The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Archive for the month “January, 2014”

Tribute to Ronald Leon “Ronnie” Johnson

By: Will Johnson

When I reflect on Ronnie’s life and especially his last years of struggle I am reminded of the book: “Journey to Ixtlan” in which the author Carlos Castaneda describes how the passing of life’s great warriors takes place. For indeed, Ronnie was one of life’s great warriors, in that from nothing he built up a small business empire during his lifetime here on Saba. In his last years with only twenty percent of his heart functioning, Ronnie carried on working as usual.

All of our days are numbered, but his was a special case. That did not in any way hinder Ronnie from carrying on working as he always had done.

Ronald "Ronnie" Leon Johnson

Ronald “Ronnie” Leon Johnson

Castaneda writes: “I will have to come with you over and over to this hilltop, “he said. “And then you will have to come by yourself until you’re saturated with it, until the hilltop is oozing you. You will know the time when you are filled with it. This hilltop, as it is now, will then be the place of your last dance.”

“What do you mean by my last dance, Don Juan?”

“This is the site of your last stand, “he said. “You will die here no matter where you are. Every warrior has a place to die. A place of his predilection which is soaked with unforgettable memories, where powerful events left their mark, a place where he has witnessed marvels, where secrets have been revealed to him, a place where he has stored his personal power.”

“A warrior has the obligation to go back to that place of his predilection every time he taps power in order to store it there. He either goes there by means of walking or by means of dreaming.

“And finally, one day when his time on earth is up and he feels the tap of death on his left shoulder, his spirit, which is always ready, flies to the place of his predilection and there the warrior dances to his death.

“Every warrior has a specific form, a specific posture of power, which he develops throughout his life. It is a sort of dance. A movement that he does, under the influence of his personal power. If a dying warrior has limited power, his dance is short, if his power is grandiose, his dance is magnificent. Whether his power is small or magnificent death must stop to witness his last stand on earth. Death cannot overtake the warrior who is recounting the toil of his life for the last time until he has finished his dance.”

“Does death really stop to see a warrior dance?”

“A warrior is only a man. A humble man. He cannot change the designs of his death. But his impeccable spirit, which has stored power after stupendous hardships, can certainly hold his death for a moment, a moment long enough to let him rejoice for the last time in recalling his power. We may say that this is a gesture which death has with those who have an impeccable spirit.”

Ronald Leon Johnson was born on Saba on May 27th, 1937 and died on January 19th, 2014. He and his three sisters, Velma, Patsy and Janice were the children of Richard Austin Johnson and Emmeline  Zagers. Unusual for Saba at the time was that both his father and mother were the only children of their respective parents. Ronnie’s father at one time served as a local counselor in the old advisory council. Because of his knowledge through much reading he was asked to join the old colonial police force.  Back then policemen could in no way show their preference for any political party. Austin was accused of having shouted out with a measure of glee when the party he had voted for, won the election. Even though there was no proof of that, he was transferred to work on the island of St. Eustatius. Austin was a voracious reader and he once told me that he had read every book in the library including the dictionary. On the day he read the last book, he wondered what was to become of him. When he went back to Fort Oranje the Lt. Governor called him and said; “Austin I have good news for you. I just received a telegram from the Governor on Curacao that as of tomorrow you will be transferred back to Saba”. Ronnie went to school there and the cultural experiences from those years left a lifelong impression on him. Also his time spent on Barbados with his parents on a four months vacation in the early nineteen fifties was a subject he often talked about. How they arrived in the night at the beach house they were renting, and when they woke up and saw that lovely white sand and emerald sea, their parents had to get a friend to take them down to Bridgetown to buy bathing suits. They stayed out in the sun all day and got severe sunburn as a result. At the time there were many Saban people living on Barbados and Ronnie used to often talk about the people he had met there. My job was to sleep at their home for the months they were gone to keep his grandmother company in case she should become ill in the night and the doctor would have to be called.

Ronnie fishing. He loved the sea.

Ronnie fishing. He loved the sea.

One of the most dramatic experiences in his early lifetime was the loss on the “Saba Bank” in 1943 (I think) of his grandfather Frederick Zagers. He was out fishing when a storm came up. My grandfather James Horton Simmons and another crew were caught up in the same storm in the boat the “Why Not”, but Rupert Hassell then a young giant rowed for some twelve hours through terrible seas and they got safely back to land. In the boat that was lost was also Freddie Jones (Cutchie’s father), Simon Dunlock (Dinda’s brother), Cleve Hassell and Peter Woods (Edna Woods’ father). Ronnie often talked about the loss of his grandfather. His other grandfather Peter Cohone lived well into his nineties and lived to see Ronnie’s children before he passed away.

After finishing primary school he went to the Boys town “Brakkeput” on Curacao. When Lt. Governor Jonathan Johnson called me for my input into the eulogy, he asked me what I remembered about Ronnie’s years in that institution. Ronnie was older than me so he was in a different building. I know he went to the trade school, but when I did see him he was always telling me and the other boys that he was in love with Lucille. Other than that I could not remember too much about his stay in the boys town.

Ronnie returned to Saba and started applying for a visa to go to the United States. However the more he thought about it the more he wanted to remain here and when he and Lucille decided to get married they discussed the future with his parents and his cousin Eugenius Johnson who became his business partner. He started the Lido Club where the young men of the village of Windwardside, could meet and play pool and card games and dance on Saturday nights. Back then a late night was 10 pm as in the beginning there was no electricity and the village would be fast asleep by that time. He later expanded his business with the Big Rock Supermarket and moved on to his hotel the Cottage Club, apartments for rent and the Stone crusher and so on. He was open to ideas from anyone as well. I remember once standing there by the old Post office when he passed by with a load of galvanize in his truck and I asked him what he planned to do. He said he needed to put a new roof over his building where the Lido was. I said man Ronnie look at it this way. There is little space where you can build. Why not pour a concrete roof and then later on you can build on top. He took my advice and in a few weeks he was busy getting ready to pour a concrete roof. He was a builder at heart and a good investor. Ronnie continued to be enterprising by building and expanding up until his passing. He would work along with the men to ensure the job was done right. Once while fixing the roof of the home where his son Mark lives he slipped and fell off the roof. My son Chris was home on vacation and I asked Ronnie to employ him and show him how the real world works. Chris thought for sure Ronnie had been badly hurt, but Ronnie went home had a glass of brown sugar and water and later was back on the roof working away as if nothing had happened.

Ronnie behind the Bar at the Lido Club talking to Lucille

Ronnie behind the Bar at the Lido Club talking to Lucille

Ronnie loved to go around the sea fishing ever since he was a boy. He also built and bought boats. He and his cousin Howard Johnson even owned one of the boats belonging to the Japanese fishing fleet which they used as a cargo boat. He would love to tell stories about his fishing days. This one he told me more than once. He was out fishing with Benjamin “Gilly” Johnson. Gillie was a midget and like a lot of service when he was fishing. With Gillie it was either you fish or cut bait. However Ronnie wanted to fish and after sitting there in the boat taking orders from Gillie to bring this and to cut bait, Ronnie walked up to the front of the boat, cut the anchor loose and took the boat back to shore. Gillie was fit to be tied but Ronnie could care less. He took off with the boat and went fishing all by himself and enjoyed not having Gillie to boss him around.

For years Ronnie was the biggest employer in the private sector and he was a liberal employer whose employees loved him and called him Papa Ronnie. When he grew up ninety percent of the people of Saba could trace their roots back to hundreds of years unbroken residency here. Nowadays there are some 66 nationalities living here. Ronnie changed with the times and employed people from Palestine, Colombia, the Philippines, Holland, and the United States and so on over the years. He often told me that if it was not for these hard working people who worked along with his Saban employees he would have had to close down his businesses.  Working for Ronnie would have given his employees the idea that Ronnie would have lasted forever and so his death came as a shock to his employees as well as the rest of the community. When word of his sudden death came as he was waiting in his truck to carry his wife Lucille for their traditional Sunday afternoon drive, it was not long before the hospital was filled to capacity with people from all over the island who were shocked with his passing.

From an early age Ronnie loved music and after Carlyle Granger passed away Ronnie moved in and took over the “Occasionals” band and kept it going. This band plays on many social and government occasions and has become such a part of the community that one cannot think of Saba without the “Occasionals” band.

Ronnie on the guitar from an early age.

Ronnie on the guitar from an early age.

Usually before church on Sundays, Ronnie, my brother Guy, Eric, Franklin stand in front of Addy’s supermarket discussing the news. My last conversation with him was a question I had long wanted to ask him. From the time I was an altar boy, I always noticed that his parents and Ronnie and his sisters were always in church and playing an active part, Patsy as the organist, Janice as a decorator and member of the choir along with her sister Velma while Ronnie traditionally picked up the collection. I asked him why his family was so religious. He did not hesitate in his answer. He told me that his great grandfather George Rodney Johnson, Jr. who lived on Hell’s Gate would walk with his six children every Sunday to attend Mass in the Windwardside. At that time there was no church in Hell’s Gate. Ronnie’s Grandmother Annie was one of those six children and passed on the tradition to her daughter Emmeline.  The Sunday of his death Ronnie had been in church as usual, and he was delivered into the hands of the God of his ancestors in the church he had worshiped in all his life with Father Bob Johnson doing the service. The church was filled as well as the streets around the church with many people singing his praises. Ronnie was a charitable man who gave in silence to those who asked for help. He did not advertise his generosity but those who had felt the touch of his benevolent hand were among the crowd singing his praises.

The big question now is:”Who will replace this great man? His legacy must not be lost but rather be built on, not only from within his own family, but also from within the community at large. Ronnie stood for something and many things. What they were we only know now that he has departed the land of the living. Let us not disappoint him.

Ronnie it is only now with your sudden passing that we realize the great achievements you have accomplished in the private sector, only now we realize your contributions to political stability on Saba. Only now we realize what a generous spirit you had and what strong religious convictions you carried on which had been handed down to you through your ancestors by your parents. We have laid to rest a great warrior in life’s struggles for survival and growth. We have taken a father of many to his last resting place.

Ronnie we lament your departure but our grief is lessened in the knowledge that already even before the sun has set on your last resting place you seat of honour has been reserved for you in that great beyond.

We return to Castaneda to reflect on Ronnie’s last struggle; “And thus you will dance to your death here, on this hilltop, at the end of the day. And in your last dance you will tell of your struggle, of the battles you have won and of those you have lost; you will tell of your joys and bewilderments upon encountering personal power. Your dance will tell about the secrets and about the marvels you have stored. And your death will sit here and watch you.

“The dying sun will glow on you without burning, as it has done today. The wind will be soft and mellow and your hilltop will tremble. As you reach the end of your dance, you will look at the sun, for you will never see it again in waking or in dreaming, and then your death will point to the south. To the vastness.’

Ronnie go with god’s guidance to your well deserved rest in the great beyond.  Farewell great friend, farewell great business pioneer, farewell great benefactor, farewell Ronnie from a grateful family, grateful employees and a grateful people.

Ronnie, may you rest softly!!

Ronnie, may you rest softly!!

Aviation over our islands during World War II

By; Will Johnson

One of my earliest memories of when I was a child is when my father came riding home on the Governor’s horse. He was a foreman for public works then. He was working on the building of the road leading from the Bottom in the direction of the Windwardside. Years before that, he had worked on the road as it was being built from the Fort Bay to The Bottom. The Governor had asked him to take care of his horse while he was on St. Maarten.  We had recently moved from our home and farm at Behind-the-Ridge to the home of my aunt in Windwardside. That was something unheard of in those days, but my mother insisted that she wanted her boys to get some kind of education and we would overcome all difficulties in order to achieve her goal.

WW II - Image (2438)

The second thing that I remember must have been when I was about five years old, just after the war. There was a strange noise around the island and people were running out of their homes looking towards the skies. What proved to be a plane flew over and dropped something which landed somewhere in the bushes and turned out to be a bag of letters. These planes during the war flew regularly over the island. They served as escorts for convoys which would head down to Belem Brazil and from there over the Atlantic to Africa and on to the European front. Years later I got a call from a Mr. Lloyd Cooley at Captain’s Quarters Hotel. He was one of those pilots flying over Saba during the war and dropping letters in the hope that some young lady would contact them and get married. So much had been written up in magazines in the United States about Saba being the island of women that these pilots flying over considered that Saba was the mother lode of beautiful women. Saba turned out to have a particular attraction to have on American airline crews. The then very isolated and exotic appearing island was known from articles written in the National Geographic Magazine, among others, while the American press after 1940 wrote extensively about America’s Caribbean backyard. In its issue of November 1940 the National Geographic Magazine wrote an extensive article about Saba. On June 24th 1941 six American military planes flew several times low over Saba, while two days later St. Maarten was checked out by two planes.

In connection with these two incidents the Governor on Curacao via the ambassador in The Hague sent a protest to the government of the United States. The complaints did not make much of an impression. The fact that Saba had a surplus of women led in September 1941 the crew of a military plane to fly low over the village of Windwardside and they threw out a letter in a small parachute. The letter was addressed to “the most beautiful girl on Saba”. The sender was Sergeant Maurice Berry stationed in Puerto Rico who requested that he get an answer. Quite a number of “the most beautiful girls” answered his appeal sent by parachute.

I had a number of wonderful conversations with Mr. Cooley and he brought with him a number of photographs of the planes he and his colleagues used to fly even one with him flying over Saba. Regrettably during one of the hurricanes a number of the photo’s got destroyed as well as the notes he had made for me.  I thought all was lost.

A few weeks ago I got to work on a job I had promised to do since 2007 when I thought I had left public office for good until in 2010 I decided to run for Senator and had to go back and serve. The job was to try and bring some order into my downstairs office. What I had been putting off for years was achieved in a matter of two days. Now I am going through all the old documents and trying to file them as I go along. And in doing so, I continue to come across correspondence which I had with other people doing research on our history in the Windward Islands.

I found a file with correspondence I had with Jerry Casius and there were some of the photo’s from Mr. Lloyd Cooley which I had sent to Jerry, so therefore now the article giving some indication as to what was happening in aviation around the islands during the World War. I was good friends with Jerry when he was the Chief mechanic for Windward Islands Airways at the airport on St. Maarten back in the sixties.

Sea plane in the Surinam river at Paramaribo flown by Mr. Lloyd Cooley in the 1940's

Sea plane in the Surinam river at Paramaribo flown by Mr. Lloyd Cooley in the 1940’s

After he married a woman from the United States he moved to California, I think, and years later we picked up friendship again when he was again living in the Netherlands. I had no idea that he was a writer in the meantime until I got this letter from him dated November 9th, 1996 when I was a Senator.

I would like to share the letter from him and also the fact that I did some research for him the copy of which I have not come across as yet.

Dear Will,

Possibly you can remember that when I last saw you at Saba, about two-three years ago, I mentioned that I was collecting information and doing research about the history of aviation in the Netherlands Antilles, with the aim to publish a book like the one I already did about Indonesia (entitled “40 Jaar Luchtvaart in Indie”). In the course of that undertaking, I thought that I should include a chapter about the events involving military flying in WW-2. That idea has sort of turned into a project of its own and I have been able to write an extensive manuscript on the submarine-war around the Netherlands Antilles, which means, of course, mostly about Curacao and Aruba.

I have collected a fair bit of material about the happenings in this respect around the Windward Islands, but it is “skimpy’. I am tracing the War Diaries of the US Air force and Navy aircraft squadrons which operated around the islands from their bases at Puerto Rico and St. Thomas and these yields a bit of information.

WW II - Image (2440)

I am enclosing a draft copy of what I have found out about events around the Windward Islands so far, but I would like to have additional information which ties the story more to the experiences and observations of the inhabitants of the islands. Thus my question: is it possible to research the Saba Onder-Gezaghebber’s diary of the war years (1940-1945)? I suppose that if anything was seen over and around Saba of airplanes and warships, etc., it would be noted. This would be very valuable material because with an event and date, I can flesh out the narrative and continue my search in the American records.

WW II - Image (2441)

Please let me know if there is a Xerox copy of the Diary which I could borrow or purchase, or, when I am at Saba if you could arrange that I research the original. I do still visit Winair two or three times a year (my company overhauls the Twin Otter engines) and it would be a pleasure to fly across. Or, is there a copy in Holland, for instance in the Algemeen Rijksarchief?

Please note that the enclosure is a draft only and not yet finished, so should not be used as the whole truth, although what is there so far, is pretty accurate.

I hope that all is going well for you and look forward to hearing from you. Please give my regards to Freddie.

Best regards

Jerry Casius.

Speaking about Freddie! He was born in 1932 and the following incident happened when he was around nine years old and we lived Behind-The-Ridge where there were only four houses, three belonging to the Johnson family and one belonging to the Green family, though there were always visitors. My grandfather had a shop there when the Sulfur mine was in operation and if he sold an item which was one cent cheaper than The Bottom people would walk from there to buy the item as well as potatoes, small corn or anything else which he produced from the land. One day they saw a large unidentified object approaching Saba. As it came closer they became terrified as it was such a large object in the sky. One of the old timers urged all to get on their knees and pray as this was surely the end of the world. Freddie was the only one who remained cool and observed the large object closely. My brother Eric told me this story and I wrote that it was German. However my brother Guy told me afterwards that it was American. Freddie calmly informed the small crowd present that it was a blimp and explained what its function was. In that isolated atmosphere of “Behind –the- Ridge” which my mother described as behind God’s face, with no books available Freddie had read about and could explain and reassure those present there was nothing to fear as it was just a blimp passing over the island. No wonder that even though he was a teacher before the class for over thirty years he was always fascinated with planes and served as Winair’s agent until his death.

Also on St. Eustatius the people there received an unexpected visit from a plane. On September 25th 1941 (I was three days old) there was great consternation when suddenly 14 parachutists descended from a plane flying over, some came down on land and some landed in the sea. The first impression of the Statians were that it was a German invasion of their island, but it soon became clear that it was the crew of a flying boat of the US Navy, which was underway from Antigua to Puerto Rico and had developed complications with the steering mechanism. The pilot let his crew jump out, but still was able to make a good landing close to shore. Nine of the parachutists landed on St. Eustatius, but of those who landed in the sea only two were saved. A message was sent to Puerto Rico and within a short time three planes were flying over searching for the missing, followed by some water planes and ships. This affair had consequences for a young Statia boy. When I used to stay at the plaza hotel on Curacao there was a man from St. Eustatius playing the piano in the dining room. I would always ask him to play the song “Don’t cry for me Argentina’ and whenever he saw me coming into the dining room he would play that song. One night I saw him getting up from behind the piano then taking crutches and walking out. I asked Senator Kenneth van Putten what was his problem. Kenneth told me about the affair with the plane during the war. That was the first time I heard the story. He said that the piano player (Mr. Courtar) who was a boy at the time had climbed into a high tree and to imitate the parachutists had jumped out of the tree and upon landing he was so badly hurt that he was taken to Curacao and survived but was a cripple for the rest of his life.

The first regular visit of an American plane on St. Maarten took place on March 2nd, 1942 and was an event of the first order naturally. This took place after a U-boat had attacked the oil refinery on Aruba in which eight Saban seamen lost their lives. Seeing that there was no airport in the Windward Islands the plane was a Gruman  Duck sea plane of the US Marine corps Scouting squadron 3 (VMs-3) out of St. Thomas flown by Major Carlson , which landed in the Simpson bay lagoon. This landing was followed by many more regular landings in the lagoon some of which carried government officials from Curacao including Governor Piet Kasteel who landed in the Simpson bay Lagoon on November 30th 1942. Also given the fact that the French islands were under Vichy Control, the Americans were preparing for an invasion, and so starting May 11tn, 1942 there were many flights over the islands on their way to Antigua and St. Lucia where the Americans had bases. There were also many German U boats in the vicinity of our islands and several times bombs were dropped in the hope of destroying these submarines.

Space does not allow the complete history of the war. The Windward Islands were not considered important enough for an airport. However the KLM station manager on Curacao Eric o. Holmberg made a report to the Governor that an airport could be built on St. Maarten from three possible choices, either in the valley between the two hills at Pointe Blanche, the great salt pond or at Simpson bay. To his credit he suggested his preference for Simpson bay. On December 3rd, 1943 the first plane landed on the partially completed airport and the pilot was Gerrit Jan Schipper. On St. Eustatius an attempt was made in 1940 already but the 600 meter grass strip, and which cost fls.600.–, was first landed on by Remi de Haenen on October 5th 1946.

Aerial view of Saba

Aerial view of  Saba

My last letter from Jerry was July 11th, 1997 which among others stated;” I am enclosing some pictures of the other types of us navy planes which could be seen over Saba in World War II. The small planes belonged to Marine Corps squadron at St. Thomas. I have traced 8 to 10 veterans of this unit and they all remember Saba vividly, because of the contact with Saba people who waved at them. Some of them became like personal acquaintances. “

Who knows perhaps they saw my brother Freddie waving at them as they passed over!

Saba’s Population List of 1823.

These are only the white males of households on the island which was still in a state of slavery at the time. Dutch historians have constantly tried to make the native islanders as descended of Dutch settlers. Even the new arrogant colonialists tell people that Sabans never contributed anything to their own history and that I am telling history in my own way without proper research and so on. Well check this population list of 1823 and tell me who is a Dutchman on the list.These residents of 1823 can trace their ancestry back to 1665 when the pirates from Jamaica captured the island. Others go back to settlers from St. Kitts from 1629.

For the record here now is the 1823 census:


Burgher list for the year 1823, Saba Island. This was retrieved by Ryan Espersen, from the archives in The HAGUE, RECENTLY.

Officers: The Hon. Edward Beaks, Esq. Commander

Henry Hassell, council member

George J. Hassell, council member

Richard Johnson, council member* (My great-great grandfather who became Commander in 1828).

Hercules Hassell, Esq. council member

Charles Simmons, Secretary

John Davis, Marshall.

Heads of households in the various districts:

Hell’s Gate Quarter

John Johnson

Oliver J. Johnson

Abram J. Hassell

Oliver J. Hassell

George R. Johnson

Daniel Every Sr.

Jacob Every

Daniel Every Jr.*

James Every

George J. Hassell

Peter John Johnson

James Hassell

John J. Hassell

Peter Hassell

Henry Hassell

James Hassell

Richard Hassell

Peter Hassell

Peter George Hassell*

Daniel Keeve Sr.

Daniel Keeve Jr.

John William Keeve

Anthony Every Jr.

Jacob Vlaughne* ( The name come from Jacques Valaen who resided on St. Eustatius in 1689);

George Hassell

William Keeve (Tz)

William Keeve (Wz)

Peter Hassell

Peter J. Peterson

Peter John Hassell

Henry Hassell

George Hassell

George J. Hassell

Peter Hassell


James Horton Sr. * (My great-great-great, great, grandfather).

James Horton Jr.* (My great-great-great grandfather).

John Beal

Peter Simmons

Peter Hassell

John Zeagors

Thomas Zeagors

Peter Collins

James Hassell


George Leverock

William Leverock

Peter Hassell

Moses Leverock Sr.

Moses Leverock Jr.

William Leverock

William Keeve S.

William Keeve Jr.

Abram Every

John Leverock

Abram J. Hassell

Daniel Peterson

Abram J. Peterson

Peter Mardenborough Sr.

Peter Mardenborough Jr.

Richard Hassell

John Leverock (invalid)

Henry Hassell Jr.

Peter Anthony Hassell

John G. Hassell

Jacob Every Hassell

John Hassell

John William Hassell

James Hassell

Josiah Every

Thomas Every

Henry Hassell

John Mardenborough

William Leverock

Henry Hassell

James B. Hassell

Josiah Peterson

Peter James Every

Thomas Hassell

Thomas J. Every, Charles Simmons, Isaac Simmons, Joseph Hassell, Peter AnthonyEvery, Abram Every, Daniel Hassell Sr., Daniel Hassell, Jr.,William Leverock, John Peterson (overage) John Hassell (overage), Henry Hassell, John Every, John Hassell, Peter Johnson, Richard Johnson,* Thomas Johnson*, Cohone Johnson.
Booby Hill-Quarter:
Abram J. Every, Peter J. Johnson, John R. Hassell, Richard Thomas Hassell, Henry Hassell Sr. Henry Hassell Jr., Richard Hassell, Peter Hassell, James Hassell, Richard Johnson, William leverock, John Johnson, James Hassell.
St, John’s Quarter;
Jacob Every, John Beaks, Hercules Hassell Jr., Richard J. Every, John G. Beaks, Thomas Beaks, Elisha Beaks, George J.Hassell, sr., Peter J. Hassell, WILLIAM S. Hassell, George J. Hassell, Jr., John Hassell, John Hassell, Thomas Hassell, Thomas Darsey, Isaac Richard Kelly, John Hassell, sr.John Hassell jr., Abram Simmons, Abram Barnes, Edward Barnes, William Simmons, Charles Simmons, John Every, Edmond Kelly, Thomas J. Kelly, Richard Winfield, John Kelly sr., John Kelly jr., Edmond Kelly, Peter Every, Abram Every, Daniel Simmons, James Simmons, John William Barnes, Charles Winfield.
Bottom Quarter;
Moses Leverock, Peter Darsey, John M. Darsey, Abram Simmons, Joseph D. Horton sr., Joseph D. Horton jr. Benjamin R.W. Horton, Thomas Horton, Richard D. Winfield, William Simmons, John Simmons, Abram Simmons, Charles Simmons, Thomas Beal, John J. Simmons sr., John J. Simmons, jr. Abram Davis, Isaac Simmons, George S. Johnson, Peter Simmons, invalid, William Simmons, Charles Simmons, George Simmons, John Simmons, Abram Simmons, James Simmons, Abram J. Every, Abram Simmons, Peter Simmons, Isaac Milner, Daniel Simmons, Peter Simmons, Edward Simmons, Thomas Dinzey, Thomas d. Winfield, Thomas Simmons, and John Simmons.
So far the census of 1823 listing all the white male heads on households listed as to the villages or Quarters where they were living.

Historical Sketch of the Island of St. Eustatius (Part II)

Johannes de Graeff

Johannes de Graff

In the first part of this sketch written by native historian Arthur Valk we reached as far as the recognition by Governor de Graaf of the flag of the Continental Congress of the rebel United States colonies with a 13 gun salute. It turns out that Mr. Arthur Valk was the first person to attempt at writing a concise history of his native island. It is also written in such a way that it can be easily read. God willing I want to do a history of St. Eustatius based on the lives of some leading people of the past hundred years who in one way or the other made a contribution to the island. When I started typing this article on January 1st, I did not realize until I had finished typing that Mr. Valk had written his history on January 21st, 1889. January must have been calling on me to pay a tribute to Mr. Valk this month so that contemporary Statians will know more about him. We continue now with the rest of Mr. Valk’s history written in 1889.

“ This recognition of the flag on the part of the governor, although done on his own responsibility, and against the orders of the States General, afforded additional cause of complaint, and the States, willing to do all that could consistently be done to maintain friendly relations, summoned the offending Governor to Holland, there to give an account of his conduct, and he was not allowed to return till he had succeeded in clearing himself before a Court of Justice, of all the charges which had been brought against him.

While the two nations were thus in professed amity, in February 1781 Admiral Rodney suddenly appeared before the island with such an armament of sea and land forces as in its defenseless situation was not only useless but ridiculous. The governor could scarcely credit the officer who summoned him to surrender, but being convinced how matters stood, surrendered the island with everything in it at discretion.

Naval vessels in the harbor

Naval vessels in the harbor

And now began the systematic series of acts which culminated in the ruin of this unfortunate island. 1500 men were landed the same day, some of whom were placed as guards from one extremity of the lower town to the other, evidently with the view of preventing the merchants from having access to or removing anything from their stores, subsequently the keys of their warehouses were demanded, their correspondence, books, letters, etc. taken away and everyone was compelled to give an account of all the ready money, jewels, slaves, cattle, etc. which he possessed, nor was rank age or sex spared in the general order.

The next measure was the general proscription of all the inhabitants, by which they were ordered to quit the island. Americans, Dutch, French, all without exception, “leaving behind them all their wealth, merchandise, etc., and taking with them such effects only as they had received a special license for.”

As Mr. Burke said in Parliament “the island surrendered at discretion, but the conquerors interpreted discretion into destruction for they did not leave the conquered a shilling.” The poor Jews were treated in a worse manner, if possible than all the other inhabitants, 250 of them were sent to Antigua, and numbers to St. Kitts, being first stripped of all their money and valuables. A Mr. Hoeb in particular a venerable old gentleman, nearly seventy years of age, had even his clothes searched and some money which he had concealed about him for the purpose of buying food was taken from him. Three millions of pound sterling in money alone was taken possession of, besides more than a million in property. Along with the island there fell into the hands of the captors, 250 sail of merchantmen and a frigate of 38 guns, besides a Dutch flag ship of 60 guns, the Mars which was taken off Saba, having under convoy between 20 and 30 ships bound for Europe.

Naval activity around St. Eustatius

Naval activity around St. Eustatius

The British Lion had indeed glutted its heart with vengeance and the desolation of St. Eustatius was almost complete. In the month of May the garrison was attacked by a malignant fever, which in a sort time swept away more than two hundred of their number, including the Commandant of the island, Brigadier General Sir David Ogilvy. On the 20th of November of the same year the Marquis de Bouille arrived off one of the landing place of the island, deemed so inaccessible that it had been left without a guard. With much difficulty he landed 400 or 500 men during the night. The appearance of day put an end to his landing any more, and he now found himself obliged either to relinquish the enterprise or to attack. The garrison which was almost double the number of those he had on the island. He chose the latter and was favored by the negligence of his antagonists. A difficult pass had been left unguarded which the Marquis secured, and then pushed forward with the utmost expedition. The British, mistaking a body of Irish troops for their comrades, suffered them to proceed without thinking of opposing them. They were then exercising on the parade but were soon made sensible of their mistake by a close discharge from the supposed friends, by which many were killed and wounded.

Fort Orange

Fort Orange

The surprise occasioned by this sudden attack was so great that no resistance could be made especially as the Commanding Officer Colonel Cockburn, who happened at that instant to come upon the parade was made prisoner. A number of them, however, hastened to the Fort, with the intention of making head against the enemy, but the French had already taken possession of the Fort and the rest of the garrison, dispersed in various places had no choice but to submit without opposition. The actions of the French Commander were in glittering contrast to that of the English one. Among the spoils that fell into his hands was a large sum of money claimed by the British Commanding Officer as private property. This was generously restored to him. The property of the Dutch inhabitants was also reserved to them and nothing was allowed to be seized, but the produce arising from the sale of prizes that had been taken by the English when they captured this island. For nearly three years the French flag waved over this island when in 1784 it was formally restored to Holland.

Old photo of Oranjestad 1940's

Old photo of Oranjestad 1940’s

Business once again resumed its course, if not with so full a current as before. In the year 1789 we find the number of vessels cleared at the fort not less than 3050. All surrounding islands were supplied from its capacious stores, and considerable quantity of sugar and tobacco, cocoa and cotton, hides and rum were exported to Holland. The West India Company however had fallen deeply into debt and to satisfy these claims, it was obliged in 1792 to sell all its possessions. These were purchased by the government and a Council of the Colonies appointed to administer their affairs. In 1795 soon after the French occupation of Holland and to the great alarm of the quiet citizens, a body of French troops arrived in this island and the Batavian Republic was proclaimed and a Burger Daniel Roda was placed at the head of the Government.

Many families now left the island to reside elsewhere and the commerce of the island greatly declined. Under these dreary conditions, the closing year of one century and the opening of another was spent. With the decay of trade and the removal of many persons from the island, the whole lower Town had now almost fallen into ruin and many buildings on the Hill-town were in a similar condition. By an ordinance issued at this time all these were required to be taken down at once, thereby adding to the distressed aspect of the island. Still the afflicted community looked forward to the restoration of their lawful Soverign, when they hoped “under a free an unencumbered commerce” trade would revive and “houses rise like mushrooms.” In 1804 the English took possession but only held it for a short time, as by the peace of Amiens, the next year, it was restored to the Dutch. During the following years immense sums of money were spent in constructing forts and batteries and transporting there heavy pieces of ordnance but all this did not prevent the island again falling into the hands of the British, who now retained it for several years. The extinction of trade had now nearly become complete and even in 1816 when the island once more came under Dutch rule, although it seemed to revive for a short time, it never attained any considerable proportions and soon ceased altogether. In the year 1822 in an official report, the condition of the island is said to be “most unfavorable, while no prospect of improvement exists, as trade and navigation gradually decline and the British colonies cherish great hopes that direct communications with foreign ports will soon be granted them, in which case this island and St. Thomas and St. Barths will become of little value.” All these forebodings were fully realized.

Remains of Lower Town, once home to over 200 commercial establishments
with a view of Saba in the horizon

We have but little more to record of the history of St. Eustatius. In 1828 the island till then having had the islands of St. Martin and Saba under it, was placed with them under the government of Surinam. In 1843 the population of the island had sunk to 1463 of whom 1113 were slaves. A fearful earthquake occurred this year. In 1845 the island became a dependency of Curacao. In  1846 the troops which composed the garrison were removed to Curacao, an unfortunate measure and to which may in part attributed the breaking out of an insurrection among the slave population in 1848, which was promptly quelled but not without bloodshed.

Statia - Image (1566)

On the 1st of July 1863 the emancipation of the slaves took place, the day being observed as a general holiday and Divine services performed in the Churches. About the humanity of this measure there can be no doubt, but it is equally certain that it hastened the ruin of the already impoverished island. Since then the cultivation of sugar has been abandoned. The only agricultural operations carried on at the present being the cultivation of some yams (dioscarea sativa) and some potatoes (battas edulis). The population of the island is not more than 1363 persons. Of the numerous building in the Lower Town, numbering about 200 at the commencement of the century, only 12 or 13 remain. In the Upper Town not more than a hundred and fifty, most of which are in dilapidated condition. The Dutch Reformed Church, since the withdrawal of a pastor, has been suffered to fall into decay, until at the present time the greater part of the building has fallen in. In short everything bears the stamp of decadence and decay.

Group of Johnson's & other important people of Statia in the early nineteen hundreds

Group of Johnson’s & other important people of Statia in the early nineteen hundreds

And here we bring this historical sketch of St. Eustatius to a close with the hope that the clouds which have so long rested over this little island may be removed and that the future may have in store for it even a tithe of the prosperity and wealth which once earned for it the name of the “Golden Rock.”

A. Valk

St. Eustatius

21st January 1889

Gallery overtrading the road was the home of Mr. Arthur Valk.

Gallery overtrading the road was the home of Mr. Arthur Valk.

Arthur Valk in back with Irvin Mussenden in the library

Arthur Valk in back with Irvin Mussenden in the library

St. Eustatius Historical Sketch (Part I)

Introduced by Will Johnson

As far as I can ascertain this is the first history of St. Eustatius written by a native of that island. It might even be the first attempt of putting the history of that island in writing. Prof. Dr.L. Knappert’s history of the 18th century was only published in 1932, and that of J.H.J. Hamelberg in 1901. Other historians mentioned either a short visit to Statia or mentioned it in passing. Mr. Arthur Valk, of whom I have written before, wrote this historical sketch in the year 1889 and with limited research tools available to him, he was able to give a fairly good picture as to how his island had developed since the Europeans settled the Caribbean and displaced the original Arawak and Kalinago peoples by disease and warfare. He was a teacher by profession and considered the intellectual of Statia in his day. He had a sizeable library for those times, and visiting dignitaries to the island would always pay a courtesy visit to his home in order to get acquainted with Statia’s glorious history. He was a natural child of the owner of Schotzenhoek plantation, Mr. Daniel James Hassell Every of Saba/Statia Descent. His mother was a Hodge and he chose to use the name Valk one of the surnames from the ancestry of his mother. He also did translations of the Dutch anthem and other patriotic songs. His former home belongs to Senator Kenneth van Putten and is located on the Kerkstraat.

Arthur Valk and his mother Margaret Ann Hodge

Arthur Valk and his mother Margaret Ann Hodge

The original was typed from a Xerox copy of a handwritten Manuscript supplied by the Royal Institute for Language – Country- and Ethnology, Leiden, The Netherlands.

Mr. Valk had to do research based on oral history and books available to him at the time. Nowadays researchers have so many more tools to do historical research, including the Internet, so even though everything may not be to the satisfaction of modern day historians Mr. Valk, deserves much credit for his research at the time.

…..” The Island of St. Eustatius was discovered by Christopher Columbus during his second voyage in 1493 and it is probable it was named by this celebrated navigator in honor of the day on which it was first visited.

It is not known whether any Indians were met with in this Island, no doubt on account of its small extent and the absence of springs or rivers, it was not permanently inhabited by them, although frequently resorted to as a place of temporary residence by those of the neighboring island of St. Kitts. It is said that on one of these excursions, about the middle of the sixteenth century a number of them were encountered by the Spaniards, then in possession of the Island and though defending themselves with great bravery were overpowered and destroyed. Under its Spanish masters, the island remained unknown and unnoticed for more than a hundred years, harboring at times a few adventurers, who however, discouraged by the droughts to which the island is subject, and eager to share in the prosperity of the newly acquired colonies in South America, soon abandoned it to its fate. The Dutch, who established their West India Company in 1621 and were the first to trade in the Caribbean Sea, next obtained possession, how or when their first settlement was made, we are not definitely informed. It is certain, however, that it was before 1645, as in that year, according to Du Tertre a dispute occurred between the English and Dutch inhabitants of the island of St. Croix, the Dutch returned to St. Eustatius, then already colonized by the nation.

Old chart of St. Eustatius

Old chart of St. Eustatius

The first Dutch settlement is said to have consisted of 1600 persons. It would seem that the early colonists must at once have appropriated certain portions of the island and commenced their agricultural labors and principally the cultivation of tobacco, which for some time remained the staple product. That the colony throve and prospered appears from the fact that it was one of those selected for attack by the English forces under Admiral Sir Robert Holmes in 1664 as being calculated to inflict a severe blow on Dutch commerce. In further proof of its flourishing condition at this time, we find that at the capture of St. Thomas then a possession of the Dutch, by the same forces, the colonists were compelled their effects and even their dwellings to St. Eustatius as being a more fertile island. The English remained in sole possession of the island for some time, during which the prosperity of the island continued steadily to advance. The invaders were however in their turn to be displaced. In March 1667, the Dutch and French then being confederates, united their forces in six ships under command of an Abraham Harijnszoon and appearing unexpectedly before the place, obtained possession of it without a struggle. On this occasion the French having stipulated that for the honor of their flag, they should be allowed to enter the fortress first, afterward insisted on retaining the command and it was only at the peace of Breda. In August of the same year that it was finally restored to the Dutch. In the meanwhile, the cultivation of sugar had progressed in the island with the introduction of slaves from the African coast. In the year 1672 the Dutch Reformed Congregation, which had until now regularly assembled for worship in the fort, built its first church, a wooden structure, said to have been destroyed by a hurricane in 1742. The island had indeed become a valuable acquisition to the nation not only on account of its cultivation of sugar and tobacco, which latter product was raised on its sloping sides and to the very summit, but also because it was most favorably situated for the carrying on of an advantageous trade with the Spanish Colonies in the West Indies, shut out by the exclusion of Spain from a direct trade with Europe. The trade with these Colonies consisted not only in European commodities, but in slaves as we have already said were now imported yearly from the coast of Africa and sold or bartered for the products of these colonies.

In 1686 the first Governor of whom we have any authentic record Lucas Jacobsen, died and was succeeded in the command by Johannes Salomons, an official of the West India Company, and allied with one of the most ancient and respectable Dutch families, the van Groeneveldt. Not long after this the island again passed into other hands, being taken by the French immediately after the English had declared war against France in 1689.

Fort Orange looking towards Saba

Fort Orange looking towards Saba

In the year 1690 the French troops were driven out by Sir Timothy Thornhill, with the loss of only eight men killed and wounded, although the fort they took mounted 16 guns and was in every respect very strong. Sir Timothy found it necessary for the protection of the Dutch to leave a small English garrison in the fort, but he granted the French no terms of capitulation, except for their lives and baggage. By the peace of Rijswijk in 1697, the island was once more restored to Dutch rule and a short period of tranquility followed. At this time the population is said to have numbered 11,200, “among who are people of all nations and 1600 negroes.”

In the early part of 1712, a fleet of 6 ships of the line and 2 frigates under the command of Messieurs Jacques de Caspard (Cassard) appeared in the harbor of St. Eustatius. The expedition had been fitting out at Toulon for the express purpose of plundering the colonies of the Netherlands and their allies, and their first work had been to pillage and burn the city of St. Jago in one of the Cape de Verde Islands, belonging to the Portuguese. They now demanded from the Government of St. Eustatius, a large sum with threats of immediate destruction in case of refusal. The situation was embarrassing, as the Government Treasury did not contain the required sum. But the Governor Jan Simonz Doncker volunteered to advance the deficiency himself for account of the Company and the money was paid over, the fleet sailing away the same day to the great relief of the inhabitants.

It is also said that the shrewd old Commander never recovered his money from the Company, but was directed to take over land sufficiently to discharge the debt. Governor Donker died in the year 1715 (1717). Jan Heyliger, Jacobus Steevens, Evered Raads, Isaac Faisch and Commander Coesveldt succeeded each other in the Government of this island from the year 1715 to 1740. The only event of importance which occurred during this time was the declaring of St. Eustatius a free port, which it had been in effect long before. In 1738 a dreadful hurricane visited the island and a severe drought prevailed in the years 1739 and 1740, which occasioned the removal of many people from the island. The period of depression did not, however last long. The tide of commercial prosperity again set in, and about the middle of the century, the island was as flourishing as ever. In 1752 Governor Johannes Heyliger died and the reins of administration were assumed by Jan de Windt formerly Secretary of the Company. In the same year the Dutch Episcopal Church was built, and in 1760 the foundations laid of a spacious Dutch reformed Church in place of the one which had been destroyed by the hurricane. Several grants of land are recorded at this time and the island was supposed in 1763 to contain over 10,000 inhabitants. The Bay, or Lower town, which before this time can scarcely be said to have had an existence was now built up rapidly from one end to the other, and it became necessary for the Government to limit the occupation of land in that locality. But a series of calamities was in store for the unfortunate island. On the 31st of August, 1772 a terrific hurricane occurred, known throughout the West Indies as the “Great Hurricane”. The destruction at St. Eustatius was immense, many of the buildings in the town and all the houses on the plantations with the exception of four were destroyed and the shipping in the harbor wrecked or sunk. The Record Office was swept away with all its valuable store of documents and writing. The Dutch Reformed church, which had just been completed at great expense, so totally wrecked that two years elapsed before it could again be opened for public worship and in short, the destruction was wide spread.

Activity in the Bay at St. Eustatius

Activity in the Bay at St. Eustatius

But Phoenix-like the island again emerged from its ashes, and perhaps it had never so abounded with wealth as in the years which followed. During the hostilities between England and France and England and the North American Colonies this island being a free port, was open to all the subjects of the belligerent powers, and thus a communication was established by its means. The British West Indies and Great Britain herself cut off from those supplies, which they formerly secured from North America were served from this island, then became a vast storehouse of all sorts of goods. Here the British planters in the captive island of Grenada, the Grenadines, St. Vincent and Dominica sent the greater part of their produce to be exchanged for plantation stores and other necessaries. Here the French brought yearly at least 3,000,000 pounds of coffee, from St. Domingo alone. In the years 1777 and 1778 Antigua and St. Kitts would have suffered all the miseries of famine, had it not been for this island. In one word, the trade with all the European nations added to that of America was such that very often two hundred ships might be seen lying in the harbor, and the warehouses on the Bay not being sufficient to contain the goods imported for sale, the beach and the streets were covered with hogsheads of tobacco and sugar.

But England did not long view with unconcern the unrestrained intercourse which existed between the disaffected North American States and this island. Grievous complaints were made to States General and in consequence the exporting of all warlike stores was expressly forbidden and steps taken to assure the carrying out of this prohibition such as greatly narrowed the trade of the Dutch with the colonies in the West Indies. But in spite of this friendly action the dispute had no sooner broken out than the English ports were filled with Dutch ships taken and detained, and their cargoes applied to the use of the Royal Navy, although they had been pursuing their voyages under the faith of treaties, and were laden with no other merchandise than what by treaty was declared free and lawful. Nor was this all; the very flag of the States was openly insulted by hostile attack made upon the convoy under the command of the Rear Admiral Count Bijlandt. Under these circumstances it happened that in 1776 the brigantine “Andrew Doria” bearing at her masthead the flag of the Continental Congress arrived at St. Eustatius, and on coming to in the harbor fired a salute which by orders of Governor de Graaf, was answered by the fort, with an honor salute of 13 guns.

The Andrew Doria

The Andrew Doria

End of first part of this article. Second and final part to follow.

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