The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Archive for the month “February, 2014”

The Church of Rome on Saba


The St. Paul’s Conversion church in Windward side, the first Roman Catholic church built on Saba in the year 1860. In the photo are Fred Hassell and Peter Every and his wife Lean.

The Church of Rome on Saba

By: Will Johnson

The Roman Catholic Church arrived rather late on Saba. In the Spanish period from 1511 until 1648 Saba fell under the bishopric of Puerto Rico. There is no evidence of the Spanish doing anything here as far as settlement of the island and with no settlers it goes without saying that there were no religious activities. In 1665 when the Jamaican pirates from Port Royal captured the island and left many of their men behind, we doubt if they had religion in mind as a safe haven but rather their piratical activities from this new base. The islands’ religions were the Presbyterians under the famous Dr. Hugh Knox (1755 – 1772), and then later on the Church of England which got permission in 1777 to build a church in The Bottom Saba. Before that Sabans had been making use of the Dutch Reformed Church on St. Eustatius. The Rev. Anthony Kowan baptized many Sabans between 1709 and 1736, and the Rev. Josiah Jacques was stationed on Saba starting on November 18th, 1736 and remained here for three years. The Dutch Reformed Church never did take hold among the English descended people. The Presbyterian Church of Christ building was located on the grounds of the cemetery behind the World War II monument in The Bottom. The great hurricane of 1772 destroyed it. Also the hill which people call “Paris Hill” was named” Parish Hill” after the Presbyterian Parish church at the foot of the hill. That name of the hill can be found in the old property registers. When the new Anglican Church also “Christ Church” was built the Presbyterian Church members joined the Anglican Church.


Mr. James Anthony Simmons for years the all around helper of the priests holding Mass in the Sacred Heart Church. We were not only great friends but his brother Charles (Long Charlie) and my father were first cousins.

The first famous Roman Catholic priest  and companion of pirates, Pere Labat, visited Saba on Sunday April 17th 1701 and landed at 10 AM. He was received by the Commander Jacob Leverock who invited him for lunch at his home. Father Labat gave a good description of life on the island back then. He was also invited in to the homes of several French refugees. He describes as the main industry that of making shoes. He said he purchased no less than six pair of finely crafted shoes. His schooner also sold some hides to the islanders which Labat had purchased on Cow Island. Father Labat left on Monday afternoon April 18th, 1701.

In 1836 Msgr. Martinus Niewindt, the apostolic prefect of the Roman Catholic Church of the Dutch West Indian colony called “Curacao and dependencies”, visited the Windward Islands. Having been on Saint Maarten and St. Eustatius earlier, he now also wished to visit Saba. On none of these three islands was there a priest in 1836.

The advent of Roman Catholicism on Saba reads like an adventure novel. When Father Labat was on Saba in 1701 he did not have missionary intentions. Niewindt most certainly did. At the end of May, 1836, he arrived at Ladder Bay accompanied by Manuel Romero, a Venezuelan priest who had come to Curacao a year earlier as a political refugee. Niewindt spoke French and Dutch; Romero spoke only Spanish. The climb to the top led over piles of stone and between steep chasms. Having arrived at The Gap the pair was stared at perplexedly by the Sabans. Communication was not possible. Neither of the two priests spoke English, and the Sabans spoke no French, Spanish or Dutch. Finally a woman from Guadeloupe came forward with whom Niewindt could communicate in French. She led the two priests to the deserted home of an earlier departed Anglican clergyman.

On the following day, June 1st, 1836, the first Holy Mass by a Roman Catholic clergyman was said on Saba. Were there people then on Saba who considered themselves Roman Catholic? For more than a century no priest of that religion had been to Saba. Could those present have had the faintest notion of a difference in religion any more than the woman who took Niewindt to the home of the Anglican priest? Niewindt could explain nothing, and the woman from Guadeloupe was not sophisticated enough to understand. Niewindt had brought English catechism books along, and these he liberally distributed. Except for a few, the 1800 inhabitants were illiterate. After the celebration of the Holy Mass the people presented five children to be baptized. Niewindt happily obliged. The first recorded baptism is on June 1st, 1836 and the child was named Simon Peter a natural child of Peggy Dinzey.

Dedication R.C. church in The Bottom 1934.

19th March 1935, Dedication of the Sacred Heart Church in The Bottom by Father Norbertus de Groen.

After this the two priests set out, supposedly with a guide, along the Western flank of the mountain to Behind The Ridge and to Hell’s Gate which would undoubtedly have been a difficult but fascinating journey. Who could have suggested such a strange route to them? Late in the day Niewindt and Romero arrived at Windward-Side where they received shelter in the home of Peter Hassell, an Anglican. Peter was the husband of my great aunt Esther Leverock Johnson. In his home another Holy Mass was celebrated the following day.

Niewindt writes that, “Curious girls peeped through the shutters when the ‘new priest’ put on his vestments”. From this one can again conclude that the people simply regarded Niewindt as the successor of the departed Anglican priest. Niewindt could interpret nothing; there was not a single person who understood him.

Five years later in 1841 Niewindt succeeded in finding a pastor for St. Eustatius, at that time the most important of the three islands. Just as Saba was partly colonized by the Dutch from St. Eustatius in the 17th century, so it was from there that it received the Roman Catholic Church in the 19th century. Father Joannes F.A. Kistemaker from St. Eustatius visited Saba in 1843 and appointed Miss Sarah Mardenborough to give some religious instruction. Sarah became in fact the founder of this church on Saba and the Ecclesiastical Chronicle also refers to her as Apostola Sabae. She was born on Saba on February 19th 1824 as Sarah Catherine and baptized by Father Kistemaker on June 22nd, 1850. Her parents were Christopher and Maria Mardenborough-Hassell.  For 29 years she gave religious instruction, and, after 1854 when a resident priest came, she served as assistant to each succeeding priest until 1873. She taught the youth, took care of the churches, and nursed the sick. As a result of the last mentioned occupation she contracted leprosy. Even then she had the children gather around her bed to prepare them for first Holy Communion. Each year on Maundy Thursday she had herself taken to the church where she spent the night and remained until the ceremonies of Good Friday. In 1903 on December 19th at the age of 79 this remarkable woman died and was buried in Windwardside. In 1873 her work was taken over by Gertrude Johnson-Hassell who was a trained teacher. She taught in a private house. She is also the one credited with introducing the “Spanish Work” or Saba Lace to the women of the island. In 1898 a house was bought and used as school.

Saba had other dedicated women to the Catholic faith. Mary Jane Johnson worked in Hell’s Gate and Ann Elizabeth Johnson (Miss Sheshe) did ecclesiastical work from 1858 until her death at the age of 93. She was my great aunt and I sleep in one of her four poster beds. On a small island history has its personal side as well and is therefore interesting to me.

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Roman Catholic church on Hell’s Gate built 1911. A new stone church was dedicated on this same location in 1962 by Bishop Holterman.

In 1850 the Catholic Mission (Prefecture of Curacao) bought a house at Windwardside to be used as a rest house and oratory. At that time the Anglican community had realized that Niewindt and his successors were not of their church. In those days with no politics the churches were at each other’s throats like differing political parties of modern times. A house that had been used by the church and which belonged to a converted Anglican, on his death, was inherited by a “Protestant” who after a barrage of rocks had been thrown at the house while Mass was being held, gave the Priest Father Gast a few hours to vacate the house as who knows it may have been torched. Families were torn apart with all the conversions going on. The Roman Catholic priest is claimed to have gotten no less than 90 converts in the week after the great earthquake of 1857 by telling the people that more would follow if they did not come back to the “true faith”. I heard this story from John William “Willie” Johnson who had heard it most probably from our great aunt Miss Sheshe. So I decided to check the baptismal records for 1857 and came up with 103 baptisms for that year. The largest number for those years and so once again you cannot discount oral history.  This earthquake caused rifts in the earth and gasses escaped. Saba was no stranger to earthquakes back then. On February 8th, 1843 there was a serious earthquake with aftershocks the following days. I have an article from the New York Times of 1867 describing an earthquake on Saba and its consequences but that and other stories of natural disasters will have to wait for now.

Bishop Verriets visit to Saba.

Bishop Verriets visit to Saba in 1933. Father Wahlen is being transported in a unique Saba contraption consisting of a rocking chair and with poles strapped to it and four men taking turns to carry the corpulent priest up the old stone steps to The Bottom which is 900 feet above sea level. The costs for such a ride was forty guilders, not an insignificant sum for those days.

Father Gast belonged to the Order of the Crusaders. He was reluctant to come to Saba where there were no Catholics and the population was hostile to the new religion. He was appointed in April 1853, came to Statia in January of 1854 and finally to Saba on March 6th and conducted his first baptism on June 2nd, 1854. The child John was born in the village of St. John’s on November 15th, 1853 and his parents were William and Sarah Hassell.  Father Gast wanted to build a church but was instructed to build an altar in his own house. In his first two months he got 32 converts.  After the Catholic children were not allowed into the existing private schools and pamphlets were spread against Father Gast, in August of that same year he started his own school and had 20 children and on July 2nd, 1854 he also started baptisms on Hell’s Gate. It wasn’t him. I am most sure it was Father Mulder. Rumor has it that my grandfather James Horton Simmons was the last Anglican holdout on Hell’s Gate. He was also fond of salted cod fish. Father Mulder supposedly asked him if a case of salt fish would do the conversion. Horton told him: “That will do it.” Horton had a set of daughters considered a liability back then. They could not catch a goat or fish on the rocks so Horton decided that the case of salt fish was a good enough offer and could keep his family going for awhile. That is the rumor mind you. I knew Horton but was too small to ask him such a delicate question.Former Minister Leo Chance called me one night laughing and said ;”Your grandfather did not sell out cheap. As a boy I used to accompany my father Bertin Chance with his donkeys to Hell’s Gate selling merchandise and those boxes of salt fish were pretty big.”

Father Lawrence Mulder buried on Saba.

Father Lawrence Mulder buried together with his colleague Father J. Kock in the vault of the Hassell family in the yard of the R.C. Church in Windward side.

In 1860 the Church of the Conversion of St. Paul was built in Windward Side. The plot of land had been the quarantine station for new arrivals to the island and belonged to Peter Hassell and his wife Esther Johnson my great aunt. The stones for the church were brought up by slaves from the Spring Bay, where they had been part of the building of a sugar plantation. Lime was used in those days in building up the walls, and because of that the salt in the lime is still a reason for having to paint the church quite often. In 1877 the Church of the Sacred Heart was built in The Bottom. Its present building in The Bottom is the third one and dates from 1934. In 1911 the Church of the Holy Rosary was established in Hell’s Gate, and its first wooden structure was replaced by the present one in 1962.

1890-1910 Church Bottom - Tropenmuseum

The first  Roman Catholic Church in The Bottom. On the right was the home of the Reverend John Toland of the Anglican Church. It was purchased from the St.Barth’s teacher Mr. Eckhart who was married to a granddaughter of the Reverend Toland who hailed from Ireland.

The work of the Roman Catholics was not without success. In 1878, 35 years after Sarah Mardenborough had begun her work, Saba had about 600 Roman Catholics.

Some of the well-known priests on Saba in the early history of the church were; Father Josephus Philip Thomas Kock born 29 August 1823 and died 19 August 1890. He served here 24 years and is buried in the vault next to the church in Windwardside, as well as Father Laurentius Mulder (b. 28 August 1843 died 3 August 1916). He served 25 years.

Father J.Kock served Saba 1858 - 1889

Father J. Kock served for many years as the first real resident R.C. priest on Saba. He was a Jesuit priest and is buried in the vault of the Hassell family next to the church in Windwardside. Later on Father Lawrence Mulder was buried in the same vault.

Father Niewenhuis also served for 28 years, and Father Norbertus Matthias Joannes Petrus de Groen (b. 16 Aug. 1879 and died 1944) served on Saba for 21 years. The first church in Hell’s Gate was the work of Father de Groen. He was an old salt with wrinkled brow and rough hands. He was equally at home handling the rudder of the vessel he sailed from island to island as that of the vessel of St. Peter, or the reins of the horse on which he climbed the steep roads of Saba.

Image (2750) Father Boradori in his JEEP.

Father Boradori in his Jeep driving through Windwardside. He is buried in the cemetery in Windwardside.

There are four priests buried on Saba. In The Bottom, Father Anton Jansen who died a few years ago, and in Windwardside, Fathers Kock, Mulder, and Boradori. The latter was felled by a massive heart attack while giving Mass in the church at Windwardside and died on the altar with a full church praying in attendance.

The first Saban Roman Catholic priest to be ordained is the well-known Father Simon Wilson who became a priest on July 4th, 1980. The ceremony took place in the Church in The Bottom in the presence of Bishop Msgr. Wim Ellis, Father Alphie Heyliger of Statia, Father G. Bisschop and the family and friends of the Wilson family from many of the Caribbean islands.

The church was also involved with our schools. In 1907 the Reverend Sisters of the Dominican Order arrived here from Holland. On October 1st 1907 the school was recognized by the Government. In 1908 a small convent was built behind the Rectory at Windwardside which building still exists. In 1911 the new school was opened in Windwardside which building is still in use as a Parish-Hall. In 1925 the present Rectory in Windwardside was completed and in 1955 the new school opened in Windwardside which is now used as the Eugenius Johnson community centre.

Cyclone 26 Sept. 1932, R.C. Church in The Bottom off its foundation.

The old wooden church in The Bottom torn off its foundation in the cyclone of September 26th, 1932. With Saba manpower and the Marines suppling jacks for lift the building was placed back on its foundation and served as a school after the new stone church was dedicated on March 19th, 1935. I used to go to the 6th and 7th grade in this school (1953 and 1954). Later on a modern cement constructed school was built on this location around 1957. It also served as the Saba School of Medicine when it was starting up.

The period of Dominican Nuns and Priests came to an end in the nineteen seventies. The only interest the Dutch seem to have in religion nowadays is to wage a Don Quixote style war against other religions like the devout Muslims, but very few Dutch people go to church or even believe in Christ anymore if the truth be told.  The last years the church on Saba is being served by priests from the Philippines, the present priest being Father Dan Pastor.As this article is being written a Dutch priest Father Alphonsius Baak is taking the  place of Father Dan who is undergoing medical treatment.


Here with Mrs. Carmen Simmons-Nicholson for many years the Organist of the Sacred Heart Church in The Bottom.

I have  a large number of photo’s pertaining to the church. I will post this article for now but will correct it later on. In my large collection of photo’s I know I have one or mother of our own Father Simon Wilson which when I come across it I will attach to the article as well.

And a wish expressed in 1848 by the later Bishop Father Niewindt to the papal nuncio in Trinidad was realized in the nineteen seventies. Niewindt had asked to send some religious English speaking nuns to Saba. Nothing came of it. However when the Dominican Nuns left Saba in the nineteen seventies, Father Jansen was able to convince the Living Water Community of Trinidad later on to send people to Saba for the same purpose and they have been serving Saba and St. Eustatius these past years. And it would seem that the old antagonisms between the different faiths have been healed and there are harmonious relations between the different faiths.

May it continue to be so!

Boat building on Saba

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Sloop built by Bernard Lake for the merchant Joseph “Red Head Joe” Simmons at Fort Bay Saba early 1900’s.

So much has been written on the subject of boat building on Saba over the centuries and so we decided to do our own research to determine as to whether or not these reports are based on myth or reality.

Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote; “I should like to rise and go where the golden apples grow; where below another sky, Parrot islands anchored lie, and watched by cockatoos and goats, Lonely Crusoe’s building boats.” Perhaps he had the Saban boat builders in mind when he wrote this.

In former times Saba acquired quite a reputation among travel writers especially in the United States. Although many of these writers had never stepped foot on Saba they managed to fabricate all kinds of stories about our island and its people.

029 - Saba-1956-58 - Bringing up the boat-03

Newly built boat being taken down to the sea for launching 1956.Right hand side front to back: Hartley Jones, Fred Hassell, Mathias Wilson, Kenneth Peterson, Peter Hasssell of Hell’s Gate. In back Hubert Johnson Sitting in the boat Garnet Hughes. On the left hand side from back to front. Unknown person or rather unidentifiable , followed by Reuben ‘Jack’ Simmons, Melford Gordon, Dudley Johnson and Samuel Guy Johnson.


One of the articles which prompted me to do this article was written by the author Douglas C. Pyle in his book “Clean Sweet Wind (1998)”. His research was based on a half day trip to the island in March 1970 and in talking to some people here and there. He writes: “Charles Stoddard, writing in 1895 in “Cruising among the Caribees,” represents the earliest reference I could locate of Saban vessels being built and lowered into the sea. However, neither Stoddard nor the others did anything more exacting than view the island from the deck of a passing cruise ship; their accounts merely establish that the hearsay evidence of boatbuilding in Saba is of greater antiquity than I had come to suppose.

A family sits in their unfinished cabin cruiser.

Leslie Johnson with his wife Adelina Hassell, Garvice Hassell and FOUR of the couple’s children in a boat he built at Upper Hell’s Gate 1800 feet above sea level.

‘As a matter of fact, the sole hard evidence ever found for the legend was Professor Doran’s discovery of a single entry in the Tortola shipping registers, mentioning that in 1859 the schooner “Augusta” of sixty-six-foot length overall and forty- nine tons was built in Saba by Benjamin Horton and brought to Tortola to be registered. There were other vessels registered to a Saban owner and built elsewhere, but of all the entries I surveyed throughout the islands, no other vessel was actually attributed to construction in Saba.

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National Geographic Magazine paid to have this demonstration of taking a boat down to the sea, late 1930’s.

“I surmise that the folk history of boatbuilding in Saba developed in the following manner. Benjamin Horton, an unusually determined individual, against all advice and common sense built a schooner in The Bottom and lowered it, not over the cliffs but down the steep valley now followed by the roadway. With the passage of time and frequent retelling, this singular event became pluralized until finally whole fleets of vessels were popularly supposed to have been built and lowered over Saba’s cliffs into the foaming sea below. This, at least, is the version I favor.”

Sir Algernon Aspinall in his “Pocket Guide to the West Indies (1907)”, writes the following;

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Kenneth Peterson building a large fishing boat in Windwardside “The Five Sisters.” early 1960’s.

“Little more than a rock rising sheer out of the sea and very inaccessible, Saba was the last stronghold of the buccaneers. The men of the island are almost without exception sailors. They are also great – boat builders. The boats – are built in the high lands and slid into the sea when they are ready for launching.”

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Leslie Johnson with his son Kenneth building a large fishing boat in Upper Hells Gate 1960,s.

William Agnew Paton in “Down the Islands – (1887)”, write that; “The people of Saba are celebrated throughout the Caribbean Islands for the fishing boats they build in a crater – the oddest of places imaginable for a ship-yard. When the boats are ready to be launched, they are lowered down the overhanging precipice into the sea. There is no timber growing on the island, no beach from which to launch a boat when it is built, no harbor to shelter one when launched and yet these Dutch West Indians profit by their trade of boat-building, and cruise all about the Caribbean Archipelago in the staunch sea-worthy craft they construct in the hallow of the crater on the top of their mountain colony.”

Sir Frederick Treves in “The Cradle of The Deep” (May 1908) tells us:

“Living aloft in their volcano, in a summit city called Bottom, these simple Dutch people who speak English reach the extreme of the improbable in the nature of their staple industry. They do not make balloons or kites. They are not astronomers, nor are they engaged in extracting nitrogen from the atmosphere. They are of all things in the world, shipbuilders, and shipbuilders of such merit that their boats and small craft are famous all over the Windward Islands. Let it be noted that fishing smacks are not only built in a crater, but on an island which has neither beach, harbor, landing stage, nor safe anchoring ground, where no timber is produced, where no iron is found, and where cordage is not made. The island has indeed, except in the matter of size, no more facilities for the development of the shipbuilding trade than has a rock lighthouse. The production of ships from craters is hardly less wonderful than the gathering of grapes from thorns or figs from thistles.

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The National Geographic Magazine in the late 1930’s paid to have this fictional launching of a boat on the Clapper Cliff at Windwardside.

“When the Saba ship is finished it is lowered down the side of the cliff, and then has apparently to shift for itself. The women, no doubt, wave handkerchiefs from the rim of the crater as the craft takes to the sea, while the boys are told not to play with stones lest they should fall upon their father’s heads. After all the excitement of the launch is over, one can imagine the master-builder climbing up the Ladder to his crater home, as full of pride as his shortness of breath will allow.”


All of the lighter boats which brought cargo and passengers to shore on Saba were all built locally and very strong so as to manage the rough seas and rocky shores.

John W. Vandercook, in his book “Caribbee Cruise (1924) writes; “Happily for ones peace of mind, a Saba industry of the past has ceased. Saba used to export ships! Timbers in the dead crater, a thousand feet or more above sea level, were carpentered into fine, efficient little schooners. They were then hoisted to the edge of the precipice and lowered down by ropes.”

In the November 1940 issue of the National Geographic Magazine there is a long article on Saba written by Charles W. Herbert. He had visited Saba some years earlier and had made a film about the island. He writes: ‘Anyone who has heard of Saba remembers tales of early Sabans most widely broadcast is that fantastic story of shipbuilding. Almost without exception, when Saba is mentioned, they will say, “Oh yes! That is the place where they build schooners on top of the mountain and lower them over the cliff by ropes, down into the sea. If schooners were ever built in Saba, they were built on one of the narrow strips of shore close to the sea.

“Fortunately one had just been completed at Windward Side. We arranged to film the

Joe Wilson - Jul 1964

Jose Wilson uncle of the well known Mr. Elmer Linzey, here giving Leslie Johnson a hand with the building of his boat at the Fort Bay.

launching. The boat was built by a Johnson. He was just painting “Blue Bell” on her stern as we started shooting. From then on we had action aplenty as 20 strong men gripped the gunwale and headed for the sea two miles away and 1500 feet down. From Johnson’s yard they clambered over the rock wall into the street and started through the settlement. The news spread, and by the time they reached the center of the village both sides of the way were lined with onlookers. With a burst of strength, the men carried the boat for a few hundred yards and then took a breather. As they progressed, the crowd enlarged and followed. A half mile out of town, they left the road and crossed a field strewn with rocks. Not far away they came to the top of a cliff which dropped down into a deep ravine, a short cut to the sea. Almost the whole village was on the sidelines now. Four stout hands raised a large flat rock, forming a human pile driver as a heavy anchoring post was set for rigging. A heavy rope was fastened to the stern of the boat and around the boat with two hitches. Easily the little craft slid over the top, down the cliff safely to the bottom 200 feet below. The men scrambled down the hillside, took hold again, and continued to the sea. By the time she was touching the beach below, the extra hands were down there waiting with shoes off and trousers rolled up to their thighs. With superhuman force they slid the boat into the water, manned the oars, and pulled for the open sea. No champagne was broken to send this craft on its way, but childish joy burst forth from these hardened men as they

Leslie Johnson's boat - Jul 1964

Leslie Johnson’s boat framed out. The Saba white cedar wood was used in the building of these boats in former  times.

watched her take the swells.”

And there was so much more written about the myth of boatbuilding on Saba that we can only quote from a very few writers on this subject. However in doing research for my book “Tales from My Grandmother’s Pipe”, I was able to determine that large schooners were indeed built on Saba. They were built on the Tent Bay as well as at the Well’s Bay. Some were as big as 60 tons. There was a large quantity of white cedar and mahogany trees on the island. Even people from Anguilla would come here to get white cedar to build boats with. In order to launch the schooners and sloops the rollers would be greased with the juices of cactus and aloes. Some of the schooners and sloops built here were named the “White Wing”, the “Talent”, the “Surprise,” the “Ethel” owned by Joe Simmons and the “Muriel” owned by John Simmons. One of the famous shipwrights of his day was Capt. Solomon (or Samuel) Simmons. The following declaration dated September 22nd, 1871, gives more information on one of the schooners built on Saba.


From a  succession  on the island of St. Barth’s dated January 1822 Among the possessions at the end of line 2 you will see Sabatienne (That is a neologism) we would not use  it that way nowadays. A canoe of Saban construction. Sabans were making canoes (dory’s or small sloops?) and selling them abroad. (Info. Jerome Montoya The St. Barth’s Islander).

“We the undersigned John Simmons and Phoenix Simmons, ship-carpenters in this island of Saba, do hereby certify and declare that we were employed by His Honour Moses Leverock to assist at the building of the schooner “HARBINGER’ in this island in the year 1861, and we further certify and declare that the Master carpenter who conducted the building of said schooner is now dead.”

“We, the undersigned Moses Leverock, John William Leverock, and Moses Leverock Simmons, residing in this island of Saba, do hereby certify and declare: that the schooner named “Harbinger,” having one deck and two masts, measuring forty-eight sea tons and commanded by John William Leverock belongs partly to us in the following proportions; viz. Moses Leverock one half; John William Leverock one eight; Moses Leverock Simmons one eight; that the other two eights belong to James Simmons and Ann Simmons; that we are Dutch burghers, natives of this island of Saba; that the administration of all that concerns said schooner “Harbinger”, is conducted in this island of Saba; and that neither by our free will nor consent shall our vessel ever be put on a war footing in opposition to the authorities of the State or of the Colonies. Saba 23rd December 1871.”

The “Harbinger” was sold in 1890 in Colombia and renamed the “Segunda Maria”. As late as 1930 she was seen in Curacao by Capt. Randolph Duncan, loading goods for Colombia.  For a schooner to last that long it is a Grand testimony to the shipbuilding skills of Sabans back in the day.


This is not the one, but there was a joke about one of the old timers living at the Gap. He had a large cellar and it was a convenient place to build a boat he thought. When it was nearly finished a cousin came to see it and asked:’How are you going to get it out?’ The entrance was too narrow and the poor man had never given thought to what would happen after it was finished.

Up until recent time’s boats were still being built in Windward Side and Hell’s Gate. Arthur Anslyn built one and sent it to Curacao. Leslie Johnson built several large fishing boats at Hell’s Gate one of which is pictured in a National Geographic Magazine with him and his family. In recent years the fishermen who go down to the sea to brave the rough waters do so in modern fishing craft which they purchase in the United States and Canada at prices their forefathers would never have imagined possible.
From the diaries of Dr. Julia Gorham Crane the following information on boat building on Saba:”Saturday, May 9th. 1964. In the afternoon visited Miss Olive Heyliger born Simmons and obtained several clippings from her, to be copied. Miss Olive told me that they used to build big 3- master boats in Saba but now only the small fishing boats are built.”
Miss Olive was born on Saba on September 16th, 1891 of a sea faring family.
Friday April 10th, 1964: “Mr Evelyn Zagers stated that they used to build many ships here, some of them two masters of 75 tons or so. How they launched them beats Mr Zagers but he believes by rollers.”

Leslie Johnson - Jul 1964

James Leslie Johnson here finishing up his fishing boat the the Fort Bay.

Let me suffice with ending this story by quoting from Frederick A. Ober who spent some ten days here on Saba around 1890.It is taken from his book “In the wake of Columbus”.

“The people who inhabit this half-submerged mountain take their lives in their hands oftener, I presume, than those of any other island in these seas. They dare the sirens of the sea, tempt fate, and run the risk of a watery grave, nearly every time they leave or return to their island home.”

On the other hand some became more cautious. Carlton Mitchell in “Caribbean Cruise” got the following answer when he asked a young man why he had left the sea to work in the Post office. The young man in return asked him:’ did you ever hear of anyone drowning in the Post Office?” And so I guess after the captains left the island for Barbados, Bermuda, and the United States and so on, most people who remained here decided that a government job was safer and so our shipbuilding of the past would seem like a myth to the mindset of today.

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Miss Cornelia Jones First Woman Member of the Island Council.

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Miss Cornelia Jones at the Windwardside Guesthouse.

Miss Cornelia Rosina Jones was born on September 10th, 1907, at St. John’s, Saba. She was born from a mixed marriage, something not unusual in the history of the village of St. John’s. Her father was a black man, Fernandus Jones born on June 2nd, 1877 and he died on December 22nd, 1943. He and Frederick Zagers and a number of other men were lost when a storm came up while they were fishing on a small boat out on the Saba Bank.His parents were George Jones and Sarah Stevens. Her mother was a white woman named Mary Jane Hassell( who died on November 13th, 1954) of whom I did not find any more records, but I remember her personally as a boy.

Miss Jones had three siblings: Alfred Jones born July 18th, 1897, Eleanor born September 10th, 1901 (she lived to well over 100 years of age and died in the USA.) and Leonard born February 6th, 1910 and died May 5th, 1959. As a baby he contracted polio and was handicapped. In those days of uncompromising language usage he was simply known as a hunchback. As a boy this disease as well as leprosy was discussed so often that I was worried that I might catch either one of these dreaded diseases.

Miss Jones grew up in a much different Saba than we know today. I guess her personality was shaped by her mixed parentage. Something like Barack Obama she was comfortable and loving with both her white side of her family and heritage as well as with her roots coming from Africa.She is best known as a hostess. Running the government guesthouse in The Bottom, and later on in the Windwardside. Because of this she was well known with visiting officials from the other islands as well as from The Netherlands. She was often featured in magazines and in newspaper articles. Not because she was famous but because she was there. There were many journalists and writers coming to the island and would always mention something about the guesthouse and Miss Jones. Everyone on Saba called her “Cutchie.”

When the Little Bay Hotel was being planned, the same Dutch group also planned a hotel on Saba at the Guesthouse in The Bottom. It was a lovely plan with new construction of ten hotel rooms and a swimming pool. The Island Council turned down the request to build. Only the late Matthew Levenstone and Arthur Anslyn were in favour, whereas David Doncher, Eugenius Johnson and John William Johnson voted against.

Many years later I asked Eugenius how was it possible that their party could have turned down this offer. He confessed that Miss Jones was a member of their party and that the investors had refused to guarantee her continued employment at the new hotel when it would be completed. That was in 1955. So looking back in time you can see how important a role Miss Jones played in the political life of Saba back then.

You will also be able to see that politics was the same then as it is now in the world.

Miss Jones’ brief stint into the political life of the island made more history than the cancelation of a much needed hotel project. I remember when Mrs. Elaine Gumbs-Vlaun was elected to the Island Council of St.Maarten in 1983. Her party members were playing the woman part up big in the island council meeting. Obviously they were unaware of Miss Jones, until Mr. Claude Wathey got up and reminded them that Miss Cornelia Jones of Saba had been the first woman member of the Island Council of the Windward Islands and indeed she was.


Miss Jones’ Home here overlooking The Bottom.

Miss Jones entered active politics in 1951 as a member of the Nationaal Volks Partij. On August 17th, 1953 she entered the Island Council to complete the term of Mr. Kenneth Peterson who had resigned.

In 1951 Miss Jones together with two other females Mrs. Ursula Dunkin-Hughes and Mrs. Millicent L.Wilson, born Simmons, (grandmother of present Island Councilmember the Hon. Rolando Wilson). Miss Jones got 0 votes, Ursula got 4 and Miss Millie got 4.

The 0 came about probably because she had agreed to vote for another candidate on her party.

In 1955 she contested the elections on the Democratic Party but she did not get reelected. She did get 3 votes though, a big advance compared to the 0 in 1951. The other women threw in the towel and in 1955 Miss Jones was the only female candidate.

The Island Council meeting to which Miss Jones was admitted to the council took place on August 17th, 1953. Mr. L. Reginald Carty the Administrator at the time presided over the meeting. First to be dealt with was a letter from Mr. Kenneth Peterson dated July 25th, 1953 requesting his dismissal from the council. Then a committee to verify the credentials was appointed consisting of Mr. David Doncker, Mr. Dalick Johnson and Mr. Ulric Hassell, Commissioner, but not a member of the Island Council.  Mr. Peterson was not present at the meeting.

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Miss Cornelia Jones right with Mrs. Coleta Hughes

The only one to speak at the meeting was Mr. David Doncker who threw out but a few sarcasms. He said:” I have always been kept down in the Council. No matter what I ever asked for has been turned down, but all I have to say is that there has been a shift in the wind. Where it was blowing from it is not blowing from anymore.”

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Island council members attendance list.

First meeting of Island Council attended by Miss Jones March 9th, 1954

The meeting ended at 2.45 pm and Miss Jones went into history.

110 - Saba-1956-58 - Cutchi's house - Crispeen

Home of Miss Cornelia Jones overlooking The Bottom

125 - Saba-1956-58 - Cutchy Jones with the Bestuurs college before The Guesthouse

in front of guesthouse. Mr. Rupert Sorton, Mr. Arthur Anslyn, Mr. Carl Anslyn, Mr.Ciro Kroon, Miss Cornelia Jones, Administrator Walter Buncamper, Mr. Matthew Levenston.

126 - Saba-1956 - Cutchi Jones

Another photo of Miss Cornelia Jones with one of the little people whom she loved.

I always experienced her as a jolly person who liked a good joke. She could see humor in any situation. Her family home was uniquely located on an outcropping of St. John’s overlooking The Bottom. On the way up from Fort Bay or The Bottom one would run up the side path to their home to beg a glass of water. It is a great pity that the house was torn down after her death and the property is still unoccupied. It would make a great location for a new home.

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Although she had no children of her own she loved the little people as only a grandmother could.

Miss Jones was a Roman Catholic. She never married or had any children, but several of the photo’s which I have of her she is always seen holding a child as lovingly as any grandmother could.

As is customary on Saba, when Miss Jones passed away she was buried in the family burial ground next to the home. I am certain that if anyone built a new home there that Miss Jones’ spirit would not bother them. After all she loved company. That was what she lived for. She never went anywhere to school to learn how to treat people and how to live with people of all races and creeds. That was a gift she was born with and in looking around she must have decided that all men are equal before the eyes of God and should be treated courteously and respectfully.

Before concluding this article on my way to a meeting in The Bottom I went up through the bushes past the ruins of Miss Jones’ former home.

I found her grave next to that of her mother and her brother Leonard.

I found a conch shell close by and I placed it on the grave while giving Miss Jones a talking to that her memory would not be forgotten. She died on December 23rd, 1979 at the age of 72. I later dug up the information in the “Saba Herald” and found out also that she had been given a decoration by Her Majesty the Queen for her many years of service to the island of her birth. I only hope that someone who cares for history will end up owning the property and will see to it that Miss Jones and her family will rest in peace. Amen.

Opening Saba Health Care Office


Speech for the opening of Saba Health Care Foundation Administration Building, February 21st, 2014.


Will Johnson making speech as honoured guest.

Dignitaries, Members of staff, Ladies and Gentlemen,

When asked to say a few words for this occasion I reflected on how much health care has changed in recent years. It is no longer necessary for the government to call on President Hugo Chavez to help send three patients to St. Maarten as I had to do once. Saba’s total budget for a long time was 3.5 million guilders with another million or so collected locally. After putting up an enormous fight the grant from the Solidarity Fund was increased to around seven million a year. However one must remember that the Saba Island Government had to finance not only health care but education, fire department, tax department, receiver’s office and many other things which are now financed by the Government of the Netherlands. Monetary wise this has been a very positive development for the island since our new status went into effect. My party started running the government of this island since 1971. Back then we were part of the Island Territory the Windward Islands.

I remember once walking into the Receivers Office and Kenneth Peterson slamming his fist on his desk saying; ‘Two thousand guilders more would do it and we will never need Curacao again. At that time we were running the island with a budget of fls.28.000.—per month.

When we look back in history there were long periods when Saba did not even have a doctor, but when we had one there were locals doctors such as Dr. Dinzey in the early eighteen hundreds.

For those interested in doing further research into the history of Medical Services and Care on Saba I would suggest that they read Dr. Robert Mol’s book entitled “Doctor on Saba”. A very indebt history of medical care on Saba, through the centuries. I also recently wrote an article in my column “Under the Sea Grape Tree” about Nurse Lizzie Hassell born Doncker and her nursing career in which she gave much information on her career as a Nurse and the doctors she served under. I am looking forward to the day when Nurse Naomi Wilson writes her own book as that should be of a great deal of interest to the new generation of people seeking medical care.

In about 1818, the then Commander of the island of St. Maarten and Saba wrote in a report, “generally the air on these islands and in particular on Saba is very clear and the climate is healthier than on the other islands of the Antilles.

The historian M.D. Teenstra, who visited Saba in 1829, noted in his book of 1834 that “epidemic illnesses are virtually unknown on Saba, which is attributed to the freshening sea winds. There is no Doctor of Medicine on the entire island. A very small amount of leprosy is found here and jaws and elephantiasis is totally unknown here.”

The first case of leprosy on Saba was seen in 1840 and was probably imported from St. kitts.

The Roman Catholic Priest Father J.C. Gast, in 1857, wrote. “The primary illnesses among the population are leprosy and elephantiasis, the last of which they call “The Rose” and of which very few families are completely free. In special cases they call in one or another of their friends who have the knowledge of herbs and several drugs which they import from St. Thomas, where they are further known. There is also a man who knows the art of bleeding. This is the only medical therapy which is found here. Because of the lack of good rain barrels there is, when it has not rained recently, a lack of good drinking water. I do not see that anything is being done to stop the spread of leprosy.”

Only in 1863 did the colonial government appoint physicians for the three Windward Islands. These physicians became important in the lives of the people of these islands. I remember reading in a book published by Dr. Jules van Bockhove, on his stay on Statia in the early nineteen fifties that one of his patients had told him;”After God it is only you Doc.”

Saba’s population increased from 1883 persons in 1890 to 2488 in 1915, 99.9% of whom had ancestors going back to living here from the early sixteen hundreds. Except for a few periods in the early nineteen hundreds Saba has always had an on island physician. Some of these took bold moves to save the lives of their patients. I just wrote a story about a former slave girl who at the age of fifty had both legs amputated and yet she lived to the age of 102. There was no anesthesia back then so the patient was loaded up with a bottle of strong rum called “kill devil” and the butcher with his sharpened hatchet would do what had to be done. She survived and with the care of her three daughters she lived to be 102 and died in 1954.

Later on when Dr.M.W.R.B. Berkenveld of Surinam was doctor here he would do appendicitis operations.

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Receipt for operation.

I have a receipt for fls. 250.—paid for an operation done on my aunt Mrs. Sylvia Simmons and she too lived another forty years after her appendix was removed here on Saba. Many of our doctors when I growing up were from Surinam some of whom had Chinese and also Jewish backgrounds. A daughter of one of these Jewish doctors died in a Nazi concentration camp I recently read somewhere. And let us not forget our local midwives. I was the last person delivered by Mrs. Rosita Lynch born Hassell. Mrs. E. Douglas who replaced Yeath in a letter had the following to say; “The day after I arrived, an old crone came to introduce herself as the person who had done the work for years. When I asked her about her work, she showed me a small handbag, in which, in the middle of some prune tobacco, there was a small scissors, a few pieces of navel string, and a piece of cotton wool.’’ And before reading that letter all these years I had been bragging; “my navel string buried Behind-The-Ridge.’ No such thing as my navel string was buried in Yeats purse in the middle of some prune tobacco.”

This doctoring business had its scandals attached to it as well. Since they happened more than one hundred years ago I will mention but two cases. A friend of mine would tell me that the doctor had taken advantage of her mother when she went to visit him.  I asked her:”What happened?” “Me”, she answered. His photo is in Dr. Mol’s book and a noble looking doctor he was.

Another friend’s mother went to the doctor and while waiting on him, the doctor’s son had his way with her and this resulted in a daughter. This one has always intrigued me ‘Was she really ill? “In those old wooden houses how did he pull that one off without his father knowing what was going on in the waiting room, which would have been the hall of his home. Mysteries yet to be solved for someone like me so interested in history.

As for the history of this building, it goes along with the growth of government over the years.


Police Station and Post office The Bottom 1890

Up until around 1890 the Commander of Saba would use his home as his office and if need be his cellar was used as a jail. There were no government services as such. Once a year in my grandfather James Horton Simmons’ time the able bodied men of the island were called up to clean the public pathways. They were paid either five cents in cash or the equivalent in rum or tobacco. Horton chose the five cents of course as he had a flock of daughters who at the time were considered useless as it was thought they could not run behind a goat and catch it or go fishing on the Saba Bank and so on.


View of Police station and Post office 1920’s.

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Photo 1925. Administrator WFM Lampe holding straw hat. Left policeman Bentley Heyliger of St.Eustatius and right policeman George Halley of St.Martin.

I have a photo of the first government buildings on this street which consisted of a police station with some prison cells underneath and what is the Culture building now was the Post office and Administration building. I have photos of when it was in use with Policemen and the Public standing outside of the building.

Around 1934 there was quite a bit of government construction going on, and so it was decided to construct this building to serve as Post office, Court Hall and office of the Administrator and his small staff. In the early sixties an addition was made to house the Commissioners.

This building has seen many joyous occasions like weddings and inscription of births, and also sad ones when people had to appear in front of the Judge. When I was a boy there were no movies and so, on the days when the Judge would be on island you would see scores of people headed to this building to hear cases which would be very entertaining. The English Quarter people even had their own lawyer in the person of Peter Parrot.

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Town of The Bottom around 1923.

He once advised a client that before the Judge throws his hammer on the desk and condemns you, throw yourself on your knees and beg mercy in the name of the Queen and he cannot refuse you. This happened and the Judge was flabbergasted as in case he did not grant mercy in the name of the Queen it would make her look small and so the case was dismissed.

I was present the last time Cecil Woods appeared before the Judge. He liked his rum and his cases were always one of drunk and disorderly conduct. The Judge looked at his record and said;”Cecil, I have to make a decision as you have been here so many times. I will have to either give you two weeks in jail or fine you fl.30.—“Cecil said “Your Honour let me think about it.” After thinking Cecil said “I will take the two weeks, Your Honour. Thirty guilders can buy me a whole lot of rum.” Even the Judge had to laugh at that one.

The Island Council also used to meet in this building in the Court Hall.

I served in this building for a few months in 1962 when I was sent here from St. Maarten to work in the Post office and to campaign for Claude Wathey at the same time. In later years I served here as Commissioner and Administrator, and Island Council Member. Many well known politicians in former times passed through this building, like Kenneth Peterson, David Donker, Matthew Levenstone, Max Nicholson, Arthur Anslyn and a number of others. People who worked here in the Receivers and Post office were my brothers Eric and Guy, Ramon Hassell, Carmen Medero and so on. Administrators like Henry Every, Eugenius Johnson, George Sleeswijk and George Larmonie and many more. When Dave Levenstone would get on too rude I would exile him to this building as well.

It was on my watch in 1981 that we decided to build a new Administration Building at its present location. This building was then converted into a library. The other concrete building which was incorporated in the Home for the Aged was built as a Home for the Receiver, but was later used by the Administrator when the present Lt. Governor’s home was under reconstruction. Where all of these buildings are now located was used as farm lands by the Simmons family, one of the former white families who owned nearly all of The Bottom and who in the nineteen twenties moved to Barbados, Bermuda and the United States. I have old photos showing the land farmed out.


Princess Irene Hospital St. John’s. As Commissioner I made a decision in 1977 to relocate the hospital to The Bottom.

I remember as if today discussing with architect Raymond Peterson the need to relocate the hospital in my office when I   was Administrator/Commissioner in 1977. Eugenius in passing through my office had no qualms about taking a letter out of my hands and reading it. So it was that day when he overheard my discussion. At the time there was a government garage on the property and the area was littered with some old wrecks of Jeeps which was the vehicle of choice back then. Eugenius said;”Put it here and get rid of that old garage.” I asked Peterson to make some measurements and he said there was enough room and in a few months time we started the hospital with Public Works and Howard Johnson as foreman. He had also been foreman for the Home for the Aged and we also built that with Public Works. By the way Howard was paid thirty guilders a day. Even though he was Eugenius’ brother I fired him when work slowed down on the hospital in 1978 and I then hired Franklin Johnson to complete the project.I remember with deep remorse the night Howards sister Loreen called me and said “My God, Will of all people you to fire poor Howard??” The old age home we built for 450.000 guilders and furnished it as well and the hospital’s total costs including furnishing was around one million three hundred thousand guilders, probably less than what has been spent on the reconstruction of this building.


Newly restored old Administration Building 2014. Now Administration Centre Health Care.

I would like to express my thanks for being invited to say a few words here today on this grand occasion. I have also made suggestions to relocate the Home for the Aged to a location where they can enjoy a “Room with a View.” This entire complex can then be used as a hospital and I am really looking forward to the day when that will take place. Many people in the nineteen seventies contributed funds to the Saba Benevolent Foundation in order to make this facility a reality. The time has again come to put out the begging bowl, and start a collection for a new home for the aged in a better location.

May this office building continue its historic role of guidance and service to the people of Saba.

Thank you.

SAYBAAAAA by. Diane de Mambey


Oh the good Lord got to thinking

One sunny, blustery day

That he would build a rock pile

Just like a child at play.

He laughed and splashed the water

Then rolled his sleeves up high

And reached into the ocean for rocks a mile high.

And when he’d made a mountain

of rock and sand and stone

He scattered round some grass seed

to make it look like home.

And next he brought the flowers

Then to add a happy note.

He made a rocky animal

and called it a mountain goat.

Then he sat and watched His island

As it grew in beauty’s grace

but he thought there’s something missing

it’s too quiet in this place.

So he thought the whole night through

till the thinking filled his head

Then he grinned and shouted orders

to the goat’s and here’s what he said;

“Say baa, Say baa

Say baa, Say baa”

And the good Lord told the goats,

“Say baaaaaa….” “Say baaaaaa”.

Now if you’d like to go there

to this rock pile in the sea

The goat’s will tell you what it’s called

If you listen carefully

Say baaaaaa.”

Saba Herald, May 24th, 1973


This poem brought a response from an Anonymous Saban.

Hooome Sweet Hooome

It seems that everybody now

Are writing poems of Saba

I too, will try and rhyme a bit

It doesn’t call for labour

God sure did build a rock pile

And he made our little island

But Sabans speak of it with pride

And defend their rocky highland

We are often called the Saba goats

But they didn’t give Saba its name

And just like other nations

Saba has carried fame.

She’s reared some hardy farmers

Captains, teachers, professors

Of people in every walk of life

She’s been the proud possessor.

We call her “The Rock” its our name of Love

We do so with honest pride

And however dark our future lies

We’ll drift along with the tide.

Don’t cry down Saba, our rocky home

Our mountains, seas and foam

For even though the goats say baaaa

Doves answer “Hoooome sweet Hoooome”.

Saba Herald, June 24th, 1973

Tribute to Beatrice Alfreda Maxwell-Caines

Image (2723)    The late “Freda” Caines was a great friend of mine since I can remember. As a matter of fact I also knew her father Mozes quite well. The Maxwells were a black family who lived in an area above Windwardside in the mountain just below where the Chinese restaurant is now located. This settlement dates back to the times of slavery and it was called “The Alley”. It has completely disappeared now in the sense that the former houses and lands of the few black families who lived there have all been sold and are now occupied by other families from Saba as well as abroad. It was customary back in slavery times and following for landowners on Saba to allow their slaves to live on lands which remained untitled. After slavery was abolished a second and third generation were allowed to live on these lands, but the ownership of the land remained in the hands of the former slave owners and upon the death of the occupants of the small houses the owners reclaimed the land and the small houses were demolished and later on sold .

“Freda’s” parents had moved to the English Quarter by the time she was born. This area is now mainly inhabited by black families some of whom have come in to Saba from Haiti in the past years. In former times the English Quarter was owned by white families such as the Leverocks, Hassells, Keeves and so on, so that the area known as The Alley was where the enslaved people of African descent lived.Image (1783) (Coal Pit in progress), I can remember as a boy seeing Mozes (Freda’s father) building large coal pits in the land just across the gut from where the Chinese restaurant is now located. It was interesting and it is from him that I learned how to build coal pits. Dr. Jack Buchanan told me once that someone had asked him if anyone knew how to build a coal pit. After he thought long and hard he said: “Believe it or not, I remember seeing a story in the newspaper where Will Johnson and his son Chris had built a coal pit.” He was correct with that. Chris asked me when he was a boy if we could build a coal pit. I put on my thinking hat and remembered how Mozes used to dig out a shallow pit, then put the freshly cut wood as support over the shallow pit. The pit was filled up with old rotten wood and other flammable material. Then the freshly cut wood, (mostly sea grape, cashew trees, redwood trees, guava trees and so on) , was stacked up. Of course if it was a big coal pit like Mozes used to build then it could take some weeks when it would have enough wood to start the covering. First it would be covered with large freshly cut chinney leaves (elephant ears), and then the soil from the shallow pit would be put over the leaves. A hole would be left at the back and the mouth at the front, with an opening on the top called a chimney or funnel. Then the trash in the pit would be lighted. Once it started to burn nicely the hole at the back would be sealed off with more soil. After you were sure that the green wood had started to burn the mouth at the front of the pit was also sealed up leaving only the chimney. Depending on the size of the pit, after a few days when you looked down the chimney and saw everything red then you had to quickly seal off the chimney or else instead of coal you would only reap ashes. Mozes came every day several times to add soil wherever a weak spot appeared on the surface of the coal pit. Even after the chimney had been sealed off there had to be a constant monitoring of the pit. It was at least a week or more before there was no more smoke oozing out of the coal pit. After it started to sag and collapse it was time to open her up and start harvesting coals. For me as a boy this was as exciting as finding a fowls nest in the bush with a set of eggs and leaving one behind for the hen to continue laying. Moses wife Violeta, his daughter Freda and the other children as well as other spectators would be on hand to see how well Moses ‘ coal pit had done. And mind you coals were only twelve and one half cents (‘good cents’) for a kerosene tin back in the day. The kerosene tin was the main source of measuring coals, Irish potatoes, and also used for carrying water on your head. The kerosene came in these 5 gallons galvanize tins on the monthly steamer from Curacao. The kerosene of course was Moses biggest competition as the more kerosene stoves that were imported the less demand there was for coal. These were then stored in cruder bags and delivered right away or else if you had a cellar they would be stored there until you could get a buyer. Since most people used coal for cooking, as soon as one coal pit was finished another was started. So for Mozes the building of coal pits was his main occupation. But of course back then people also had to plant and fish around the rocks in places like Spring Bay and wherever one thought that fish would congregate. Blacks as well as whites had to do this in order to survive in those days of isolation and hardship. However this little island was generous to all, and still is, to those who want to work. Image (2349)Alvin Caines

My friend ‘Freda’ was born as Beatrice Alfreda Maxwell in the English Quarter on March 23, 1929 and passed away on January 19th, 2014. Her parents were Mozes Jackson Maxwell and Violeta Gonzalos Hassell. She grew up on Saba and went to school with the Nuns at the Roman Catholic school in Windwardside. There were no job opportunities back then so you were lucky if someone asked you to do housework for them and get a five or if lucky a ten guilders per month. Freeda later on got a small job cleaning the Post office and Police station in the Windwardside.

She also met her husband Alvin Caines of St. Eustatius who had come to Saba with a group of musicians from that island. Together they had four children. When Alvin died the family asked me to do the eulogy and I checked it with “Freda” before I read it off in the church. As always she was in a good mood and laughing at what I read off and said: “Well it is the truth and it must be told.”

Alvin must have been going through a mid life crisis when he met a young Surinam nurse who fell in love with both his music and him. When she left the island Alvin abandoned home and family and went on what the Australians would call a ‘walkabout’  to Surinam and after the relationship cooled he ended up in St. Thomas and the British Virgin islands. Years later he wrote my father a letter asking him to speak to ‘Freda’ and ask for her forgiveness and to consider taking him back. She did not hesitate as he was not only father of her four children but she needed help and he had been a good provider when they had lived in harmony. And so the wayward boy came back home and he and ‘Freda’ lived in harmony until he passed away.

While Alvin was on his ‘walkabout’ you can imagine how tough it was for a single netherlands-antilles--81322(English Quarter),mother to raise her children, and so she had an additional four children while he was a wandering minstrel to the ladies of Surinam and the other Caribbean region. When Alvin returned they were able to build a nice home in the English Quarter on the same spot where her parents house was located. In the meantime the children had become adults and were working and could help her. They were a close knit family and were aware of the hardships their mother had gone through in order to raise them and so up until her death they remained faithful to her and helped whenever they could.

My relationship with her was always one of close friends. As for the politics between 1969 and 2010 when I last ran I never had to wonder where ‘Freda’ would vote. She always voted for me and would even ask for ‘help’ to erase any doubt. And would be there to help celebrate victory and regret defeat and would tell me. Don’t worry you will win next time for sure. And I did.

I went to see her when she was in the Home for the aged, but not enough. My schedule is still a busy one. A few days before I left the island for a meeting in Bonaire I was at the hospital and took the opportunity to go and see her but I was told that she was asleep and so I did not bother her. I felt relieved  when her granddaughter Shirley who travelled with me to Curacao told me at the airport there that she had good hopes for her grandmother and that she would be still there when I got back home. The very next morning I got a message from Shirley that ‘Freeda’ had passed on. Her son Stevan asked me to do the eulogy but my I-pad would go haywire and just delete whatever I wrote, so finally I told him that I was sorry that I could not contribute. But I did promise myself that I would do a tribute to her and her family as soon as I got the opportunity.

Shirley asked me to give some of the family history which I will do in part and give an internet site where further information can be obtained.

Freda’s father Mozes was born in Windwardside on Friday July 3, 1891. He had a sister Sophia born Wednesday April 25th, 1883 and a brother William born June 20th, 1885 and who died aged 20, June 24th, 1905.

Mozes’ mother was Elvira Maxwell. He married on August 15th 1923 at the age of 32. His bride was Violeta Gonzalos Hassell aged 22. Her parents were Peter Hassell and Gwendoline Gordon. THEY were married on Thursday August 30th, 1900. Peter was then 33 years old and Gwendoline was 20. (Strictly young women for those guys!). Gwendoline’s parents were John George Gordon (his mother was Johanna) and her mother was Margaret Granger (her mother was Margaret Granger as well). Gwendoline was a sister of Charlotte the wife of Isaac Hassell .

On Thursday January 13th, 1876 John George Gordon (19) married Margaret Granger (19).  As for Violeta’s father Peter I did not get anything on him as there are so many men with that name in the registers that it would require too much time. So if more family records are required then go to the site and it contains all the information you need to build a family tree. To the family of the deceased my deepest sympathy to all of you who have lost a beloved mother and grandmother and I have lost a good and lifelong friend.

And to my friend ‘FREDA’ may you rest softly.

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