A visit with “Miss Olive”
By: Will Johnson
For her book “Saba Silhouettes”, Dr. Julia Crane interviewed a cross section of the population. She did not only interview older people. However she interviewed many interesting people whose stories are of interest for our understanding of our history. She could not publish all her interviews in the book. She shared her interviews with me while she was doing a similar project on St. Eustatius. I was there while she was doing her interviews and we met almost daily to consult on matters pertaining to both Saba and St. Eustatius.
The following is from her diary of April 27th, 1964.
“Spent the morning typing. There was a terrible rainstorm. In the afternoon went to visit with “Miss Olive” Simmons/Heyliger. When I asked her about Indian artifacts and any knowledge she might have of Indian materials she told me: “I have some pieces of Indian things which were dug up where Clement Sorton’s house is now (across from the Anglican Church). You could once see that there had been some sort of building there long ago.” She said that her cousin had once had a store where the closed buildings are on Audrey May Zagers’ property kitty-cornered from the big mango tree and that she had kept the artifacts to show to visitors. Now Miss Olive keeps them at her home and they are seldom seen. One American teacher had photographed the artifacts and sent the photo to the Smithsonian (or somewhere in Washington) for identification. Unlike the reports I had heard of the only artifacts found in Saba, these were really beautiful things, especially a conical pestle about eight inches in length, a stone rounded and bored for hafting as a weapon, and a Celt. I photographed them all as best as I could in her yard. Miss Olive said that, contrary to the idea given in Josselin de Jong’s writings, she could not remember that Indian pottery was ever to be found on the surface as one walked around. (This was later corroborated by such experts on these things as Mr. Edmund Hassell “Mucker”.) I have not yet, despite great questioning; ever found anyone who ever heard of de Jong’s digs at the Anglican Church, or anyone who has any Indian pottery in his possession.
Miss Olive said that the house in which she and her sister (Marion) live was built by their mother’s father (John James Simmons). His first wife gave him eight children and after she died he married the woman who was Miss Olive’s grandmother (Ann Phantose Taylor)
This grandmother came to the West Indies as a little girl from Scotland, and her mother died on the voyage here. The little girl, her grandmother, stayed in St. Thomas and the father kept coming for visits and wanting to take her home. He was a Captain. After the last visit, on which he had made arrangements to come back and take her with him back to Scotland, the father returned no more —lost at sea. (His name was Taylor), The people in St. Thomas with whom the little girl (Miss Olive’s grandmother) had been staying kept her—the family in Scotland and here didn’t want her to run the risk of being lost at sea as her parents had been. She married her Saba husband when he already had eight children. A woman from Windwardside had been taking care of the clothes for the children, etc. Miss Olive’s grandmother had five children herself, making a total of 13 for her grandfather.
When they first came here, some of the neighbors came to complain about the conduct of the slaves during the absence of the family and urged the husband to beat them. Miss Olive’s grandmother went out and faced the group and told them never to come again because they would never flog their slaves again. So she was loved by the slaves. She said that before she would see them flogged she would give them their freedom. In those days the slaves lived on the land of the white people, and most could stay after emancipation. Miss Olive’s family had one slave called Parmelia who hired to them after emancipation. “But now they are our equals. My grandfather had a lot of slaves. He had a lot of land up in Troy and a lot around this house—he used the slaves to cultivate it. The emancipation day was a big day in Saba. The owners gave each slave good clothes. The government sent two doctors; and the owners dressed the slaves well because for each slave the doctors found to be in good condition the owner was paid 200 guilders. My family got paid for every one because they were fine—but some people did not get paid because their slaves were not in good condition. They (the ex-slaves) had a big party with cake and everything up where Rupert Sorton’s store is now located, where the house with the verandah now is. (I was told that the emancipation declaration was read off by Governor Moses Leverock from this verandah.)If a baby was born the night before the emancipation the owner got the 200 guilders for it. With my grandmother, the slaves continued with her the same as before emancipation –they doing her work and she taking care of them. They had to give the slaves names when they were emancipated; but the Simmons family didn’t give Simmons. Sometimes when a slave woman would have a baby for a white man she would give the government the name of the father for her baby. This happened with one Heyliger, for example, which is how those people have the same name as my husband’s family. Even if the child was for the Heyliger they should have said “no” the child should have the woman’s name instead of the man’s if they were not married. The Leverocks gave their slaves the name Levenstone or Livingston. Many of my family’s slaves went to sea—partly to the States and to Bermuda.
My father’s parents were Peter Simmons and Anne Leverock. On my mother’s side it was John Simmons and Anne Phantose Taylor. My father and the Simmons family on my mother’s side were not related. The house called “Bunker Hill” belonged to my half uncle (Frederick Augustus Simmons Sr. who died January 18th, 1901 at the age of 63 and his wife Annie Beaks Simmons died Feb. 21st 1916 at the age of 74.) and the one above belonged to another uncle. When “Bunker Hill” first belonged to Uncle Fred it wasn’t as big as it is now. The one who built it had only one son, and they all died. It was sold several times.” Miss Olive said that Annie Simmons is her cousin and Annie Simmons Permenter is a distant relative.
Miss Olive says that when the Judge is going to come to Saba the Griffier (court recorder) comes ahead of time and takes down the information about the case and gets everything ready. Then when the Judge comes he has to stay only a couple of days to settle all the business.
Miss Olive used to work for Mr. Theodore “Mr. Dory” Heyliger in his grocery store where the bank is now located. When his first wife died Mr. Dory married Miss Olive and they together with her sister Marion continued to live in her father’s house. He was Moses Leverock “Pa Mody” Simmons. Miss Olive’s husband Theodore Sidgismund Heyliger was born October 1st 1871 and died December 11th, 1958. His parents were John Joseph Dinzey Heyliger and Mary Ann Simmons. His first wife was Leila Winfield who died at the age of 66 in 1938. He then married “Miss Olive” who used to work with him in the store. The wedding took place on February 21st, 1939. I remember him well sitting there in his store. He never had any children. Eugenius Johnson told me a story once how after work he stopped together with Kenneth Peterson at Mr. Dory’s to have a drink since it was Friday. In those days Eugenius had to walk from Hell’s Gate to The Bottom and back to work for government for ninety guilders a month. On that particular day he left a hundred guilders worth of stamps for my cousin Estelle Simmons who ran the Post Office on Hell’s Gate. When he got home Estelle asked him what about the stamps he was supposed to bring for her. Realizing that he had left them at Mr. Dory’s, he turned right around and walked back to the Bottom. The store was closed so he went by Mr. Dory who had locked them in his safe and after retrieving them Eugenius headed back on foot to Hell’s Gate. Twice on foot to The Bottom and back to Hell’s Gate on the same day.
In Dr. Crane’s diary of Saturday, May 9th 1964 she writes: “In the afternoon visited Miss Olive Heyliger and obtained several clippings from her to be copied. Miss Olive told me that they used to build big 3-masted boats on Saba but now only the small fishing boats are built.” On that same topic on Friday April 10th, 1964 she writes: Mr. Evelyn Zagers stated that they used to build many ships here, some of them two masters of 75 tons or more. How they launched them beats Mr. Zagers but he believes by rollers.”
Since Dr. Crane did her research much more information has been found on the Amerindian population of Saba before the European settlement. Corinne and Menno Hoogland leading teams of archaeologists from the University of Leiden have visited here on several occasions doing research and have founds many interesting tools and other implements used by the Amerindians. Carl Zagers also brought to my attention that he was finding all kinds of strange rocks over where he was farming in “The Plum Piece” above the village of Palmetto Point (aka Mary’s Point). I went there shortly after open heart surgery and brought back on my head a bag of tools used by the Amerindians to add to my collection of artifacts that I have at home and which had been given to me by various people. The Leiden study group have also done excavations there and added much knowledge of how the Amerindians survived on the island.
Miss Olive was born on September 16th, 1891 and passed away on December 26th, 1971. Her parents were Mozes Leverock Simmons and Clementina Beal Simmons. In her last years she would get help from her neighbours from the Zagers/Collins families in the Promised land and my brother Eric would look after her legal interests as by then most of her close family as well as the former well to do families of The Bottom had emigrated to Barbados, Bermuda and the United States and would only come back for an occasional visit while others turned a rock when they left and never returned. She was one of the last of those last families and was always very proud of her Scottish grandmother and her interesting story.