The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

SABA’S DRAWN-THREAD WORK

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dr. Julia G. Crane here being honoured for her birthday on Saba.

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In the center Gertrude Hassell wife of Benjamin Johnson. She was the one who learned how to make the ‘Spanish Work’ while studying in a boarding school ‘Mahaai’ on Curacao and introduced it to the women of Saba from which they made their living.

 

Celebration of the 85th anniversary of the Sacred Heart Church in The Bottom, Saba.

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This is the Sacred Heart Church in The Bottom as it looks today.

Sacred Heart Church in The Bottom

Declaration by Father M. Meesters on the laying of the first stone for the new Sacred Heart Building on October 8th, 1934.

I was asked by Mr. Ronny Simmons to write a brief history on the building of the Sacred Heart Church in The Bottom. The plan is to have a commemorative service on March 19th, 2020 on the occasion of the 85th anniversary of the dedication of this building.

I have already written an article on the History of the Church of Rome on Saba. For this assignment I will go more in details on how the present church came about and the previous church buildings of the Roman Catholic Church in The Bottom. Also in the interest of those who may not know I am also proposing that a booklet be put together with other articles and photo’s of the church in the past as a keepsake by those who are interested in the history of the church on Saba, When I get a chance I will also put together a history of the St. Paul’s Conversion church in the Windward Side which was built in 1860 and thus the first Roman Catholic Church built on Saba. Both of these churches were built by the Reverend Father Joseph Philip Thomas Kock.

Star of RC church in The Bottom, Oct.1934

Once the four men arrived from Curacao construction started full swing. There were a number of Saba people too who worked on  the building and the cutting of stones. Just yesterday Eric Johnson was telling me that Commissioner Ulric Hassell (1951-1955) had told him that as a boy he had worked on the building of the new church.

The first and most famous Roman Catholic Priest and companion of pirates, Pere J.B.Labat visited Saba on Sunday April 17th, 1701 and landed at the Ladder Bay at 10 am. He was received by then Commander Jacob Leverock who invited him for lunch at his home. Father Labat gave a good description of life on the island back then. He was also invited in the homes of several French refugees. He left two days later after having purchased six pairs of excellent shoes made on the island back then.

The dominant Christian religion in 1701 were the Presbyterians who had a church on the grounds of the cemetery now called ‘Potters field’ behind the World War 11 monument. The hill behind it called ‘Parish Hill’ serves as a memory of those days.  When Msgr. Martinus Johannes Niewindt (born 17 May 1796 in Amsterdam died Curacao, Thursday January 12th, 1860), visited Saba in 1836 the dominant  Christian religious grouping was The Church of England or the Anglicans.

R.C. Church The Bottom under construction 1934.

Progress shown just over a month later. These are probably the skilled workers from Curacao.

Msgr. Martinus Joannes  Niewindt the Apostolic Prefect of the Roman Catholic Church of the Dutch West Indies colony then called ‘Curacao and dependencies”, visited the Windward Islands. Having been on Saint Maarten and Saint Eustatius earlier, he decided to visit Saba. On neither one of these three islands was there a Roman Catholic priest in 1836.

When Father Labat was on Saba in 1701 he did not have missionary intentions. Niewindt most certainly did. At the end of May 1836, he arrived at Ladder Bay accompanied by Manuel Romero, a Venezuelan priest who had come to Curacao a year earlier as a political refugee. Niewindt spoke French and Dutch; Romero spoke only Spanish. Saba spoke English only as it still does today. Except for some five people, the then 1800 inhabitants were illiterate. They, Msgr Niewindt and Father Romero, did bring with them some English catechism books to distribute.

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The priest inspecting the work on November 24th, 1934.

Nevertheless on June 1st, 1836, the first  recorded Holy Mass by a Roman Catholic clergyman was said on Saba. He was at the mercy of the hospitality of the Anglicans who did not understand what the Latin Mass was all about, although the ceremony of the Anglican church did not differ all that much from that of the Catholics.

This Holy Mass was held in the house of Engle James Heiliger and his wife Rebecca Heiliger born Beaks. This house much later was bought by Commissioner and Acting Lt. Governor John Godfrey Woods and it is still owned by his heirs. At that first Mass one adult and four (4) children from The Bottom and one child from St. John’s were baptized.

Progress report construction RC church The Bottom

Outside view of the progress on November 10th, 1934.

Niewindt stayed in a house at The Gap in the home of a black lady from Guadeloupe named Lahaye who lived there with her son, both Catholic and the only ones of the Roman Catholic religion on Saba. However I read in the life story of Msgr. Niewindt by father G.J.M. Dahlhaus that there were also three Roman Catholics from St. Thomas living on Saba at the time.

One of the first priests stationed on Saba was Joseph Philip Thomas Kock. He was born in Oostende Belgium on August 29th, 1825 and was ordained as a priest on Curacao on December 18th, 1852. In May of 1858 Reverend Kock started his work on Saba. He was the builder first of the St. Paul’s Conversion Church in the Windward Side in 1860, and in 1877 he also built the first  Sacred Heart Church in The Bottom. He died on August 20th, 1890 and is buried in the vault of of Peter Hassell and his wife Esther Johnson (my great aunt). The vault is located on the grounds of the church in Windward Side.

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Getting there.

The land for the church in The Bottom was purchased from the teacher Gustave Eckerman from St. Barth’s, on condition that he and his Saba wife could live in the house until they died. This building was used in the latter part of the 20th century as a Roman Catholic kindergarten. Some of those who taught there were Velma Johnson, Claudia Johnson and Janice Johnson. For the past years the building has been used as Office of the Saba Housing Foundation.

R.C. Church The Bottom roof being put on 1934.

Flags indicating that the height of the roof has been reached.

Apparently the Reverend Father John Toland (see separate article) was buried on this property as he was the grandfather of Eckerman’s wife and must have owned the property. In the church records it is claimed that he had been a Catholic and had abandoned the “true” religion and had served as preacher of the Anglican Church. The Roman Catholic archives state that father G.J.M. Dahlhaus had done a great job by leveling his grave to the ground and thereby erased all memories of his existence.

In the same year (1877) Father J.P.T. Kock the first Roman Catholic church in The Bottom was completed. From then on Father J.P.T. Kock read the Mass every Sunday. It served the communities of the Catholics of The Bottom, St. John’s, Middle Island and Palmetto Point.

Progress report construction R.C.Church 1934

December 26th, 1934 “Boxing Day” or “Second Day Christmas” as we call it. In this case cause for celebration as a lot has been achieved in just three months working by hand.

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In 1909 a new larger Roman Catholic Church was built in The Bottom on the same property. In 1911 Father Laurentius Mulder showed his carpentry skills by building a steeple on the new church.

O February 16th, 1927, after the death of Captain Ernest Hugh Toland Vanterpool and his wife Elizabeth Leverock (daughter of Governor Moses Leverock), his children, none of whom were living on Saba decided to sell the house and large property. The price was $1.800.–Interesting for this history is the following; In the period leading up to 1930 or so the many captains of the time and their families pulled up anchor and moved to Barbnados, Bermuda and the United States, while other Sabans moved to Curacao and especially Aruba where there was more opportunity for long term employment with the advent of two of the world’s largest oil refineries at that time.

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Visiting delegation of priests checking on the progress of the building.

In this case the sellers of the property were living elsewhere. Captain Thomas Charles Vanterpool, brother of Captain Ernest then lived between Saba and St. Thomas In this transaction he represented the heirs to his brother’s property.

  1. Mrs. Estelle Simmons born Vanterpool, spouse of
  2. 2. Captain Engle Leverock Simmons, assisting his aforementioned wife;
  3. Blanche Vanterpool, all residing on St. Thomas.
  4. Rebecca Vanterpool born Simmons widow of the late Captain Hubert Vanterpool.
  5. Joanna Levrock Simmons born Vanterpool, spouse of Edward Austin Simmons, both (#4 and#5) residing on Barbados.
  6.  Ivy Clayton Vanterpool born Simmons widow of the late Captain William Donald Vanterpool, and
  7. Captain Charles Pitman Vanterpool, both residing in  the United States
nterior of New R.C. church in The Bottom 1935.

The inside of the church. Those two statutes are the ones which were on the altar of the old church and which were transferred in a ceremony from the old church to this new one.

The home and property were purchased for the Roman Catholic Vicar on Curacao, by the Reverend Father Matthias Petrus de Groen, who was then (1927) serving as Roman Catholic Priest on Saba..

After the property was acquired the home was immediately put to use as a presbytery and the resident priests would rotate the use of the two presbyteries and also when priests and other religious groups visited Saba they were allowed the use of the house in The Bottom.There were many more religious orders in the former Netherlands Antilles back then who paid frequent visits to the Dutch Windward Islands.

On February 15th, 1932. The Provincial Vicar visited Saba. Once again the great need for a larger church in The Bottom was considered and also of a newer school but the necessary money is lacking.

Al expectations lie with the newly appointed Bishop, His Excellency Msgr Verriet, who on February 6th has been anointed as Bishop in Venroy (Holland).

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The new Bishop Msgr. Verriet visiting Saba on February 21st, 1933. He with Administrator Xavier Krugers (in white) . The Bishop saw the need for a new church and took a firm hand in securing the funds and seeing the building to its completion.

A document dated Saba October 9th, 1934 reminds us of the start of the construction of this building. Father M. Meesters delegated by Msgr. P. Verriet laid the first stone.

Inside newly built Sacred Heart Church 1935.

St. Joseph’s Feast, March 19th, 1935 was selected for the official opening of the new church. Father de Groen was delegated to represent the Bishop for the occasion.

It is difficult to imagine that this relatively large stone building was completed in just a little over five months. Everything done by hand back then including the cutting of the stones. A great tribute to those who came from Curacao and Bonaire and those from Saba who worked along with them.

The document in the church archives reads as follows:

In the name of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

Sacred Heaart Chuch The Bottom 1935.

Father M. Meesters, the resident Priest here carrying out the Holy Mass.

The first stone of this church, consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, is laid by the Reverend Father M. Meesters O.P, delegated by His Excellency, Msgr P. Verriet, Apostolic Vicar of Curacao, in the presence of the two witnesses Dr. M. Berkenveld and Mrs. Elsie Krugers born Simmons, in the afternoon of the 8th of October 1934.

The leaders of this work of the House of God are the senores Joseph Cornelis and Theodoor de Lanooy, sent from Curacao by His Lordship, with two assistants Lourentio Martis and Henrique Alberto.

May this House of God be built up under the protection and blessing from Heaven and with the assistance of our dear people of Saba as a monument for the glory of God and as a true place of refuge and love for the coming generation.

Father M. Meesters

signed E.C.Krugers-Simmons

M. Berkenveld

Saba 8th of October 1934.

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Photo from 1948 by Administrator Max Huith. In the picture are Sister Benedicta, Mrs. Cynthia Huith-Labega and Sister Pancratia. This building was the first church built in 1877 by Father Joseph Philip Kock in 1877. In 1948 the building was being used by the Roman Catholic Nuns and it was in this building that the first Kindergarten in The Bottom was started.

Theodoor de Lanooy, Joseph Cornelis and Juan Alberto Henrique (born 12.07.1900) all three were born on Curacao, and Johannes Laurentio Hyacinth Martis was born on the island of Bonaire (born 17.08.1893).

After only five months and some days the lovely church building was completed and dedicated.

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One of the builders from Curacao sent here to help with the building of the Church was Theodoor Martinus de Lannooy. He was the grandfather of Former Minister Ersilla de Lanooy former Minister of Finance of the Netherlands Antilles. She is looking for a photograph of him to include in this sort history.

R.C. church after 1932 cyclone.

In the September cyclone of 1932 the old church was thrown off its foundations. With help from the Marines who brought some jacks from Curacao and with local volunteers it was placed back on its foundations.

From the Church Archives. May 1934. “Plans for the new church in The Bottom are moving along and has been completed to a blue print. Difficulty is that principally the costs for Saba are double as high as elsewhere.

June 1934. Cement building for The bottom has been cancelled after the estimate of the Company Dijkhof and it has now been decided to build the church in stone.

July 1934. Msgr. has decided to send a man from Curacao as foreman for the church project, however it will be a few months before he can come as the man is not yet free from work he is doing on Curacao.

August 1934. Through continuous correspondence Msgr. decided in the meantime that a start can be made by collecting stones for the project, for which Msgr. temporally sent fls. 500.–

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I am almost certain that this was the altar in the second Sacred Heart Church in The Bottom which in 1935 was turned into a school. In 1953/54/and part of 1955 I went to school in that same building.

All other foundations, ovens, cisterns will be built. under supervision of the resident priest. The stones for the church will be broken up and brought to the place where the large plans are to be carried out. The people of The Bottom are so helpful that after some weeks around 10.000 (ten thousand) hand cut  stones are lying in the yard and the costs were less than fls.500.–(five hundred guilders). Accoring to Ronny Simmons he had been told that the stone were collected from up in The Three Casles at a place called ‘The Fire Burn’ and some of those who collected the stones were Christian ‘Kaiser’ Sorton, Stanley Simmons, Joe Ben Woods, John Woods and others.

September; All of a sudden Msgr. has changed the plan for a foreman (Supervisor) from Curacao and is sending 4 strong men from Curacao, of which 2 masons and 2 carpenters to start the work. Also a lot of material such as wood and cement was sent at the same time with the steamer. The same day of arrival namely September 22nd (1934) measurements were taken and the plan laid out. The work is progressing well and the relations between the workers is good.

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Sacred Heart School with students in 1967. Sister Waltruda in the picture on the left.

Since the new church building was taken into use it has experienced many sad occasions with the f funeral ceremonies for such Notables from The Bottom as the former Commissioner Captain Mathew Levenston, as well as Father Anthony Jansen who served the church on Saba for a number of years, and otters. Also occasions for joy in the Roman Catholic community when on July 4th, 1980 the Liturgy of Ordination of Deacon Simon Wilson was celebrated on the Sacred Heart Church. The President was the Rt. Rev. Mgr. W.M.Ellis, Bishop of Willemstad, while the Master of Ceremonies was the Very Rev. Fr. A. Heillegger. Father Simon Wilson was the son of August Wilson  and Ann Dunlock August was awarded with a medal by His Holiness the Pope, for his many years of service to the Sacred Heart Church. The altar cloth for the new church was made by Thelma Zagers and others. The first child to be baptized in the new church was Mary Pansy Sagers born January 10th 1934, daughter of Charles Reuben and Eugenie. The baptism took place on April 16th, 1934. The first person to be buried in the new cemetery was James Dinzey (Carrie’s father).

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Miss Ella Roosberg who worked for the priests here standing next to the grave of her sister.

Mrs. Carmen Simmons-Nicholson has been the organist of this church for many years and has been a great helper to the clergy over the years with the functioning of the church.

Also Mr. James Anthony Simmons was always there to ring the bell and to assist the priests in preparing everything for the church to function in a dignified way. He has been followed by Mr, Ronny Simmons also of The Bottom who combines the work formerly done by August and James Anthony. It is Ronnie who asked me (Will Johnson) to prepare a fitting document in commemoration of the 85th anniversary of the church.

The Living Water Community from Trinidad and Tobago served the church and the Saban community for twenty five years. They were introduced to Saba by the late Father Anthony Jansen.

1890-1910 Church Bottom - Tropenmuseum

The first church built by Father Joseph Philip Thomas Kock in 1877. The priest leaning against the wall of the church is Father L. Mulder. The house on the right is that of the teacher Eckerman of St. Barth’s who was married to a granddaughter of the Reverend John Toland who was buried on this property’

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1909. The opening of the second church Roman Catholic in The Bottom. It was turned into a school in 1935.

 

1910 Church - former school - towards Crispeen - Tropenmuseum

In 1911, Father L. Mulder built a steeple on the roof of the church.

Town of The Bottom

On the right of the Roman Catholic church complex is the house in which Msgr. Martinus Joannes Niewindt held the first Roman Catholic Mass in 1836, June 1st and baptized 4 adults.

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Father M. Meesters, the resident priest and the supervisor of the Sacred Heart Church which was dedicated on the feast of St. Joseph March 19th, 1935 .

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There are several photo’sin my collection of the celebrations of the opening of the new (more than ten thousand face stones) Sacred Heart Church on March 19th, 1934.

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Father  J.B. Labat wrote a number of books on his stay in the West Indies and his visit to Saba in 1701.

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Records of Baptisms of the Roman Catholic Church on Saba date back to the year 1836 when Msgr. Martinus Johannes Niewindt visited Saba with the objective of starting up the Roman Catholic Church on Saba.

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The Sacred Heart Church as it looks today. It has had many repairs over the years.

Father J.Kock served Saba 1858 - 1889

Father Joseph Philip Thomas Kock, born Oostende Belgiums 29 August 1825 and died on Saba August 20th, 1890. Buried next to St. Paul’s Conversion Church in the vault of the Peter and Esther Hassell (Johnson) family. He was responsible for the building of the St. Paul’s Conversion Church in the Windward Side in 860 and the first Sacred Heart Church in The Bottom in 1877.

Dedication R.C. church in The Bottom 1934.

March 19th, 1934 was the opening of the new Sacred Heart Church in The Bottom. There were so many people in attendance that the church was full to overflowing.

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The lovely ceiling and side of the altar in the church were painted by the well known local artist Heleen Cornet and was sponsored  by Mrs. Olga Johnson and her son Cornel and  his wife Juliet Johnson of The Bottom.

Congratulations on this the 85th anniversary of this church building are in order to all those who worked to make it possible as well as to those who are still working to keep it up despite a declining church attendance. In this drastic changing world of ours it is good to know that there are a group of people who care enough for their church to help to maintain it as a living monument and a place of worship and wonder for the local population as well as to those who visit out beautiful island. TO GOD BE THE GLORY!

 

THE MOUNTAIN

“THE  MOUNTAIN”15219397_10210981178468325_5130581529231497499_n

By: Will Johnson

In the book ‘Caribbean Interlude’ by Kenneth Bolles he describes a visit to the Rendez Vous. There most of the planting was done for those living in the villages of Windward Side and St. John’s.

In talking to one of the old retired sea captains who would return to Saba in their old age and return to the land for their survival they discussed the farming on the sides of The Mountain. In referring to the mountain the old farmer declared to Mr. Bolles “She takes care o’ we.”

Many of the old timers would voice that same opinion throughout the ages of European settlement. In an interview Bobby Every said that his father used to tell him that if it was not for the Mountain, in times of severe droughts “we would have all been dead”. Some years ago, when a relatively small number of locusts reached the Eastern Caribbean from Africa memories were brought up about The Mountain. Oliver Zagers “Olley” said that his father Solomon had told him that when he was a boy a plague of locusts had descended on Saba and within days had eaten their way to the top of The Mountain.

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Pretty Impressive Mountain for such a small island, and this  is half way up from the sea.

George Seaman visited Saba in 1934 and spent some time here. He kept a Journal of his visit which he gave to me. In the Journal he refers to The Mountain as having no name other than that. God too has only one name for those who believe that there is a God, so why should The Mountain so revered by our ancestors in former times have a name?

People regularly ask me as to who gave it the name Mount Scenery. I truly do not know and don’t want to speculate on that. I assume that it could have been one of the Roman Catholic Nuns or a Priest thought it needed a name and gave it that name.

Earlier this year while on Aruba I remembered that there was a street in Lago Heights called ‘Mount Scenery Street’. I asked a couple of people if they could remember what year those streets were given names. They did not know, and I will continue to check on it. That would give an indication as to when that name was used and perhaps point to the person who gave it the name.  I do not recall as a boy growing up anyone referring to it other than The Mountain.

 

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The Mountain 4pm Tuesday August 27th, 2019

Nothing against the new name mind you. People look at me as a critic on many things. I look at my role as a story teller and preserver of things like historic names of places dear to the heart of every true Saban. I do not believe that folks coming into an old island culture should be creating new names solely for commercial purposes. Cui Buena fruit? That is why the island needs a Saba National Trust like those in places like Bermuda. The National flag, coat of arms and National song were approved by a Committee consisting of Sabans, who then presented their research and laws to the Executive Council and then approved by the Island Council. All in a matter of months. There are laws regulating respect for the flag and it cannot be used for commercial purposes without permission from the authorities. I have strayed a bit, and will go back to The Mountain, but not before mentioning Names. The Committee established in May of 1985, by the Executive Council consisted of Frank Hassell, Shirley Smith, Patsy Johnson and me as Chairman/Secretary. The results were presented to the Executive Council in the beginning of September. The Council consisted of Lt. Governor Wycliffe Smith, Commissioners Vernon Hassell and Peter Granger. On Saba Day December 1985 the Island Council, consisting of Vernon Hassell, Peter Granger, Ramon Hassell, Hugo Levenstone and myself approved everything and on that same day presented the results to the people of Saba. They were enthusiastically received and have become proud symbols of our struggle for survival on this small rock with a Mountain without a name.

20157732_10155500574313686_8396555311789398587_o.jpgFrom my research Saba was first settled above the Well’s Bay after 1629 by people from St. Kitts who were chased by the Spanish Admiral Don Francisco de Toledo. The two villages they established were given the names of Middle Island and Palmetto Point after towns on St. Kitts from which they had fled.

The history of these islands was mainly written in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by Dutch people. They had limited resources available to them at the time. The one who made ‘history’ a source for personal income was Dr. J. Hartog. I recall my brother Eric telling me that when Hartog visited he went through old historic files, tore out the items he wanted and told him that the rest of the files could be thrown away as they were not of any interest to him. He and others never believed in oral history and came to many assumptions about our history without any kind of proof to back it all up. They also conveniently forgot to remind us that Holland and Belgium were one country and a number of the first settlers on St. Eustatius were Hugenots from Wallonia and people of Flanders from places like Antwerpen who were in business with other people from Zeeland which was a part of what is now The Netherlands.

 

Johnny Simmons The Mountain Man

Johnny Simmons also known as ‘The Mountain Man.’

The one who visited these islands, including Saba, was M.D. Teenstra in the 1820’s and who gave an accurate description of the people and resources of these islands. He was an engineer sent out to study the possibilities for the extension of the Salt Ponds on St. Maarten, but his book has more historic value to me than all of that written by people who had never visited here. He was here and did not need to speculate while on a schooner passing by the island.

As early as the year 1701 when the Roman Catholic Priest Father Pierre Labat visited Saba on a pirate ship he described the island as being prosperous. The so-called prosperity stemmed from the fact that the young volcanic soil on Saba was very fertile. Because of the altitude of The Mountain (over 2900 feet) a variety of crops could be grown between sea level and mountain top. Enough was produced to support the small five hundred strong local population as well as have a limited export to the mother colony of St. Eustatius and later on to St. Thomas. The settlers who came into the island some years after the settlers at Palmetto Point and Middle Island, were particularly interested in fishing the Saba Bank. They settled above the Fort Bay where there is a spring which runs all year round. None of those who wrote before my time never mentioned an exact year. They said approximately 1640. Around 1659 this settlement was destroyed by a landslide. In 1665 the island was captured by Edward and Thomas Morgan uncles of Governor Henry Morgan of Jamaica. The pirates who left sent the Dutch settlers to St. Maarten and also to other islands where they became indentured servants.

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The Mountain somehow finds a way to restore itself even after  category five hurricanes.

The remaining 226 people left behind were nearly all of English, Irish, and Scottish descent with the exception of 10 Dutch people who swore allegiance to the British. Also, some ninety of the pirates remained behind as they saw the possibility of using Saba as a pirate’s nest while carrying out their pirate activities from the Virgin Islands.

A description of Saba in the 18th century is described by some historians of that period as follows: “Saba remained Dutch from 1679 until 1781. Whatever happened on the larger islands, Saba maintained its insular isolation undisturbed. The population was spread out over the island, and persons in authority on St. Eustatius seldom visited. And so, a sort of patriarchal society developed, where the peace was only disturbed through occasional family feuds. The people fished, caught sea turtles, and there was some agriculture so that the island was economically independent.”

1950s - Rendez-Vous

Big Rendez-Vous was the area farmed by men from the Windward Side and beyond that ‘Little Rendez-Vous’ was farmed by men from St. Johns,

In 1780 the population had already reached 1300. Because of the huge growth in the commerce and population of St. Eustatius there was a market for selling agricultural produce to St. Eustatius. Saba remained for the most part dependent on what the Mountain could produce and the fishing opportunities on the Saba Bank and Bird Island. There were also coffee and cotton plantations because it is recorded that the great hurricane of 1772 destroyed these plantations. Coffee can still be grown as I have three coffee trees in my garden. One from the Blue Mountains in Jamaica (bearing now) and two from a coffee plantation I visited on the island of Gran Canarias.

In 1816, Saba became Dutch again on paper, and most people in the know described the period between 1816 and 1923 as very bleak and depressing years. It is worth noting that exactly during the periods in which Saba was Dutch that the economy was in a very sad state. When left to its own resources or when under foreign flags, Saba was always described as being prosperous, in the sense that the colony was not a liability to the ‘mother country’.

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This photo from around 1870 shows how much of the face of The Mountain was farmed out.

We remained and the many animals we had then dependent on The Mountain mostly.

For the year 1900 the statistics are as follows for Saba. Population 2177, Donkeys 16, Cattle 197, Goats 786, Sheep 390, Pigs 381.

A job description of 1908 shows that there were 240 farmers on Saba. The population from about 1860 grew steadily to over 2000 people and peaked in the year 2488. All were dependent for the most part on farming The Mountain and fishing, while the majority of the men were listed as Mariners, over 700 (seven hundred) in all. They sailed all over the West Indies and the world on Saban owned schooners as well as many owned by people from New England. The “Spanish Work” which was introduced Mrs. Gertrude Johnson born Hassell (a first cousin of my father Daniel Johnson). Through export to friends in the United States this lace work provided a means for a cash economy on the island. In the nineteen twenties with the establishments of the oil refineries on Curacao and Aruba as well as the new immigration rules in the United States the population went into a decline. From around 2500 in the nineteen twenties to only around 900 in 1971. But one thing which was proven between 1860 and 1930, is that the island could produce enough to sustain a population of more than 2000 people, with at times enough surplus to be able to export potatoes, onions, hides, cotton, fish and other produce to St. Thomas.

 

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My cousin James Bernard Johnson here showing his Irish potatoes planted in The Level.

In recent times things have changed. While others take credit for much of my work I when in government in 1998 added a clause to the building ordinance that you could not build above the 500 meter level and it was I who did all the research for the ownership of the Sulphur Mine lands and which became a bit of a controversy as I was told that it would be a gift to the island. Anyway, I will not dwell on that issue. This is about The Mountain and indeed she still ‘takes care o’ we’.

 

 

 

 

ALEXANDER HAMILTON

Paths of Origin

The Horton’s and the Hamilton’s

By: Will Johnson

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Checking out family history.

For a number of years I have been intrigued by a story told to me by a cousin (Carl L. Johnson) who lives in New York and who is nearly twenty years my senior.

According to him our great uncle Peter George Simmons nicknamed “Unc” used to tell him that we were related through the Horton’s to Alexander Hamilton of Nevis. “Unc” is also the great- grandfather of Commissioner Bruce Zagers.

My search thus far has been directed to the Hamilton’s with no firm results. The relationship could have been via the Simmons’ to the Fawcett’s, his mother’s side of the family and I am still looking at that.

You must take oral history seriously and many times I have solved questions of local history through listening to old timers telling stories they had heard from grandparents. Peter George Simmons was born on October 1st 1858 and died April 30th 1946. His mother Alice Eliza Simmons born Horton was born in 1831. He would have known his great-grandfather James Horton Sr. who died in 1869 at the age of 94 (born on St.Eustatius 1775). He would have also known his grandfather James Horton Esq. born 1801. He was the “Kings Attorney” and died February 6th 1877 and his wife Catharine Hassell died on March 3rd, 1873.

Thus growing up between 1858 and 1877 he would have heard stories around the old coal pot or oil lamp about his mother’s people. She (Alice Eliza Horton) born 1831 would in turn have heard stories from her mother, grandparents and other family members about their people on St.Eustatius and why they had moved to Saba.

They are descended from Mark Horton and Martha Adriaansen (see population list 1728). Sometime before 1750 the family moved to St.Eustatius and was prominent there in the old English church and as business people. They were married into some of the prominent families there, the Hills, Clarancieux, Mussendens and so on. There is still a building on the Bay in Statia known as the” Horton Building” (See Steve Kruythoff’s history of the Windward Islands.) This building used to belong to Mark Horton.

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Two native St. Eustatius historians Mr. Arthur Valk and Mr. Irvie Mussenden.

The Horton family being a small one is well documented through my research. I have not yet been able to verify with any degree of certainty the relationship between the Horton’s and Alexander Hamilton. However I have found a lot of interesting things along the way.

Alexander Hamilton did have an important connection to Saba via his mentor the Reverend Hugh Knox.

In Ron Chernow’s book,” Alexander Hamilton”, he has the following to say about the Reverend Hugh Knox and Alexander Hamilton.

“ The next year, Hamilton published two more poems in the paper, now recreating himself as a somber religious poet. The change in heart can almost certainly be attributed to the advent in St. Croix of a Presbyterian minister named Hugh Knox. Born in Northern Ireland of Scottish ancestry, the handsome young Knox migrated to America and became a schoolteacher in Delaware. As a raffish young man, he exhibited a lukewarm piety until a strange incident transformed his life. One Saturday at a local tavern where he was a regular, Knox amused his tipsy companions with a mocking imitation of a sermon delivered by his patron, the Reverend John Rodgers. Afterward, Knox sat down, shaken by his own impiety but also moved by the sermon that still reverberated in his mind. He decided to study divinity at the College of New Jersey (later Princeton) under its president, Aaron Burr, an eminent divine and father of the man who became Hamilton’s nemesis. It was almost certainly from Knox’s lips that Alexander Hamilton first heard the name of Aaron Burr.

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1996. MY SON Peter Charles Albert Johnson and me at the tomb of Alexander Hamilton in Manhattan.

Ordained by Burr in 1755, Knox decided to propagate the gospel and was sent to Saba in the Dutch West Indies. This tiny island near Nevis measured five square miles, had no beaches, and was solitary enough to try the fortitude of the most determined missionary. Rough seas girded Saba’s rocky shores, making it hazardous for ships to land there. As the sole clergyman, Knox resided in a settlement known as the Bottom, sunk in the elevated crater of an extinct volcano; it could be reached only by climbing up a stony path. Knox left a bleak picture of the heedless sinners he was assigned to save. “Young fellows and married men, without any symptoms of serious religion…but keepers of negro wenches…rakes, night rioters, drunkards, gamesters, Sabbath breakers, church neglecters, common swearers, unjust dealers etc.”

An erudite man with a classical education, Knox was starved for both intellectual companionship and money. In 1771, he visited St.Croix and was received warmly by the local Presbyterians, who enticed him to move there. In May 1772, he became pastor at the Scotch Presbyterian church at a salary considerably beyond what he had earned inside his old crater,

After the lonely years in Saba, the forty-five-year-old Knox felt rejuvenated in St. Croix. It is there that Alexander Hamilton became his student and protégé.

Much has been written about the Reverend Hugh Knox and his stay on Saba. Dr.Johan Hartog mentions that after 16 years on Saba he moved to St. Croix, due to some accusation by some inhabitants of Saba, probably of a moral nature.

However Governor Peter Simmons and prominent Burghers as well as members of the congregation, provided him with a letter of introduction, which expressed their confidence in him.

There is also confusion as to who was his wife. One historian claimed that he was married to Christina Love daughter of the Governor of St.Lucia. Another claimed that he was married to the daughter of the Governor of St.Croix. However the author Henry B. Hoff in and article in National Genealogical Society Quarterly (March 1986:31) entitled “Some Americans in the Danish West Indies” confirms that he was married to Mary Simmons, daughter of Governor Simmons of Saba. He had a daughter Rebecca who died on December 29th, 1773. She would have been named after Rebecca Correa, her grandmother who was the wife of Governor Peter Simmons. Even if he had taken up the lifestyle of the Sabans and taken on a wench as a result of a mid- life crisis, his father-in-law would have given him a letter of recommendation.

Mary his wife died on St.Croix on January 24th, 1778. Hugh died on St.Croix at the age of 63 on October 9th, 1790. After his wife Mary died he may have taken on a new wife.

Whereas Nicholas Cruger exposed Alexander Hamilton to material realities, the Reverend Hugh Knox provided him with a strong spiritual and intellectual grounding. Knox… who took Hamilton under his wing shortly after Rachel’s death…. Was a Scottish Presbyterian Minister at odds with the mainstream of his faith because of his firm belief in free will over the Calvinist doctrine of  predestination. For someone like Hamilton who was otherwise predestined to a life of obscurity, we can see how Knox’s philosophy would have appealed to him.

The Reverend’s encouragement and influence undoubtedly led Hamilton to dream big dreams. Knox a brilliant sermon-writer and occasional doctor, took the young orphan under his wing and tutored him in the humanities and sciences.

When he was able to get away from the office, Hamilton further expanded his intellect in Knox’s library, where he read voluminously in the classics, literature, and history. Hamilton, who had early fancied himself a writer, published an occasional poem in the local paper, and impressed the residents of the island with a particularly vivid and florid account of the great hurricane of 1772.

On August 5th, 1779 Governor Thomas Dinzey of Saba in a letter to His Excellency General Clausen of St.Croix concerning runaway slaves refers to the reverend Hugh Knox as attorney to himself and Isaac Simmons, so that the reverend remained in contact with Saba even after he had moved to St.Croix.

In 1790 when the Reverend Dr. Thomas Coke of Methodist fame visited Saba he wrote that there was a church but no preacher. The last preacher Dr. Hugh Knox had left the island in 1771 (Knappert p.115)

Mention is also made of the English Presbyterian Church on Saba and the Rev .Hugh Knox in 1755 and 1758. In a letter from G.van Essen dated 26 February 1756 and 18 January 1758, which is to be found in the old classical archives in Amsterdam section St.Eustatius p.20 -2l, he refers to Rev. Hugh Knox on Saba.

Hamilton’s grandmother, Mary Fawcett was already married in 1718 and had a daughter Ann. In all she had seven children including Rachel(born 1729). Only Ann and Rachel survived. In 1740 Mary divorced and moved first to St.Kitts and then to St.Eustatius. Her husband John died in 1745. In Ron Chernow’s book page 17 he states: “ In 1756, one year after Hamilton was born, his grandmother, Mary Faucette, now residing on the Dutch island of St.Eustatius, made out her final will and left “my three dear slaves, Rebecca, Flora and Esther”, to her daughter Rachel.” The Horton’s and the Faucette’s would have been on St.Eustatius at the same time and would certainly have known each other.

I was helping two young archaeologists recently. They found in the archives of the Roman Catholic Church a printed sermon from 1792 dedicated to the people of Saba. It was a eulogy for the 29 year old Reverend John Elsworth delivered at Ellington, Connecticut, parts of which I will quote from.

Not long after he finished his studies at Yale College and commenced a preacher, he was invited to the Church of Christ in the Island of Saba, formerly the charge of the great and good Doctor Hugh Knox.

Warmed with love to Christ and zeal to promote the salvation of men, he received solemn ordination to the work of the gospel ministry, as the pastor of the church of Christ, in that distant region.*

*The island of  Saba, contains about 120 European families – is in the vicinity of St. Eustatius and belongs to the United States of Holland. It enjoys a salubrious air, and is esteemed the healthiest of the islands.

That eminent divine, the Rev. Doctor Knox, member of the Presbytery of New York, was minister of the church there many years. He removed from thence to the island St.Croix, where, lately by death, he finished the labors of a long and useful life.

Alexander Hamilton #2.jpgIn consequence of application from the church in Saba, for one to succeed him, Mr. Ellsworth was ordained in September 1789, at East-Windsor, by the Ministers of the Church in the Vicinity. Letters from respectable characters on the island, with which the writer has been honored, express the highest and most affectionate esteem of him, during his ministry there.

To the Church and Congregation in the Island of SABA

Honorable and Christian Friends

When, at your request the late Mr. Elsworth received ordination, with a view to his settlement with you as your spiritual pastor, it was the hope of the friends of religion that his life and usefulness would be prolonged, and that you might long rejoice in his light. But the sovereign arbiter of life, is sometimes pleased to call from their labors, those who appear to be best qualified, by natural and gracious endowments for extensive usefulness; perhaps to teach us that he is not confined to means, to us apparently best fitted to carry on the purposes of his grace, and also, to raise them to sublimer scenes, and more exalted employments in heaven.

The church of Christ sustains a loss by the death of so good and promising a Minister of Jesus. We sincerely sympathize with you in this bereaving providence. May a double portion of the spirit of this ascended servant of Christ, rest on his successor, who is now with you; and may his faithful labours for your spiritual interests, be crowned with abundant success.

After his return to the continent, he frequently expressed a cordial regard for you, as a people whom he sincerely loved, and whose salvation he ardently desired; and with whom had his health permitted, he would have chosen to have spent his days; and a grateful sense of those respectful attentions shewn to him, and kindnesses received from you, and particularly from His Honor Governor Dinzey, and his worthy family, in whose family he lived, during his residence in the island.

Accept, honorable and Christian brethren, the following discourse, as a tribute of respectful remembrance from the afflicted parents of the deceased, and from your sincere friend and servant, in our common Lord,

David M’Clure

East-Windsor

Connecticut,

Nov. 30, 1791

The sermon of 31 pages I will not serve up for your benefit, however it is interesting to read of the great interest in the salvation of  the group of night rioters as described by Doctor Knox in 1772. By the way I passed this along to some of the younger folks and they had a good laugh and one said ;”My God, it is true, the more things change the more they remain the same.”

A sermon made at the funeral of Governor Peter Simmons by the Rev. Dr. Hugh Knox is supposed to be in the Library of Congress. To any of you computer experts who can find that sermon for me I would be deeply grateful.

And the search for the relationship with Alexander Hamilton goes on. To those who do not know him I will end with the following quotation:

“ I consider Napoleon, Fox and Hamilton the three greatest of men of our epoch, and if I were forced to decide between the three, I would give without hesitation – the first place to Hamilton. He divined Europe.”

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand.

So far for now this bit on information on Dr.Hugh Knox and John Elsworth.

This article was published in 2008 in The Weekender of The Daily Herald. Since then I was able to obtain a copy of the sermon made by the Rev. Hugh Knox for his mother-in-law. Hugh Knox was married to Mary the daughter of Lt. Governor (Commander) Peter Simmons. When I find everything I will update this article.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FATHER BRUNO BORADORI

The Reverend Father Bruno Boradori

BB073.jpgBy; Will Johnson

Several years ago [August 2016], a nephew [Titus Bartels]of Father Boradori brought me his collection of old slides and photographs. I was staying at a Hotel in The Hague, where I was attending meetings as a board member of the P.C.N (Dutch Caribbean Pension Funds).

A friend of mine and former resident of Saba Marlene van Dam had met by sheer coincidence on a train a niece[Lidewijde Kwant-Bartels], of the reverend Roman Catholic priest. When told that Marlene had lived on Saba the niece said that she had an uncle who had been a priest there and had died there as well. She did not have any photographs of her uncle, so Marlene sent me an e-mail and asked that I get in contact with the niece. I did that and sent her a number of photographs of the good priest which I had in my extensive photo collection. At the same time, I informed her that I could remember Father Boradori always with his camera walking around and taking photos and asked her if she could find out what had become of his photo’s. Her brother was on vacation in Spain and she promised she would put him in contact with him when he returned. I recall speaking on the phone with him and making arrangements when and where to meet when I would be in The Hague. I told him of the work I was doing as a hobby with old photographs on Facebook and elsewhere, so that he could see what I was busy with. He knew the islands well as he had worked as a teacher on St. Maarten back in the sixties. When he arrived at the hotel, he had two sizeable boxes with him. He told me that after seeing what I was busy with on Facebook and so on, out of love for the history of these Eastern Caribbean islands, that he had decided that his uncle would not have wanted his old photos and slides to remain in storage and not shared to be viewed by the people of the islands where he had lived and worked.

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Father Bruno Boradori here standing in the cemetery where he found his last resting place in 1967.

Father Bruno Boradori worked on Saba from January 25th, 1953 to July 31st, 1957. I served as an altar boy under him from 1953 until August 1955 when I was sent to Curacao to continue my schooling there.

He again worked on Saba from August 15th, 1965 until February 23rd, 1967. Before coming to Saba and in between he had worked on the French side of St. Martin, on St. Barth’s and on the Dutch side of St. Maarten.

When he worked on St. Maarten between 1957 and 1965, I finished my schooling on Curacao and in 1960 started working in the Old Court House in a variety of government departments such as the Post Office, Receivers Office, Curacao Bank at times, and also assistant to the Notary. Because of my knowledge of the Dutch and Papiamento languages the Lt. Governor Mr. J.J. Beaujon would recruit me on weekends to type letters for him. Mind you officially I was employed as a Postal Clerk and all these other duties were without remuneration. I was not happy but in later years I appreciated the fact that because of moving from one office to the other I learned a lot which came in useful. I remember some afternoons Father Boradori, Louis Emile’Lil Dan’ Beauperthuy, my boss Alphonse 0’Connor and a couple of others would gather on the square in front of the store and office of Mr. Cyrus W.Wathey who would be relaxing in a chair outside his office. These boys were not easy with jokes they would tell in the presence of the good priest who was also part of the group. I can hear Mr. Cye now saying: “Father pretend you did not hear this one, and then go on to tell a risqué joke.  But of course, they discussed world news and things of local interest as well

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Father Boradori loved the islands he served. Here he is on a hill in St. Barth’s when that island was relatively undeveloped..

While serving on each island Father Boradori did the islands a great service. No one ever expected that the islands would change so fast. Long suffering and on their own, no one ever expected the change which would follow after the nineteen sixties. Everywhere he went he would have his camera with him and could be seen taking photos of the scenery as well as the people of the islands.

On February 14h, 1967 Bishop J.M. Holterman visited Saba. When he left Father, Bruno Boradori accompanied the Bishop to the island of St. Eustatius.

On Saturday February 18th, 1967 Father Boradori accompanied by Father P. Weyers, parish priest on St. Eustatius returned to Saba. This was made possible as Mgr. Holterman who promised to function as caretaker of the parish on St. Eustatius.

On Wednesday February 22nd, Father Boradori experienced a small accident. A government truck lost speed at a steep corner and drove backwards into the car of Father Boradori.

On Thursday morning F February 23rd Father Boradori brings his neighboring priest Father Weyeres to Flat Point and at 7pm in the evening he starts the stations of the cross in the church of Windward Side. By the 2nd station he winks at the nun, and goes back to the altar, but at the communion table he staggers and collapses. Sister Agatha had run to him and catches him just in time; a chair is brought forward; bystanders rush forward and someone rushes away to call the doctor.

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Here are some colleagues of Father Boradori at the Presbytery in Marigot with the church in the foreground.  Nineteen fifties.

Father Boradori becomes red as fire and his pulse immediately becomes weak. He is laid down flat on the altar. He started to moan weakly, and gasped for breath. Sometimes he moved a bit with an arm or a pull of his leg. When he collapsed, he became immediately unconscious or nearly unconscious. Once he sighed something like,” Sister help me. God I am suffocating.” After 10 minutes the doctor arrived, who gave him an injection. Shortly after that oxygen is brought.

In the meantime, on hearing what is happening in the church the building is quickly filled with interested persons. Also, the Revered Aldrick Hassell, the priest of the Anglican church, is part of the crowd. A heavy shower of rain prevents others from coming and prohibits those who are present from leaving.

All attempts by Doctor Senden are in vain. Finally, he tries mouth to mouth resuscitation, it does not help. Around 8.20 pm Father Boradori passes away, still lying on the altar without having revived.

It was decided to lay him out in the church. The people are requested to temporarily leave the church. Fortunately, there is decent coffin available on the island. Dressed in a gown of the Dominican Order with a cloak he is placed in the coffin after which the church is opened once again.

The Administrator of Saba Mr. G. van der Wal the same evening informs Father Jansen, priest on St. Maarten as to what has happened. He informs the Dominican Nuns, and has the news broadcast from the radio station of St. Maarten, and informs his Vicar. P.L. van Dijk on Curacao. He in turns informs Bishop Holterman, the colleagues on Curacao, Aruba and Bonaire, the Reverend father provincial at Nijmegen as to what has taken place on Saba.

During the entire night the faithful keep watch in the church, and the electricity company kept the lights on.

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Father Boradori here overlooking to Bay of Marigot. Nineteen fifties.

The following morning, Friday February 24th, Father Bern Janssen, father of Philipsburg, father Kemps C.S.Sp., chancellor at Marigot, father B. Weyers, priest of St. Eustatius, Mother Vicar etc. all came to Saba. At the request of the Vicar, Father Bern. Janssen, before he goes to Saba, a charter flight of Winair is sent to Curacao to fetch the Vicar. Accompanied by Brother Remigius Magnum O.P. Father Vicar flies to St. Maarten, transfer there to another plane to Saba, takes lots of flowers from St. Maarten, where the sad news was cause for general consternation, and arrives at 4.30 pm at the airport on Saba.

In Windward Side father Weyers assisted by Father Kemps at 4.30 pm had already started the funeral Mass which was attended  by a chock full church, whereby the whole of Saba was represented among others the Administrator of Saba Mr. van der Wal with his wife, both Commissioners [M.W.Nicholson and J.A. Anslijn], Doctor and Mrs. Senden, Reverend Aldrick Hassell, Mister William Burcher a handicapped American friend of the deceased, the Dominican Nuns and so on.

(Because some of those present before sunset had to return to St. Maarten, the Requiem Mass was started at 4.30 pm already.)

After the funeral service the coffin was close and Father van Dijk, provisional vicar performed the absolution assisted by fathers B. Weyers and B. Jansen.

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Father Bruno Boradori (center) holding a child. Together with his colleague Father Leeuwenberg.

The body is carried out of the church by parishioners from all parts of the island, to the cemetery opposite the church and there at the foot of the cross, committed to the earth. After the funeral the Vicar emotionally thanked everyone who in one way or the other had shown their sympathy.

At the death and funeral of Father Boradori it was evident how generally appreciated he was on these islands. For all concerned this death came unexpected. The Sisters had occasionally noticed on occasion that he had begun to look swollen. In a conversation with Mgr. Holterman in the week before his death Father Boradori had said that lately he did not feel well. He himself suspected that his blood pressure was high and for that reason used little salt. Mgr. Holterman urged him to have himself examined by a doctor. That was his intention. It did not reach that far.

In Father Boradori the Windward Islands have lost a great friend; he had auctioned his heart to these islands.

He was born on May 22nd, 1908 in Nijmegen. (At this death he had not yet reached the age of 59!). He was ordained in 1934, and came to the Netherlands Antilles in 1936. First, he worked on Curacao, Aruba and Bonaire. In March 1939 he came to the Windward Islands and remained there with a few brief interruptions until his death. The parishes of Mariot (French St. Martin), L’Orient (St. Barthelemy), Saba (2x) and Philipsburg came to know him as their priest. He was considered by his parishioners by his never-failing friendliness – “father Boradori rules his parish by his smile!”-. by his love for the poor and the ordinary people, by his sparkling readiness of speech. To his colleagues he was an unsurpassable host and an example of happy male piety.

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I did not remember at first that I had served as an altar boy with father Boradori from 1953 to  August 1955 when I left for Curacao to go to school. I am the altar boy on the left, in the middle looking towards the camera.

The day after the funeral of Father Boradori all of his colleagues returned to their posts. Father Vicar takes over the care of the Saba parish himself.

From all sides people request Masses be held for the soul of Father Boradori; on Tuesday February 28th a solemn funeral service was held in The Bottom and on Thursday evening March 2nd -exactly a week after his demise a solemn Mass was held in the Church in the Windward -Side.

Also Reverend Aldric Hassell, the priest f the Anglican parish, invited Father Vicar and the Dominican Sisters to attend a requiem Mass in his church in The Bottom on Wednesday March 1st. Of course, they accepted the invitation. From this gesture and from the large attendance of the Anglican community proved how much Father Boradori was appreciated in those circles also.

Father Boradori on St. Barth's.

Father Boradori here on his beloved St. Barth’s long before the development of the last decades.

Immediately after his burial voices were raised asking for a suitable gravestone. On Sunday February 27th, in the Windward Side slides were shown of Saba and the surrounding islands. The proceeds are for a gravestone.

In the week after February 26th Father Vicar, helped by Brother Remigius put things in order. Books and clothes were packed up and sent to Curacao. The records were brought up to date; old litter was burnt.

On March 2nd, father Weyers came to relieve the Vicar who had to call together his council and therefore travelled on Friday March 3rd via St. Maarten and Puerto Rico to Curacao.

On Tuesday March 7th father Vicar signals from Curacao that Father Leeuwenberg has been appointed as priest for Saba. On Thursday March 9th father Vicar returns to Saba while Father Weyers returned the same day to St. Eustatius- while the Vicar makes all the preparations for the arrival of Father Leeuwenberg. He arrives on Monday March 13th. That same evening he has a Holy Mass said in The Bottom and gets acquainted with his parishioners. On Tuesday March 14th he serves the Holy Eucharist in the Windward Side and also gets acquainted with the parishioners there, and on Wednesday there follows an acquaintance session with Hell’s Gate

On Thursday March 16th father Vicar returns to Curacao and thereby brings to a close the eventful period of February 23rd to March 16th on Saba.

TRAVELING WITH THE MITCHELL’S

Travelling with the Mitchell’s.

By Will Johnson

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Mrs. Elizabeth Mitchell at Brimstone Hill St. Kitts looking towards St. Eustatius.

In March 1947 Carleton Mitchell and his wife “Zib” [Elizabeth] visited St. Eustatius and Saba. Their boat the “Carib” started out of Trinidad. The boat had been shipped by a freighter from the United States, and would be sailed back along the islands all the way back. From this trip the book “Islands to Windward” resulted as well as an article in the 1947 National Geographic Magazine.

It is always interesting when reading old books about the Caribbean to learn the views expressed about our islands and life as it was back then.

For this article bear in mind that in 1947 Saba and St. Eustatius had no airports, no piers, no electricity, no roads to speak of. Compared to modern times life was difficult and one had to work hard to survive.

For whatever reason the ‘Carib’ stayed on course and bypassed St. Martin, St. Barth’s and Anguilla. A great pity as his book and the subsequent article in the National Geographic Magazine has some really nice photos from that year. With so many changes since then to the islands mentioned ,people always love to see how their islands looked like in their parents and grandparent’s lifetime.

From St, Kitts the ‘Carib’ sailed directly to Statia and then on to Saba. Interesting to readers today are he and his wife’s impressions of both of these Dutch islands.

Between St. Kitts and Statia the channel is only six miles wide. As we approached Sandy Point, I was curious to find what the sea would be doing. It couldn’t be more uncomfortable. I thought optimistically, soon to do battle with the southerly swell that we were riding up the coast. All our rolling up to that point was only an introduction to the main event.”

Just a few weeks ago I was up on deck of a large cruise ship going in that same direction and experiencing in a most comfortable way that rolling of the waves in the relatively shallow waters of the channel.

“What is that yellow flag?” asked the man in the stern of the rowboat that came alongside a few minutes after our anchor had splashed down. He was wearing a khaki uniform of a police officer with brown leather puttees and a sun helmet.

“That flag?” I repeated in surprise. “That’s the Quarantine flag. It means that we are coming from a foreign country and want to enter.”

“Oh!” he said, swinging himself aboard. “You don’t need anything like that. You’re welcome here.”

And that was the extent of the formality surrounding our entrance to Statia. Later the Governor, Ernest Voges, was to elaborate: “We’re too small for red tape and all that nonsense.”

Not so anymore. Statia now has more security checks at the airport and harbour and so on than St. Barth’s which gets probably three hundred thousand tourists a year.

“Reading had prepared me for the two towns of Statia. “The town stands on the South side, and is divided into two parts, denominated the Upper and Lower Towns, “said the 1818 SAILING DIRECTIONS. “ The latter is on the shore; it consists of shops and warehouses, and is inhabited in the day only, as the inhabitants pass their nights and holidays in the Upper Town, 50 0r 60 feet above the level of the sea, to which they climb by means of steps cut in the rock. The Lower Town consists of a single street, and is very indifferently built. The governor’s house and fort are in the Upper Town….The island produces coffee, rum, sugar and vegetables. The air is wholesome in the Upper Town, but the steep cliffs prevent the Lower Town from being refreshed by the breezes, the ground is cultivated as much as possible, and covered with sugar-canes to the very summit of the mountains. Water is so scarce, that the inhabitants drink rain-water, which is preserved in cisterns…. The road [harbour] is much frequented, and ships are frequently there, even in the hurricane months…

“Orangetown has a Dutch “feel” immediately noticeable to anyone who has been to the Netherlands. It is something that cannot quite be define; it has to do with the neatness of the houses, the cleanliness of the streets – a prim look, a scrubbed look. There was none of the surliness in the people that was to be found in St. Kitts – and indeed almost throughout the British Islands.

Pandt Family Group

Governor Ernest Voges, second from left, here on Statia with friends and family.

Governor Voges was expecting me, having watched Carib come into the anchorage. His hospitality was swift and complete. He wanted us to come ashore and spend the night as his guests; when I decline, he insisted that we spend the next night with him. Within a few minutes I was driving around Orangetown in his truck, and he had arranged to show us all over the island the following morning.

After a comfortable night ‘Zib’ and I went ashore to meet Governor Voges. He drove us to the highest point on the island that could be reached by road. Everything was sere and brown. Against a normal yearly rainfall of 48 inches there had been less than 26, Statia no longer is “covered with sugar canes.” The ground is exhausted and very little is grown.

In the afternoon we packed ditty bags to spend the night ashore. Governor Voges wanted us to meet some of the island people, and we were anxious to do so. After an early dinner, chairs were brought out on a veranda and the guests arrived. It was a pleasant evening. Although all were of old island families, they were cosmopolitan in their outlook. Many had lived in the United States – a Mr. Hill [Josiah?]  had spent some time in Boston, and one of the Pandts worked in the post office in Minneapolis – and the talk shifted from Statia to “The States” and back again. Several remembered Fritz Fenger when he had cruised through the islands in ‘Yakaboo’ and ‘Diablesse’; Zib was later to be given some of the “slave beads” from the wreck of an old slaver similar to those that Fenger had collected on his visit twenty years earlier.

Ida, Herman, Tommy, Maud, Mac Pandt

Members of the Pandt family.

The Pandts were direct descendants of Hendrick Pandt, one of the four men who had been forced to sign the capitulation to Rodney. Curiously enough, a few days after our visit a Rodney was scheduled to stop at the island; this one a junior officer aboard a British ship of war making a good-will call. I have often wondered if some of the more elderly ladies present that night were entirely cordial in their manner to a Rodney, even after a century and a half!”

He continues to Saba and has this to say: “Saba, poor little island, suffers the fate of being the glamour girl of the West Indies. Standing off by herself on her own bank of soundings and minding her own business, she is beset by all sorts of weird creatures like yachtsmen and authors – and sometimes a combination of the two- and her ‘Onder Gezaghebber’ has the slightly harried air of a man in a lady’ store on bargain day. Although nature tried to make her hard to meet and even more difficult to know, her name is better known than those of many of her bigger sisters. It is said that her admirer gaggle both vowels of her name, producing sounds like the “ahhs” that make a doctor happy, but she has learned to put up with the curses of celebrity. She has even suffered through being the heroine of a magazine piece entitled “Island of Women,” and through an invasion by a motion picture company.”

He goes on to describe the then difficulties of mooring a boat at Saba and said that as ‘we neared a boat put out from the shore, and Governor Huith was soon alongside. Governor Voges had called him on the radiotelephone to say that we were on the way.”

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Governor Max Huith on horseback here checking the progress of the road leading to St. John’s.

 

After deciding to anchor the “Carib” at Ladder Bay he writes: “It was a long row back, and I saw why the boatmen prefer to have visitors anchor off Forty Bay, where the boats are kept.’ Neddy’ [Nederville Heyliger], the Chief Boatman, whose father before him was Chief Boatman, is as fine a surf man as there is anywhere and his exploits are part of the Saba legend, but he doesn’t like to row a heavy boat a mile any more than you or I.

I had gotten over the first hurdle. The next was close ahead: sitting on a pile of camera gear and other duffle. I realized that we were about to land, only there wasn’t any landing! Ahead there was nothing but rock- rock in ledges, rock in pinnacles, and just ordinary boulders. The swells dashed into this assemblage of disaster to boil and hiss and foam, exactly as the sea boils and hisses and foams on rocks in the sailor’s most hideous nightmare. As I started to say something in warning, Neddy, who had been watching the oncoming breakers over his shoulder, gave a grunt and dug his steering paddle into the water; all the oarsmen dug and we spurted ahead. I clutched both gunwales and hoped for the best. There was a lurch, a bump, and a scrape, and the boat was up on the beach above the surf line, so that I could step ashore dry shod. Neddy seemed about as concerned as a taxi driver who had made it to the Penn station – to him it was just another fare and, I gathered, on an easy day.

So I prepared for the next hurdle, that terrible climb up the side of the mountain, and found Governor Huith was waiting in a jeep.

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Boat Captain Neddy Heyliger in white jacket here landing a Jeep at Fort Bay.

That jeep was the greatest event in Saba history. It had been on the island just a couple of weeks at the time of our arrival, and Neddy and his fellows were still repairing the boats stove on bringing it ashore – a feat that I still cannot conceive. When it had finally been landed and started up the mountain over the road that had been building for 5 years, some of the inhabitants departed for the higher hills. Others walked over from Hell Gate and Windward Side just to have a look. The governor took school children for rides and they screamed when the “houses went back so fast.” The porters dubbed it “the donkey on wheels.” In the town, paths had to be widened to let it make the corners., But lie all forms of progress it had its opponents. Some felt that it would take the income from the porters, those who carry the goods up the mountain on the backs of donkeys or on their own heads. The children had no doubts about it, though. Whenever it stopped in the town it would be surrounded by a gaping circle. Now another road is under construction to the more distant village of Windward Side, and it was rumored that KLM, would inaugurate helicopter service by 1950!

We were installed at the Government Guest house, a pleasant two-story house maintained for visitors, which may be used at the discretion of the governor. There is no hotel on the island. Here we found ourselves with all the comforts of home: a mechanical refrigerator, china, glassware, linens, and even someone to preside over the kitchen, a worthy by the name of Albertha Leverock. Albertha had been caring for guests since the Tertiary Age. She looked on us as her personal property and was always ready to “froi” something on the kerosene stove.

Geraldine Leverock

Geraldine Leverock. was a daughter of Alberta.

Saba is a Dutch island and the inhabitants speak English. The whole atmosphere of the island is of the outside world. Conversations especially turns toward the sea: for generations the man have sailed away while the women watched the dancing blue waters for their return. We were told that thirty Sabans commanded ships of the United States merchant marine, and that the skipper of one of the first supply ships to make the landing of the invasion of Africa was from the island.

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Alberta Leverock. She was a sister of “Gardy” (Carl Hassell) and mother of Geraldine, Page and Anna.

Many of the stories of ships brought by to whistle a salute to the people in the hills. “Cap’n So-and-So of the S.S. Blanck; he’s from Windward Side, and last year he was going to Aruba and he came up close to the rocks and blew the whistle three time. Long blasts….”

The chapter on Saba is a long one and I am quoting only the most important sections. He describes their departure. “Neddy [whom he refers to as Netty]  waited for us at the foot of the Ladder. It was so smooth that getting out and away was easy. We swung back aboard ‘Carib’ and Johnson, the Saban who had been with Al, dropped into the boat. We waved farewell to Neddy as he rounded the Point, and to Rebecca [Levenstone] before she disappeared around the turn.”

Great memories of their 1947 visit from the book “Islands to Windward.”

And if Albertha has caught up with the Mitchell’s in that Great Beyond I am sure she is ‘froiing’ something for them on her kerosene stove right now.

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Neddy Heyliger up front on the right and Mrs. Rebecca Levenstone second on the right carrying Mrs. Elizabeth Mitchell out to the Carib from The Ladder Bay. 1947.

 

 

 

 

 

 

MEMORIES OF MAY

MEMORIES OF MAY

By. Will Johnson

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Dudley Johnson and Al Hassell here checking the hot springs at Great Hole.

In the month of May 2002, I wrote an article for The Daily Herald. I was in Florida and had a dream in the early morning hours of May 8th. I was in the middle of a volcanic eruption and a silent scream went up towards the heavens. The scream was from at least twenty-eight thousand people being consumed by Mount Pelee, and the lovely city of St. Pierre on Martinique forever to be remembered for her destruction by the angry volcano.

It took me nearly all day before I realized what the dream was all about. It was one hundred years after the destruction. Living for centuries on an active volcano must have seasoned my genes to worry about an eruption.

I was busy writing an article updating the general public as  to what if anything is being done to monitor the volcanoes of Saba and Statia. I was quoting from the report of Elske de Zeeuw-van Dalfsen and Reinoud Sleeman which gives a good idea as to what is being done by the Royal Institute of The Netherlands concerned with monitoring weather, and now also volcanoes. It is quite detailed but for the layman it is quite readable. And then just a few days ago there was an article from the Saba Government Information service about a visit from the Institute and giving an update on the equipment they are using and so forth. Given the circumstances and the fact that we are still in the month of May I will incorporate some of the technical details as well as memories of the devastation caused on May 8th, 1902 by the Mt. Pelee on Martinique.

The report made by the Department of Seismology and Acoustics of the Royal Meteorological Institute (KNMI) at the Bilt in The Netherlands reminded me of an incident years ago.

 

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Saint Pierre, had an appeal of a flower that blossomed  once only, in one place: that no eye will ever see again.

“Early seismic monitoring on the islands of Saba and St. Eustatius was carried out by the Lamont –Doherty Geological Observatory (U.S.A.) who operated a single one-component seismometer on Saba from 1978 to 1983.”

I remember this site well. It was situated on a then vacant lot next to my house at the edge of the cliff. One afternoon I got a phone call and the man at the other end was out of breath. Practically screaming into the phone asking me:” How are you coping? Is there anyone alive besides you? “Turns out he was calling from the Colombia University in New York City. Somehow they were monitoring this seismometer next to my house. When he told me that there had been a 9 plus magnitude earthquake right under Saba, I assured him that all was well and to hold on a while and I would check the antenna. I checked and came right back and reassured him that indeed all was well and that one of my neighbours had tied his cow to the antenna. So, each time when the cow walked around in search of grass and pulled on the antenna, the equipment was registering earthquakes of more than 9 points magnitude on the Richter scale.”

The extensive report which I was quoiting from for this article has this to say: “As of 1 January 2017, the population of the island of Saba reached 2010 people, and the population of St. Eustatius totaled 3250 people. The expansion of the population at the islands observed over the past decade is expected to continue, implying that the number of people at risk, and the complexity of evacuation in case of volcanic unrest will also increase. The Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) is responsible for the observations of geophysical phenomena at the islands. In acute potential hazardous situations, KNMI informs local authorities at the islands as well as the departmental crisis coordination center of the Ministry as soon as possible. Responsible agencies on the islands can take further action if needed, assisted by the crisis coordination center. Apart from these potential urgent warnings, KNMI sends the local government a status report 1-2 times a year.

A report from the government information service of Saba of this past week reports the following.

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Around 8am Mt. Pelee erupted with such force that the beautiful city of St. Pierre was totally destroyed in a matter of forty five seconds.

“The Department of Seismology and Acoustics of the Royal Netherlands Metrological Institute (KNMI) has been working on Saba for several years to monitor the dormant volcano Mount Scenery. The monitoring of a volcano is best done using multiple techniques to access the state of activity.

One way to monitor is through a so-called Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS). In January 2018, the KNMI installed the first GNSS at St. John’s, followed by a second installation at the Juancho Irausquin Airport in February 2019. Both instruments are operating as expected and data are operating as expected and sent automatically to the KNMI in The Netherlands every hour, using a transmission facilitated by SATEL.

The GNSS instruments have to be regularly maintained to ensure their continued operation. The instruments are subject to harsh environmental conditions: the chloride ions in the air from the evaporated sea salt in ocean spray and the high temperatures speed up the reaction time, corroding even stainless steel. A GNSS instrument measures the distortion of the earth’s surface, making it possible to see whether the surface swells or deflates.

794_001_ak-saint-pierre-la-martinique-une-rue-principale.jpgA second way to monitor is through temperature sensors. In January 2018, a temperature sensor was installed at the hot spring opposite Green Island. This sensor takes a measurement every 20 minutes and stores the data locally. The measurements form a time series and stores the data locally. They give more detailed information about temperature changes of the hot spring and is compared to the single measurements that have already been taken.

If the volcanic activity changes, the temperature of the hot spring can increase. There will also be more fumes. The population is asked when they see fumes or indications of any other possible volcanic activity, to inform the safety coordinator of the Public Entity.

The last visit of the KNMI to the hot spring was in February 2019. Improvements were made to the installation, which includes temperature probes that are buried in the ocean bed and covered with rocks to keep them in place, and data loggers, small yellow cases mounted on the rock above the spring and housed in a black case to protect it against the elements. Due to the high surf activity, it remains to be seen how long the temperature probes and their cables will survive. A more rugged installation is planned for the future.

The third monitoring instrument is the seismometer. The KNMI has installed has installed three seismometers on Saba; in The Bottom, St. John’s and Windward Side. A fourth seismometer will be reinstalled shortly at the airport after the instrument has been repaired. Seismic instruments are important because they record the vibrations of the earth. If a volcano becomes active, the seismic vibrations will intensify, explained De Zeeuw-van Dalfsen. KNMI representatives now visit Saba on a regular basis.

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The seismic network is designed to monitor the seismicity in the Caribbean Netherlands region and the seismic signals preceding or accompanying the earthquakes in the region, which may generate tidal waves. The seismic network has been gradually expanded since 2006.

The current monitoring network of Saba is in development. The goal is to enhance the monitoring capability. Future improvements include 1) the installation of a seismic station in the north west area of Saba, 2) the placing of another GNSS station on the island and, 3) installing a more durable temperature sensor which transmits data in real-time to monitor the hot spring on Saba.

So far, this excellent report on the activities of the KNMI.

“My grandmother Agnes Simmons born Johnson (born 1880) told me stories of the morning of May 8th, 1902. They heard two explosions coming from the South. They thought it must be a Dutch man-of-war visiting Statia .

 

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1948. Lt. Governor Max Huith and Police Chief Bernard Halley here checking the hot springs between Tent Bay and the Ladder. They were covered up by a large land slide in recent years, but can still be experienced on the sea bed in the same area.

Captain Irvin Holm (born 1890) who lived on the road to Booby Hill also heard the explosions. He and his brother Captain Ralph as boys were curious to know what was taking place. They walked to the edge of Booby Hill and saw that it was getting dark to the South where the explosions had come from. It got darker as the day went on and ash started to fall on the island. They realized that something had happened but could not imagine how terrible it was. It took almost a week before the news came in. And in that news was included the death of Roland Hassell a mate on a schooner in the harbour of St. Pierre. He was the father of the well-known ‘Bungy’ Hassell from Under the Hill.

I am busy reading for the second time the book ‘The Coloured Countries’ by Alec Waugh. In 1928 he spent several months on the island of Martinique. One day he and his friend Eldred Curwin decided to visit of St. Pierre.

“Once we went to St. Pierre.

From Ford Lahaye it is a three hours’ sail in a canoe, along a coast indented with green valleys that run climbing back climbing through fields of sugar cane.

589_001_depts-divers-martinique-ref-d925-saint-pierre-st-pierre.jpg‘Nor, as you approach Saint Pierre, would you suspect that in that semi-circle of hills under the cloud-hung shadow of Mont Pele, are hidden the ruins of a city for which history can find no parallel.”

“ But it is not till you have left the town and have climbed  to the top of one of the hills, you look down into the basin of Saint Pierre, and, looking down, see through the screen of foliage the outline of house after ruined house, that you realize the extent and nature of the disaster. No place that I have ever seen has moved me in quite that way. At the corners of these streets, men had stood gossiping on summer evenings, watching the sky darken over the unchanging hills, musing on the permanence, the unhurrying continuity of the life they were a part of. It is not that sentiment that makes the sight of Saint Pierre so profoundly solemn. It is the knowledge rather that here existed a life that should be existing still, that existed nowhere else, that was the outcome of a combination of circumstances that now have vanished from the world forever. Even Pompeii cannot give you quite that feeling. It has not that personal, that localized appeal of a flower that has blossomed once only, in one place: that no eye will ever see again.

448_001_cpa-saint-pierre-la-martinique-la-rade.jpgSaint Pierre was the loveliest city in the West Indies. The loveliest and the gayest. All day its narrow streets were bright with colour; in sharp anglings of light the amber sunshine streamed over the red tiled roofs, the lemon covered walls, the green shutters, the green verandahs. The streets ran steeply, “breaking into steps as streams break into waterfalls.” Moss grew between the stones. In the runnel was the sound of water. There was no such thing as silence in Saint Pierre. There was always the sound of water, of fountains in the hidden gardens, of rain water in the runnels, and through the music of that water, the water that kept the town cool during the long noon heat, came ceaselessly from the hills beyond the murmur of the lizard and the cricket. A lovely city, with its theatre, its lamplit avenues, its’ jardin des plants’, its schooners drawn circle wise along the harbour. Life was comely there; the life that had been built up by the old French emigres. It was a city of carnival. There was a culture there, a love of art among those people who had made their home there, who had not come to Martinique to make money that they could spend in Paris.

234_001_depts-divers-martinique-ref-d916-saint-pierre-la-martinique-st-pierre-la-martinique-avant-la-catastropheThe culture of Versailles was transposed here to mingle with the Carib stock and the dark mysteries of imported Africa. Saint Pierre was never seen without emotion. It laid hold of the imagination. It had something to say, not only to the romantic intellectual like Hearn or Stacpool, but to the sailors and the traders, to all those whom the routine of livelihood brought within the limit of its sway. “Incomparable,” they would say as they waved farewell to the Pays des Revenants, knowing that if they did not return, they would carry all their lives a regret for it in their hearts. And within forty-five seconds the stir and colour of that life had been wiped out. History has no parallel for Saint Pierre.

Sitting on the walls as a boy and listening to the old captains and sailors who had known and loved this magic city, I became entranced with the Pays des Revenants and have had a lifelong regret that the city was forever lost. Living on a dormant volcano it makes sense to monitor what is going on and glad to share this with the people who have

Saint Eustatius Island was once an active volcano.

As can be seen in this photo St. Eustatius and St. Kitts are also dormant volcanoes and for the past years the island of Montserrat has been erupting, cause for alarm on the Dutch Islands as to what is being done about monitoring these volcanoes.

been wondering if anything is being done to monitor our volcano.

 

 

 

THE LETTERS

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Young Jan Philipszoon in front of the home of his grandfather Albert Buncamper to the head of Front Street in Philipsburg

THE LETTERS

By: Will Johnson

Some years past Ms. Bernadette (“Bunchie”) Buncamper shared with me a batch of old documents belonging to her grandfather Mr. Albert Buncamper. All yellowed and brittle and mostly written with pencil. It took me some time to discover that the old documents were actually a diary recording all that was taking place in the year 1927. These documents were the foundation for my book “The Diary of a St. Martin Salt Checker’.

Last year Mrs. Carolyn McIllroy-Buncamper after hurricane Irma gave me access to some equally old documents which turned out to be account books of her great grandfather. I refer to them as that as they contained hand written copies of all correspondence between Mr. Albert and his children mostly, as well as his friend C.B. Romondt whose home he took care of.

 

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Mr. Albert Buncamper here with his grandson Jan whom he raised. Mr. Buncamper intrigues me with his letters to his son Carl on St.Eustatius a teacher and later Administrator there. His son Walter worked with the Courts and later was Administrator of Saba. His daughter Coralie was a teacher on Saba and Elize stayed on St. Maarten. A very responsible family man who led his children to great heights.

Long before Xerox came into being Mr. Buncamper, who loved to write, came up with the idea to copy by hand each letter which he sent out via the post. Just imagine writing each and every letter twice! For me they are a treasure trove of information of the nineteen thirties. He would send his children and his friend an update on all that which was taking place ‘Up Street’ and on St. Martin in general. I am thinking of making another book called “The Letters’. This will require time and I will need help.

In the mean time I will quote from some of the letters so as to give an idea of life on St. Martin as documented from his home in ‘Up-Street” so as to give some idea of life in the nineteen thirties. Mr. Albert Buncamper died in 1941 the same year in which I was born’.

The setting from which he wrote his letters became a familiar and much loved one for me. Between 1955 and 1960 when I started living right across the street from his residence, I visited St. Martin twice yearly on my way to and from Curacao where I went to school. Little if anything had changed from the days of the nineteen thirties. The Great Patriotic War as the Russians call World War 11, had taken place and in 1944 St. Martin had gotten a moderate airport.

 

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Mr. Albert Buncamper refers to the start of this Government Building in 1937. It is built on land formerly belonging to the Buncamper family. This building became the Pasangrahan Hotel and when Eric Lawetz took it over in the nineteen fifties the alley was taken out in order to extend the hotel to the neighbouring property.

After the A.C.Wathey  pier was built in 1962 and a runway able to accommodate jet traffic in the mid nineteen sixties, the once unspoiled island went into a period of rapid development. Few people today remember how precious it was to have lived through the unspoiled existence of St. Martin and its people before 1965. The Second World War was fading into history and the island was mostly dependent on its own resources. The salt harvesting and export had ceased. People had left for Curacao, Aruba and the United States or had died out. The economy had changed hands from the powerful van Romondt family to Mr. Cyrus Wathey on the Dutch side and Constant Fleming on the French side and they controlled the political life of the island as well, for several decades.

 

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Me [Will Johnson] here in 1960 coming from work. The house was then rented to Mr. Stetson Risdon. I would at times be called on to serve drinks at a poker game between Chester Wathey, Emile ‘Lil Dan” Beauperthuy, Alphonse O’Connor and Stetson Risdon.

  In general, though the island was at peace with the world and itself, allowing Mr. Buncamper to enjoy the quiet life he led in his home in ‘Up-Street’ while copying all his letters by hand. Letters which are scattered before me today (May 2019), as I write this. In this article I am presenting just a sample of the many letters for you to enjoy and to cherish the memories today, which he shared with us as he dutifully copied these letters in his diaries for all of us to enjoy.

St. Martin Feby.8th -1936

Mr. C.R. Romondt,

Dear friend,

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Captain Hodge’s Guesthouse where I lived was directly across the Street from the Buncamper home.

I am now writing you these few lines hoping they will find you and the family all well. We are having some deaths here lately. Our ‘landraad’ [local councilor] Jacob A. Richardson who was ‘landraad’ for many years has retired in the middle of last year and between the month of October, November or December received a gold medal of honor from the Government (Queen) he is now dead. He died Friday January foreday half past twelve o’clock. He is well known by all classes. He is 84 years old. He will be a great missing in the Methodist church. He was circuit steward, in the absence of Mr. Darrell and when he is on the Island, he bury any one, when Mr. Darrel was so much persecuted he was a great friend at his side now as a great friend to him in his troubles and stood to his side.

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A sample of one of the letters. He wrote a separate copy of the letters he sent out and they now form an interesting chapter of life on St. Martin in the nineteen thirties.

There was a funeral. They came from all over the island, people from Marigot etc. Between sixteen to twenty cars were there.

We have it very hot up here now heavy drought. The earth is terrible dry. Water getting scarce. Cistern getting short of water. Hoping to get heavy showers. We all send howdy to you and all the others hoping you all are well and hope that your eyes are not troubling you. Jantje is O.K.  and he send howdy to you. Norma, Margaret and Helena ask to be remembered to you hopes you is well.

I must now close hoping you is well and all the families.

I remain your true friend.

 

St. Martin, April 28th, 1937

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We had a lot of fun with Mr. Joe from Simpsons Bay and would help him pull in his nets right in front of the Pasangrahan Hotel. He lived with his wife down the alley and she was a member of the Buncamper family.

Dear Walter,

I am now writing you these few lines hoping they will find both of you well. At present I am no worse. Wren [Ah.Ah] husband Calvin arrived this morning in the ‘Baralt’. I hope you got through well, all your work good.

Netherwood pick salt two days last week also Monday and Tuesday this week.

We had last night a couple of good showers and this morning a heavy shower. We was having it very dry. This rain is a good help to the island. I hope we will get some more.

Invitation out for Ludwig Reginald [Carrty]

To Gladys Marie Hyacinth Houtman on May 12th 1937 at 8 o’clock pm. I must now close hoping both of you are well. I remain. Yours father,

Albert Buncamper

St. Martin, June 22, 1937

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Michel Deher also from “Up-Street” here looking down on Philipsburg around 1955. Few changes had taken place from the time when Mr. Albert Buncamper was writing his letters next to us. Photo Guy Hodge.

Dear Carl,

I am now writing you these few lines hoping they will find you well. We had the submarine here for a few days. Plenty people went on board to see how she was situated. Walter, Baby [Elize], Jan and Olga. Walter give us a good history of her. Three of them slept on shore up the ‘Vineyard.’ I suppose they must have had in Statia a good time. I could not see her as the tree in Marther yard hid her from me. The new building for the Governor of Curacao [Pasangrahan] is going ahead. It will be a fine site in the Up Street. We hope to send a box or a pan with some mangoes for you today. Just after nine o’clock while writing you we receive the letter from George Fox with the money, also a letter for Walter. I must now close.

I remain yours father A. Buncamper

St. Martin, July 21st, 1937

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Big change to St. Martin when the Juliana Airport was built in 1943. Also the Philipsburg Electric Company started by Governor H. Beaujon in the nineteen twenties were the two big changes in the first half of the twentieth century.

Dear Coralie,

I am now writing you these few lines hoping they will find you well. At present I am feeling no worse. I has to go in the hospital Friday for a change and then after go in every two weeks. As usual idea I believe that the new Sister from Aruba coming head of the Hospital and our Sister going Head of the hospital in Aruba. So that this Wednesday the 21st our new Sister will be here in the ‘Baralt’ so that Friday our Sister and the Doctor will show her how to act with me. The doctor going in the middle of next month and the new Doctor will be here so that our Doctor will be present to show him he will act with me. Some days I feel good and some days I don’t feel well.

You will receive a box of fruit by the ‘Baralt’ this trip. I hope you will receive it safe.

The firm of L.A. van Romondt and sons finish. Consta Fleming take over the shop, store etc.  Seye [Cyrus] Wathey bought the store and shop for $4.000.–

Marius, Beryl and others out of it, paid them off and close the place for a week. It is expected that Marias will attend the steamer this time as the month is not up. And it has to be fixed in Curacao who will be agent for the steamer.

‘Baby’ [Elize] will write you all the news. Remember me to Dr. Chateau and wife, nothing more to say. I remain, Yours Father A. Buncamper.

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The ‘Baralt’ at the Fort Bay on Saba, the monthly steamer serving the islands from Curacao.

St. Martin, January 22nd, 1938

Mr. C.B. Romondt

Dear friend,

I am glad to write you these few lines hoping they will find you and all the families well. Also hope that your eyes are no worst but improving.

Some days I am able to go out in the yard a little and some days I feel very bad. But what must I do trust in God. I feel these couple of days pretty good.

About the house. After I turn the man out of it I had to put boards in the floor and re nail the whole floor and shingle the Northern side of the main house just East of the Ell. Also put a little paint on the windows, doors and stillings as this work cost $11.63. The woman hire the house from August 29th, 1936 at $2.25 per month and paid the first two months’ rent $2.25 a month and afterwards $2.00 a month saying she could not pay for it. I intended to turn her out. But I reflect that it would be shut up after, for there is no one to rent houses.

Houses on the Back Street today is with common people and after they hire a house you have trouble with them to get your rent from them.

May 24th, 1937, we have plenty of rain and he House leak very much on the woman and children. So, she come around and ask me to do it. The whole of the Norther side of the roof was very old. I had to patch it several times. So, I send the carpenter down and get sheets of zinc and put the zinc over the wallaba shingles. Also put to the Eastern end with zinc over the shingles. The house is in good condition now. This last fixing of the house is done May 24th, 1937. Cost $ 11.91.

House rent from August 29th, 1936 to December 29th, 1937, 2 months at $2.25. 14 months at $2.– or $32.50

House rent in full up to December 29th, 1937 $32.50.

Fixing repairs twice                                                $23.54

Balance due for Rent up to date $8.96

January 21st ship to C.B. Romondt by a Post Office Order $9.00

Remember me to all the families. Hoping you all are well.

Yours true friend.

Albert Buncamper

 

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The large two story home on the right was the home of Walter Buncamper and it ran to the Backstreet. Located where now the “Old Street” is situated.

Interesting for those nowadays is that some of the things needed for his kitchen would be ordered from Curacao.

St. Martin, July 24th, 1937.

De Heeren C. Winkel & Zonen

Willemstad Curacao

I am now sending you an order for groceries as follows.

1 tin Wijsman butter 5lbs.

2 tins “               “  2lbs each.

1 tin Plum butter   4lbs each

3 tins Parrot butter 4lbs each

3 tins Lard butter 5 lbs. each

6 tins ‘Boterham Worst’

4 tins Pears

4 tins Peaches (Peas) 2-Coralie

8 tins Potted meat (24 poltchen/)

2 tins Sardines in oil (4)

6 tins Salmon in oil (4).

6 tins sliced beef.

12 tins Vienna Sausages

2.tins Edam Cheese. 3 packs with Rose Tea ½ lbs each.

Yours very truly

J.C. Buncamper

This is just a small sampler of the many letters he sent out from his peaceful existence in “Up-Street” on the Front Street in Philipsburg, St. Martin where he stated in 1937 that

 

“No one rents houses on St. Martin anymore.”

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Photo from around 1924 by Mr. Baak a former Administrator of St.Eustatius. Imagine walking up that contraption with a load of salt on your head. The Salt Checker a man of importance back then keeping an account of each load of salt delivered.

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THE VINEYARD

THE VINEYARD

By: Will Johnson

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The Vineyard in the nineteen fifties with cattle roaming on the grounds.

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

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

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

 

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Looking from the hills above to the ‘Vineyard’ and the harbor the ‘Great Bay’ beyond.

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

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

“With regrets, we left St. Maarten on the March voyage of the ‘Estelle” [schooner of Capt. Tommy Vanterpool] in 1920. My wife and also my daughter, even though she was only one year old, had made many friends. Living in such a remote spot for some years may bring on a longing to return to civilization, yet farewell seemed to be hard. There was a feeling of leaving behind something special, a fine experience never to be relived.

“Our passage to Curacao, in the company of our little daughter, went before the wind and lasted about four days. Willemstad, its capital, looked like a metropolis. The year spent there slipped by quickly. Via Trinidad and Paramaribo, the ‘Nickerie’ took us back to the port of Amsterdam on Easter Monday, 1921.

Life went on, as life does. Nevertheless, we would not have liked doing without those years in St. Maarten.”

[ Far from the World’s Turmoil, St. Maarten 1918-1920 By F.S. Langemeyer C.E.]

The most memorable story I remember about the Vineyard is the one told to me by my boss Fons O’Connor. It was the introduction of the flush toilet inside the house. Back in the day the ‘outhouse’ was located a distance from one’s home where you ate and slept. It was sanitized from time to time with coal dust to keep down the odor as much as possible. I was told by my boss that when the ‘Vineyard’ was built that Mr. L.A. van Romondt had a flush toilet installed inside the house. What a to do among the population at the time. “Who would have thought that Mr. Van Romondt was a man like that. Doing he business inside the house, where he have to cook and sleep?”

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L.A. van Romondt with his wife “Poppie” Brouwer and their children Fritz, Lewis and Kees 1929, ‘The Vineyard’ St. Martin.

In those days it was customary for those who did not have an outhouse to carry the ‘night soil’ down to the beach and throw it into the sea. The belief I heard to justify this practice was that the sea cleaned itself every twenty-four hours. No need to worry except if you were a person who liked an early morning sea bath.

From the point of ‘doing his business inside the house’ the ‘Vineyard’ was a sensation at the time.

But for those who appreciated beautiful architecture and especially the then unspoiled setting would certainly have admired the ‘Vineyard’ from the very beginning. That is why I started this article with the memories of civil engineer F.S. Langemeyer who in later years considered it to have been a great privilege for him to have lived there.

Not only the building but the entire property located at the head of town demanded respect. The land extended to the very tops of the hills while the old town of Philipsburg lay at its feet. From the veranda one could enjoy the view of the beautiful town with the Great Salt Pond then full of activity spread out before it with the hills in the distance enclosing it like the oyster holding a precious pearl in its embrace.

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The ‘Vineyard’ while to the head of town was more of a country house than a town house.

The closest neighbour was the Huith family further up the dirt road on the road to Pointe Blanche which remained unspoiled until the end of 1959 when construction started in that area.

The house was imported from Baltimore between 1871 and 1873. I have heard it told that the house was prefabricated and modeled after a home on the island of Martha’s Vineyard therefore the name ‘The Vineyard’.  It was imported by Mr. L.A. van Romondt. It was built by the by now well-known wooden frame construction. For those who may not know the van Romondt  family,they practically owned the whole of St. Martin from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the waning days of the mid twentieth century when Mr. D.C. van Romondt passed away in 1948 at his estate ‘Mary’s Fancy’. In my book “For the love of St. Maarten” several chapters were dedicated to this family. After that I established relations with many of their descendants living all over the world. Just a few nights ago before writing this article I had a call from a lady in upstate New York whose mother was by me many years ago. She wanted to get information on where she should stay and how she and her husband could get together to discuss ‘family’. And you can never tell. The first van Romondt came out from Holland a bachelor and ended up marrying Ann Hassell the granddaughter of the rebel Peter Hassell from Saba. I have several Hassell ancestors so you can never tell.

 

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Elize Buncamper (Miss Babe), Daisy Hoven van Romondt and Coralie (Miss Coxie) Buncamper. The Vineyard 1965. I corresponded with “Miss Daisy” who lived in Alberta Canada until she passed away in her nineties.

The ‘Vineyard’ changed hands to Mayor Louis Constant Fleming, who at the time along with Mr. Cyrus W.Wathey were buying out the van Romondt family as they left the island and/or were dying out. In 1938 he sold it to Ms. J.C. Buncamper. It is still owned by a member of the Buncamper family and has been largely restored since the damage caused by hurricane Irma in 2017.

In my book ‘The Diary of a St. Martin Salt Checker’ I cover the history of the family and the Buncamper ownership of the “Vineyard’.  Regrettably people do not seem to read books anymore as I still have boxes of this book lying around. I am like the man in V.S. Naipaul’s book, ‘The Suffrage of Elvira’ I think. An illiterate man dictated his thoughts on Hinduism to a publisher and had fifteen hundred booklets printed and put on shelves in his humble abode in the countryside of Trinidad. Never sold a copy of course, but the equally illiterate country folks thought he must be brilliant to have fifteen hundred books in his house. When he thought he had enough admirers he followed the route of so many islanders today and decided to run for Senator. But that is another story. So, besides the unsold books I have written and the large collection of other books I have people must have believed me literarily equipped enough to vote for me over five decades.

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Looking from another side of The Vineyard in the direction of the Great Salt Pond and beyond.

In Joan D. van Andel’s book ‘Caribbean Traditional Architecture’ published in 1985 she reports more on the structure, “The design of the outside of the large house known as the ‘Vineyard’ on the outside of Philipsburg, differs very much from the traditional domestic building. Yet there are also many similarities. Its exclusive situation on the present W.G. Buncamper Street and its glamour give the house a special place within the traditional architecture of the island.

Although nothing is certain, this house probably owes its name to the fact that grapes once surrounded the house. The Caribbean [sea] grape is a succulent {Ipomea pescaprae) growing near the sea, a salty plant with small grapes which are not edible. [ Sorry to disagree but I would have been out of here already from a boy. Love sea grapes]. From the principal entrance of the estate, a drive leads to the front staircase leading up to the house. Where today we see flat pieces of land on either side of the drive and cows grazing in the short green grass, formerly the ‘grapes’ must have been grown, or perhaps other tropical plants. Now there is some vegetation on both sides of the front stairs, close to the house in a garden surrounded by a wooden fence.

 

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My friends the late Bernadette Buncamper of The Vineyard with Lt. Governor Theodore M. Pandt her adviser and accountant for the various Buncamper businesses and holdings.

 

The location of the façade on the short side is striking. The rooms are situated on the long side, round a staircase and a passage. On the upper “floor” on both sides of the passage, there are bedrooms. In most houses in Philipsburg, the façade is on the long side and the rooms are divided along the width of this façade.

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Philipsburg around 1900.

There is an outside staircase leading towards the façade. The plan of the house is more complicated than the plans of the traditional houses in town: there are more apartments, and the indoor staircase and the passages make the design more intricate.

Nowadays there is only a verandah on the side of the front façade: in former times there was another at the back of the houses. In contrast to most houses in Philipsburg, where the verandah is often part of the roof construction, the verandah of the ‘Vineyard’ is built as an independent structure onto the floor of the façade. This is evident as the verandah is built against a gable.

The book goes on to describe several aspects of the buildings design. It goes on to state:” The Vineyard has been described separately because being on the east side of the town it occupies rather an isolated position in relation to the other domestic houses in Philipsburg, which are all situated on Front or Back Street. Moreover, owing to its size, it is not a townhouse, but has more the character of a country house.”

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The Vineyard was a good setting for all kinds of social events.

My first visit to The Vineyard was in 1955. I had not made 14 yet. Teacher Frank Hassell took me there to see Miss Coxie (Coralie Buncamper) who had been a teacher on Saba at one time and was friends with my mother. She would visit my mother in the St. Rose Hospital when she had breast surgery for cancer and had to stay there for quite some time. I recall seeing their mother a lady of Dutch descent. Born Johanna Christine Lemke (January 31st 1866 and died May 16th 1961). That day holds a particular memory as we went with a car to have lunch with Mr. Emilio Wilson at his estate. No traffic back then. I believe it was Miss Coxie doing the driving knocking off a speed of perhaps five miles an hour with no traffic coming or going and Miss Babe cautioning Coxie to ‘slow down’.  In 1960 when I started working and living on St. Maarten I was always in the company of the Buncamper family. In my mind’s eye now, I can see Mr. Walter Granville Buncamper, a tall stately figure walking up the street on his way to the Vineyard to visit his sisters. I remember a number of times  sitting with ‘Uncle’ Carl Buncamper and the others, on the verandah with he giving me details of the former important families in the Eastern Caribbean.

I would like to end this article as I started it with the quote from civil engineer F.S. Langemeyer . “There was a feeling of leaving behind something special “Though I spend much time on St. Maarten still, I often dream of those wonderful years I spent there with the people of St. Martin treating me as one of their own. And I regret that so much of what I loved was sacrificed in the name of prosperity.

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The hills were still not developed when this photo was taken in the 1980’s.

 

HERE BEFORE COLUMBUS

The Saba Islander

HERE BEFORE COLUMBUS

By Will Johnson

History revisionists will try to convince you that Columbus did not discover the continent later named America. I would argue that he did. The Vikings some 400 years before him had settlements in New Found land but it took a long time and by coincidence that one of these settlements was found.

postcard-of-by-john-vanderlyn.jpg   People say that when Columbus left Spain, he did not know where he was going, when he arrived in our waters he did not know where he was and that when he re turned to Spain he did not know where he had been. I have stood on the steps in Barcelona where Columbus came to proclaim his success in discovering new lands to the West.

The same conflicts we read about now with the emergence of China as the new global superpower and the new silk road were the main cause…

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