The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

PULLING UP THE FAMILY TREE BY THE ROOT.

Pulling up the Family Tree by the Root

11223506_950315691658510_6068085198462857358_oBy; Will Johnson

One day while enjoying the view from my balcony I got a call on my cell phone. It is Ms. Jetta Woods calling from the office of the Census. She is the head of that Government Department. After exchanging courtesies she said: ‘Johnson, can you tell me if so and so was married?’ I was able to give her the answer she needed. I then told her; ‘Girl you know where I am?’ I then told her that the balcony I was referring to was of the cruise ship I was on and I was enjoying the view of the Rock of Gibraltar which we were just departing from. Jetta said: ‘Well, well I was calling to see if you was on the Rock and here you are leaving another Rock. Have fun!’

Sometimes when the Census gets stuck they call me as I have been doing research on the various families on Saba since I was a young man.

10551122_753301291374680_7950069021823911806_n   Long before the internet I had amassed a whole set of information of the families in the Leeward Islands and beyond to establish their connections with people on other islands in the neighborhood.

Research then involved not only checking the local census and property registers but when travelling to Curacao or the Netherlands every spare moment I got I would go to the National Archives to see what I could find there. Besides that reading Dutch historians of the 20th century who had been doing the same sort of thing.

IN the process I became a sort of expert in this field. I discovered many mistakes which had been made by those Dutch historians as well. The problems of communicating with the Dutch which we lament on today were the same several hundred years ago. In 1665 the buccaneers from Port Royal in Jamaica captured St. Eustatius and Saba and carried back the slaves to Jamaica while sending a number of the Dutch as indentured servants to Barbados and the rest to St. Maarten. And yet the Dutch ignore this fact. The pirates were led by Edward and Thomas Morgan uncles to Sir Henry Morgan. Edward died of a heart attack and is buried on St. Eustatius. He was very corpulent and in his sixties and fell dead while attempting to take the Fort there.

Will Johnson 10 The pirates fell to strife among themselves and some ninety of them remained behind on Saba with the English, Irish and Scottish people they found there. Some 226 in all.

One of the problems historians have is the census taken in 1699. Obviously this was done by a Dutch speaking person dealing with mostly illiterate pirates. What he wrote down as Sharles Symens should have been Charles Simmons who was already with his son Peter Simmons on St. Thomas in 1660 before moving to Saba. And so the census goes on from one confusion to the other. The 1705 and 1715 makes a drastic change in the names and corrected them to the English names they should have been in the first place. By that time the Commanders of the island were Sabans who knew what the correct names should be. People by then were also naming their grandchildren after their grandfathers in the correct English way.

The other problem was Pastor Anthony Kowan of the Dutch reformed church of St. Eustatius. He baptized anyone who came forward. On Saba where there was no established church he would visit and baptize any and everybody who wanted to be baptized. Even practicing Jews were baptized by him. He too had a problem with English and wrote down many names which he thought should be spelled in the Dutch way. Kelly from Montserrat which was settled by Irish people became Celly and there were many other examples which this article does not allow space for.

Image (1636)  While oral history seems to be ignored by ‘historians’ who were dependent on a few yellowed papers in the Dutch archives I had a greater advantage. I sat around the old coal pot under the sea grape tree while grilling my grandparents as to how life was when they were children and stories they had heard from their grandparents. And it was not limited to them. I grew up at a time when there was no electricity, roads, airport, or even a harbor. Let alone radios or television. There was plenty opportunity to sit around with the old folks and question them. In later years while doing research many of the stories which I was privy to turned out to be real historical happenings.

Keeping to the subject of genealogy. In a letter to the West India Company after the great hurricane of 1772 and in the census of the year 1823 all the names of males listed were English names.

So taking that into account and that which had been told by my ancestors I based my research on those names and did not get misled by Kowan et al.

Even the name Zagers in its various spellings can be traced to the South of England where the name existed at the time of the settlement by Europeans other than the Spanish in these West Indian islands.

Of course I was not alone in doing research on my ancestors. I had great help from Gosta Simmons of Nortalje Sweden who did a tremendous job in documenting and sorting out information I would send to him. He shared everything with me. He also visited the island several times to search on the origin of the Dinzey family and of course the Simmons family and went beyond that to document as much as he could find. He died relatively young after suffering with cancer. His collection was donated to an obscure library in the South of Sweden.

Professor Eric Simmons who died in his nineties was a great help in making corrections to many of the things which I wrote and adding much valued information to my research. He was a son of the famous St. Thomas Harbour Master Capt. Engle Simmons and his wife Estelle Vanterpool both from Saba.

Old Lamp Lighter In the nineteen seventies I came in contact with Raymond Simmons from Venezuela whose great grandfather was John Miller Simmons from Saba a master carpenter and shipbuilder. After he died in a mining accident on Curacao, his wife and children moved to Panama during the construction of the canal. The sons started a pharmacy there married two young ladies from Venezuela and ended up in that country. No one born and raised on Saba could be more proud of their Saban ancestry than Raymond and his extended Simmons family.

He started a newsletter ‘Somos Primos’ [We are cousins] which documented many of the people from that branch of the Simmons family.

Later on he started the very popular Facebook site ‘Of Saban Descent’ in which hundreds of photos of old time Sabans have been placed by families from around the world.

Also Michelle Yaros Pope partly of Puerto Rican descent and the rest Simmons from Saba was very helpful in collecting old family photographs and organizing two Simmons family reunions on Saba with family members from all over including the Dominican Republic.

For the surrounding Leeward Islands I was dependent on people like ‘Uncle’ Carl Buncamper, Mr. Siegfried Lampe, and Fred Labega Jr.  As well as those who had been Article-11-1.Lampe-reading-kleindoing research on the various families of the Leeward Islands.

When I started documenting the Saban families I would write the information by hand in notebooks under the various family names past and present from Saba.

Some of them had very interesting origins. Descendants of these people changed the names to suit where they lived. I will use the example of the Holm family. One of my friends who had changed his name to Holmes used to tell me that he was descended from Eldad Holmes who had built the New York water system.

Image (8)I tried to tell him as politely as I could that this was not the case. The first Holm recorded in these islands was on St. Eustatius. Laurens Holm was listed in the Rodney Roll of 1781 as living there. Further research has the family living in Osterholm in Denmark before coming out to the islands. The Holm’s of Saba all originated from Laurens of Statia and intermarried with several prominent families on Saba.

The trend the last years has been looking into ones DNA to find out where the ancestors came from. I had two done voluntarily and one when I was pulled offline in New York. That one there was no choice. The man who interrogated me had a spray can of what looked like flit and the choice was to flit my mouth or take a swab. So I gave in not even knowing at the time what the swab was for. A young lady from St. Barth’s who was taken off line with me told me that after she told them where she was from they let her go. St. Barth’s people too rich for swabbing I guess.

Anyway be it what it may the last one I took was from the National Geographic. All European, and Neanderthal and Denosovians, and the most remarkable was 15% from Northern Iran.

I read a lot. The mystery solved itself. In the book ‘Black Sea’ by Neal Acherson (From Pericles to Putin).

Many of my ancestors are from the area between England and Scotland.

On Page 218 I quote the following:” Here, towards the end of the second century A.D., a large force of Sarmatian lancers arrived. They were Iazygians, the vanguard of the slow Sarmatian migration from the Black Sea steppe towards the West, who had crossed the Transylvania Mountains and entered the North-Eastern Hungarian plains. From there, they began to raid the Roman frontier on the middle Danube until Emperor Marcus Aurelius led an army across the Danube and defeated them. He had intended it seems to have them massacred. But problems elsewhere in the Empire required his attention, and he offered them the option of enlistment instead. The Iazygians accepted and were drafted to northern Britain. Some 5.500 cavalrymen, presumably accompanied by their horses and families, made the journey across a continent and a sea. The Sarmatians never went home. The Empire lost control north of the Danube, which meant they could not be returned. For two hundred more years, until the final Roman evacuation of Britain in the fifth century, the descendants of Iranian speaking nomads continued to multiply and to be found in the lower Ribble valley.

What happened to them in the end is unknown. But if one day it is established that there are distinctive Indo-Iranian genes, A DNA survey in the Preston hinterland might well reveal that the Sarmatians in a sense are still present.’

And so you can see how interesting research into your family roots can be and how people have ended up all parts of the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ralph Simmons

Ralph Simmons

By: Will Johnson

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Some of Ralph Simmons’ nieces and nephews who live on Curacao and who were visiting me at my home earlier this year looking up information on their ancestors.

After the 1969 elections when on the URA list I pulled 232 votes on Statia or 48% of the votes cast, the WIPM party thought that I should visit Statia as much as possible. We formed the WIPM in 1970. After that good showing we wanted to win the 1971 Island Council elections and we did.

When I used to go to Statia I would board by Mrs. Wilma Gibbs and her husband across the street from the Seventh Day Adventist church. They tolerated me and served me a hearty breakfast together with a room  for five guilders a night. When I say they tolerated me they were deeply religious and I can see them now reading their bible at night. I would come in at all hours of the night and with party members from Saba or St. Maarten and having indulged a bit too much there was much talking before everyone dropped asleep.

Across the street lived Mr. Ralph Simmons. When I first met him, I thought he was from Statia. He was from long before my time and had decided to retire on Statia.

Dr. Julia Crane besides Saba Silhouettes had also done a similar book on Statia. I was there when she was doing research and when her book was published in 1999 my friend Senator Kenneth van Putten sent me a personalized copy and he is also featured in the book.

For this article I will quote extensively from her interview with my friend.

Ralph M. Simmons, sailor

My dear friend Ralph Simmons sitting at his home on St. Eustatius. He lived next to the Seventh Day  Adventist church in Oranjestad and was to me a wealth of information on how life was in former times.

“My name is Ralph Milburn Simmons. I was born twenty fifth of July, nineteen hundred and twelve. I was born in Saba.

My father used to be a cook on the four-master schooners. He was named Augustus; my mother was named Rachel [Heyliger]. [ Marriage 13 April 1910; Bridegroom William Augustus Simmons (48) mother Catherine Heyliger. Bride Rachel Heyliger (24) father Laurence Heyliger, mother Clothilde Cappell].  Rachel’s father Laurence Heyliger (21) was married on 30.12.1885. His parents were; Father Gideon Godet Heyliger and mother Mary Every. His bride was Clothilde Cappell (21). Her mother was Christina Blyden and Clothilde is listed as a natural child.], they had five of us, three boys and two girls. I’m the second. The one that died in the United States, he was the first. Adrian, myself, Thelma, and George. But then my brother went to St. Thomas. The oldest brother [ William Adrian Simmons, born The Bottom 26 May 1910], when he was only about seventeen, eighteen. Then, those days, anybody could go in, but not now.

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One of a number of four masted schooners connected with Saba. This is the Margareth Truph which was captained by  Capt. Lockland Heyliger and also by Capt. Arthur Wallace Simmons both from The Bottom, Saba.

Adrian had a laundry/dry cleaning in Jamaica New York. He came to Saba in his fifties or so and built a house in The Bottom which upon his death I believe he left to Ralph. When Adrian would come to the office to see my brother Eric he would ask for the Kings Attorney. In my mind’s eye I could see the poor King being hauled off to Court and my brother having to defend him. Recently someone from the Public Prosecutor’s office told me that in parts of Holland they still refer to the Public Prosecutor as the Kings Attorney.

Adrian was married to a woman from Virginia and I don’t think they had any children. I remember going to visit him with my cousin Lenny who lived in Richmond Hill. Adrian lived in a large two-story brick building and must have done well with his business. He had been a member of the Seaman’s Union and took up a case for pension for my uncle Leonard and succeeded.

In his interview Ralph continues:” Our father died in Saba, in 1922, and I was living in Barbados with my aunt at that time. Cause my aunt had like me, and I lived with her. I went Barbados twice. And the first World War I remember seeing some o’ the soldiers comin’ home disfigured and all that. But I was just a small boy then. I was about seven years then. Yeah, that was the first time. And then that was around 1919 so. I used to go to Bay Street Boys School. They were pretty strict in school there, yes, pretty strict. I remember the teacher was a man by the name o’ Taylor. He used to teach the third class. Good fields to play ball on. But we didn’t play with no big boys; we played with just small boys in those days. And those boys, if they saw you was a stranger, they all looked to make trouble with you and tease you and all that, you know. And then my mother went up there with some ‘o the children, and things wasn’t so nice up there in Barbados. And then after that, as I told you, I came back to Saba with my mother. I think about four of us. Maybe the whole five, the whole five of us was up to Barbados. I was twelve years when I came back from Barbados. We came down on the schooner, got off St. Maarten, and then we came home. Well, the house was there for us to live in. It was a British schooner. The schooner was named ‘Florence Stream’. And then at that time our father had died, and after that we were there with our mother.

In recent years a number of children from Saba have been going to Barbados to further their education and they speak very highly of the schools there and the treatment they received at the University of the West Indies.

Ralph continues: “We had to help our grandfather with the cow. Never had more than one cow. We had to go and cut grass. And sometime we plant some potato, just in the hill above us. That was after we came from school in the evenin’ or early in the mornin’. Those days we didn’t go to school until nine o’clock. Nine o’clock in the mornin’ till twelve and from one to three. But at that time our grandfather was livin’, my mother’s father. And then after that we came a little bigger, about thirteen years, then our mother got in some trouble. Somebody stole something and they give it to her, and then she had to try and get out o’ the country. She went and she lived in St. Barth’s, and from there then she went to St. Thomas. The oldest boy and the oldest girl was there with her. And she died down there in 1926.

Then we used to go down on the bay and make a –well, you know, something they called a shilling. Make a shilling or two shillings sometime. We were still minors, and we stood there a couple of years after that. But that time our grandfather, his first wife, Clothilde, she died; and we had – he married a younger woman. And we used to live with her, the balance of us. But she wasn’t very nice. She was young, and she more keep with the younger sets. At that time, he used to sail on those schooners goin’ to St. Kitts and Sint Maarten. And then Curacao open.

Schooner Ina Vanterpool

One of the many schooners owned by Captain Charles Thomas Vanterpool which was lost at Oranjestad St. Eustatius in the hurricane of September 1928.

Then I got a job on the schooner that used to transport passengers to Curacao, what we call ‘Moose Boy,” to attend to the passengers. Five dollars a month in those days. But five dollars was plenty money those days. There were no real tourists, just immigrants, immigrants. The schooner used to carry immigrants down to Curacao to find work, you see. So in between you may find a couple-because they was no steamers those days. In between you find you find a big shot then would be travellin’. Those schooners would belong to Tommy Vanterpool. I don’t know if you heard about him. He died in St. Thomas.

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Captain Charles Thomas Vanterpool here in St. Thomas with his niece Mrs. Estelle Simmons-Vanterpool who was married to the harbormaster Capt. Engle Heyliger Simmons. The boy in the background is the later famous Dr. Eric Simmons who was a chemical engineer and worked on the Manhattan Project and was later a Professor at the University of Illinois.

And then after that I learned how to steer s ship. And then there was another schooner named the ‘Three Sister’, three masts.

A ship came in one day while I was down there, in Curacao, and they said they wanted some men. And I asked the Captain – the captain was named Will Johnson, from St. John’s [should be Will Leverock. Ralph must have had me on his mind when doing the interview]- and I asked the Captain to let me stay off, and he told me all right. And there I started my way up. Curacao was good in those days, those early days. Things were pretty cheap, very cheap. Sometimes a bunch of use used to live together. [Sabans would bunch together also in Bermuda and the United States in order to save money for back home].

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Schooner The Three Sisters owned by Captain William Benjamin Hassell and his brothers. Captain “Ben” had many fine schooners and he is the grandfather of Richard Goddard of Barbados of Goddard Enterprises.

I remember when we used to be sailin’ on those ships. The wages was seventy-five guilders a month. Every three months they used to give you a tin o’ butter, a five-pound tin o’ butter. That was good money! Good money those days. We used to go on a ship with our suit, suit and necktie. Change it when we get on board the ship, put on our working clothes. We used to go to Maracaibo. Every two three days so we come back. Two trips a week.

I stood a couple of years, came back to Saba then keep goin’ and comin’ Then finally when everybody said they was going I went to Aruba too, and I got a job on those Lago boats.”  He later sailed on a British tanker. He went to places Like Morehead City, North Carolina; to Tampa, Flordia; Jacksonville, all those places I went on the tanker.

He explains that he met his wife on Curacao and got married in’48. She were born in St Kitts- or Santo Domingo somewhere. [Pretty important question my friend Ralph forgot to ask].  But she came here to Statia. She knew plenty about Statia. They claimed that she was three years when she came to Statia. She used to work with the Pandts.You know the Pandts down by the Cottage? Well she used to work with them. And then she went to Curacao where I met her and we had four children.

Ida, Herman, Tommy, Maud, Mac Pandt

Members of the Pandt family for whom Ralph Simmons’ wife used to work.

In 1957 his wife decided to come to live on Statia where her mother lived and Ralph joined her the following year. He had been a housepainter on Curacao and claims that he was a heavy drinker. “ As I told you, I used to drink plenty. But then after I said, well it was all nonsense, it was all nonsense. People laughin’ at you and you think you was doin’ good but you wasn’t doin’ good.

Thirty-three years I haven’t drink a beer now.

He goes on to describe his trips after he started living on Statia. One of them was when he went to New York for the funeral of his brother Adriaan and all the Saba people he met there.

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This is the street  “Kerkstraat” lower down is where Ralph Simmons used to live. In 1961 I worked at the Post Office on St. Eustatius for two months and I stayed in the Guesthouse there and this was my view at the time. Many lovely memories from those days,

I used to go fishing in Saba pretty often, mostly nighttime. Sometime we leave –those were days when we didn’t have any motor. We used to set sail around one o’clock the day, reach down on the bank around four or five the evenin’, and then leave around 3 o’clock the next mornin’ to come back home. We had to pull oars. Sometimes we get a good catch. Twenty, twenty-five, thirty fish a night – each man, each man got. But them days fish was cheap, half guilder a pound. He used to fish with James Linzey, Carlton Heyliger, Kenneth Peterson and ‘Bowba’ . He also sailed with Captain Randolph Dunkin on the ‘Santa Lou’. He also used to sail as a moose boy on the schooner the ‘Virginia’ , and the ‘Diamond Ruby’ with Captain Charles Barnes from St. John’s who moved to St. Barth’s and had a big business there.

I can still hear his voice as I type this and hope that you will enjoy it and also realize how Sabans in the past used to move from pillar to post to make a living.

 

LIVING OFF THE LAND

Living off the land.

By Will Johnson

 

Farmland in Rendez-Vous

Big Rendez Vous which was the breadbasket for the people of the Windward Side, Little Rendez Vous for those of St. John’s and The Bottom, while Hell’s Gate had farmland from the mountain all the way down to where the airport is now.

The older I get the more my memory goes back to my youth when we had to plow the ground for our survival. Nowadays very little is planted on the islands.

In the Governor’s report of 1934 for the island of Saba he records that for the first four months of 1934 one hundred bags of Irish potatoes were exported. Each bag weighing approximately 70 kg and the cost of the potatoes was fls. 12,50 per bag.

For this article I have consulted a number of books and over the years I have read many reports on the attempts to do something about improving the agriculture on these islands.

In their book “Windward Children” by John Y. Keur and Dorothy L. Keur they go into detail on the climatic conditions and the available acreage for agriculture on the three Dutch Windward Islands. The book was published in 1960 a watershed moment in the transition from what little agriculture there was to a fully tourism-oriented economy.

They write that the environmental factors of temperature and humidity are important for their effect on rainfall, evaporation, plant growth, labor output, and living conditions.

Temperature data for the three Windward Islands are either often incomplete, conflicting, or lacking. The following figures are taken from Braak (1935). The average annual temperature over the period 1920-1933 measured in Philipsburg, Sint Maarten, and Oranjestad, St. Eustatius, was 26.5C. No scientific data was then available for Saba, but the assumption may be made that due to the higher elevation, the mean annual temperatures would be lower there. Temperatures as low as 16* C. (61*F.) actually have been reported at Windward Side and Hell’s Gate.

 

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Nearly every household had a cow in the yard. Here is Roy Heyliger and his brothers carrying the family cow to pasture.

At Philipsburg, the mean maximum temperature is 29.2*C., with the hottest period from July to October. Mean minimum temperature is 24.4*C., and the coolest months are January and February, which the Sabans call ‘winter’. The highest recorded temperature on St. Maarten was 34″ C. in August; lowest, 18.5 * C. in February.

I remember reading in the newspaper ‘De Slag om Slag’ where the Editor ‘Broertje Brouwer’ stated that it was 68* degrees Fahrenheit on St. Martin in the nineteen thirties and that he “shuddered” when he thought how cold it must be on Saba.

The islands are exposed to the trade winds which blow almost constantly, day as well as night, from the East – mostly from the northeast, but also occasionally from the southeast. The effects are noticeable on the vegetation.   The prevailing wind affects the planting of certain crops such as bananas. Winds also cause excessive drying out of the light volcanic soils, especially on St. Eustatius.

 

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This is a lady and her daughter on their way from Colombier to Marigot and beyond to sell agricultural produce to the population.

Geographically, the islands are located in the hurricane region. St. Martin was badly damaged by hurricanes in 1819 and 1950. Not only was harm done to houses, crops, trees and livestock, but physio graphic changes occurred as well. In 1819 the sea opened up a channel to the Simpson Bay lagoon through the Eastern end of the Simpson Bay sand bar, thus isolating the fishing village from the mainland. Connections were maintained by row boat until a bridge was built in 1932. In 1950, this channel was again closed by shifting sands, and as the outlet from the lagoon to Anse des Sables in the North since the 1848 hurricane, the lagoon is now (1960) completely separated from the ocean. Recent government plans (1960) have been made to reopen the Simpson Bay Lagoon to restore it to its former capacity as a breeding ground for lobsters and some fish.

The mean annual rainfall on the islands, observed over a period of 52 years, is 43.3 inches. While in 1947 only 33 inches of rain fell, in 1945 nearly 55 inches were recorded. This amount may seem large, but evaporation is high, runoff great, especially on Saba, and volcanic soils cause fast percolation, as on St. Eustatius. Rain usually falls in short showers and is followed by rapid clearing. Precipitation is very erratic from year to year and month to month. Farmers have learned by experience that once in three or four years crops are likely to fail partially or completely due to lack of sufficient moisture.

 

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A young boy looking with anticipation at the goodies which this lady has in her tray for sale.

Monthly averages also show great variation, viz. 15.8 inches in September 1949 and 4.5 inches in September 1950 (recorded on St. Eustatius). In connection with the growing of crops, the raising of stock, the character of the vegetation, and the availability of drinking water, the monthly distribution of rain is more important than the total annual precipitation. The “dry” months are from December to July when average monthly rainfall may reach a low of one-half inch while during any of the “wet” months, it may reach a high of 10-12 inches. As stated by Ballou (1934), ‘any wet month may be dry (I.e., one half inch during November 1947) and any dry month may be wet (I.e., 6.5 inches during June 1944). November is usually the wettest month (2-3 inches). Of the three islands, Saba has the greatest amount of annual precipitation. (+_45 inches), and St. Maarten and St. Eustatius slightly less (+_ 42 inches). In 1952-53 the island of St. Eustatius had the worst drought in a century and even had to import drinking water from St. Kitts.

 

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My brother the late Thomas Eric Johnson here milking his cow in the nineteen fifties.

With very little being imported into the islands before 1960 in the form of fresh produce and meat products the population was very much dependent on the local butchers. When I first knew St. Maarten starting in 1955 the best butcher here was Alexander Richardson of Middle Region known to all as “Alec The Butcher”. He had a fairly regular schedule. He bought up animals to supplement his own and would slaughter a pig every Tuesday, sheep and goats on Thursday, and a cow on Saturday. Some families slaughtered for their own needs, but many people living in town had no regular meat supply and were dependent on Alec The Butcher to bring his meat to town.

On Saba, a good many families in both The Bottom and Windward Side kept a pig or a cow in a small pen, and there were many wild goats as well. On St. Maarten, even in town, most people kept a few chickens for eggs, and occasionally for the pot; and some turkeys and a very few guinea hens were raised in the country. On Saba, goat meat sold at twenty-six cents per pound and beef at one guilder, early in 1957.

 

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Cattle grazing in the fields on St. Martin where formerly several thousand head of livestock roamed the plantations.

There was a considerable amount of small-scale inter-island and inter-community marketing, of vegetables and fruits in season.

Among my first memories of St. Maarten are when the Simpson Bay fishermen would sound the conch shell and people would go down to the beach to buy their fish. But even more than that I remember the following. On St. Maarten almost any weekday morning six or eight women could be found sitting in the recess of a building near the square with small piles of tubers for sale supplemented by a few papayas, avocadoes, mangoes, soursops, pigeon peas, and fresh eggs. Wild fruits and berries were sometimes collected by children and used in the households and peddled. If a few mangoes or breadfruit were wanted from the trees on someone else’s property, it was customary to ask permission and to pay a few cents. Green vegetables were not much used in the diet, and the supply was quite limited. Some people used to have small kitchen gardens, but the most usual sight was simply a small plot of pigeon peas growing beside the house, and occasional pumpkin vine as well as corn and sweet potatoes.

 

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On St. Martin in the early morning hours you would hear the fishermen from the village of Simpsons Bay blowing their conch shells announcing that they had fish for sale. Scene at Philipsburg. Photo Father Bruno Boradori.

On St. Maarten Mr. Alexander Richardson, who was also a butcher, grew enough to load his truck and go to Phlipsburg to sell. He raised lettuce, onions, tomatoes, carrots, eggplant, cabbage and cauliflower, as well as other vegetables in small amounts. A very few others had small gardens and were able to serve five or six customers in addition to their own households. Since most townspeople grew no vegetables at all, this supply was inadequate. Hence the “tray” women who came from Colombier, a fertile valley on the French side, were a most welcome sight. There were twenty or twenty-five of them, including a few from other parts of French St. Martin. They almost all came twice a week, early morning (Wednesday and Saturday) but sometimes, if perishable produce was ripe, daily trips were made. Until the late nineteen fifties, they walked distances of three to five miles daily each way with large flat wooden trays or big baskets on their heads. After that they would all ride on the bus. They would each have five or six regular customers, for whom they saved special items, and whom they would first visit. Sometimes they would be accompanied by one or two children who would do part of the hawking. They would also sell the produce of a neighbour or relative. The demand for their supplies was indicated by the group of people on foot, on bikes, or even in cars, who would go out to meet the hawkers at the Prince Bernhard bridge as they approached the town, in order to get the pick of the trays. Their produce over the run of a year, would include limes, oranges, mangoes, papayas, bananas, guava berries, lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, pumpkins, gourds, avocadoes, peppers, okras and bunches of mint and sweet marjoram. They earned approximately ten Antillean guilders per tray, and occasionally up to twenty guilders, depending on the type of food for sale. While in a sense one might think this money belonged to the sellers, it was spent towards the support of their households. They almost all made purchases in the shops of Philipsburg before returning home and would spend between one third and one half of their mornings earnings. Purchases included such items as a piece of corned beef or pork for the soup, fish, white potatoes, rice, corn meal, flour, sugar, soap, sweet oil, small amounts of butter, lard, Vaseline and matches.

 

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In Marigot the capital of French St. Martin cattle are being prepared for export to most probably Guadeloupe.

Years after I experienced all of this while staying at the home of Miss Browlia Maillard on the Back Street I read the book published in 1890 and written by Lafcadio Hearn. The book is “Two Years in the French West Indies” and is about the period he lived in that loveliest of cities in the West Indies, Saint Pierre in Martinique.

He describes ‘Les Porteuses” starting on page 101. “The erect carriage and steady swift walk of the women who bear burdens is especially likely to impress the artistic observer; it is the sight of such passersby which gives above all, the antique tone and color to his first sensations; and the larger part of the female population of mixed race are practiced carriers. Nearly all the transportation of light merchandise as well as of meats, fruits, vegetables and food stuffs, to and from the interior, is affected upon human heads. At some of the ports the regular local packets are loaded and unloaded by women and girls, – able to carry any trunk or box to its destination.”

 

Bennett Johnson riding the donkeySeptember 1964

The well known Benny Johnson (Uncle Benny) as we call him, here on his way up to Rendez Vous to help his father John William ‘Willy’ Johnson with the planting and taking care of livestock.  He is still into planting and raising livestock.

I could go on and on but will conclude with the observation that the independence and self-contained life of our three Dutch Windward Islands, pleasantly disturbed only at long intervals by the coming of a ship, is like a tale that is told.”

 

 

 

 

Eulogy for Aileen Louise Johnson

Eulogy for Aileen Louise Johnson

Windward Side Roman Catholic Church April 28th, 2018

Will Johnson

 

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Aileen Louise Johnson on the left. Followed by Claudia Johnson, Velma Johnson, Gladys Hassell and Patsy Johnson. Photo by R.C. Priest Father Bruno Boradori.

We are gathered here today to lay to rest Miss Aileen Louise Johnson.

She was born on the island of Bermuda on February 2nd, 1935 and passed away on April 21st, 2018.

Her parents were Harry Looke Johnson and Doris Everista Every both born on Saba.

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In the door Esther Peterson who lived to just a few months short of 104, then Claire in yellow, her mother Doris, Harry and Aileen Johnson. Miss Hettie left her house to Harry who started his little museum there.

 

Aileen’s parents both had a hard life as times were difficult here on Saba. Her father especially had it hard. His father William was lost at sea like so many men from Saba at the time. Harry was only a baby when that took place. His father was on a schooner which was lost off Cape Hatteras. Harry’s mother, died when he was four years old and his old aunt who took care of him, died when he was eleven. At the age of 13 he took to sea on one of the old schooners as a cabin boy. Doris also did not have it easy and went to Bermuda to work. Harry ended up there as well and at the age of seventeen he married Doris and they started a family. Milton was the first born and then Aileen.

 

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Aileen with the banjo, ‘Bungie’ Hassell blind from birth whose father was lost in the eruption in Martinique in 1902, Aggie Peterson and Melanie Johnson. In the mirror standing is Heather Every and her cousin Jean Every.Good music and great family parties for Aileen brought her great joy in life.

When the children were small the family came back to Saba to try and make a life for themselves here. Harry was able to get a position on the Police force as a constable. This brought with it that the family moved around the islands. Before that Harry had worked for a while on the island of Aruba. While on the police force he lived on Curacao and on St. Maarten. Their home on Sint Maarten was in the house on Front Street in Philipsburg where the Escargot restaurant is located. So in her childhood Aileen did have the opportunity to see the islands.

Afterwards Harry moved to Saba and was here to stay and so Aileen spent nearly all of her adult life on Saba.

She loved her music and was a member of the church choir here in Windward Side for many years. She learned on her own to play a number of musical instruments. She could play the fiddle, the guitar and the banjo. There are a number of nice photographs with her playing either the guitar or the banjo at a friends and family get together.

She did not have it easy as jobs for women on Saba were scarce but the women kept the family going by doing their ‘Spanish Work’ to help out with the family income.

 

Dika Holm-Peterson and Aileen Johnson

Dika Holm-Peterson on the guitar and Aileen Johnson on the banjo. Her love of music kept her going in the hard times she went through. Never complaining and loving her sister Claire and her children and grandchildren.

She was like a mother figure for her much younger sister Claire who was a small baby at birth and Claire told me that it was a large part due to Aileen that she was kept alive. And for as long as she lived she would help out Claire and her children.

It was especially hard on Aileen after her father passed away and later on, her mother also passed away. She was an example of people who suffer silently in life and it takes others to recognize their pain. She was no close family to me but she never had to ask for help. Whenever I would pass her I would recognize her need and she never had to ask. She lived proud in the hard times inflicted on her. I know also that Willy Johnson and his wife Melanie were of great help to her. She never had to ask for anything. The need for help was recognized and came automatically from her friends. And of course her brother Milton who lived in the United States would help her and there would have been others as well. There has been and still is an unrecognized spirit of generosity towards others by a number of our native people here on Saba.

A friend told me that once, at night, when he was passing the cemetery he though he heard someone crying there. He said even though he was a bit upset he decided to take a look. It was Aileen sitting on her mother’s grave crying out in desperation. Something she would refrain from doing to a friend or family member. When I would visit her and ask her how things were, she would say; “It’s all right, yes things are all right.” I knew that it was not so.

 

When I entered a case against the Dutch Government to raise the old age pension it was mostly my experience with Aileen which motivated me, as through her I realized that there were many who live under hard circumstances on our island paradise. That case is now before the Human rights commission in Geneva and if it has the results I would like to see, I will always remember that it was primarily her situation which motivated me to carry on with that case even though strong arm tactics were used to dissuade me from doing so.

Aileen did not sit back and wait for others to help her though. She did whatever she could to carry on and not be dependent on the generosity of others. She carried on the Sherwin Williams agency for paint and could sell some paint from time to time as well as some clothing she would sell from time to time..

Claire, Milton, and the other members of the family wish to thank all those who cared for her in her last years at the Home for the Aged and to those who sent their sympathy in one way or the other, as well as those here today to say a final farewell.

She will be laid to rest in her mother’s grave. That same grave where she sent up her song of lamentation many years ago. Through all her troubles she maintained her dignity and went through life gracefully. And there were good times as well spent in the company of family and friends playing her music which she so loved.

May her family and friends look to her life as an example as to how to carry on in dignity in a life of despair.My sympathy goes out to all her family members who so loved their beloved sister and aunt .

Aileen you will be fondly remembered and may you rest in peace.

 

 

IN MEMORY OF HENRY EARL JOHNSON

IN MEMORY OF THE HONOURABLE HENRY EARL JOHNSON

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Henry Earl Johnson on the right.

By: Will Johnson

Before going into his full story, I want to start with a letter sent to then Lt. Governor Wycliffe Smith on October 11th, 1985 with a follow up letter to then Minister Leo Chance on August 18th, 1986.along the same lines.

Dear Mr. Smith,

In connection with proposals for decoration by H.M. the Queen, I am wondering if we have not overlooked Mr. Henry Earl Johnson. I cannot remember him ever receiving an award and I regret that he has been overlooked over the years.

Earl always had great confidence in Saba. While living on Aruba and trying to raise a family on a small income, he invested in Saba. He built a home, 2 theaters, and later started the guesthouse in Windward Side with some others.

Finally, he decided to retire at 40 or so to come to Saba so that he could get things going himself. He got involved in politics and served on the Island Council from 1964 to 1967. His greatest contribution though has been his confidence in an economic future for Saba. Everything he made on Aruba he invested on Saba years before he came to this island, and before anyone had the confidence that anything would work on Saba. His first theater was opened in 1954 I think and the second one in 1961. These were built at a time that Saba had no airport, pier or anything. The last few years Earl has been an active member of the Saba Lions Club.

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From right to left: Henry Earl Johnson, his wife Olga, daughter Linda, son Cornel and the lady I do not know.

He later started a bakery, a snack bar, he drove taxi through the time and supplied cooking gas to the island. In former times his theatres before the advent of youth centers etc. were the only places where plays could be performed. Magicians, calypsonians etc. came to the island and performed there, and thus he provided the means for Saba to be exposed to some outside culture.

I would like to suggest to you that you nominate him for a decoration by Her Majesty the Queen. Sincerely Yours, W.S.Johson.

In a similar vein  was my correspondence with Minister Leo Chance: ‘Dear Mr. Chance. As we discussed on the phone here is the curriculum vitae of Henry Earl Johnson born Saba March 5th, 1919, his present address is The Bottom #107. Among the things I said in this letter were:’ From a young man on Aruba, Earl was always interested in the progress of his native island of Saba. With savings from his small salary at LAGO he built Saba’s first movie theater in The Bottom in 1953 and a second one in 1961 in Windward Side.

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These are some of the Cohone’s. From left Earl with his brothers Chester and  Jacob Cohone, and in back Rupert Hassell and Austin Johnson.

In those days a movie theater served as a community center as well as was the only source of cultural entertainment on Saba. Various calypso singers were able to perform on Saba as well as magicians, and there were also local plays as well as plays from other islands put on. Earl was also instrumental in setting up the Saba Development Corporation which leased the Windward Side Guesthouse from the government and added on some rooms. He retired at an early age from LAGO and returned to Saba at a time when most people were moving on to the USA. He worked on Saba as a taxi-driver, he started a bakery, he was the supplier of household cooking gas, and also became involved in the local politics and served as a council member from 1964 to 1967. He is married and has two children. Earl has served his community well and is still very active and I strongly feel that in view of his faith in the future of Saba that he should be nominated for a decoration from Her Majesty the Queen.

Sincerely,

Will

 

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Photo from 1962 when three helicopters landed at the airport then under construction. Earl and his wife Olga on the right in the front.

I saw Earl’s son Cornel in the Bank the other day and I told him: ‘Boy, your father laughing at me.”

I have done over 75 eulogies which I can remember. Many of them on Saba but also on St. Martin, and St. Eustatius.

I usually do not throw away anything and have tried to keep copies of all the eulogies I have done. Including the one I did for Earl who died on February 6th, 2000.

For years I have been searching for the first page of the eulogy and the little booklet which was distributed at the funeral with his photo on the cover with a nice smile on his face. No matter what I tried I could not find it.

My filing system consists of plastic files which you can read like a book and not have to constantly be handling the paper. Nothing filed in any sort of order. Some weeks ago, I filed the last two pages of the eulogy. Something told me not to do that. I remember thinking long and hard before closing the file and putting it somewhere in between the over one hundred files of that type.

 

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Cornel holding the pumpkin with Howard Johnson his uncle in law standing next to him.

Guess what. It must have been some days later that I found what I was looking for. I spent so much time trying to find file and location, where I had ‘filed’ the other two pages that I felt like giving up and I did. That is when I noticed that Earl was laughing at me (and still is as I write this) and when I met Cornel and told him of the dilemma I was confronted with.

I also found the two letters I wrote to support his nomination for a significant recognition. I still feel upset about how it went. On the same occasion I was Knighted there were others and he was given the lowest of the low recognition in the form of a medal in bronze. I was young then and in the middle of what was to turn out to be a long career and I truly felt that he should have been the one to be Knighted.

I could feel he was upset but he took it graciously and continued working on and he never lost his faith that there would be brighter economic times for Saba.

He and my mother were first cousins. We shared many stories about things which had happened to us. I remember once him telling me that when it comes to making economic decisions that you should follow your own feeling and not even let your wife discourage you.

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Left to right Olga Johnson then Barbara Kassab-Every, Linda Johnson, and Shirley Heyliger at Olga and Earl,s home in The Bottom.

While on Aruba he heard that the estate which had belonged to John Philips on St. Martin, then owned by Mrs. Nora Rodenhuis-Van Romondt was for sale for eight thousand guilders. He was in the process of negotiating the purchase of the estate. However, his wife Olga had serious doubts about spending such a large sum of money for a plantation on St. Martin. She told him: “Look how all the St. Martin people are coming to Aruba to look for work. St. Martin will never amount to anything and your hard-earned money will be lost.” Earl chickened out. The estate is now known as ‘Emilio’s Estate’.

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First ever movie theater on Saba built by Henry Earl Johnson

But he was an investor at heart and started looking for the possibility to build up his native Saba and make a living there.

On his father’s side Earl is descended from the Colquhoun clan of Scotland. Pronounced ‘Cohone’ and I have had the pleasure to visit the castle in Scotland belonging to the Campbell clan whose wife is a ‘Cohone’. I have written about my visit there and posted it in The Saba Islander.

I do not want to repeat what I have written before but I will quote from the first page of the eulogy which was lost since his death.

“The late Henry Earl Johnson was born on Saba on March 5th, 1919 and passed away on February 6th, 2000.

Like many others at the time, in the month of July 1937, he went to Aruba where for the next 24 years he was employed by the Standard Oil Company.

On October 16th, 1946 he was married to Olga Johnson, on Saba, and they had two

Henry Earl Johnson and his wife Olga Johnson on their wedding day. The Bottom church.

Earl and Olga getting married in The Bottom, Saba, October 16th, 1946.

children Linda and Cornel both of whom were born on Aruba. “

At the time of his death in the year 2000 his brother Chester was still alive and living in Texas and his sister Glady’s was living on Saba. At the time he also had five grandchildren.

 

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Opening of the Windward Side Guesthouse. Earl Johnson started the Saba Development Corporation while living on Aruba and together with Carl Anslyn, Cessie Granger and others they obtained the lease on the then Government Guest House and expanded it with a number of rooms.

Coming back to the theater business. Before he built his first theater in The Bottom in 1953 the late Guy Hodge, my good friend from St. Martin, would come to Saba and show a movie in a tent but only now and then. A few weeks ago, Allen Busby and I were in a restaurant in Marigot and he was telling me of the first movie held in Windward Side above the house of the priest by Mr. Guy Hodge. Most people had never seen a movie before as many people still had never been off island in their lifetime.

The movie was an MGM movie. The one where the Lion comes out with a roar. Allen said that Lorenzo Hassell was sitting right under the screen with Norman Hassell not too far off. Who had ever seen a Lion on Saba and had ever heard the roar of that mighty King of the Serengeti in Africa?

Allen was in doubt as to who took off running first whether it was Norman or Lorenzo and followed by the whole of Hell’s Gate (according to Allen that is). He said that for months after the people on Hell’s Gate were talking about how fortunate Lorenzo was to have run. If he had stayed according to the version of the story presented by Allen, that animal they call a Lion would have been the end of Lorenzo.’

When he built his theater in Windward Side my brother Freddie was in charge. Before that he had a theater on rented land on the main road in Windward Side. For the new building Rudolph Johnson and I got the contract to do all the trenches. The contract was worth one hundred guilders to be shared equally. And boy did we work for that one hundred guilders. Dolphie later married Earl’s daughter Linda. My fifty guilders I used to buy a ticket on the ‘Antilia’ via Statia and St. Kitts to St. Maarten where I found a job in the government. That was in the year 1960 and I started a long career in government so I did not do bad.

Earl told me that when he was building the theater in The Bottom he lived on Aruba and sent eight inch blocks to build it with by boat from Aruba. His father-in-law Leonaidis  and the others building the theater had never worked with blocks before. So they decided to put the block two in a row and poured cement in between so that the walls are nearly two feet thick, and Earl was left to wonder where all those blocks had gone.

I don’t think Earl would mind that I interjected that piece of movie folklore in this tribute to Earl’s Memory.

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Everywhere Saba people are they have to build and own a boat. Earl here on Aruba as a young man.

 

One of the first articles which I wrote for the Windward Islands Opinion in the early sixties was to defend Earl. The then Administrator of Saba who apparently wanted to see movies for free, decided that there should be a censoring committee, with he as the head and that the movies had to be censored before they were shown to the public. Both Earl and I thought it was ridiculous and brought extra costs to him. But it went through anyway.

Earl was a Member in good standing of the Lions Club of Saba from 1977 to 1998. This Club also took care of the Saba Carnival for many years and Earl was also involved in that. He and his family were faithful members of the Roman Catholic Church as well. Cornel boy, your father is still laughing at me. And as I write this I am told that his grandson Stuart Johnson of St. Martin has a good chance of becoming the Minister of Tourism. Earl would be happy to hear that!

Recordar es Vivir.

 

 

 

 

Captain Athelstan Peterson

Captain Athelstan Peterson

By Will Johnson.

 

Capt. Athleston Peterson

Captain Athelstan Peterson in uniform in New York.

I used to wonder why Miss Elsie as we called her gave her son this name. As you might know all the countries ending with Stan, like Pakistan, Afghanistan and so on, the name means Land of.

However I found out when researching this name that there had been a King Athelstan. I now wonder how come I did not know that. The Saba people most of whom had their ancestry in Britain, Scotland and Ireland, in former times, would look to their ancient Kings for names to give their children.

King Atgelstan

The original. In former times Sabans looked to the Kings of their ancestors to name their sons by in order to give them ambition.

King Athelstan was King of the Anglo Saxons from 924 to 927 and the first King of all England from 927 to 939. He was the son of King Edward the Elder and his first wife Ecgwynn. He was the grandson of King Alfred the Great. A distinguished and courageous soldier he pushed the boundaries of the Kingdom to the furthest extent they had reached in 927 AD. He died childless on October 27th 939.

While our own Athelstan did not make it to be King, he was a King in his own way as he made it to the position of Captain a much wished for position of the young men of Saba in former times.

994314_10151748393618686_157081644_n He was born on Saba on Monday February 22nd, 1909. His parents were Allan Hassell Peterson and Elsie Peterson born Hassell. Elsie’s was born On November 4th, 1886. Her father was Captain William James Hassell and her mother was Eliza Jane Hassell. Allan was born on September 1oth, 1878 and his father was Captain Josiah Peterson and his mother Albertina Hassell.

So as you can see Athelstan had that captain business in his blood from both sides of the family. And not only from the men in the family but when you read an interview with Miss Elsie from Saba Silhouettes you will see that she loved the sea herself and her sister Oceana [Miss Ocie] got that name because she was born at sea.

“[Father was] sailing out in a big ship. The name of the ship was the R.L.T. No more name. R.L.T. flied the American flag. A square rig like they calls the ships, you know. She was made different to a schooner, yeah. He was captain, captain of the ship.

And we went to America in that said ship [R.L.T.]. I was a girl only twelve years old, [Doce] must’ve been nineteen or so. I can’t really remember her age. My brother Johnny Ben was with us, but not the others. They was out in other places working. Some was too small to go, a couple was out to work. Our mother wasn’t there then.

 

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On the left the baby the lady is holding is Atlestan. Family portrait of the home of Captain Josiah Peterson Sr. on the right. This home is now the Museum.

We came out, we went straight to America, and it took us eight days to go. Not seasick. My sister threw up for three days. I was just as a sailor. I used to eat plenty, too, on board that ship, and I would just eat and eat. My father was a big husky man, you know, and he sat and watched me. My sister would say, “oh, if I could only eat like you!’ I said, “Well, you get up and eat.”

In America [New York] we went all about, all over the place, you know to look at different places and see different things.

“We remained on the ship; fifteen days in New York and then he came out. You see, we wanted to go. Me and my sister wanted to go, to go to the Brazils. And we was foolish too cause we had a long passage going there on the ship, and he didn’t go there. He came back to Suriname. And it was mangoes we ate there too. My sister then had broke seasickness, and she ate her share too.

 

S.S. Ponca City, Capt. Athlestan Peterson of Saba.

S.S. Ponca City one of the many ships [mostly oil tankers] of which Athlestan was the captain.

And we went then to an island called Connetable Island. That’s somewhere by Cayenne. It was a small island. It was a little small island. And an old man Miss Elaine [Hassell’s] great grandfather sailed in a li’l schooner up around there; and this day my father was on the ship. He went there – I’m forgot what he went there to take in for cargo. That I can’t really remember. And he went, and the old man, Miss Elaine’s great grandfather, called to tell him the rats had eaten up all his food. Yes. And he asked my father if he had anything to give him to eat. “Oh, yes.’ He said, ‘I have lots!’ And he got down in his li’l boat, and he come to where my father’s ship was; and he filled up a big basket of foodstuffs and gave him and he went. “Now,” he says, I’.  All right till tomorrow. I won’t put this where the rats can get at It.!”

In 1967 I met Captain Athelstan in Tom’s Bar in Richmond Hill, Queens New York. Tom’s bar was a hole in the wall sort of place with a pool room in the back. The Sabans used to hang out there. My cousins who worked on the dredges all over the place and others like my good friend Norman Hassell a very successful contractor would frequent the bar to see and converse with other men from Saba. I was there on vacation from St. Maarten and was introduced to Tom’s bar by my cousins. It was a short walk from where I was staying with my aunt Alice Simmons and her husband Stanley Johnson. At the time I was not much into writing or researching the history of Saba and its people and I regret that I did not interview him about his career at sea and his early days on Saba.

 

S.S. Swiftsure.

S.S. ‘Swiftsure’ on which he sailed as Chief Mate along the United States coastline

However I came across a letter to me from Gail Peterson- McManamy and she gave me more details on her father which I will share with you.

Over the years of correspondence with people living in different countries with roots from these islands I have accumulated quite an archive. And when I look back on my many letters I now appreciate the fact that I did that.

To Will Johnson. “I am Gail Peterson McManamy. My father, Athelstan, so on Elsie and ‘Petey’ Peterson was born (1909) and raised on Saba. His childhood home, in Windward Side, is now, I believe, the Museum dedicated to the lore of this island. He too was a sea captain. He was schooled to approximately the 7th grade on Saba then was sent to Puerto Rico to continue.

A story I recall is that he was an able bodied seaman at the time that the ‘Morro Castle’ burned. He was studying for his next test to change his position and move up the ladder of seamen.

 

S.S. Carbide Seadrift

S.S. Carbide Seadrift

My dad sailed (Merchant Marine) during World War II, his ship having been converted to a troop carrier. He then returned stateside and sailed from Providence Rhode Island while I was a child. The runs I do remember were for Marine Transport, some of his ships names: The Ponca City, the R.E. Wilson, (for Union Carbide) and Carbide ‘Texas City’. He sailed between Carteret New Jersey and Texas City, Texas.

My dad died in November 1971. He was one of nine children, 5 brothers, and 4 sisters. His sisters married family names such as Leverock and other Petersons. My mother’s maiden name was Hassell. Her father was Johannes Hassell also of Saba. He was one of the men who moved to Providence, Rhode Island, where he was introduced to his bride Lettitia Barnett from Ireland. They had a son also whose name was James Mervin Hassell. I noted the name James Hassell in the list of early settlers.

When I visited Saba for the first time in 1964 I stayed in my grandmother’s house. There was the Frigidaire you write of, a huge cistern of water with a paint bucket to draw it out. There was no electricity during the day but for about 5 to 6 hours in the evening, run off generators. My family and I went to the movies one night. The film, ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ was being shown. It cost a quarter to get in and the screen was a white sheet hanging on the wall. At 11.00PM the projector stopped running as the electricity had gone off for the night. We all trooped back the second night to conclude the film. Perhaps that is why the families numbered 5 to 10 children easily! There were 3 telephones on the entire island that connected to each other. To call off the island you had to make the arrangements a day or so ahead of time.

 

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On the right Mrs. Elsie Peterson-Hassell  the navigator,with her cousin Violet Johnson-Hassell. Photo by Dr. Julia Crane 1964.

My uncle Kenneth built the first large scaled refrigeration near his home. We had flown onto the island via a small Piper Cub (after having flown first to St. Thomas, then to St. Martin) piloted by Monsieur Le Pipe [Jose Dormoi] featured at one time in Life Magazine. The plane crashed in Statia during hurricane Faith. To leave, we were pushed off the rocky beach area of Fort Bay and rowed out to a 100 year old boat captained by a man known only to me as Randolph [Dunkin]. We were crossing to St. Martin, a 15 minute air ride, as opposed to the day long journey in high seas. I was too seasick and covered by a tarp, to really note or care. I do remember ‘coming to’ in the calm pretty waters of St. Martin. I have not been back to Saba but have promised myself and my son to do so. He is the one who found your book and now we are anxious to buy it and learn more about our heritage.”

As recently as 2013 there was a correspondence between ‘Of Saban Descent’ and Mr. Scott Thompson, son of Gail. He mentions some of the ships of which his grandfather was Captain. They were: S.S.’Malabar’, the S.S.’Ardmore’, the S.S. ‘Muskogee’ the S.S. ‘Swiftsure’ [ made numerous voyages on this ship-all as Chief Mate, all were coastline voyages.]

S.S. ‘Carbide Texas City’.

And so we salute Captain Athelstan Peterson another Saban of the past who did us proud.

 

Memories of the Sea-4

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The ‘Margareth Truph’. The Captain was Arthur Wallace Simmons from Saba and most of his crew was from Saba and they would put in with probably Peter Every’s fat, fat uncles who he admired so much. This is a photo of a painting which I have.

… I went to school when I was seven and I left when I was twelve.

So when I was thirteen I was thinking about going to sea. You see, I had two uncles used to sail onto those big American schooners; and every couple of months they would pass in here, see; Every couple of months they would pass in here and remain here sometimes for two days.

And I would see these big heavy, portly-looking fellas, you know, and I always used to tell my mother that I’d like to go on a vessel to get big and fat like my uncles and they.

Yeah that always attract my nerves, you know, to see these sailors comin’ up in these big vessels, and big and fat and heavy lookin’ men.’

Capt. Lockland Heyliger's schooner

Captain Lockland Heyliger was captain of this schooner the ‘East Star Jones’ and would transport asphalt from Trinidad to New York. His crew was from Saba and he would put in here going and coming so that he and his crew could visit their families.

Peter Every

Memories of the Sea -3.

Peter Every

Peter Every had so many stories of a life at sea which when I have time I will be posting. He was one of a kind. He spent his last years as a house painter, a profession which many retired seamen which pick up.

” Well you know when I was a boy growing up, I used to be with those people there Under the Hill. Mr. Carl Hassell and their family lived Under The Hill. We used to be around there with them, making messages and doing from one thing to the other for them.

And Mr. Carl’s brother was Captain of a schooner, he was Captain of a schooner. In fact he had must’ve been two or three of his own sailing vessels, you know. And every couple of weeks he’d be in here, and any of the young boys who want to go to sea would go down, and ask him to take them away.

So I says to him one day, he was in, I said, ‘Captain Ben, I’d like to go aboard the vessel. He said, ‘Go aboard the vessel for what? I said,” Well I don’t know. Everybody got to go to learn.’ He said, ‘Well if you wants to go to learn, ‘he says, ‘I’ll carry you’. And he says, ‘Well, we’s going away Thursday, so go up and tell your mother to get your clothes ready and go aboard.’

 

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The schooner Esther Anita one of the many fine schooners owned by Captain Ben Hassell here in New York harbour in 1915. Back then Saba schooners would be going regularly to New York.

So I went home, and I told my old lady. I said “Well I’m asked Captain Ben to carry me with him on the vessel, and he’s told me to get ready. He’s going back a Thursday. ‘ She said, ‘My boy, you’s too small.’ ‘Oh I said, ‘ Why that ain’t nothing you got to grow.

Well, anyhow, I decided to go. And I went aboard, and there was two other young boys there besides myself, and they said ‘Peter, you think you’s goin’ to make it?” ‘Well, I,m going to try. I’m agoin to try.’

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The ‘Three Sisters’ in Curacao harbour. Named after three daughters of Captain Abram Hassell brother of Captain Ben. Abram lived in Rhode Island and would buy schooners and bring them out to the West Indies and sell them. This one was owned by Capt. Ben and his brothers Carl, Capt. Tommy and Abram.

‘He Captain Ben [Hassell] turned to the mate one day and he says,’Well, Tom, you know what’s happened? We’s going to Demarara tomorrow for a load of shingles and when we comes back to Barbados the vessel is going to Cuba to carry emigrants.’

My first trip on the sailin’ vessels from here, I was fourteen years old. I was fourteen years old. And I been sailin’ from then up to 1950, I quit.’

Peter Every

 

Memories of the Sea.2

Untitled-51” My father was the Captain of a li’l boat, and he got catched in a hurricane in St. Kitts. And he went to jump outside, and he jumped between the wharf and the small boat. He get squeezed. He didn’t live long after.

‘I went away when I only had twelve, was a young boy when I went away. I was a young li’l boy tryin’ to make a living. Anyway I grew up to twelve years and then I went away in a sailing boat.

Well you see the Captain of that boat, he asked me if I want to go with him for to sail as a cabin boy. My mother was agree with it. She say, “Well I can’t help you, so you got to help yourself,’ yeah.

John Jeyliger on his way to work his fields in Troy February 1965

John Heyliger on his way to work his fields in Troy February 1965

The Captain give you a couple of dollars in the month, two dollars or a dollar and a half, that was all; but well you’d get your feed and your clothes always on the ship.

Oh I had to clean out the Captain’s  room and give him his coffee and his meals and all like that so.

We used to go sometimes to Santo Domingo, Canada, yeah St. Thomas, and St. Croix, sometimes we go Martinique , sometimes we go Guadeloupe, all these places so. B.G. (British Guiana) is a nice island you know, big place, there’s very nice. Sometimes we’d make it two days, sometimes three. Barbados too. I spent two days, sometimes three. That’s all. That’s a nice li’l country to live; the people is very friendly and nice.

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Saba schooner Marion Belle Wolfe in Nova Scotia, here securing a house after it was swept into the sea by a tidal wave.

 

Nova Scotia is very nice but cold. Oh yeah, a long distance to Canada, fourteen days going and fourteen days coming back. We’d spend four days there unloading a cargo of sugar, and it was winter and cold.

John Heyliger

Memories of the Sea .

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Dr. Julia Crane did a tremendous job for those native people of Saba who should want to remember the hardships their ancestors went through in order to survive with their families on this little Caribbean Rock .

From time to I will post memories of some of those who were interviewed in the nineteen sixties for her book; “Saba Silhouettes”.

I would like to highlight Carl Hassell today.

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Mr. Carl Hassell pictured here with two of his nephews from Barbados. They were visiting here with their father’s (Capt. Ben Hassell) three masted schooner the “Juliana”.

….” I was just past eleven when I started out, cabin boy on a schooner. There was no money, you know, so that all we lived from was the products of the land; and soon as a boy came up twelve, fourteen years or something like that, why he tries to get away to be able to do something. All the young boys used to go at early ages.

 

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Two of Carl Hassell’s brothers. Behind the wheel Captain Tommy and in the dark jacket Capt. William Benjamin’Ben’ (grandfather of Richard Goddard of Barbados)

The schooner I went on was from Saba. My brother’s owned it. The schooner came out from America in 1898 and she cruised around from St. Martin, St. Barth’s, all the Windward Islands, and as far as Turks island for straw they made those hats from you know. We used to bring that from Turks island and up to St. Martin, and at the latter part of the year we made a trip from here to Trinidad and Barbados.

Carl Hassell

P.S. I will post a number of these extracts from time to time.

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