The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

The House that Captain Ernest built.

Capt. Ernest Hugh Toland Vanterpools HouseImage (1716)46967_10151407446203686_1466221463_nCapt.Thomas Charles VanterpoolDon's House 1919House as it looked in 1915DSC_0096House before demolition.

Recently I had to carry something to the good folks of the Living Water Community. Sister Elizabeth gave me a tour of the new facilities. The house which was the former Roman Catholic Presbytery was in such a bad state that it had to be torn down, but built back in the same old style. I myself volunteered to help out when the building was being torn down and contributed to the financing of the reconstruction as did a mumber of other good spirited members of the Saban community. So I was very pleased to see what a lovely building it had turned out to be and on the inside it is very spacious.
When the church was thinking about restoring the building for the use of the Living Water Community I wrote a small history of the building which I would like to share with my readers.
Captain Ernest Hugh Toland Vanterpool was born on January 2nd, 1852 and died on Wednesday March 19th, 1919 at the age of 67.
The name Toland came from his maternal grandfather John Toland who was an Anglican Priest on Saba in the first half of the 19th century.
Capt. Ernest was one of Saba’s most well known and wealthy sea captains. Part of his wealth is reported to have been gained from smuggling ex-convicts from Cayenne who had been banned there after serving time on Devils Island. They were not allowed to return back to France. They worked in the gold fields and if they survived the yellow fever and other tropical diseases their one wish was to escape and hopefully get back to France one day. Captain Ernest and his brother Captain “Tommy” (Charles Thomas Vanterpool) were reportedly paid in gold and the latter brother was almost caught once by a French Man-O-War.
I tell people that the house is where gold lost its value. Commissioner John Woods used to tell me that his father Ben had told him that once Captain Ernest gave him a sealed firebucket to carry to his wife. Ben claimed that the bucket was so heavy that he could hardly manage to carry it to The Bottom. On arrival at the house, Captain Ernest’ wife asked if her husband intended to eat gold as they had gold in the cellar in the ceiling, so much gold that they did not know what to do with it. Their descendants claim that it must have been a tall tale as they certainly knew nothing about him having any gold much less the amount claimed by his fellow islanders.
On September 5th 1876 Capt. Frederick Augustus Simmons, on behalf of young Captain Ernest bought the property belonging to John William Simmons.It was a large property for those days, running all the way up to the upper road and which now includes the cemetery, the church and also the property where Capt.Randolph Duncan’s house is.
It was on this large property that Captain Ernest planned his home for his young bride Elizabeth Simmons Winfield Leverock, a daughter of Governor Mozes Leverock. Her surname was that of her father, the Winfield that of her mother and the Simmons that of her grandmother (wife of Governor Edward Beaks). The former first families of The Bottom had this custom in order to determine the relationships between the various families.
In the property registers (C4#524) two well known carpenters, Capt. Samuel Augustus Simmons and Joseph Horton “Red Head Joe” Simmons signed a declaration that in the year 1880 they had built a wooden dwelling house for Captain Ernest Vanterpool who had furnished materials and funds for same. Back then a house like that would have cost around $150.– for labour and with only handtools would have been built in six weeks or less.
In the tropics termites can do a job on wooden houses built of untreated wood. Around 1915 Captain Donald Vanterpool rebuilt the house for himself. Captain Ernest was living in another house and Donald was getting married to Ivy Clayton Simmons. After the death of Captain Donald his widow then moved to the United States.
On February 16th, 1927 the children of the by then deceased Captain Ernest and his wife Elizabeth, none of whom were living on Saba by that time, decided to sell the house and property. It is interesting to note how dispersed the family was at the time of the sale. This was reflective of the exodus of most Saban families to many parts of the world.
The house and property were sold for $1.800.– Dutch dollars equivalent to Nf. 4.500.– A fls.2.50 coin was back then referred to as a Dutch dollar by local islanders in the English speaking Dutch Windward Islands.
Captain Thomas Charles Vanterpool, brother of the deceased, sold to the Reverend Father Matthias Johannes Petrus de Groen, who was then serving as Roman Catholic Priest on Saba. He purchased the property for the Roman Catholic Vicary on Curacao.
The sellers were: Mrs. Estelle Simmons born Vanterpool, spouse of Captain Engle Leverock Simmons Harbour Master at St.Thomas assisting his
wife and Blanche Vanterpool also residing at St. Thomas. Rebecca Vanterpool born Simmons widow of the late Capt. Hubert Vanterpool. Capt. Hubert was lost at sea with a crew from Saba in a hurricane in 1916 after which she and her small daughter moved to Barbados. Joanna Leverock Simmons born Vanterpool, spouse of Edward Austin Simmons, both residing on Barbados. Ivy Clayton Vanterpool born Simmons widow of the late Capt. William Donald Vanterpool, residing and Capt. Charles Pitman Vanterpool residing in the United States.
Since 1927 the home served as the Roman Catholic Presbytery where many priests and also bishops have resided over the years.
A few years ago (2009) the house was torn down by volunteers and with contributions from Saba, St.Maarten, Curacao and elsewhere the new building is a tribute to people’s belief in God and that which seemed an impossible task has now become the home and the headquarters of the Living Water Community and everyone can be proud of the new building.

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