The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Archive for the month “April, 2013”


By: Will Johnson
Printed on the Daily Herald’s Weekender (July 6th, 1997)

Columbus, the first European to set foot on Cuban soil said that he found so much “marvelous beauty that it surpasses all others in charms and graces as the day doth the night in luster.” He went on to say that “I have been overwhelmed by the sight of so much beauty that I have not known how to relate it.”

Che Guevara: Es preferible morir de pie, antes que vivir arrodillado.

Che Guevara: Es preferible morir de pie, antes que vivir arrodillado.” It is preferable to die on one’s feet, than to live on one’s knees

Over the centuries which have passed since Columbus first visited the island, the inhumanity of man against man has always found fertile soil on Cuba. The revolution of 1959 tried to put an end to centuries of exploitation of the Cuban people.

Cubans refer to their country as the “first free territory in the Americas!” It was, they point out, the last country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery – the ownership of man by man – and or the first to overthrow capitalism – the exploitation of man by man. Whether one likes it or not, Cuba has undergone the most radical revolution in the West and has played a major role in international affairs. Economic blockades, sabotage and subversion, invasion threats and virulent press campaigns have not been able to check its energy. It remains the most painful thorn in the side of the United States which continues to point its mighty sword at the very heart of the Cuban revolution. Tourists are even returning in large numbers to enjoy its celebrated beaches, rum, music, dance, cigars and irrepressible gaiety. Cuba was, and still is, scandalous, with its revolution the greatest scandal of them all.

And if Cuba was known as the whore of Uncle Sam before the revolution it seems that France is now trying to get in bed with her. On July 4th the day of my arrival at the Jose Marti Airport, there were no less than three DC-10 French passenger aircraft parked at the airport.

Before the revolution there existed an extremely unequal society on Cuba. The Cuban sugar barons and American sponsored middle men enjoyed a grand life style but the majority of the population eked out a subservient and miserable existence. Unemployment was high; work in the sugar Industry was seasonal. The differences between town and country were vast: Havana, the “Monte Carlo of the Caribbean” was one of the most sophisticated cities in the West. The rest of the nation lived in profound poverty with hardly any provision for education and health. Before the 1959 revolution United States interests possessed 75 per cent of Cuba’s soil, 90 per cent of public services, and 40 per cent of the sugar industry. Eight per cent of landowners in Cuba held 70 per cent of the land.

Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in order to break the United States stranglehold on the economy decided to nationalize foreign enterprises, the credit system, and most large and medium scale industries. Urban rents were halved and a low-income housing program started. The mass-communications media were taken over. Education was made public and expanded; many former army garrisons were turned into schools. A massive literacy campaign was started to help the more than one third of the population who were illiterate. In “Granma” I read that since the revolution 70.000 doctors have graduated. I presume that the doctor who gave’ me a checkup close to the nuclear power plant at Cienfuegos and only charged me five dollars was one of them.

On the day of my trip to Cuba it was announced that the bones of Ernesto Che Guevara had been located in Bolivia and would be returned to Cuba.

I had to get Cuba out of my bones. I was a teenager in 1959 and the revolutionary spirit had caught hold of the Caribbean.

The Pax Romana learns us that: “De nobis fabula narratur.” (Their story is our story). The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180) once stated: “As the Emperor, Rome is my homeland, but as a man, I am a citizen of the world.”

As a citizen of the world and in order to learn their story I decided to visit Cuba. When Ernesto Che Guevara expanded his revolution to South America in 1966, a group of us met a year later on the terrace of the Passangrahan Hotel on St. Maarten and came up with the idea of starting a Caribbean Brigade in defense of the revolution. The Communist Mayor of Pointe a Pitre at the time Dr. Bangou was to be asked to arrange our passage on a French cargo vessel to Guayaquil Ecuador. From there (in my mind’s eye I can still feel the heat of that city) we were to find our way to the Altiplano (the high planes) of the Andes and try and link up with Che. A night out in the open on the altiplano would have been enough to chill my bones of revolutionary fervor for the rest of my life. We even had an escape plan if things went sour. Mine’s was to track my way down to Lima Peru and catch a Dutch cargo ship back to Curacao. I even took a four month vacation in order to go. And then on October 8th, 1967, I woke up to the BBC announcing the execution of Che by the Bolivian military. There are times when I wake up in a sweat it is Guyaquil I am dreaming of and if it is the chills I have, it is the cold nights I imagine I might have spent on the Altiplano. I later had a cat named Che and my dog was named Tanya after his German friend. Would I have really gone? Did I go? Writer’s license permits me to remain silent on that one.

When the Windward Island Council was one legislative body, there was a time that I criticized a trip to Cuba by then Union Leader Rene Richardson. He lost no time in retaliating by going on television and informing the people: “Look who’s talking! Of all people, Will Johnson. A man who every other weekend does visit Cuba to see his friend Fidel, The only person they ask me about in Cuba was Will.”

It might have seemed that way, but it was not so. My rhetoric and revolutionary dress did have consequences for me. In 1969 after an Investigation on St. Maarten by the U.S. Consul on Curacao a United States student visa was denied to me. I had been offered a scholarship in Journalism at Yale University by the Inter American Press Association. I was officially listed as a Communist. The years have mellowed me and I have now been downgraded to a salon socialist and can even bring up much sympathy for a “bit of capitalism in between.”

What about Cuba today? In my opinion the revolution has been successful in the countryside but has failed in the cities. If after forty years there are still so many beggars in the c ties, it is a bad sign. Perhaps the God who created angels and archangels did not intend to have a nation of all equally poor. Perhaps he likes to see plebeians and patricians walking the face of the earth, if not together at least within sight of each other.

Tropicana Dancer

Tropicana Dancer

Tourism is again creating two societies on Cuba and the more education people have the more they want to achieve, which is impossible under communism as practiced in Cuba. After visiting Cuba I can also understand the anger of the Cubans in Florida. What they considered as riff-raff were given their beautiful mansions. Those mansions have now been reduced to slums, confirming that the rich were indeed perhaps right in their assessment and treatment of those beggars. Jesus himself said: “The poor will always be with you” and you are even inclined to agree with Marie Antoinette:”Let them eat cake, if they have no bread.” While recognizing the great things the revolution has done for Cuba, and the sincere intentions of Fidel and Che, in the end capitalism will be victorious. For communism to succeed work must be shared equally. That is not the case in Cuba today where the hard working country people have to feed the same beggars who are now once again begging the tourists in the cities. Hopefully the transition will slowly evolve to socialism as practiced in Western Europe and not the “raw ugly capitalism” of the United States.

The republics to the South will eventually overcome the United States WASP society by sheer numbers. Cuba with its Latino love for the little ones and which prides itself as the first free territory in the Americas has already “liberated” the state of Florida by flooding it with industrious immigrants. Millions more will flood that State if the United States attempts any violent overthrow of the Communist regime. My suggestion to the United States is to buy up the more than fifty-thousand old American made cars from the Cuban people in tribute to their having so lovingly taken care of this symbol of American capitalism. At fifty thousand dollars each it would create that many millionaires on Cuba and the system would collapse as it could not handle a situation like that. The second offensive would be to flood the place with American tourists and outnumber the beggars and make them rich.

Did I enjoy my visit to Cuba? Yes I did. On the street a lady advertising certain wares (brown sugar perhaps?) called out to me. “Hey meester, first time in Cuba? I give EET to you for free. Ha.Ha.”

I think that it is a pity that the Cubans who are living in Florida are denying the other 250 million Americans the opportunity to see and enjoy. Cuba the way I did. But the day will come when Americans will start going there again and woe be unto us. For what I saw is that the Cuban people have not forgotten the art of how to entertain the visitor. And that is what tourism is all about. People go on vacation to be entertained and not to be harassed. I no longer need to have the nightmares of the Altiplano or Guayaquil. Now that I have visited Cuba I can have sweet dream of that beautiful country instead.

The first free territory in the America’s. So free even that “EET” can be offered on the streets for free. In Che Guevara’s farewell letter to his parents in 1965 he stated that: “Once again, I feel below my heels the ribs of Rosinante. I’m on my way with my shield on my arm.” This past week on Cuba his remains were received by his daughter and other family members for the world.

Tres pesos CubanosMy Rosinante has now been put out to pasture. As I leave the Jose Marti airport I toast a Mojito to Papa Hemingway, as the man at the bar offers me a Three-peso note with Che on it. The irony struck me that it was Che who said that he wanted to create a society without money. With dollars everywhere on the streets of Cuba it will not be long before Cuba will be back to the monied society which Che and Fidel have tried to change.  ADIOS Cuba!!


Vieja Havana


City View of Havana


Havana plaza at night

Miss Helena’s son

Image (419)By; Will Johnson

As published on “Of Saban Descent

Helena Peterson (nee Every) - had a bakery

Helena Peterson (nee Every)

One of the houses I lived in as a boy growing up was located just above the home and grocery store of Mrs. Helena Peterson born Every. As a form of politeness a married woman or a widow for some unknown reason was addressed as “Miss.” She was the most enterprising woman of her day. She had a bakery as well as the grocery store and employed part time some sixteen people. She was the agent for Gold Medal Flour. Her employees consisted of wood gatherers for the bakery, donkey conductors for transporting goods from the Fort Bay, bakers and housemaids. She was mostly in the grocery assisted by her daughter Florence or “Titta”.

I used to hang around her house after school and would run an errand or two for her. She took a liking to me as when she offered me a sweet as we called candy, I did not show much interest. I remember Allan Busby telling me once that Mr. Diederick Gibbs from Statia had promised to send him one of those big jars with those large striped candies. He told me “Never promise a child anything if you do not intend to comply.” Allan told me that for months he would be looking at every sailboat, cargo ship or tanker passing Saba and in his mind’s eye he saw his large jar of candies coming his way, but he is my age and still no candies from Statia. And mind you his mother Daphne Busby was from Statia. Miss Helena did not make me any promises. However once when she went to St.Kitts on one of her banking trips she brought me back a small pocket knife with a handle full of flowers. If she had brought me the whole of St.Kitts it would have meant less to me than that small pocket knife which we called a pen knife. I was the envy of all the boys in the village including Busby who from English Quarter was on a constant look out in the hope that his shipload of candies would come in one day. They never did.

Flour arrives at Miss Peterson's bakery

Flour arrives at Miss Peterson’s bakery

I never knew that Miss Helena had a son. She never discussed him. I also did not hear anyone else in the village ever saying that she had a son. It was only years later when the late Henry Every was studying in Holland for lawyer, that I heard that his cousin Miss Helena’s rich son was helping to finance his studies. Also I heard that the Anglican Church in Windwardside had received a substantial donation from him to fix the church roof or buy an organ for the church and so on. Being so close to Miss Helena I started to wonder how come she had never mentioned a word to me about this son in the United States.

I later learned that when he was around fourteen years old that she and him had a major confrontation over a private family matter. This is not relevant to this story. He took leave of his mother never to return to Saba and never to reconcile.

He went to stay by an aunt in Rhode Island and went to Brown University from which he graduated. He then started to work for the Chase Bank owned by the Rockefeller family and worked himself up to Vice President in charge of loans. It is there that he came in contact with the owners of the Cargill company who took a liking to him.

The New York Times in its edition of April 6th 1982 carried the following obituary:
John G. Peterson 91; Ex-Chairman of Cargill Inc.

John G. Peterson, retired chairman of the board of Cargill Inc., died Sunday at his home here. He was 91 years old. Mr. Peterson was chairman of Cargill from 1953 to 1956 when he resigned to become Chairman of Tradax, the Geneva-based overseas trading affiliate of Cargill. He retired from Tradax in 1961. He played a major role in expanding the company’s domestic and international grain merchandising services. Mr. Peterson was born in the West Indies and was graduated from Brown University. His survivors include his wife, Gladys; a son, John Jr., of Norfolk, England, and a daughter, Betty Peterson, of Minnetonka.”

In Executive Intelligence Review of December 8th, 1995 there is an article entitled “Control by the Food Cartel Companies: Profiles and Histories.” It includes information on Cargill which has its headquarters in Minnetonka. “In 1994 Cargill had sales of $ 51 billion. It is the # 1 U.S. grain exporter (25% of the market, which is equivalent to Cargill exporting 25.1 million tons or 1.0 billion bushels of grain); #1 world grain trader/exporter (25% of market, which is equivalent to Cargill exporting 52.9 million tons, or 2.11 billion bushels of grain) #1 U.S. owner of grain elevators (340 elevators). #1 world cotton trader;#1 U.S. manufacturer of corn-based high protein animal feeds (through subsidiary Nutrena Mills); # 2 U.S. wet corn miller; # 2 U.S. soybean crusher; #2 Argentine grain exporter (10% of market) #3 U.S. flour miller (18% of market) # 3 U.S. pork packer/slaughterer #34 U.S. commercial animal feeder; #3 French grain exporter (15-18%) of the market and #6 U.S. turkey producer. Cargill raises 350,000 hogs, 12 million turkeys, and 312 million broiler chickens. In the United States, it owns 420 barges, 11 towboats, 2 huge vessels that sail the Great Lakes, 12 ocean-going ships, 2000 railroad hopper cars, and 2,000 tank cars. Cargill and its subsidiaries operate 800 plants. It has 500 U.S. offices, 300 foreign offices. It operates in 60 countries. It has over one hundred thousand people working for the company. It also owns the salt industry on Bonaire.”

And to think, that a little boy from Saba used to run all of that!  The company is the second largest privately owned company in the world, owned by the Cargill and MacMillan families. In its 140 years of existence Mr. Peterson was the only non family member to run Cargill.

Here is how it happened: “Cargill also nearly went under following the 1929 U.S. stock market crash, and ensuing Great Depression. There is not a word of what happened to Cargill Co. during the depression in the History of Cargill, 1865-1945. But two forces came to the rescue: John D. Rockefeller’s Chase National Bank, which sent its officer John Peterson to help run Cargill. Peterson became Cargill’s top officer. The other force was a Byelorussian Jewish grain merchant, Julius Hendel, who joined the company in the late 1920’s. It would seem odd that a European, and a Jew at that, would be admitted into the inner councils of rock-ribbed Scottish-American firm, but this indicates the international scope of forces that shape the grain trade.

Some years ago I received a call from his son John Jr. who came to Saba in search of family history and to find out about his grandmother. I told him to meet me at Scout’s Place. When he walked in I could immediately see the resemblance between him and the Every family. I told him about his cousin Mrs. Barbara Kassab Every on St.Kitts. He visited her as well and they still have contact. He was interested in buying or building a house in Oyster Pond on St.Maarten. I told him to look up Allan Busby which he did and he had a house built there. I have not heard from him the last years, but I assume that he is still in the land of the living.

I also own a small plot of land once owned by Miss Helena and the late Carl Anslijn her nephew gave me the correspondence between him and Mr. Peterson concerning land transactions. It was during the time that Mr. John G. Peterson was in Geneva setting up Tradax. Here is what Executive Intelligence Review had to say about Tradax. “In 1953, Cargill established Tradax International in Panama to run its global grain trade. In 1956, it set up Tradax Geneve in Geneva, Switzerland, as the coordinating arm of Tradax. Tradax subsidiaries were set up in Germany (Deutsche Tradax, GmbH), England (Tradax Limited), Japan (Tradax Limited), Australia (Tradax Limited), France (Compagnie Cargill S.A.) and so forth. Thirty percent of ownership of Tradax is help by old-line Venetian-Burgundian-Lombard banking families, principally the Swiss-based Lombard, Odier, and Pictet banks.”

And to think that a boy who ran away from Saba did all of that. My uncle Stanley Johnson (husband of my aunt Alice Simmons) told me that Commodore Tom Simmons of Saba who was Captain of the ship the “Argentina” swears that he saw him once and had the following exchange. They were passing Saba. It was customary that when a Saba captain would pass the island he would blow the ships horn a few times. The man leaning over the rail on seeing the captain said to him:” Which island is that?” The Captain answered: “Saba.” And then the Captain said to him:”Don’t you think it’s time that you went home and saw your mother?” According to Uncle Stanley, the man gave the captain a startled look and walked off mumbling something under his breath. John G. Peterson never did return to Saba but recognized his island through contributions to his Anglican church and his family.

He never knew his father as his father William Simmons Peterson was lost at off Cape Hatteras when John better known as “Ned” was a little boy. And so we salute this great son of the soil.

559741_4805183257975_802174519_nImage (1746)Image (1747)559741_4805183257975_802174519_nImage (1746)Image (1747)481px-Saba_wapen_svgThis article in Dutch appeared in today’s edition of the VNG Magazine. That is the Magazine published by the Association of Dutch Municipalities. They had asked my friend Wim Hart to do an article for them in connection with the investiture of our new King Willem Alexander and his Queen Maxima on April 30th, 2013. He suggested to them that they ask me to do the article instead which they did. The Magazine has placed a number of photo’s to accompany the article, but since it will only arrive here in a week or two I decided to go ahead and place the article with Saba’s unique flag and coat-of-arms. The gist of the article is the unique and personal relationship I have had with the various members of the House of Orange. I did not mention in this article how I got in trouble on St. Maarten with Lt. Governor J.J. “Japa” Beaujon when in his opinion I danced once too often with Princess Irene to the steelband under a full moon under the sea grapes trees at the Pasangrahan Hotel.

Recordar es Vivir!

“Brother’s Place”

Image (1169)SabaTreasure2Chris&MarvysabatsPeter Anthony Hassell was born right here on Saba on Friday January 6th 1903. His parents were Gustave Emile Hassell and Lottie May Johnson. He was a lifelong bachelor and spent most of his life on Saba except for a short time that he went to Aruba in search of work. He was a brother of the famous Josephus Lambert Hassell who engineered the road that could not be built on Saba. For perhaps this reason Peter Anthony was known to all as “Brother”.

Most of his life he had a “Rumshop” in the building where the Trail Shop is now located. He also sold some groceries. I knew him from a young boy and we became good friends. After my school years on Curacao and when I started to work on St. Maarten in 1960 I would always visit him when on Saba. If he needed any help with preparing documents or changing expired banknotes at the Central Bank on Curacao I was the person he confided in.
To everyone’s surprise in 1964 Brother decided to build a solid two story building on the main road in the heart of Windwardside.The building is from poured concrete so quite solid construction. Among those who worked on the building was Mr. Emanuel Baker of The Bottom, Peddy Johnson, John Henry Hassell and others from the village of Hell’s Gate. Back in 1964 five guilders a day was considered a good days pay as there was very little work to be had. As a matter of fact most of the young men from Saba would have to go to St. Maarten to look for work. After the WIPM party was elected in 1971 things changed and there was work for everyone on Saba up until now. Work for everyone with the government and the private sector was and is still dependent on labour from outside the island to take care of the private sector needs.

Image (1167)When “Brothers Place” was finished he moved in the upstairs part where friends could come and sit with him in his living room and discuss the news of the day. To everyone’s great surprise when I was running for the position of Senator for the Windward Island’s in 1969 “Brother” gave permission for the U.R.A. party to hold a public meeting on his porch for a visiting group of my supporters from St. Eustatius to deliver powerful speeches to the people of Saba on my behalf. At the time I was living on St. Maarten. In the elections of 1971 and so on he allowed my WIPM party to hold our public political rallies from his porch. As he got older I told him that Eugenius Johnson had given us permission to keep our meetings at his place and that there would be no need to bother him anymore.

When he became ill he called my brother Eric and told him that he wanted me to have his place. Eric felt that I should not accept it and get in between him and the children of his brother and left it at that.

When he passed on his sister gave the property to a friend of the family who then sold it to a lawyer from Canada who had his offices in the Turks and Caicos islands. It was rented out to medical students. After some time the building was closed down, but only after the roof had been repaired following damage by hurricane Louis in 1995.

Image (761)Image (763)

Some years later I was looking for a place where my children could start a business. One night I was walking through Windwardside and I saw a sign on the building stating that it was for sale. I knew that Mr. Frank Hassell was in charge. Lo and behold when I turned the corner to go in the direction of “Under-The-Hill” who did I butt up into was Mr. Frank Hassell himself. I asked him about the building and he confirmed that it was for sale and then said:”Are you interested in buying?” I told him that if the price was right I might be. The next day when I was coming up from the office I saw that the For Sale sign was gone. That night I phoned Mr. Frank and expressed my surprise. He confirmed that “yes the building had been sold”. When asked to who it had been sold he said: “To you of course. All kinds of people want to buy it but I told them that you had gone behind my back and bought it. But I know that “Brother” wanted you to have it and so I feel I am complying with his wishes.” Then he went on to give me what I considered was the bad news. He said:”Mind you I have not had any contact with the owners for some years. So what you have to do is check on that thing they call the Internet and find them.” I thought the whole thing was hopeless and weeks went by and I did nothing about it. One day when I came home from the office I needed to look for an important document in my home office.

Image (958)Years before I had met the owner of Brothers Place and he had given me a card of his. When I was going through the mess of unorganized papers on my desk a card fell out and dropped at my feet. I was not planning to pick it up as I was in a hurry to get the document I was looking for and to head back down to the office. Something told me to pick up the business card lying on the ground and so I picked it up. And it was the business card of the owner of “Brother’s Place”. Again I thought I will try and call him one of these days. But again there was a sense of urgency that I should call immediately. On the first try I must have dialed one number wrong. I got some man in the Dominican Republic who on learning that I was calling from the Netherlands Antilles immediately started offering me women for sale, the younger the age the higher the price. I had to tell him” man even with a wrong call you are trying to sell your women to me, shame on you”. After I hung up the phone, something told me to try the number one more time. I did and the office in Turks and Caicos answered. When I asked for the person I wanted to talk to the Secretary said to me:”How do you know he is here?” I said to her:”This is his office isn’t it?” She said: “Not really, he sold it several years ago, and he is here today from England, BUT ONLY FOR TODAY, and he and I are wondering how did you know he is here?” When he came on the line I told him my reason for calling. We agreed on a price, but then came the problem. He said he had been through a messy divorce and he and the wife were not on any kind of terms much less good ones. I got the wife’s address from him and I started to work on her. After I told her what I wanted to do with the building she agreed to both the price and for me to have it. We were talking about a date for the purchase so that I could arrange a loan with the Windward Islands Bank. She said:”Do you want me to make a suggestion?” I told her to go ahead, and she said:”What about September 22nd”? I said to her, that is as good a date as any;”You would not know this, but that is not only my birthday, but that of my wife as well and we got married on that date.” She could not believe it and said:”Mr. Johnson I can see that your destiny calls for you to own that building.” And so after getting the loan from Windward Islands Bank I went ahead and bought the building.Image (762)

I had to attend my son Chris’ wedding in the United States. Before I bought the building I did not ask to see it or anything. When I came back I was so busy at the office I had no time to think about anything. One day Mr. Frank called me and said: “Mr. Will are you not interested in seeing what you bought?” We agreed that the next afternoon on my way home from work I would stop there and take a look. I was more than surprised to see that the place was fully furnished to overflowing into the garage with good quality furniture. Mr. Frank had to go to church, and so I stayed back and sat in the living room upstairs where many times I had visited with “Brother”, and then I noticed that I was sitting in the usual visitors seat and suddenly I felt “Brother’s” presence sitting in his regular seat. I could feel a happy presence and that he was glad that in accordance with his original wishes I now at last owned the building.

28155_10200693509527490_263332032_nIt was a surreal experience but considering all that went on before then pointed in the direction that I should have the place, I did not question destiny and started making plans for the future.

Much can be known about a person from their interests, their assets, including their buildings. Downstairs “Brother” had his rumshop and grocery store and my son thought we should go in the restaurant business. And the restaurant like my house looked like a museum when you walked in.We opened it on February 20th, 2004. Also in the garage I found a barrel of lime which he had made by the sea here on Saba. My father used to burn lime down on the Cove Bay when I was a small boy. Brother always planned to make an old time oven with that lime. There was an old one at “Behind The Ridge” above the old sulphur mine where I was born and which belonged to my grandfather Daniel. I arranged with Ernest Hassell to take it down bring it to Brother’s Place use the barrel of lime and set up the oven outside the kitchen which he did andhe has also baked a number of suckling pigs in that old oven. Brother would be happy that his barrel of lime was put to a good use. That is how we started Saba’s Treasure and the artist Robbie Lynn designed it as the inside of an old pirate ship and the business was started up and run by Chris and his wife Marvi. However when he was elected in 2007 we decided to rent it in 2008 to my nephew Greg for five years. In 2013 he gave notice that he would not renew the informal rental agreement so we started to look around for someone who would want to invest in upgrading the downstairs of the building with a view to continue with the restaurant. There will be a name change and the restaurant will be opened soon. I thought I would use this opportunity to tell the story of the building and to post a series of photo’s with 934810_10200821684451783_1798588805_nthis article showing the building as it used to be and the changes being made. For years I was looking for a photo of “Brother” and then out of the blue, Mr. Peter Arnold (owner of the trail shop and Brother’s old  rum shop and grocery) informed me that he had found a photo with “Brother” and his sisters and his brother Lambert, so this is a good opportunity to post these photo’s as well.2007-09-14 23.43.59

Each building has its own history and for me this building has a particularly special history and I thought I should share it as even though I have told this unusual story to many people I have never written anything about it until now how I acquired the ownership of the property.

Special thanks to Mr. Frank Hasssell who knew of “Brother’s” wish and who assisted in making that wish become a reality.

Image (1456)

Image (1522)





Image (8)

Image (693)

Theodore Johnson’s swearing in on Aruba.

Image (1745)

The Story of Rebecca

By Will Johnson

Contributed from “Of Saban Descent

This story was written in September 1985. The lady in question has so many descendents and young people who want to know more about her life and times that I would like to pass it on to the public one more time. Holland is talking about a project for “Strong Women”. When these islands had it most difficult we produced strong women. We should not have to look around to find them. They have always been with us and always will. Here is one of the many strong women I have known in my lifetime and whose lives I would like to project to a wider reading public.

The Story of Rebecca
When an old person dies it is like a library burning down.

The day I interviewed her was Sept.6th, 1985. She was 87, still making coal pits, working in the ground, doing crochet work, and selling lottery tickets. Working hard, as she had been doing all her life. She had walked up to The Level looking for me and then back down to Windwardside. I said to her: “You must be tired.” She laughed and said: “This ain’t nothing.” And then she told me her story

Rebecca Levenstone, born Jones, was born in Saba’s St. John’s on July 9th, 1898. She lived just above the “Chaulk Hole.” Her mother was Elizabeth Jones, whose parents were Ann and George Jones. Her father was Lawrence Riley.

Rebecca’s mother also had five sons. One died between the age of 2 and 3. Her mother had been grating cassava and went outside briefly to feed her sister’s cow. The little boy drank the cassava water which had salt in it. This prevented vomiting and the child died almost immediately. Rebecca is now the only one surviving from her mother’s children.

Rebecca said she never remembered her old grandparents telling anything about where they had come from in Africa. They had been born on Saba, but her grandmother did tell her many stories from the slavery days.

In 1911, Rebecca went to St. Barths with Mrs. Annie Dowling in the sloop the “Muriel.” She stayed there 3 months, but said she just wanted to get back home and she came back in the “Challenge” which was nothing more than a large rowboat.

IN THOSE DAYS there were several Saban families living in St. Barths. She remembers a Rogers family living there related to Capt. Engle Simmons of The Bottom, as well as the Barnes, Dinzey, and Dowling families. She said in those days the trade was all with St. Kitts. There were two sloops, the “Ethel” and the “Muriel.”  The Ethel was owned by “Red Head” Joe Simmons and the Captain was Willie Hassell. They used to call at St. Kitts two or three times a week.  The sloop Muriel, which belonged to Capt. John Simmons, also used to trade with St. Thomas.

In the hurricane season these sloops would go to St. Barths, along with two large rowboats the “Challenge” and the “Surprise” which also belonged to “Red Head” Joe Simmons.  By the way, there were two merchants from The Bottom named Joseph Simmons. To distinguish one from the other they were known by the colour of their hair “Red Head” and “Black Head.”  In any event, when a hurricane threatened, these boats could be hauled up on land, loaded up with rocks, and thus weather out the storm.

IN LATER YEARS Rebecca used to travel with the government-owned schooner the “Blue Peter” and other schooners would bring down cloth, heaters, and other merchandise from Mr. Stanley Gumbs whose wife was from Saba. These items would be sold on Saba.

As a young girl, 9 to 10 years of age she started carrying loads on her head from Ladder Bay or Fort Bay. In the beginning the loads consisted of 5lbs of butter. As she got older the loads increased. She used to bring a 100 lb bag of flour on her head to Windwardside for f.0.65 cash money and a pint of flour or cornmeal. The most trips she ever made in one day was 7 trips once from Fort Bay to St. John’s. The last trip of the day she was carrying a large trunk and she was so exhausted when she reached the pasture on St. John’s that the trunk fell and “burst open.” Rebecca said: “You know she refused to pay me?” Then she pauses for a long time and said “Never mind, though, she gone long time and your old Becca is still here!” For all those trips she made, the most she ever received in a single days work was fls.5.—(five guilders.)

    On December 14th, 1921, Rebecca got married to Mr. Richard Andrew Levenstone, also known as “Bullie.” Although her husband was 24 years older than her, they had 15 children together, two of whom died as children, the others are all alive.

In between the births of her children, Rebecca continued her life of hard work. She told me that once she went to Mary’s Point to trade with my great uncle, Henry Johnson. In those days when water was scarce, she would either carry drinking water from The Bottom, or corned fish and so forth. These she would trade for potatoes, tannias, bananas etc. On that occasion she brought back a barrel bag with 560 bananas from Betsy Horton’s ghaut to The Bottom to sell.

The children

AT THE FORT BAY AND LADDER BAY she helped to haul up the boats, sometimes to row them out through the breakers. She then started to bring up the mail from the Fort Bay. This she did for the next 33 years. She used to bring up everything on her head at first, later  on  she started to get donkeys to help out. She owned 17 donkeys in all over the years of hauling cargo from the Fort Bay, until the jeeps and the trucks started doing this job in the early nineteen fifties.

Her husband died in 1955 at the age of 81. Rebecca said that she had a happy life and that she enjoyed the hard work. In her youth Saba had well over two thousand people living here ,Rebecca said,  and that there were “loads of people living in Cow Pasture, Middle Island and Palmetto Point (Mary’s Point). She was born an Anglican, but she went to the Roman Catholic School when it started up in 1909 and she converted to Catholicism.

She said in the hurricane of 1928, she had a bag of flour and a pail of lard at Susan Laura’s home, which belonged to the shopkeeper Ralph Sagers of Hell’s Gate. She received a message from Susan Laura Johnson telling her that a hurricane was coming and that she had better come and pick up these things, as she could not be responsible for them if the hurricane blew down her house.

REBECCA TELLS how “Phillie” helped her load the bag of flour on her head and she carried the pail of lard in her hand. He said, “Becca, girl, you must be crazy, you’ll never make it up the hill with that load.” Rebecca said that when she got by the Chaulk Hole her head was burning, but she didn’t give up. Neither at John Sagers’ Ridge, but at the “Dancing Place” she decided to rest her burden on a wall. Then her husband, “Bullie,” and son, Edward, came along from the direction of Windwardside.  She told “Bullie” to rush down and secure the children. “Edward and I will continue.” She then continued carrying the flour, while Edward carried the lard.

Arriving on Hell’s Gate she delivered her load and purchased a bag of vegetables, to take back with her to The Bottom to sell there. She said the hurricane hit at 10 o’clock that night. They weathered it in the home of “Aunt Maude” Linzey. In the 1932 hurricane they again went to “Aunt” Maude’s house.

“Did Ned pass all your house yet?”

Rebecca’s home had a thatched roof made from the stalks of the sugar cane and it received some damage in the 1928 hurricane, but was quickly repaired.

Rebecca said that she used to go look in at parties but never danced herself. She drank a glass of liquor only once when she was in pain, and smoked a cigarette once for a toothache, but did not like either one and never bothered with them again. She said her main meal consisted of roast sweet potatoes and milk mixed with water. Sometimes they would have hard crackers which were 6 for 1 cent. Many nights she would go asleep hungry. During the “Kaisers War” her friends would shout out to one another “Did Ned pass all your house yet?” “Ned” was an old Saba expression which meant hunger. Rebecca’s mother used to make 12 cents a day working for people. In later years her brother “Bishop” used to sail out of Barbados with a Saba captain and send back money for his mother.

THE BIGGEST DISASTER she remembers was when Mathias’ brother “Stephen” and his three sons, Joseph, John Thomas and Stephen Jr. were lost on the Saba Bank while fishing in a boat called the “Ruby”. People claimed that they would see the boat coming, with oars rowing with no men in it. One Sunday night the schooner “Estelle” was in the harbour. People in St. John’s claimed they heard the voices of the men who had lost their lives calling out: “Come down, we come, we come.” They went down, but no boat came in. For months people claimed they saw the boat trying to reach the shore in vain. This happened around 1914.

She said that at Christmas she would receive a suit of clothes from Miss Anne Catherine Hazel of St. John’s – Jim Hazel’s mother. The rest of the time she wore hand downs.  Regarding her health, Rebecca told me that all her life she used salt, was not a heavy eater and never had a problem with high blood pressure.

When I was a young boy coming up we used to sit down and listen to the old people. An old African saying is that when an old person dies it is like a “library burning down.”

People like Rebecca are disappearing. Her generation, knew the hard life and were not embittered by it. The luxury and easy living today seems to make people greedy, make tattle-tales out of people who want to destroy all with their tongue who they think stand in their way to fortune. They are only interested in making money for the love of money only. The scorn old people with a history of honest and hard work like Rebecca. Her life of hard work is the best example we can use to pass on to our children. God has blessed her hard work and honesty with the privilege of a long and useful life.

Rebecca tending to her chickens and collecting fresh eggs

At 87, Becca can still walk from Below-The-Ladder to The Level. She says she could go to the top of the mountain, only she ain’t got no business up there. She has no bitterness about her and is justly proud of the hard work she has done in her lifetime. She has 55 grandchildren and 56 great-grandchildren. Some years ago she was honoured with a Medal from Her Majesty, The Queen. Our young people would do well to sit down and let “Becca,” as she is fondly called, tell them what life is all about.  Rebecca, we salute you, and all we can say is “Carry on the good work.”

*  *  *  *  *  *

Balthazar Gracian (16th century) tells us: “Turn the hand first to achievement, and then to the pen, from the blade of the sword to the blade of history, for there is such a thing as the blessing of the biographers, for it makes immortal.”

Rebecca passed away on August 11th 1988 shortly after her 90th birthday. Remarkably enough, ten of her children still survive 23 years after this article was first written. Five girls and five boys. They are Beatrice, Agnes and Vivienne on Aruba, Marguerite on Bonaire, Bernadette on Saba. The boys are: Joe on Saba, Martinus on St. Maarten, Alphonse in Florida, Mathias on Aruba and Paul on Curacao. Once when she was trying to locate her son in the USA she brought me two marriage books. One was full and the other was on its way to being full. I said “Becca” you had nearly filled up two. She answered that “Bullie” had want to fill up the other one you know. Well I told “Bullie” if you want to full up another book, you will have to do that outside. Your Becca has done her share.”

Celebration of Rebecca’s 80th Birthday

Memories of a father ”The Sailor’s Sailor”

By Will Johnson

As posted on Facebook group “Of Saban Descent

Stanley Isadore Johnson 001Stanley Johnson was born to Rebecca Elizabeth Vlaun and John George Johnson on Saba on February 6th, 1890. At the age of fourteen he first set sail on various local schooners, traveling through the various West Indian Islands. He sailed with local captains including Knight Simmons, Benjamin Hassell, Thomas Vanterpool and Augustine Johnson.  On January 2nd, 1922 he married my Aunt Alice Eliza Simmons (19) daughter of James Horton Simmons and Agnes Johnson.

At the age of thirty-seven, Stanley sailed to the United States aboard the “SS Caracas” arriving at Ellis Island in New York on April 13th, 1927. Along with him on the steamship were six other men from Saba: Reuben Johnson (age 45), David O. Johnson (age 16), William Johnson (age 36), Moses Johnson (age 52), David Johnson (age 17) and Richard Johnson (age 45). The official Ellis Island Ship’s Manifest indicates that all seven men listed their destination as 27 South Street, in lower Manhattan. This was the address of the Sabans godfather for fifty years Mr. Hyman Kalisky a Jewish merchant who was of Eastern European origin. He and his wife operated a boarding house and clothing store which was primarily used by sailors from Saba during their stays in New York. People on Saba even name their children Kalisky back then. Mr. Kalisky served the sailors well, assisting them with employment on ships, collecting their pay and sending mail and money back home to the families the men had to leave on Saba. The Kalisky family embraced Stanley as if he were a member of the family.

After arriving in New York in 1927, Stanley was not to return to Saba until 1936. During those nine years he sailed for four years on the four-masted schooner the “Albert F. Paul”, with Captain Southard and his wife Ruby, who were like family to him. The “Albert F. Paul” sailed from Nova Scotia and the New England fishing grounds to the Gold Coast of Africa. The other schooners upon which Stanley sailed carried various goods and products as diverse as corned codfish from New Bedford, Massachusetts and potatoes from Long Island, to salted cowhides from Brazil. He traveled around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa and the Horn of Africa while sailing for Moore-McCormack Lines and Kerr McGee. During these years he also sailed the inland waterways, particularly the Hudson, from the St. Lawrence Seaway to New York harbour. He sailed on the Georgia, the Tennessee and the Mohawk, carrying timer down the Hudson. After sailing inland for several years he returned to the sea, sailing out of Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans, Louisiana for the Waterman Steamship Company of Boston, Massachusetts.

During this nine year period sailing out of New York, he, like many other Saba men, decided to become an American citizen. On March 17, 1932, while still listing his residence as 27 South Street in New York he was sworn in as a United States citizen. His decision was based in large part because of the opportunities the United States had provided to him.

In 1936, he returned to Saba and sailed again on local schooners. He remained on Saba until shortly after the death of his beloved mother Rebecca, in 1938. He never had the opportunity to see his homeland again.

Not long after his return to the United States, World War II began. He sailed with the Seafarer’s International Union as a Merchant Marine. As such he sailed on unarmed cargo ships in convoys to Europe and Russia, bringing aid and much needed supplies. I stayed at his home in Richmond Hill for two months in the winter of 1967 and I remember him telling me stories about how cold it was in Murmansk, Russia. If you made the mistake and held on to the rail your hand would stick to it.

During the war he frequently sailed on the Robin Tuxford under Captain Kenneth Chamberlain. Along with him on the Robin Tuxford was Stanley’s first cousin, Edward Johnson, who served as Chief Engineer. The Robin Tuxford made numerous trips to Murmansk, Russia, one of the most northerly open water ports in Russia. Stanley also sailed on the ‘SS Graylock’, which was sunk off the coast of Murmansk in 1943. He and his shipmates were rescued by a British Corvette and brought to Glasgow, Scotland, where they remained for some months recovering from pneumonia. Stanley also had the unfortunate luck of having another ship torpedoed by a German U-boat off the New England Coast.

As a result of his service to the United States, Stanley was awarded four service medals, including two medals for service for service in the Atlantic War zone. The United States did not, however, issue these medals until decades after his service, because Merchant Marines were not traditionally recognized for their war time service, since they were considered civilian. This oversight was corrected by the U.S. Government in the 1980’s and these brave men received the honors they deserved.

Stanley Johnson also received a medal of honor from the Russian government for his service in the convoys which brought life saving necessities to the ports of Murmansk and Arch Angel during the war. He was honorably discharged from the United States Maritime Service on August 15, 1945.

During his fifty plus years at sea, Stanley sailed to the ports of Africa, Asia, Europe, South America and North America and was devoted to the sea. Upon his final retirement from the sea he lived out his remaining years in Richmond Hill, New York with his wife Alice, his children Bessie, Carl Lester and Arlene and his beloved grandchildren. He died peacefully at the age of 98 on April 7, 1988.

Before he died in 2008, his son Lester wrote about his memories of his father the sailor. What he describes is the way most children saw their father’s lives on Saba when the island had more than 700 men out of a population of 2400 who listed their profession as seamen.

“The unusual thing about memory the older we are the shorter our memory becomes. However, the greatest values in the lives of humankind are the ability to remember, to change and to forgive. These three qualities hold us together as a people like the arms of a loving mother. As our ability to store new knowledge declines old age takes us back to the beginning memories of our childhood. My childhood memories of my father did not start until I was twelve. The greatest weakness of the human mind is the inability to distinguish between good and evil without experience of the senses.

We can remember what we see, what we hear, what we smell, what we taste, and what we touch. However, without involving our five senses, we cannot remember anything that was real. For the women who married our Saba men and bore them children none of the senses played a part in their lives of loneliness and longing for many years at a time. Life was no different for the children who came from these marriages. However, our continued existence as a people is testimony to the goodness, the will to survive and the self-sufficiency of the lives on the Auld Rock in the old days. We gave a good account of ourselves no matter where we went.

My father loved the sea. The wooden ship with iron men sailed into the hopes and dreams of my childhood and stayed there with the passion of a love affair. I wanted to be a sailor like my father was. However, when my time came to plant the tree of life the sea was not important because my mother’s life and that of my sisters and it caused me to choose the land. I have no regrets because being on land allowed me to have the kind of life, I wanted. That also included my parents after World War II.

The early letters came from Kalisky’s Boarding House and Restaurant at 27 South Street, New York City. There were many months between letters. My father sailed the world. Once around Cape Horn and through the straits of Magellan to the West Coast where my father was gone for a year and everyone thought he had been lost. He returned from Chile very much alive with stories. Even in the face of what other people would call abandonment most Saba women stayed true to their husbands.

When steam replaced sailed for commerce on the high seas, my father shifted to inland waters where he worked for some years. These inland ships also served as homes to many Saba men. Those were the days when their seamanship, honesty and reliability served them well. It helped them to survive the Great Depression that was still going on when World War II started.

Sabans in those days mostly put their roots down in New England and New York especially. Their family names march on into the future all over the United States.

My father saw me for the first time when I was two years old. I did not see him again until 1938 when I was thirteen. He was home with his family for almost two years. Suddenly he was alive, a husband, a father and a friend to all who knew him and those who came to know him as a friend and loved him for he was a good kind man. He saw everyone as equals. What stays with me in my old age was my father’s way when he saw someone approaching. He would wet his under lip with his tongue. He always began with a compliment and finished with a story or a joke.

When my father arrived home, it was one of the most joyful days of my life and the saddest day was the day he left in 1940 to return to the United States. The world was on the verge of World War II. I had gone to the Fort Bay to see him off and I was sitting on a rock. I could smell my father’s pipe a mile away and then his arm was around me and we were both shedding tears of goodbye, because they were part of the life of every family on Saba at one time or another. I cried for days for my father. I loved him with my entire being. He told me that day when your time comes to go to the United States you must go because that is your country. That time came at the heights of World War II and I was able to see my father sooner than I hoped. However, when we parted then I did not see him again until I came home from the Army and he quit sailing. From then until he died about fifty years later we were father and son who never exchanged a hard word in anger.

The next fifty years of my life, I devoted to my parents and my own family. However, time stops for everyone and I will never forget the morning that I received a phone call that my father had gone from the nursing home to the Hospital. He told me that morning, “Son your auld father will never leave here alive.” When I went back in the afternoon, the nurse asked me:” When did your father stop speaking?” I went in to see him and his eyes filled with tears. I placed my two fingers in his hand and said, “Pappy if you can hear me squeeze my fingers,”. As I spoke he squeezed them several times, for as hard as life can be no human being should die alone. My words of love, comfort and gratitude were those I felt in my heart for him because he had been the best father a man could be under the circumstances of our lives and time we were together.”

I too went to see Stanley at the nursing home and I remember that his nurse was a lady from French Quarter. His granddaughter Anne Richter is a partner in a law firm on Wall Street and has restored her grandfather’s house at Zion’s Hill on Saba and is a frequent visitor to Saba. She did the research on his life for me. I interviewed him in 1967 when Richmond Hill, where he lived, had as many Sabans living there as on Saba. I remember watching the first flakes of snow coming down together with him. He was pleased that he could share that moment with me as that was the first time I had ever seen snow.

As a final note, my aunt Alice Eliza Simmons also lived to be close to 100 years, so they both could tell me many stories of the Saba long before my time and which I can now pass on to another generation. Uncle Stanley was 22 when my great grandmother Alice Eliza Horton died, and he could bring her back alive for me with his stories of her life and times. He told me that she would send fried fish in an iron pot to her uncle in St. Eustatius with a schooner and that he would write to her and tell her they were still warm on arrival.  Recordar es Vivir.

Tales from my Grandmother’s Pipe – A History of Saba by Sabans

BookcoverWEBSo exact and profound are the words by Alex Haley: “When an old person dies, it’s like a library burning down.” Especially in a place where pillage and fire, and inclement weather could destroy years of precious records leaving us to, many times, guess some of the data based on circumstantial evidence of letters, photos, or family lore passed down in form a verbal meme.

Genealogy as an auxiliary science has proven helpful to history, biology, medicine, even philosophy.  However, the “Summum Bonum” of genealogy is connecting us to our past and helping us understand first-hand the efforts of those who came before us.

Local historian Will Johnson, a former Lt. Governor of Saba, first authored “Saban Lore: Tales from My Grandmother’s Pipe” in 1979, which recounts the history of Saba through both the oral and documentary records. He has been proficient in going where no other historian has. He was able to tap into the “Saban Meme” directly from many of the elders, in a series of interviews done for his newspaper “The Saba Herald”. Together with Harry L. Johnson and Richard Austin Johnson, and several others, they interviewed, compiled, and put into perspective the History of Saba as told by its own people.

Many famed historians have attempted to recount early history of Saba, however the local people consider they tended to overemphasize Dutch political and cultural influence, and were, as some claim, penned by foreigners who never visited and understood the island in depth. They have been met with certain level of disapproval

Will Johnson has given us one of the most precious gifts. The gift of heritage!

Anyone who has spoken with Will Johnson can testify that he does this neither for a living, nor a hobby…. it’s a passion! He has taught us in a way that just as a house is not a home, a family is not constrained by the four walls of the house. Family goes way beyond!

Raymond S. Simmons II

You may order your copy today at

Message on behalf of Governor Jonathan G.A. Johnson

My Dream for our Country

Invitation Programme Investiture King Willem-Alexander on Saba

Invitation Programme Investiture King Willem-Alexander

Post Navigation