The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

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.

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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…

View original post 1,974 more words

HERE BEFORE COLUMBUS

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 for Columbus’ trip.

 

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When the Moors first stepped foot in Spain, they came across a rock and called it Jab al Tariq in honour of their leader Tariq Ibn Ziyad. This rock is called Gibraltar today.

Ever since the first Crusade and the visit by Marco Polo to the East, trade between Europe and China was via a land route. The Crusades caused the emerging Muslims to strengthen their bases, the same which is taking place today. After the Capture of Jerusalem from the Crusaders and later in 1454 the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire that great City of Constantinople, Europe was in need of a sea route to China. The Muslims captured the Balkans and were knocking on the gates of Vienna before they halted their conquest. They also controlled the whole of Africa north of the Sahara the same as the Romans and the Phoenicians and Greeks before them. Europe was blocked from their lucrative land trade with the East by these Muslim conquests.  When the Spanish captured the last lands of the Moors and drove them back into North Africa the King and Queen of Spain decided to finance a Columbus’ trip to the West in search of China. Neither he or those who financed him knew that there was an entire continent several times the size of Europe [which is not a continent but the Western part of Eurasia] waiting to be discovered. There were large cities in Mexico, Central America, Peru and so on indeed. These proved to be a great boon to Spain and Europe in later years. And at the same time, it proved to be a great discovery for Spain and Europe. Columbus went to his death believing that what he had discovered were islands close to Japan and by extension China. He was granted big titles and rewards from the King and Queen of Spain and he has descendants alive today who apparently still benefit from the journey of their Italian ancestor the great navigator Christopher Columbus.

 

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Island Council Member the Hon. Eviton Heyliger in a party meeting. His mother was from St. Vincent and of Kalinago descent.

One can make sense of the European discovery of the continent originally called the Indies, at a later time known as the New World, and eventually named America, from different perspectives.

For the Europeans. The discovery represented the beginning of a new era in which novel cosmographic and philosophical conceptions were forged. Chronicler Lopes de Gomara once said that the discovery was “the greatest thing after the creation of the world.” The discovery represented the translocation of the imperial borders and economic interests of Europe. In later centuries, the struggles for power in Europe would be mirrored in America, while the colonies produced goods and services [ much of which were robbed from the aboriginals for the exclusive benefit of the metropolis.

 

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A reconstructed Taino village in Cuba.

For the aboriginals in America, who were indeed the first true discoverers of the continent, the arrival of the Europeans meant the beginning, in the short- or long-term of the collapse of their societies, which were at different levels of development at the time of Columbus’ arrival. The inhabitants of the Greater Antilles, who believed initially, that the Spanish were celestial beings and welcomed them with legendary hospitality, drastically changed their minds and began to treat the colonizers with resolute hostility when their true intentions were revealed. It was in the Greater Antilles where the blunt first contact between the two worlds occurred and it was most likely the coveted gold the main factor that incited the beginning of the end for the Tainos.

In Old San Juan last month, I bought a book titled “Tainos and Caribs” by Sebastian Robiou. It was originally written in Spanish and published in 2003. The English translation which I have is from March 2019 so hot off the press. I will quote from this book some of the information on the Tainos and Caribs: The Aboriginal Culture of the Antilles.

Miscellaneous-artifacts-from-the-Lesser-Antilles-exhibiting-Taino-stylistic-influenceThrough this book and the many others written on this subject we know that Columbus found many people in the islands he visited. Day after day, island after island, he writes his thoughts with admiration, while at the same time assessing and glorifying everything that is revealed to him. In no time at all and as a man of his time, he projects, on the local inhabitants and the natural surroundings his European world view. It is important to know who these people were. Many archaeologists have been digging up the land of the Taino’s and the Caribs [Kalinago] and the Arawaks since Columbus’ discovery. Former French priests who were the first European historians documented the native names of the islands as well as where and when the people they interviewed had come from.

 

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Many artifacts have been found over the years made by the former inhabitants of these islands.

While news of the first voyage spread in Europe and the letter written by Columbus to the King and Queen enjoyed wide circulation thanks to the printing press, a fleet of 17 ships with more than 1200 crew members [settlers] would depart to the New World at the end of September 1493 under the command of the Admiral. If the purpose of the first voyage was to explore, the goal of the second voyage was primarily to colonize.

The second voyage was not a riddle. Columbus studies his notes and also, most likely, the reports of the indigenous seaman “Diego Colon,” and plots a new route to arrive at the islands that he could not reach on his first trip. Years later, this route would facilitate also the crossing to the Antilles of ships full of African slaves.

After sailing for 39 days the fleet arrives in Dominica. After that on Guadeloupe they found in a house and Las Casas mentions a curious detail, pieces of a shipwreck “that the sailors called ‘quodatse’, at which they marveled and could not imagine how it arrived here, It later proved to be parts of a shipwreck from a vessel that sunk Between the Canary Islands and the coasts of Africa, and that had arrived in the Antilles following the same ocean current used by the Admiral.

The chronicler Diego Alvarez Chanca describes a distinctive feature of Carib men:

“the difference from the other Indians in their custom, is that the Caribs have the hair very long, and the other [the Taino] have their hair cut in thousands of different ways, and they wear paint in their bodies in diverse ways […]”

 

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As can be seen from this chart the Muslims had a lock down on the gateways to the East thereby forcing the Europeans to look for a sea route to China.

Continuing on their journey from island to island, the fleet arrived on November 14, 1493, on the island called Santa Cruz. It was here that the first clash between the Caribs and Spaniards took place. A canoe with “four men and two women and a boy” was chased by a boat with 25 Spaniards. When they saw themselves being attacked, “the Caribs […} daringly put their hands to the arches, the women as well as the men. Even with a capsized canon, the Caribs continued firing their arrows. One of them continued swimming despite being wounded by a spear. According to Michele de Cuneo, who claims to have been on the boat, the only option left was “to bring him to the edge of the boat and we cut off his head.”

 

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Suleiman the great Turkish conqueror of Constantinople.

In his letter to an Italian nobleman, Cuneo narrates that he took for himself “a beautiful cannibal” who he saw naked and “I wanted to take pleasure with her.” She objected, so he whipped her and finally achieved his purpose: He claimed that she was better than any whore in Barcelona. This would be the first documented interracial sexual encounter in the New World.

“For years, scholars have used the term ‘prehistory’ to refer to events belonging to the era before recorded history. We should warn however, that the term has fallen into disuse due to its arbitrariness. In every culture, with or without recorded history, humans are the protagonists, the forgers of history. In this sense history evolves to be the social development in time and space.

Similarly, the word ‘culture,’ often used as a synonym for civilization, has been tied wrongfully to scientific and material progress. Culture is what every human group develops when they are provided with a common set of social relations, knowledge, beliefs, artistic ideas and characteristics of their own. As such, there is no such thing as a primitive culture, much less one culture that is superior or inferior to another. Rather, there are degrees in the historical development of culture.

“The history of Antillean cultures can be summarized as follows:

The first Antillean settlers; around 6,000 BC

They came probably from Central America and settled in Cuba and Hispaniola. They were mainly hunters, ettling inland and fabricating objects made of flint of flint stone. [On Saba flint objects were found while digging a cistern in the Level at about 8 feet below ground].

. The fishermen-gatherers: around 4,000 BC

They were natives of South America and became the first humans to populate the Lesser Antilles and Puerto Rico. They made objects using polished stones, and contrary to the previous settlers, exhibited a preference to live on the coasts.

The Agro-Ceramics: from 500 BC to 600 AD.

They were natives of the coast of South America and probably settled in the Antilles in several migration waves. Traditionally, it is believed that they were the first to introduce the manioc and the confection of cassava to the Antilles. [I bought some manioc meal in the Supermarket in Marigot recently and I intend to make my own cassava bread soon]

The precursors of the Tainos from 600 to 1,200 AD

“This group is the result of either the Agro-Ceramics adapting to the island ecosystem, or of new migrations from South America, or of the Archaic adopting the techniques of the Arawak,

The pinnacle of the Taino: from 1200 to 1500 AS.

The pinnacle of the historic process is reached before the arrival of the Europeans in the Antilles and is characterized by the formation of a more complex society.

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Trevon Johnson here enjoying a swim in Anegada where his Saba family has a hotel.

Carib emigrants: from 1000 to 1500 AD.

This phase is best described by the invasion or migration by the Kalinago (the continental Caribs) to parts of the Lesser Antilles from the coats of South America. This group took possession of the Arawak women and adopted mainly their language and other cultural traits, constituting the Island-Carib culture, or simply Carib culture.”

On Saba in the nineteen seventies several Carib descended people from Dominica and St. Vincent came here to work. I was very liberal in granting them permission to settle here against the objections of one of the Administrators. I told him these people were here long before us. Who are we to deny them entry into the island?

Mr. Evition Heyliger’s mother was from St. Vincent and descended from the few Caribs left on that island. He has served two terms on the Island council of Saba and is now starting his third term.

My cousin Travis Johnson’s wife Lianna is a full-blown Carib from Dominica and they have two sons. And there are others who can claim descent from the original settlers of these islands. In this sense ‘I born here’ is not enough when you know history.

The newly translated book by Sebastian Robiou Lamarche, PH.D. [ ISBN 97817967 41.322] is a worthwhile read to those interested in the history of these islands before the Europeans came here. Not judging but it was a fatal day for those people who lived here at the time.

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Columbus on his way to what would be seen as the New World.

 

 

THE OLD COURT HOUSE

THE OLD COURTHOUSE

By Will Johnson.

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The Court-house from around 1900.

A few weeks ago, when returning to Saba two ladies approached me at the Juliana airport. They were accompanied by a Dutch man whom I later understood to be a Judge. Me and Judge’s never sat horses but I was polite to them. The ladies were full of praise for my column ‘Under the Sea Grape Tree’. At the end of the conversation they said to me. When do you plan to write an article about the ‘Old Courthouse’?

Of course, I have referred to it a number of times. I have happy memories of the place as I worked there from 1960 to 1966. That was the year for a major restoration and our office was moved further up street. The Receivers Office that is and the Post Office was moved to the Back Street.

My boss was Joseph Alphonse Constantine O’Connor whom I have written about in a separate article. We also had Jimmy Halley, Laurel Peterson, Arnold Scot and the two postmen Sonny Boy Lake and Whitfield ‘Feely” Vlaun . We also had the Curacao Bank there and Mrs. Constant Williams worked there. Sydney Lejuez was in a customs uniform at the time and issued documents for packages being sent to Aruba and Curacao. He also gave clearances to the few ships which visited the island back then. It was mostly a few cargo schooners and sloops bringing in produce from as far as Puerto Rico.

 

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WILL Johnson and Arnold Scot going to lunch. Worked in the Court-House. Photo from 1960 by Vincent Doncher

Lorenzo de Lain would come around to ring the bell, and Maurice Lake (Mooch) as well. I have written about them in other articles. Upstairs in the building would be used by the Court when it was in session but that was very rarely. The Notary which was my boss at the time and later Notary Jose Speetjens would use upstairs as their office to pass deeds. Also, the Island Council of the Windward Islands would meet upstairs. When I spoke there, I thought it would be a good idea to challenge the system by basing my speech on “I am here to bury Caesar, not to praise him.” Well later in the day the news was all over town “Lord, what that little fellow did to poor Mr. Wathey. He said that he had come to bury him.” Mind you no such thing had crossed my mind.

 

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On the left the Shell gas station of Mr. Cyrus Wilberforce Wathey after whom the square was named in the nineteen sixties.

When the American Consul visited the island she or he would work upstairs and meet the few U.S. citizens. Fons told me once much to his regret later that I should assist the Council as “HE” would not know many of the locals who had U.S. nationality. Fons was late that morning. When I went upstairs to see what I could do to help the Consul, lo and behold there was a beautiful young lady sitting there. I thought to myself; He must have brought his Secretary along,’. But when I asked her politely when was the Consul coming? She looked at me and said: “I am representing the Consul.” After all these years I still remember her name.  But prefer to leave that tidbit of information behind. What I can divulge is that when Fons made his usual rounds at Pasangrahan Hotel, he looked surprised at me sitting there having dinner with a good-looking young lady. The man was my boss mind you. Respect. He came over to the table to ask me if I had seen the American Consul. An excuse of course to find out who the beautiful young lady was. When I told him “This is the Consul” I thought he would have fainted. She was a redhead, an expressed favorite type of gal for him.  Anyway, nothing doing, I said to myself “if I have to lose my job, so be it, but I am not backing down for Fons.” Anyway he retreated. Not gracefully, but a retreat nevertheless. He never said anything on the job to me of course. But when he was out on the town and we met up he would insinuate what he would do to me if that ever happened again. His bad luck was that all of the future consuls were men and Fons was a lady’s man. Anyway, before the lady left, she told me to bring my passport and she stamped a BI/B2 visa in it. This came in very handy for me when I needed to travel to the USA.

 

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Former view from the Court-house with the Blue Peter and Saba in the foreground. Photo from around 1950.

But I started out saying I was going to write about the Courthouse.

Whenever the library needs to get rid of old books Mrs. Joanna Simmons-Peterson calls me. Despite the fact that my house is full to overrunning with books I am always in the market for more. Just last week she brought me a few, one of which is ‘Caribbean Traditional Architecture” by Joan D. van Andel. She quotes Temminck Groll who did extensive studies on many of the buildings on the three Dutch Windward Islands. Also Dr. J. Hartog who wrote about the Court House.

“Around the year 1790, W.H. Rink LLD, who had just been appointed Commander of St. Martin, conceived a plan to build a Court House. A marble plaque commemorating the fact that Rink had had the Court House built by as early as 1793 demonstrates that he acted energetically. On the plaque (originally in Dutch), not only Rink’s name occurs but also those of the other founders, the councilors R.F. Muller, H. Godet, I. Pantophlet, A. van Heijningen, and A. Cannegieter.

 

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The old scale house was removed in 1937 when the new Police Station was built in the alley next to the Court -house and bounding the Back Street.

The imposing Court-house, situated centrally on the former De Ruyter Square, is not just one of the important traditional buildings in Philipsburg, but has always played an essential part in the lives of the inhabitants of Philipsburg; formerly as a meeting place for the council, today as law court and Post office [1985].

The building is the best-known example of the traditional architecture of St. Martin, owing to its traditional form, its position in the history of the island and to the fact that nowadays her image figures on stamps, as well as on posters, advertising matter, book covers, note-books etc. It has more or less become the trademark, the signature of St. Martin.

The square on which the Court-House is situated, was originally a quiet and peaceful square. On the sea side the square was enclosed by a building which was used as a police station until 1937. It was referred to as the ‘Scale House.’  In that year, a new police station was built almost behind the Court Hose and the old building dismantled. The square then extended to the sea. One had a clear view of the square from the sea. Everyone mooring in Great Bay when rowing to the quay is at once struck by the picturesque sight of the square with the Court-House in the background. Until 1969 the view of the Court House was still partially obstructed by two monuments. One monument commemorating Princess Juliana’s visit in 1944, and the other in memory of those ‘killed in action’ in the second World War. After renovations to the Court-House were completed in 1969, those monuments were moved to the South side of the square.

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This photo is from around 1890 or so.

To acquire a better insight into the architecture of the present Court-House, it is necessary to give some information about the first plan, the readjustments and the repairs to the building.  In 1790 when Rink started his work as Commander, there was no accommodation for him in his function. He had to work in his own house and during this period the council also met in the Commander’s house. Rink considered this an unacceptable situation. A building was necessary not only for the governing activities of the island, but also for a prison.

Before starting to build, he had to obtain permission and money from the Dutch West-Indies Company. However, in 1791 the company was wound up and permission had to be acquired from the state of The Netherlands. It is unknown whether Rink was ever granted permission, but he did finance the building with money from the government treasury. For the planning, Rink appointed the surveyor John Handleigh, who acted both as architect and contractor. The ‘Long Wall’ had also been built under Handleigh’s supervision. The present day Court-House differs from Handleigh’s design. Many alterations have been made to the building since its completion in 1793.

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View of the Court-House from one of the salt lots where the salt was piled up for sale to ships from Nova Scotia and schooners from Saba.

De Hartog gives an extensive description of the plan.

“The drawing shows a handsomely spacious building, with two floors, built in a representative manner, with a balcony built in the second storey over its full width. The walls made of stone were 18 inches thick. One entered the building through a small lobby, and reached in very first place the weigh-house or weighing room (later on the public portion of the Post Office). The council hall was located above the weighing room; in the lobby was the staircase for the Commander and members of the council. On Public occasions the entire Council could make its appearance on the spacious balcony.

 

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The old Court House being dismantled in 1966. The architect was my friend Jan [A.J.C. Brouwer]   The contractor was a Portuguese from Curacao. Carvallo I think his name was and he built the Police   station on Saba as well.

  Behind the weighing room, with separate entrances, were located the rooms of the Home Guard and of the civil captain. In the former room was another stairway; this gave access to the room of the messenger, which was connected by a door to the Council hall. The room of the messenger to which these stairs led, also served as a waiting room for those having business with the Council.

The jail was located below the Secretariat and consisted of two large and three small cells.

The building was built in a period when St. Martin was prospering. The economic situation was favorable for financing a building of approximately 10.000 guilders. But in 1819, the Court-house was destroyed by a hurricane. The roof and the top floor were swept away. A restoration was not possible until 1826.

The converting and partial rebuilding of 1826 was the most radical in the history of the building. The new building was designed by Samuel Fahlberg [a Swede from St. Barth’s] . He was a cartographer, meteorologist, civil engineer, physician, artist and Council member.

 

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Here are some of the legendary people of St. Martin gathered here for either St. Martin’s day or Queens Birthday. From left to right. Then Commissioner Claude Wathey and his wife Eva, then Milton Peters [Commissioner], after him Island Council Member Lionel Bernard Scot followed by Mrs. Hertha Baujon-Pietersz, behind her Father Bruno Boradori, then Lt. Governor J.J.Beaujon, and behind him Clem Labega and Alexis Arnell.

A memorial stone on the west façade commemorates the restorers of 1826: D.J. van Romondt (Chairman), G. du Cloux Romney, J. Romney, T. Romney, G. Illidge and S. Fahlberg.

In January 1966, nearly one hundred years after the last radical restoration, the building had to be repaired and renovated again. This restoration had been planned since 1964. Jan Jacob Beaujon, then Lieutenant-Governor, requested A.J.C. Brouwer, head of the Technical Department of the Central Government, to make a plan for renewing the Court-house. The restoration was finished in 1969 and cost f.303.500. The restoration was executed on the condition that no changes were to be made to the exterior of the building.

The wooden top floor was pulled down and rebuilt in stone. Then a wooden weather boarding was fixed to the wall, so that the exterior of the building remained the same. By mistake, the floor was built 23 cm higher.The contractor had not kept to the architects plans. He had added three layers of concrete to the walls. The architect left the unintended change for what it was, as he thought the building had improved visually.

The tower was renewed and rebuilt using concrete; a carillon of twenty-five bells was installed in it. On the largest bell, the names of the Lt. Governors since 1951 were engraved.

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The key to the Old Court-house.  By the book under the key I swear not to give it to anyone.

When comparing the original Court-house with Fahlberg’s design, it is striking that visually the building has improved. The Belfry has given the official building a more monumental look; the square now appears more to its full advantage. Moreover, narrowing of the balcony and the addition of the belfry, a vertical counter balance to the horizontal look of the facade has been created.”

When we were moving to our new location further up the street, as I was leaving the Court-House I saw a key lying on the ground. It was the key to the building. I asked Fons if I could have it and he said it was O.K. With all my moving around I still have it and a photo and a series of old photos of the Courthouse will accompany this article. Recently Captain Eddy Hodge of Winair told me:” Man Will, you killing me with all this history. I learn more from you than all of that which I had in school.’ This one is for you Eddy.

Enjoy.

MY BROTHER GUY

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Visiting Guy on his birthday, left Peter, Wilda and grandson Raleigh, Guy and Will Johnson

MY BROTHER GUY

Born as Samuel Guy Johnson, in the former Saba tradition, he went through life as Guy.

He was born on October 20th, 1936 at a place on Saba called “Behind-The Ridge”. No complicated names back then: “Behind-the-Ridge-”, “Above-the-Bush”, “Flat Point” and so on so that you had no excuse for not knowing where you were going to or had been. Our parents were Alma Blanche Simmons [born July 24th, 1908] and Daniel Thomas Johnson [born January 9th, 1907].

Because of circumstances at the time life was hard and as children each child had to do their share to keep the Household in food. When our mother was pregnant with Guy, while feeding grass to a large bull in the pen, he rushed her and threw her over the wall of the pen into the large rocks below. She and Guy then in the womb both survived.

As a boy growing up the island suffered much by the deprivations caused by World War two.

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Left to right Will[age 13], Eric, our mother Alma Blanche Simmons, Guy, Sadie in black and visiting from Aruba Mrs. Lucy Hassell-Croes.

The house we lived in above the Sulfur Mine had been built with monies earned when our father worked in Bermuda in the dry docks there which took care of the British Naval fleet.

Our mother never liked Behind-The- Ridge. The house was built close to the edge of the cliffs above the Great Hole. Guy inherited not only his height from our mother who was [six feet and one inch tall] while he was [six feet and four inches tall], he also inherited bad memories of the place. When he had a dream, which involved Behind-The –Ridge he would say that someone in the family was about to die or that some other disaster was about to take place.

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This is the house in English Quarter when it served as the residence of the Island Administrator R.O. van Delden who was then a widower, He had been married to our sister Sadie. The house was taken down at Behind-the-Ridge and brought over on head by my brothers Guy and Eric and rebuilt where it still stands today,

In 1943 the family left the home at Behind-the-Ridge and moved to the Windward Side where we had to rent a house. Something unheard of in those days and the rent which was twelve guilders a month was always a great source of worry where was the money to come from to pay the rent.

In 1955 Guy and Eric, helped by friends, took the house apart at Behind-The –Ridge. They brought it over on their heads, shingles and all, and rebuilt it in English Quarter. It even served as the home of the Island Governor, in the sixties for a while. The house still stands there proudly today having weathered all the hurricanes.

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Left to right. Freddie, Eric, Guy and Will Johnson

In the nineteen fifties when Guy finished elementary school and was working for the Department of Works [Public Works], he was sent with some others from Saba to the city of Mayaguez in Puerto Rico to study the basics of agriculture.

On January 2nd, 1955 hurricane Alice dropped some 20 inches of rain on our island in less than twenty-four hours. The flood it created destroyed the road leading to the Fort Bay. In a recent interview which was posted on Face Book he tells of the hardship he faced as a nineteen-year-old, bringing up bags of cement and sand to restore the road. There was not one piece of heavy equipment on the island at the time. His wages were a bit more than the daily wages paid to our grandfather James Horton Simmons which was sixty-five cents a day when he was working in 1939 on the construction of the road.

Guy continued working for the Public Works on the building of the road until he got a much sought-after position in the Post Office. He also worked in the Treasure and later in life became the head of both departments and remained in the Treasury until his retirement.

I recall a tribute which then Lt. Governor Sydney Sorton paid to Guy at a reception at Scout’s Place. The Lt. Governor told those present that he had always looked up to Guy since he was a child. He still looked up to Guy. Not only because he was so tall, but especially because of the confidence his parents had in Guy. Mr. Sorton went on to tell the story. Back in those days the Post office was everything. Not only for incoming and outgoing mail, but it also served as a bank and so on. When his parents wanted him as a child to carry a parcel or a letter to mail, it was a worrisome task for a child. But both parents reassured him when he got to the Post Office to just ask for “Mr. Guy”, and he would take care of the rest. In my mind’s eye I can still see Mr. Sorton as a little boy looking up to that tall man behind the counter and trusting him with his parents trust that Mr. Guy would do the right thing. In talking with Commissioner Roland Wilson before I could even tell the full story, right away he said: “Yeah, yeah, I always remember that speech which Mr. Sorton made for Guy.”.

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Guy in a forever good mood and an eternal smile. He was born at Behind the Ridge on October 20th, 1936

In 1960 Guy got married to Angela Johnson and together they had three sons. Greg who lives in Florida, Eddy who is a harbour pilot on St. Maarten, and our Island Governor Jonathan.

Guy’s other marriage was to the Saba Lions Club. As a charter member in 1977 he served for the rest of his life in the Club in various functions.

For many years the Lions Club took care of the Saba Summer festival also known as Carnival. He was very active with all the activities in order to see to it that the yearly event went off without a hitch.

He was also very active in the Roman Catholic church as a Member of the Parish Council and helping out wherever he could. Even in his last weeks he would be talking about church matters while in hospital.

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Freddie’s daughter Desiree in the middle with two of Guy’s grandchildren visiting from the United States Sarah and Jacob

In the nineteen seventies the Christian Council of Churches [C.C.C.] created a fund to help poor people get easy loans to build cisterns with. A Minister at the time said that “A person in the islands without a cistern is a poor person.” The Saba Local Fund Foundation was established and was given a loan of twenty thousand Antillean guilders. This was a revolving fund and low interest loans were given for the purpose of building cisterns, adding on kitchens and so on. During the existence of the Fund Guy served as the Chairman and was assisted by Secretaries like Mr. Leroy Peterson, then Mrs. Wilma Every-Woods and Mrs. Sonia Richardson-Sorton.  When loans became easier to get from the commercial banks the Fund paid back the C.C.C.  the initial loan and the money made from interest on those loans were distributed to the churches on Saba. Guy traveled to various Caribbean Islands for meetings in connection with this Fund. Saba was the only island where all the loans were paid back and where full account could be given on the use of the monies loaned by the C.C.C.

Guy also like to fish and often told stories about how whales when surfacing near the small rowboats fishing on the ‘Saba Bank”, had nearly overturned the boat. From a boy Guy had to farm and keep cattle. What was done out of necessity grew into a lifelong love of working the soil of which our ancestors have been a part for centuries.

He will be laid to rest in the cemetery among his ancestors. One of his ancestors Commander Richard Johnson of 1828 is buried within sight of the cemetery. All four of Guy’s grandparents are buried here as well and he is being laid to rest in the grave of his maternal grandmother Agnes Simmons born Johnson and not too far from the last resting place of his brother Freddie.

Nothing needs to be exaggerated about his personality and his seemingly ever good mood. Now that Face Book is the most used means of communication on Saba, the tributes which have been made to him from all the Island Families tell it all.

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Guy visiting our home at The Level and going through one of my many family photo albums. He was a frequent visitor to my home.

Guy traveled the Caribbean extensively as a member of the Lions Club. He was known everywhere as “Lion Sam.”

He also went on family vacations and also for health reasons to The Netherlands and Colombia.

Throughout the hardships he experienced in life he always remained calm and collective and seemingly always in a good mood. His life goes to prove that even in a small place, on an island, much can be achieved when focusing on the positive things in life. He has been a real role model not only for his children and grandchildren but for Saba on the whole. In a sermon here in this church a couple of weeks ago, a visiting priest from Jamaica Father Bernard, sad that many people’s biggest concern is “How will I be remembered?” It is perhaps that worry which drives people of accomplishment to do ever more up to the very last.

Should Guy have had such a worry then he need not have had to. For sure he will be remembered. Not only for being a tall man, but especially for being a gentle and kind man with a forever smile even up to the last when he was going through the end days and the suffering it brings with it.

A special word of thanks to all of those who heaped praise on my brother, to all those who turned out to accompany him to his last resting place and to all of those in the health care system here on Saba and on St. Maarten who helped to take care of him in his last days.

A certain Bishop Brent reminds us in a sermon what dying is all about.

“A ship sails and I stand watching till she fades on the horizon and someone at my side says. She is gone.

Gone where? Gone from my sight, that is all. She is just as large now as when I last saw her.

‘Her diminished size and total loss from my sight is in me, not in her.

And just at the moment when someone at my side says she is gone, there are others who are watching her coming over the horizon, and other voices take up a glad shout. There she comes.

That is what dying is. A horizon and just the limit of our sight! Lift us up, oh Lord, that we may see further.!

Thanks to all, and May he rest in Peace.

 

 

 

 

BECALMED IN THE WINDWARDS

BECALMED IN THE WINDWARD’S.

Sint Maarten’s number-one seafarer retires to his porch to watch the Caribbean fill up with ships.

 

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the entrance to Captain Hodge’s Guesthouse was located on the Front Street just up the road from the Pasangrahan Hotel

I had lived with Captain Austin Hodge and his family at the Guesthouse for a good ten years. Starting with 1958 on my way to and from school on Curacao and then in 1960 on a permanent basis when I worked for the Government in the old Court House in a variety of positions.

Life was slow back then. I can recall sitting on the front porch of the guesthouse in the early evening. If a car passed after7pm the Captain would wonder where so and so was going that ungodly hour of the night. He knew all the car numbers out of his head.

There was much room for oral history and where he had lived. From his native Grand Case to the United States, Guadeloupe, the Dominican Republic, and back to Sint Maarten. His wife Mrs. Bertha Hodge-Lawrence was also from Grand Case. I would get a ride with them from time to time to do grocery shopping by Miss Bertha’s brother Jimmy Lawrence in Grand Case and got to know many of the families from that once quiet village as well.  I was curious and people would confide in me. Things which they would not tell a close relative they would lay the burden on me of keeping secrets.

But regular stuff, oral history interested me a great deal. I read a lot and would question the old timers how things were ‘back in the day’ as we say nowadays.

 

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Government schooner the Blue Peter which ran the mail and passenger service from 1947 to 1962.

I was looking for a Holland Herald magazine in which they pictured the Captain with his dark brown skin and Norwegian blue eyes. His ancestors were partly from Anguilla and I believe that he told me more than once that his grandmother was Irish and he had inherited the blue eyes from her. Neville Lake will be able to correct me on that as I believe that he told me that the Captain was a great uncle of his.

I have not found the magazine I was looking for. However, I found an old “HOLIDAY” MAGAZINE from September/October 1972 Vol. 52 No. 2. with a long article by Michael Strauss. Captain Hodge’s life and the recent history of the Dutch Windward Islands is important. I will illustrate the story with photos of what is discussed in the article to make it more interesting to his family, friends and readers of The Herald.

“Once the most seafaring man of the Dutch Windward islands, Captain Austin Hodge is taking it surprisingly easy these days. In Philipsburg, Sint Maarten he’s content to sit on the front porch of his new seven-room concrete home with his wife Bertha and gaze at the masts of the large cruise ships in the harbour, to scan lush green heights of towering Fort William – near where Peter Stuyvesant lost that famous leg in a fight with the Spanish – and to look after his young coconut trees, the crotons, roses, and leafy bougainvillea that surround his house.

“It is a small wonder. Now 71, Captain Hodge has spent a full life. He has sailed the nearby waters of the Caribbean and the Atlantic countless times as a seagoing mailman – and has skippered a ferryboat. He has operated one of the most popular guesthouses this side of the British West Indies, even putting in stints as a cook, waiter, and “chief bottle washer’ at such American outposts as New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey.

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Coming up to anchor at For Bay, Saba

“What did I like doing best?”  the tawny, leather-skinned blue-eyed Captain Hodge answered me in his soft, island patois. “I like it all. Early in life I decided I never would work at anything I didn’t enjoy. As a boy, born and raised on the French side of this island – in the ocean-front village of Grand Case – I walked the beaches searching for shells and turtle eggs. As a teenager I played cricket with bats often carved from a piece of fence board, built and sailed my own little sloop, and operated my own seagoing version of “Western Union” service. And, when I became a man, I went to the United States to see what I was missing. I’ve been back on the island these past 40 years, and I’m glad I’m here.”

Those who know Captain Hodge best, as well as those who meet him for the first time, wonder that this sturdy, tall, youthful –looking, muscular man has seen fit to retire. There are some in this capital city of Dutch Sint Maarten who insist that the Captain can still hoist a 100-pound cask as easily as a baby lifts a toy balloon, and that he can sail through a heavy storm to such neighboring islands as Saba and St. Eustatius and the English isle of Anguilla with his bright blue eyes closed, controlling a tiller with no more than a fingertip.

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Headed in the direction of Saba

But the Captain’s reputation is not based on idle chatter. Through the years he’s weathered tempestuous squalls that have made his craft –mostly 25-to 50-foot sailboats – whirl like a spinning top. He has repeatedly inched into harbors at night during tropical storms with only a kerosene lamp as a landmark and in channels only slightly deeper than the draft of his boat. And he’s turned in feats of strength at sea – in emergencies – such as tossing a heavy anchor overboard that four of his seamen couldn’t move. Though he no longer sails regularly, the sisters of St. Joseph’s College still refer to him as “Our Captain” because of the many times he has carried nuns safely to Saba and Statia.

“Mention of the word hotel invariably seems to make the Captain look toward Front Street, the city’s main thoroughfare that borders the Caribbean for almost a mile. It was here, 17 years ago, that Captain Hodge found himself ‘backed” into the guesthouse business. It proved his most profitable venture.

“it all started just before the arrival of Queen Juliana,” Hodge reminisced. “Overnight housing was going to be scarce because of the Queen’s entourage. Everyone, it seems, was making the rounds in search for a place to stay.

 

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The motor vessel the ‘Trixie’.

“I was approached by a man I still remember only as Dr. Humes. He said he was writing a book in his house on the other side of the Great Salt Pond but that he had turned the residence over to the Queen’s party. Now he needed a room for himself. Did I know anyone?”

“Since two of my three boys were away at school in Curacao, I offered the stranger my sons’ room for $5. — per day, though without meals. I wasn’t sure I wanted strangers in my house but I felt I should cooperate. After all a Queen might arrive only once in a life-time.

“I don’t know whether Dr. Humes ever finished his book,” continued the Captain . “I don’t even know what happened to Dr. Humes. But word got around that we were taking in guests and, before you could say “all hands-on deck” a few times, we were receiving letters from outside the island.

Soon Captain Hodge was adding rooms to his home and boasting of certain built in advantages for tourists. The dwelling faced Front Street, with all the stores nearby. And the aquamarine and a beach of sparkling white sand was at the back.

“Because there were not too many good eating places on the island for tourists in those early days,” I was told, “our guests soon began asking for meals. “So, it was into the kitchen for Bertha and onto the beach for me- to set nets and lobster pots. The sea in back of our ‘hotel’ was our fish market, and from my endeavors there we were able to feed our guests snappers, yellow tails, and crayfish fresh from the Caribbean.”

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The Dominican Nuns here waiting to go on their vacation to St. Maarten

‘Although those were profitable days, in retrospect Captain Hodge regards them as being an anticlimactic part of his career. For while it was true, he took his guests on sailing trips, upon occasion, he felt that the hotel business too often took him away from his first love – the sea.

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Advertisement in St. Maarten events 1969.

The son of a shipwright (his father was born in 1875 on the neighboring English island of Anguilla), the Captain trod his first deck shortly after he learned to walk. The elder Hodge, anxious for companionship, frequently took the toddler to sea with him on short trips.

“When I was 14,” Captain Hodge recalled, “an importer with an office in Marigot, the capital of the French side of St. Martin, came into my father’s place. He asked where he could find someone to sail across “the channel” to Anguilla to deliver a letter. In those days there was no other fast way – no radio telephone.

“Of course, I know someone,’ my father replied. He pointed to me and said, ‘There’s the best sailor on this part of the island, standing right in front of you.”

The trip was one of the first cross-channel voyages for the young skipper – for pay. Soon he was carrying letters and passengers in both directions. The journey usually was uneventful. But squalls capable of producing up to 8- and 10-foot waves occasionally came roaring in. Hodge, Sr., it seems, never worried. He knew that his son thrived on challenges on shipboard and could handle them.

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Captain Austin Hodge here checking on the seas ahead.

When Captain Hodge was 18, he was presented with a sleek, 18-foot sailing sloop by his father. Since it was launched on the day the World War I Armistice was signed- and the Allies had won – the craft was suitably named The Won. A short hitch in the French army with service in Guadeloupe soon followed. Subsequently, the mustered-out soldier headed for the United States to satisfy his curiosity to see the outside world. And because he was interested in the preparation of food, he worked mostly in restaurants. Among those he remembers the old Palace Restaurant, next to the Fort George Hotel, on Manhattan’s East Side.

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The old  or town wharf was named in honor of Captain Austin Hodge

“I like the States,” Captain Hodge said, “but I missed the sea and when I returned to St. Maarten for just a visit in 1930, I stayed here. I helped operate the local radio station but always was ready to trim a sail and often did.

Then when a chance arose for me to captain the 43-foot government motorboat the “Trixie”, I grabbed it.”

At last, the Captain was back on the sea on a full-time basis. And his journeys were not difficult because the Trixie, unlike most of his earlier sloops, had power-motors. He sailed regularly among the islands of Sint Maarten, Saba, St. Eustatius, and the English island of St. Kitts – for ‘the service of passengers and mails.”

In 1946, when the Trixie was “laid up” with engine trouble, he was told to substitute the government’s sailing schooner ‘Aurora’. Captain Hodge remembers with a smile one of his first trips on the ‘Aurora’, which had no auxiliary engine. “I had been told by Governor Paap of the islands to make the regular trip without delay. The mail service had been held up too many days due to the trouble with the Trixie. As God is my Judge, I started out in oil-calm weather in which there wasn’t a breath of wind. For three long days I was just a swimming distance from our shores. With orders as they were, I had to wait out the wind for there was no turning back. It took me eight days to complete the trip among the islands – a voyage I usually made in one day with the Trixie.”

 

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St. Kitts was also serviced by the ;Blue Peter’.

In contrast to that extended calm, Captain Hodge recalled a journey in 1947 when he set sail on the two-master schooner, the Blue Peter, a new government boat that boasted a small motor. He arrived at St. Kitts on schedule, and his four-man crew, as usual went ashore on the tender.

A storm blew up at about 11 pm, and the crew could not return because of the rough weather. The Blue Peter went aground during the big blow and the little motor conked out. Hodge and the youngster on board, nevertheless managed to get the boat afloat. But since the storm prevented them from returning to St. Kitts, they rode out the heavy winds all night and limped into St. Eustatius. There the Captain picked up another crew, returned to St. Kitts, got his regular men back aboard and continued his rounds of the islands as though the entire voyage had been routine.”

Captain Hodge also owned a sloop called the ‘Grace=a=Dieux’ which he built down street.

Space would not allow to tell more of the story. The Captain lived on to over ninety years of age. I was asked to do the eulogies for both him and his wife ‘Miss Bertha’ when they passed on. In later years the small wharf in Philipsburg was named in his honour. I don’t remember now if he was still alive when this took place, but I am sure that he

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Nice photo of Captain Austin Hodge from 1947 on the Blue Peter.

would have been pleased with that.

 

SURVIVAL OF A PEOPLE

Survival of a people

St. Barth’s

By Will Johnson

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Gustavia before development in the 1950’s. Photo Father Bruno Boradori.

 

 

 

I have written about the island of St. Barth’s in a different context some years ago. This was about personal experiences going there as a boy and witnessing the hardship and the struggle for survival on this now prosperous island.

I have been busy reading two interesting histories of St. Barth’s and the struggle for survival of its people. One book by Julianne Maher is: “The survival of People and languages. “Schooners, Goats and Cassava in St. Barthelemy, French West Indies.

In the preface is mentioned: “This is a human story, a story of people and languages and their unlikely survival. In 1648 on St. Barthelemy a small French contingent settled on arid, rocky terrain at the behest of the Governor of French St. Christopher (now St. Kitts). Six years later they were slaughtered by a group of passing Carib (Kalinago) .

In 1659, a new collection of French settlers, also from St. Kitts, had the courage to return to St. Barth’s and they stayed. These were the people who cleared the land, dug the wells, and farmed the resistant soil.

 

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Traditional fishing.

They withstood pirates and attacks by the English, recovered from devasting hurricanes and yellow fever, were sold to Sweden, and later redeemed. Virtually abandoned by the mother country, they were forced several times to leave the island, but they kept coming back. They were surrounded by tropical island paradises of sugar, coffee, bananas and rum; they lived on goats, yams and fish. As poor whites, they were looked down upon by blacks and wealthy whites alike. The economic situation of the island became so bleak that the majority of men sought work on other islands for months at a time. Periods of starvation haunted the population. But they survived. And now their home is a is a celebrity sanctuary, the most glamorous and luxurious vacation spot in the Caribbean. Each year, the island attracts thousands of tourists to its French ambiance, international glamour and spectacular beaches, but few tourists are aware of its complex linguistic environment and conflicted history. The residing mystery lies in the multiplicity of languages spoken there. Why would these survivors maintain their linguistic boundaries for 250 years?

Scan0336.jpg The book also has some very interesting interviews with the old timers and we will quote from one in the introduction of the book. “A dry little tropical island of ten square miles with rocky and dramatic contours that jolt all your senses. Since the peaks are never more than 1000 feet and the rainfall intermittent (20-40) inches annually), there are neither springs nor rivers. Every house has its cistern. A vast shallow continental shelf surrounds St. Barth’s and the neighboring islands; the fish are abundant (Vernoux et al. 1988).

“We got bait in the roadstead at Gustavia, herring or sardines, or at certain beaches, Anse Colombier for example, sometimes you had to go as far as Fourchu to get bait. We didn’t use motors, we had sails. Once we got bait, we split up – we went off to where we thought the best fishing was. We followed the moon, especially the third day after the full moon, those are the best days. At the new moon, the fish don’t bite. Sometimes we had traps, especially if we had herring. But it’s not every day that the herring come in, sardines either. Sometimes we left the traps for three to five days. Other times we deep-sea fished for grouper. If we had some herring, they’re the best, we would get some snappers. No, we didn’t use a drag line – well we would troll, if you like, after we finished fishing while we were returning to the port. Sometimes we got other fish that way – mackerel, dolphin (dorade), tuna, flying fish. The best month for trolling is in May for dorade. Once, we were me, P. and E., we three; it was night. We took twenty-eight sharks while fishing for snapper, some big ones too. But we had to clean them, gut them, remove the heads, before selling them. It wasn’t often we got sharks. (Male in his 90’s, Colombier, Translated from Patios.)

 

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The houses were small and people worked hard and made do with what the land and the sea could provide.

“Another interviewee had the following to tell: ‘When I was young, there was no trade. The only thing was to go sailing or stay here and do-little carpentry jobs. There were no future really here. Most people leave to work. They exported pineapples but they didn’t have enough land to live by that stuff. Bananas need too much water. All had vegetables; we always eat from the ground here. Hats were exported, brooms, floor mats, schooners full. We catch a lot of fish. All night the women and the men would be corning (salting) the fish. In two days, they had it pack up in cases and shipped to Guadeloupe. Everybody had a share even if you didn’t pull (the seine). Sometimes they were embarrassed to have so many fish, they buried it. Oh, the fish we had – so much!”

Everything you read about St. Barth;s from those days was about the poverty.

Here is an article from Harry A. Franck, from 1920.

‘The little Pebble’

 

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One of the R.C. priests overlooking this beautiful part of the island.

St. Barthelemy [is]colloquially called ‘St. Bart’s’. The inhabitants are chiefly white, and among them one finds the physiognomy, traditions, and customs of their Norman ancestors. Yet though they speak French, it is only badly, the prevailing language being English, or at least the caricature of that tongue which many decades of isolation have developed…

…. of volcanic formation, the island suffers for the lack of trees and water, being forced to hoard its rainfall in large cisterns….. Gustavia, the capital, was once rich and prosperous, being a depot of French and British corsairs, who carried on trade with the Spanish colonies. There are still immense cellars built to hold the booty and merchandise, and zinc and lead mines that lie unexploited for lack of capital. To-day the inhabitants live for the most part in abject poverty, getting most of their sustenance from the neighboring islands and emigration to Guadeloupe, where they are noted for their excellency as servants, despite their unfamiliarity with the native ‘creole’.

I believe Harry must have only visited Gustavia and the book by Julian Maher gives a correct version of the language of the entire island.

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The Ledee lands where the Mayor Remi de Haenen landed the first plane.

As for the pirates, one of our Saba boys Hiram Beaks who coined the phrase “dead men tell no tales’ is listed in the old harbour records of St. Barth’s in one of the documents I have from Gosta Simmons who did extensive research on the old families which he was related to. Also, Pierre Tingbrand wrote a history of St. Barth’s in 1995, a copy of which I have in my book collection but cannot find it at the moment.

A French reporter Georges Bourdin who lived on St. Barth’s and died in 1977 a year before his book was published in French and English and very convenient to read did a lot of research on the history of the island. Several pages are dedicated to the ceremonies of the handing over of the island by Sweden after more than 75 years of ownership. A blow by blow description of the speeches and the raising of the French flag.

 

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Tranquil scene of Gustavia with Capt. T.C. Barnes’ boatyard on the left.

Jean Deveau (1972) did extensive research on the origin of the people of the island and concluded that they were from other parts of France and not only from Normandy. Some of the original names like Bernier, Greaux, Aubin are still present and prominent on the island today. For this article I will just give information on Commander Greaux ancestor of many prominent St. Bart’s people among them my friend of more than fifty years the well-known founder of Windward Islands Airways, George Greaux.

“Jacques Greaux appears in St. Christopher’s in 1671 and 1672 with his wife Marguerite Bardin, owning a piece of land 200 feet wide and 500 feet long. It was probably his son Jacques who was part of the contingent of thirty men sent by de Poincy to take possession of St. Barth’s in 1659. Ancestor of all the St. Barth’s Greaux, this Jacques appears on the 1681 Rolle des Habitants with his wife, four sons and a daughter, a cow, a calf but no slaves. With the multiplicity of spellings (Gruau, Gruault, Greau, Rualt, Reau, Gerault etc.) and no further archival references, tracing Jacques’ origins is difficult. However, Deveau finds the name to be rare in Normandy but very frequent still on the coast of the Vendee in western France between La Rochelle and Nantes; therefore, he locates the Greaux origins there. In 1724, Jacques Greaux is listed as the island’s Commander and by 1730 there are four married Greaux sons and four married Greaux daughters with a total of nineteen children. Thus, both the Berniers and the Greaux settled, thrived and became prominent citizens in St. Barth from 1681 onward.”

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The new Gustavia where the billionaires gather to bring in the New Year.

St. Barth’s also had slaves. Not on any large scale as the land was unsuitable for large plantations. In 1688 there were 348 whites and 68 enslaved Africans. In 1775 there were 419 whites and 335 slaves. The latter group for the most part lived in Gustavia. During the Swedish period many former merchants from St. Eustatius and also from Saba settled in Gustavia. The large trade brought with it the use of more slaves who worked unloading and loading cargo and stocking up warehouses. After slavery was abolished in 1848 by the French St. Barth’s was once again on the poor list.  Many of the enslaved Africans had been sold off to slave dealers from the United States. Also, since the slaves had no land or former big estates where they could settle, they moved on to larger French islands as well as to the United States. By the time I went to St. Barth’s on a sloop in 1960 there were only a handful of the descendants of slaves. Among whom was a Mr. Romney who had been fathered by a great uncle of mine who was a Captain. I never met him and only heard about this story when he had already passed on.

Bruyn - Image (1946)During the first half of the last century Dutch Dominican priests took care of the Roman Catholic community on St. Barth’s.  The most famous of them was Father de Bruyn who had been appointed priest of Gustavia in October 1918. He was 29 years old. He had a solid education, was active and talented, and he had what we would call today “class’. He had good connections which seemed to point to a higher position but he didn’t complain – there were foot soldiers in the church as well as in the army.

Father de Bruyn was born September 12th, 1889 in Nijmegen, into a family that was rather highly placed on the social ladder, by birth. He was ordained on April 14, 1916. Dutch by birth, he adopted St. Barth’s as his second homeland and was very devoted to it.  He built churches, schools and even a hospital and introduced and expanded the hat

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The hospital which Father de Bruyn played a big role in getting it approved and built.

weaving industry. He deserves a separate history of his own.

By the nineteen nineties St. Barth’s had acquired such a name for itself with the international jet set including Kings and Queens, that a small cottage in the country will set you back between six and eight million dollars. A friend from the island once told me that it seemed like every billionaire on earth wanted to tell his friends “I have a property on St. Barth’s you know.”

In it all the St. Barth’s people have remained in charge and are still working hard. They have resisted the temptation to allow the billionaire class to erect large buildings or resorts. You can only build as high as a coconut tree.

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A hard working people.

And now on February 15, 2019 an article was published in de Volkskrant, by a certain Kees Broere who visited the island without knowing or caring how the people there survived. His only conclusions and for sensationalism were that the blacks had been deported to France and practically accused the French of having set up an apartheid system there and referred to St. Barth’s as a white blight in the Caribbean. He ignored the fact that Cuba, Puerto Rico and even Santo Domingo have millions of white people. We too on Saba have had bitter experiences with this sort of ‘journalism’ accusing us of inbreeding, whereas our survival has been by the old Captains and seamen bringing in their wives from Barbados and so on in former times and in recent years from all over the world.  Carry on St. Barth’s and don’t get hot headed by these sorts of people who envy the rest of the world. God bless you.

 

 

 

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As is most  places the women were the hardest workers.Photo by Bruno Boradori late 1940’s.

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