, hepaticum et nervosum in regionibus tropicis affici possunt et morbos praecipuos exinde oriundos. (The reason why the skin-, liver,- and nerve system in the tropics can be attacked and the specific illnesses which are a result of this).

Why famous? Because this is probably the first Dutch dissertation which has tropical diseases as its subject. His promotor is Prof. Macquelin.

Dr. van Romondt writes in his foreword: ‘Now that I have kept myself busy for fifteen years already – with the exception, in which I because of the Belgian insurrection was involved with militias of academic’s, was involved in armed conflict – in the seat of the muses , Leiden, was busy with medical sciences, the solemn day has finally dawned in which I must bring my academic studies to an end; faster than I had thought because if they had not decided otherwise, I would have without a doubt planned to the study of surgery, of which I consider the practice no less desirable in the West Indian islands as that of medicine.

His promotion was a success. The diploma is accompanied with written tributes of rector and professors in which he is given much praise.

They write: ‘When he displayed before us and for the subject a kindness and modesty of spirit, we gladly presented him the certificate with praise and virtue, which he deserves.

dr-rijgersma-on-st-martin-1863-1877

Dr. Hendrik van Rijgersma who practiced on St. Maarten from 1863 until his death in 1877.

After his graduation he returned in 1834 to his native St. Martin and until his death, in 1854, he was a general practitioner in Philipsburg. Already working there at the time was his brother-in-law Dr. Philogene Phillippe Maillard (b. St.Croix June 1st, 1806 and died St. Martin Augugust 31st 1886). His first wife was Susanna Elizabether Illidge van Romondt, sister of Dr. George).

In 1863 the Dutch Government sent out Dr. Hendrik Rijgersma to attend the needs of the liberated slaves. He worked on St. Maarten from 1863 until his death in 1877. He owned the Welgelegen plantation and is remembered as a noted scientist.

Dr. George Illidge van Romondt on his return married Angeline Petersen of St. Barth’s whose parents were Peter Petersen and Ann Maria Laporter. Angeline’s sister Susan was married to Diederick Christian van Romondt (born 1807) and a brother of Dr. George. Their children then were double first cousins.

Dr. George and his wife Angeline had 5 children, the youngest of which was Ann Sophia van Romondt born December 13th, 1849 and who was married to the Dutch engineer Cornelis J. Hudig. In an article ‘My dear Kees’ in the Saba Islander I have written about this couple already.

From his dissertation of 43 pages we quote a few fragments, translated in English from the

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Thesis in Latin of Dr. George on the diseases of the tropics.

Dutch and Latin, to illustrate for that period in time, his intimate knowledge and sharp clinical eye.

Tetanus:

Tetanus is a complete tonic convulsion of which the patient himself is no longer aware. The illness causes a general contraction and stiffness of muscles or part of the muscle system; the name of it is different depending on the part which is affected. And so one speaks of real tetanus when a general contraction and stiffness of the muscles is observed, whereby the body spreads itself out completely, and becomes stiff and cannot move. . Opisthotonus when the body is bent over, Emprosthotonus when it bends forward. Trismuss when the lower jaw because of a heavy contraction is pulled in such a way to the upper jaw and the mouth cannot open again. This spasmodic affliction is generally observed in tropical regions because of the great sensitivity and movement of the nervous system. It can develop at the slightest irritation, through a sting or bite of insects, through wounds, damage by exertion, damage of nerves and ‘aponluirosen’ etc. Often also through the cooling of a heated body or by dampness which damage the skin. In the tropics it often occurs that on the ninth day after birth babies are sensitive to this illness.

About a form of paralysis which the inhabitants call beriberi.

Beriberi is a disease which very often leads to a paralytic form; it starts with pain in the small of the back, subsequently the lower limbs and the vocal chords can no longer move, and finally the entire body becomes stiff and cannot move cf. Bontus Medicina Indiorum. This disease which affects the people is called by the inhabitants Beriberi (which resembles the noise of a sheep. I believe because those who have this disease walk like sheep with bended knees and with legs pulled up). There is also a sort which causes paralysis the movement and the feeling in hands and feet and sometimes the entire body becomes different. This disease occurs in the time in which the winds are cold and blow from the continent especially in the months of December and February.

Especially foreigners such as Europeans are very sensitive to this disease, when they are drunk, or sleep in damp places or under a rainy sky. If this disease is not cured quickly a ‘hycerops’ of the joints, swelling of the entire body, stupor and lameness occurs. Healing is not easy, because of which medical practitioners advise the sick to go and live elsewhere or to take a sea journey.

Colica Pictonum.

Colica Pictonum appears in the residents of the tropics (dry belly ache). The name comes from the region of Pictavia Galliae (Poitu) where the illness was first discovered to have originated through the use of very sour wine, and a lead solution with which the wines have been impregnated. In the West Indies this illness is endemic. The cause is principally to be found in the lead solutions which is used in the distillation of rum.

This illness is accompanied by a terrible pain of one part of the body to the other. Often accompanied by frequent green vomit. That vomit is so bitter that silver objects become black as if they had been in contact with Sulphur. This is followed by a stubborn constipation, dry tongue covered with a brown layer, and finally- if the illness persists for some time- there develops a lameness of the lower limbs which does not disappear again.

Notes: Much of this article is translated from an article in Caraibische Cadens by Wim Statius van Eps and Robert Royer: ‘Twee Antiliaanse medische studenten en de Tiendaagse Veldtocht.

 

 

 

 

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