The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Archive for the month “August, 2014”

Vernon Hassell, A Saba Pioneer


Queens Garden Hotel, Vernon’s first major project.

Vernon Hassell, a Saba Pioneer

By: Will Johnson

Once in Parliament during those long budget meetings which lasted sometimes all night, we were sitting in the coffee room as we called it, making jokes and talking politics. The Prime Minister Boy Rozendaal, several members of his cabinet as well as some of the Senators were sitting around talking about elections past. Some were telling stories of tough past political battles. The Prime Minister laughed and piped up: “Our friend Will does not have those problems. Vernon Hassell calls him and tells him: ‘Will you go ahead and win this one and I will win the next one. That is how elections are conducted on Saba.”

It was useless to explain him how mistaken he was. The elections in 1990 were so fought out that many foreigners left the island a few days before the elections as they said that “this election is not going to end well.” In the Azores on one of the islands where they only had 45 voters the Portuguese army had to be sent in to keep the calm in an election there, and many people must have thought that the same would happen on Saba. There would be violence and the Dutch army would have to be sent in.

One thing I remember clearly from that election is that during the election Freddie Charles one of Vernon’s big campaigners at the time came to Scout’s Place where I used to hang out  and asked to speak to me. He said:” Johnson everyone is wondering what has got into you. No one has ever seen you campaigning like this.” I told him: “It is only because I intend to beat you all.” He laughed and said: You know that is not going to happen.” So after some small talk he left, laughing at the idea that I was of the opinion that I could win that election


Vernon Hassell. As a young boy he skipped several grades in school because he was that smart. Went from1st to 3rd grade then on to 5th and so on.


The day before the election at the same venue Freddy was back and asked to speak to me privately. He said:” Johnson I am concerned. Saba is going to lose a leader tomorrow. I am not supporting you this election but I recognize you and Vernon both to be leaders. I know that whoever loses the elections tomorrow will leave politics.” I saw how serious he was and let the opportunity pass without teasing him. With a handshake we parted. The next day I won the elections. His prediction came to pass. I heard rumours that Vernon was pulling out. I met him in front of the Windwardside Post Office and when he came over to shake my hand, I tried to talk him out of quitting. I told him that in my political career I had some setbacks but had ploughed on. But after considering all I could not convince myself that he was wrong. The popular tune is that politicians exploit people. But those who have run for office know the impossible demands people put on you around election time and even when you comply with all the demands, many go and still shaft you out of envy or for whatever reason.


Hescon Built most of the School Complex at St. John’s.

But this article is not about the political struggles Vernon and I had which left many scars which I hope have now healed. For those who might not know, Vernon’s mother was a sister of my mother, his father a second cousin of my father and he was also my godfather. In Vernon’s parents wedding photo the baby they are holding is me. We lived as one family until politics tore us apart. For me that is history and I have been successful in life by not allowing grudges to hold me down. Many of my former political opponents like Carl Anslyn in the end ran with me and we stayed close until the end when he died on Aruba.

This article is about the successful construction company HESCON N.V. which Vernon started but I could not forego giving some insight into the political history between Vernon the successful contractor and me the lifelong politician.

On August 7th, last I was driving around John Peterson and his family. He is the son of John George Peterson of Saba who was the CEO of the Cargill Company. One of the largest privately owned companies in the world. In the history of the Company the first non family member to run the company was John G. Peterson who at age twelve ran away from Saba, educated himself at Brown University and climbed up to become the Vice President of Chase Manhattan Bank and from there CEO of Cargill with 120.000 employees.

In pointing out the various buildings on Saba to John Peterson Jr., I told him that they had all been built by a local company owned by a Saban. He remarked: “Well it seems that besides my father there are Saba pioneers in other fields.” I told him that I had been thinking about writing an article on Vernon Hassell and his construction Company Hescon N.V.

The very next day I wrote to Vernon asking him if he would mind if I did that. That same day he replied that he would be honoured and wrote that, by the way, the company was established 25 years ago. This past June was the 25th anniversary of the company. He agreed to send me some statistics to go with the article I was intending to write. In all the Dutch West Indies the construction companies are usually owned by continental Dutch people. I remember in the past that on Aruba there was a company Petronia and Croes. Petrona later became Prime Minister. I don’t think that the company lasted many years. There was also a Portuguese contractor Carvallho who lived on Curacao and did some jobs in the Windward Islands. In the more distant past there was Lionel Bernard Scot who was contractor on all three islands. My father worked for him as a foreman on Saba in the nineteen thirties when he carried out certain jobs here. He was still active as a contractor in the nineteen fifties. The Frenchman Jacques Deldevert also did a number of jobs on all three Dutch Windward Islands.


Part of the Saba School of Medicine all built by Vernon Hassell and his construction Company HesCon N.V.



The Remi de Haenen airport terminal on Saba,built by Hescon N.V.

On Saba we never had a big contractor before Vernon. There were and still are a number of small contractors as well as small builders consisting of two friends or family members who work together on small jobs, repairs, maintenance, building and so on. But in our history the first big contractor is HESCON N.V. which could take on big contracts and challenge the Dutch contractors and even win some big contracts. And it did not come to pass through favouritism or so. Many times I personally favoured the Dutch Contractor as my belief was that that the Dutch Government would quicker approve a project if one of their own would benefit. Being in government I wanted to get projects approved and things done quickly so that when election time comes around I would have something to point to. And of course the thought did cross my mind that “Vernon is not going to support me anyway so why should I play favourites to him?”

However as time went on I realized that he employed a sizeable number of Sabans some of whom were my voters. When the Medical School came into play, I forced Dr. David Frederick to buy a large piece of land from former Minister Leo Chance. I was representing Government on the board of the School at the time. I had been appointed to the board when I was opposition by the same Vernon Hassell’s party as they felt that I was quarrelsome enough to take on Frederick. When it was time to build, I was in government. The relationship with Frederick had deteriorated to the point that he financed the then opposition to get me out of government. It did not work of course. But during it all at the insistence of Max Nicholson I put pressure on Frederick to build. Long story short he came up with a plan to build fabricated buildings which looked something like containers. I told him that on my watch I would not allow him to deface the capital of Saba with a messy construction like that. He later came to my office and asked me: “What do you want?” I said to him” You see this building, the Administration Building? I had my hand in the design of that. I want something like this building, Saba style and solid construction.” I was on the board still and knew what he was making and putting away in Switzerland and the Cayman islands. I said to myself: Max is right, make him put down something that he cannot move from Saba to another island.” And so Vernon and Hescon N.V. got their foot in the door and took on the challenge to build the first building of the Medical School and all the other buildings you can admire on that site. Hescon N.V. must be admired for taking on such a challenge. They are still in the construction business after 25 years. No other Saban builder has ever taken on such a challenge in these islands, although Norman Hassell another Saban was a contractor in the United States and was successful at it as well.

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One of the many private homes built by HesCon N.V. They also built on Nevis and on St. Maarten.


“Brothers Place” .Completely redone under the watchful eye of Robby Hassell the idea man. Location of the “Sea Witch” restaurant.

Vernon was born on Saba on September 18th, 1955. He went to elementary school here then on to the St. Joseph School on St. Maarten and from there to Curacao where he graduated from the Maria Immaculate Lyceum in 1973. From there, he worked in several Government Departments on Curacao, and St. Maarten. From 1983 to 1989 he served as Commissioner and Councilmember on Saba. During his time in office he introduced the Legislation to start the Saba Marine Park, and also the legislation to change the language of instruction on Saba to the mother tongue language which is English. After he left office from 1983 -1991 he was Manager of Saba International Trust Company and supervised the start up of Saba Villas and Queen Gardens Resorts for the owners. From 1991-1996, he supervised the construction of Queens Gardens Resort and appointed Managing Director of the Resort. From 1989 to 1999 he started Hes Hardware and Construction Company on Saba and managed the company until he moved to Florida in 1999. At that time his was the largest private company and employer on Saba. From 1996-1999 he was 50% Owner of Hassell & Reda Inc. which closed down in 1999 when Hassell Free Exports Inc. started. Started Caribbean Building Solutions in 2008 and constructed Security Stations for a Caribbean Harbour. In 2004 started Hassell Free Tile & Window and then incorporated this in 2012 with Hassell Free Exports. He has been the President ever since. He resides at 2360 NW Bay Colony Drive Stuart Florida and has his business headquarters there.July 2nd. 1987


His greatest visible success story has been his construction company HesCon N.V. which was incorporated in 1998. Prior to that all construction work was carried out under the umbrella of Hassell Enterprises Saba N.V. HesCon N.V. was a partnership started by Mr. Vernon Hassell and Mr. George Robert Hassell. In 2010, Reno Rakutt joined the partnership and works as the General Manager for the Company. A word is in place about partner Robby. At the age of 18 he was the idea man in the building of my home on The Level. Franklin Johnson and his father-in-law Ulric Hassell were the contractors, but when we needed to change plans, Franklin would tell me, we have to consult Robby, he knows best. And so Robby has been a planner all his life, including changing around “Brother’s Place” improving the design for the restaurant now called “The Sea Witch.” Vernon and Robby can proudly look around the island and admire the many fine buildings which their company was responsible for. The Masterpiece of which is the Medical School complex. I will mention a few others only but there are many more. The Airport terminal building, Lt. Governor’s reconstructed residence, the large new addition to the Government Administration building, Low cost housing project of 6 homes in The Range, the Fire Station in The Bottom, Queens Garden Resort, Saba Comprehensive School, Sacred Heart School and Gymnasium a large number of private homes some of them mansions and several road projects including the resurfacing of the road to the airport. Vernon’s Company employs some 33 people many of them from Saba and some have been with him since the company started up. Although Vernons schooling did not include construction he learned the trade as he went along and is one tough negotiator when talking contracts and I know as I was on the other side of the table. This article does not allow for the full story as I want it to include photos of some of the beautiful buildings his company has built. Vernon and his wife Glenda live in Florida but visit Saba several times a year. He has a total of 7 children and 7 grandchildren. His many buildings and his company already tell the history of a very successful small island boy, and I believe that he warrants a book of his own as time goes by. But for now let me be the one to single him out for the praise he rightfully deserves as a leader in every sense of the word. Congratulations to Vernon and Robby and the many workers he has employed over the years. A visionary and a Saba pioneer indeed.

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The extended family of Vernon Hassell. Photo taken some years ago for a family calendar of the Simmons, Every, Hassell, Johnson families.


My friend Elmer Linzey


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Mr. Elmer Linzey and his aunt Mrs. Maude O.Edwards who were the founders of the Saba Electric Company while they lived in New York.

By: Will Johnson

Finally this month the tree made good on Elmer’s promise. I called his wife Edwina Linzey (born Illidge) and informed her that Elmer’s tree had finally flowered. He had brought the seed from Hawaii where he had been attending a conference of his beloved Lions Club. The small seed which he brought back produced a large tree in less than no time. I had planted the slip in the same spot where a flamboyant tree had been. The flamboyant was from seed which I had brought back from the grounds of the Governor’s residence in Kingston Jamaica in 1976. However the tree never bore any flowers as Elmer had guaranteed that he had seen in Hawaii. When Elmer enquired about the status of the tree I informed him that it was already that big that he could bring a hammock and sling it in the tree and take a siesta anytime he wanted to. After all it was his tree.

Every hand while when I am travelling I dream something or the other about Elmer. We take the dreams of the place where we live and the people we know with us. Wherever I am my dreams are from the islands. I have this recurrent dream that I am walking up the old Front Street of my youth with no cars around and I get lost in between the former old mansions. In that dream there is never a person in sight and it is always at night.

I did not know Elmer when I was growing up. He was some years older than I. By the time I went to The Bottom to school in 1953 and 1954, Elmer had been living in New York by his Aunt Mrs. Othella Maude Edwards born Jackson. He had even served in the United States army in the war of the Korean Peninsula. He did not get there but served in Germany. He went to South Korea to attend a Lions Convention many years after the war.

The poet tells us that “Man does not live by bread alone, but by the lyrics of poets, the wisdom of sages, the holiness of saints, the biographies of great souls. “ My friend Elmer was a great soul and I will attempt at paying tribute to him in this short biography.

Elmer Wycliffe Linzey was born on Saba on August 28th, 1933 and died in New Jersey on January 1st 2007. I not only did the eulogy when he was buried but also a speech on January 11th, 2002 when the GEBE power plant at the Fort Bay was named in his honour. I will quote from those and other speeches and times when I spoke in honour of my friend Elmer.

The first time that I had a confrontation with Elmer was also the last time as we became fast friends after that. It was 1973. I had won the elections in 1971 convincingly but not allowed to hold office because the “powers” that be kept me out of office by a false interpretation of the Islands Regulations.

I wanted to be involved. I wrote a letter to the Saba Artisans Foundation to join the board. I was rejected. I wrote a letter to them insinuating that perhaps it was because of my colour that I was not wanted on the board. The next day coming up from the Bottom, Elmer stopped me and shouted me down. He said my letter was unacceptable and that he wanted to meet with me. He said whether you are in office or not the people elected you as their leader. I will not accept this kind of behavior from you. The next day Elmer and I met and he gave me a proper dressing down as to what he considered unacceptable behavior coming from a leader. From then until he died we lived as brothers and I listened to his advice

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From right to left. George Seaman, writer, Jack Lincoln head of civil aviation of Great Britain, Elmer Linzey and me, Will Johnson.


Balthasar Gracian a Jesuit priest and philosopher in “The Art of Worldly Wisdom”, back in 1637 wrote:

“Cultivate relationships with those who can teach you. Let friendly intercourse be a school of knowledge, and let culture be taught through conversation. Thus you make your friends your teachers and mingle the pleasures of conversation with the advantages of instruction. Sensible people enjoy alternating pleasures: you are rewarded with applause for what you say and you gain instruction from what you hear. We are always attracted to others by our own interests, but in this case it is of a higher kind. Wise people frequent the houses of great nobility as theatres of heroism not temples of vanity. They are renowned for their worldly wisdom, not only for being oracles of all nobleness by their example and their behavior, but because those who surround them form a courtly academy of worldly wisdom of the best and noblest kind.”

For about fifteen years a group of us used to gather at Scout’s Place for fresh coffee and good conversation. The group included besides me, Elmer Linzey, George Seaman, Harry Nietzman, Carl Anslyn, Walter Campbell, Carlyle Granger and others who from time to time would join our table. I remember once that from another table with tourists from the United States, a young lady walked over and spoke to us. She said that her table was fascinated by our conversation. She said that that type of group would be hard to find anywhere in her country. Not only from the familiarity with each other of different races and nationalities, but in general just the way we communicated with each other and were so knowledgeable on world affairs. I am the only one left from that group. They were all older than me. When I think of all the friends here and elsewhere that have gone and left me I am reminded of a poem by the Curacao poet Pierre Lauffer. He wrote:

“Sing me a song of yesteryears

So that I may brighten up my old age;

Tell me a tender story of times gone by,

So that I may close my eyes and remember;

Lie to me and tell me I’m still young

So that wide awake, I can sit and dream,

Tell me without flinching,

That my beard is not gray

So that I may indulge in the illusion

Of many days to come

Before I go.”

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Lion Elmer speaking to me then Act. Governor and my wife Lynne at a Lions event.

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Elmer served in the U.S. army during the Korean War and was stationed in Germany then occupied by the allied forces, Russia, England, France and the United States.

Pieter-Dirk Uys wrote: “My home is here. I feel just as at home overseas, but think my roots are here and my language is here and my rage is here and my hope is here. You know all the peculiarities of the people around you, because you are one of them. And naturally, memories are the most important. Your home is where your favourite memories are.”

When we dedicated the power plant in Elmer’s name in my speech I made some statements which are still relevant today.

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November 8th, 1972 the new power plant at Fort Bay, then part of N.V. GEBE.

“It is remarkable how life has changed in one or two generations. My grandfather James Horton Simmons used to be called on by the government, along with the rest of the able bodied men on Saba, once a year, to clean the Kings Highway. That grand name was given to a road little more than a goat path. For this he received two cents in cash money or the equivalent in rum or tobacco. The rest of the year he had to struggle to survive from the land and the sea along with 2500 other people who lived here at the time. My father Daniel Thomas Johnson was a government foreman. When he could find work he was paid fls. 2.50 a day. He would leave his home at Behind-The-Ridge at 5am, after first having fed his livestock, and he would come with his oil lantern down to the Fort Bay road to put in a full eight hours of work. When he died at the age of 64 in 1972 he did not have an old age pension and had never made more than f. 99.—a quincenna with government. Most people make as much in a day now as my father made in a month. The hard labour of our forefathers has repeatedly been under attack. Not only attacks from the elements, but also from human destructive forces, which are always breaking down while others are trying to build up. We are still being confronted with those of parasitic tendencies whose sole mission are to break down in words and deeds, the work of others while not being able to demonstrate anything tangible which they have done.

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Lt. Governor J.J. Beaujon and Minister Plenipotentiary Wim Lampe taking part in connecting the village of Hell’s Gate to the electricity grid.


For the short period I have left in government, I thought that we should honour people who have contributed to the welfare of Saba and its people. People who have demonstrated that life can be rewarding when we dedicate our lives to the welfare of others. Without a doubt Mr. Elmer Linzey is preeminent among those who have made their mark on the slow march forward by our people. By introducing electricity to Saba, he abolished slavery in its second form, and made it possible for Saba to enter the 20th century. We were living two centuries behind the rest of the world when Elmer and his aunt Mrs. Maude Othella Edwards founded the Saba Electric Company. Elmer grew up on Saba in humble circumstances. Raised by his mother Nurse Laura Linzey he went on to New York to study and live at his aunt’s place in Harlem. There he also met his future wife Edwina Illidge (sister of Ramona Illidge). He told me many stories of his stay in New York. The years of struggle, to get funds together to realize his dream. His army years. His doubts as to whether he would survive the army. His thankfulness in later years as to the good medical coverage he received from the army. When I visited him at the Veterans cancer hospital in Brooklyn he told me once again of his time in the army

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The first engine for Saba Electric Company was accompanied by Elmer from New York, via Trinidad and Curacao and on arrival at Saba fell overboard into the sea. The Sabans got together strapped it with ropes and dragged it out of the water. After a good cleaning it went into service for the next thirty years and was then retired.


I recall one day sitting with a friend of mine at Scout’s Place. She was a cousin of the Rockefeller family.

When Elmer came to join us he spoke so familiar to the lady that I remarked. “It seems that I don’t have to introduce you two.” She laughed and said: “I know Elmer when he was a young man coming down from New York with his first engine. She and her deceased husband had been on the same ship as they loved freighter travel. And then Elmer went on to tell the story of how when he got to Saba after going via Trinidad and Aruba and so on, that the engine fell overboard while being landed at the Fort Bay here on Saba. It did not stay in the water for too long.

The people of Saba got together, lashed the engine with ropes at the bottom of the sea and towed it in to shore. The engine was overhauled and worked for the next thirty years. Elmer was more or less forced to sell the Saba Electric Company so that the Federal Government could form the GEBE Company to serve the three Windward Islands. He served as Manager of GEBE Saba until he retired. After that he was appointed as a Member of the Board of GEBE. During that time he made sure that Saba was upgraded. He also felt strongly that the company should never be split up. He also had a long career in the Lions Club. He was District Governor for the Caribbean region and received many awards. His years of service to the Saba Artisans Foundation and the Saba Conservation Foundation, I will speak to his years as a pioneer and a patriot. He served with me on the Island Council for eight years. I remember when we lost the election in 1987. I was at Scout’s Place and he came in all enthusiastic and excited. I reminded him that we had lost the election. He said: “Will where have you been? We have won all five seats on the Island Council. You are good for four and with me on board the two of us count for five.” And with that upbeat assessment the mood changed around and we set out to govern the island from the opposition benches. At least we made so much noise that in later years newspapers on other islands wrote that one never got the feeling that I was in opposition but rather running the government all the time.

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The engine which went into the sea being loaded for transport to Crispeen where the first power plant was located. The man helping from behind the engine is the former Commissioner Matthew Levenston.

Elmer Linzey was indeed a pioneer.” But the work of the pioneer is always costly. He builds the road and he suffers the travails of road building; but very often he does not reap the full reward of his work.

V.H. Friedlander writes the following about our pioneers like Elmer Linzey:

“We shall not travel by the road we make,

Ere day by day the sound of many feet,

Is heard upon the stones that now we break,

We shall come to where the cross-roads meet.

For us the heat by day, the cold by night,

The inch slow progress and the heavy load,

And death at last to close the long grim fight

With man and beast and stone;


For them the shade of trees that now we plant,

The safe smooth journey and the ultimate goal,

Yeah, birthright in the land of covenant.

For us a day labour travail of the soul.

And yet the road is ours, as never theirs;

Is not one thing on us alone bestowed?

For us the master-joy, oh pioneers-

We shall not travel, but we make the road.”

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Before the Saba Electric Company was established everything was done the hard way. The lady here is ironing the old fashioned way. The goose was loaded with coals.

So Elmer Wycliffe Linzey, pioneer and patriot; Man of wisdom and integrity; Man of dedication and achievement; Man of destiny. National Hero. We salute you and we shall always remember you, great hearted friend and comrade of the way, valiant and courageous soul, we commend you to God’s keeping until the day breaks and the shadows flee away.

Since this article was written several years ago there have been major changes. The participation by Saba in GEBE N.V. came to an end and Saba’s  shares in the company were bought out. The Government of Saba on my advice went back to the original company the Saba Electric Company N.V. A new power plant is being built on an elevated situation on the road leading to the Bottom. The new location is far enough from the sea which in past hurricanes did much damage to the engines at the power plant. Most of the power cables are now underground and the old electricity poles are all being removed in the villages and along the road. A magnificent new Office of the Company has been built in The Bottom. New engines are being ordered and the future looks bright for the company, with plans for a solar system and possibly wind power. Elmer would have been happy to see all this taking place as this was all part of his dream for Saba. Rest softly brother Elmer. Rest softly.

• * * * * * * * * *

Captain Penniston on a visit to St. Eustatius


View from the mountain “The Quill” on the former agricultural plain of St. Eustatius.

Many people nowadays are not aware of the trade and family relationships between St. Eustatius and Bermuda. Even after the commercial decline of St. Eustatius this connection remained. The author of this story is Captain William Hubbard Peniston known affectionately throughout Bermuda as “Bamboo Billy” of Paynter’s Vale, was typical of Bermuda’s outstanding sea-captains of his day. His obituary written in 1917, out lines his eventful life.
At the time this was written St. Eustatius was sparsely populated and the economic life of the island had declined and many people were leaving the island for the United States and yes also Bermuda to work in the Dry-docks on that island.


View of St. Eustatius from the sea.

There is still evidence of the Bermuda connection though. Many buildings were built with Bermuda stone and the wall of the Dutch Reformed cemetery is built with these stones.
This is how Captain Peniston described St. Eustatius as it was in the 1850’s:
“Situation of St. Eustatius is about six miles S/W from the island of St. Kitts. It lies nearly east and west; its length is about 5 miles and its breadth 3 and one half miles; it bears N.N.E. from the Dutch island of Saba about 14 miles. The ancient town and roadstead is on the South side and sheltered from the trade winds by St. Kitts.
Sandy Bay on the North side is only frequented in fine weather by fishermen or turtles; at its most Eastern extremity is an extinct volcano called the Quill, but known to Seamen as the Devils Punch Bowl; fruit and coffee trees abound in it. At the Western end of the Island there is a high mountain called Tumble-Down-Dick, the flaws come down its western side with great force and many a topmast has been snapped off under it. The lower town is on the beach and was once a free port. All nations could trade there and sell or exchange cargoes. The remains of the Store-houses that once stood on the beach and rocks show that a large trade must have been carried on there once. The wide steep inclined road leading to the upper town is a great piece of work and when one reaches there (mounted on a little island pony), the view is an extensive one, to the East the Quill with its steep sides (both inside and out covered with luxurious growth of fruit and other trees) on the North is an extensive plain where fine sheep are raised; and just under the Eastern side of Tumble-Down-Dick towards the west lies Sentching Hook, a large sugar estate owned by the Martiney family with its ancient walls, its large sugar mills worked by mules. To the South West are extensive yam and sweet potato fields their only substitute for bread. There are also a few Cochineal fields.


Former colonial Mansion where Capt. Penniston would probably have been entertained when he visited St. Eustatius. Now a Museum.


View of The Lower Town where in the eighteenth century there were hundreds of warehouses and homes when St. Eustatius was known as “The Golden Rock.”

The prison a little square building (with very strong and ancient looking iron bars), is the first building the visitor reaches. The government house is a fine building with marble floors, situated in the Northern part of the town and overlooking the anchorage. In 1776 Holland was added to the enemies of England. Mr. Laurens who had been President of Congress was taken by a British cruiser and the papers found in his possession proved the existence of a treaty between the Dutch and Americans. War was then declared and thus England was engaged with four enemies viz; France, Spain, American and Holland without a single ally. Admiral Romney who commanded the British fleet in the West Indies had charge of them; he had torn the Leeward Islands from the French and punished the Hollanders by taking the island of St. Eustatius and, three millions sterling of stores and money. He ran his ship the “Formidable” in near the town and ordered its surrender. The being refused the Ships guns were trained and the first shot fired entered the Governor’s Hall door, causing a speedy surrender. The town was chiefly inhabited by Bermudians Viz., Jennings, Penistons, Hills, Godets, Heyligers, Marshalls and many others, settlers from Bermuda who carried on a large and lucrative business as it was a free port. A great deal of Bermuda lime and building stone was imported. The Bermuda vessels flew what was called the Sawed-Stone-Jack, a white flag with a red cross, and when a vessel hoisted that flag the inhabitants knew she was from Bermuda with a cargo of sawn stone and Lime.
About this time the inhabitants were in great want of provisions owing to the English man-of-wars blockading the town, vessels then running were called “force traders”; many people in Bermuda were very desirous of sending their friends in St. Eustatius food and other necessities, a vessel was loaded, armed and made ready for sea, a brave Captain was wanted. After much persuasion, Captain Nicholas Trott of Walsingham, a young Bermudian, consented. He had had just been married to Miss Elizabeth Hubbard only daughter of Captain William Hubbard of the adjoining property (now known as Leamington). He soon set sail with his crew, one of whom, the gunner, a Negro named Harry Dilton, who was a good shot. On arriving off Tumble-down-Dick, an English man-of-war brig hove in sight and gave chase. She overhauled Capt. Trott’s vessel and fired into her, this was soon answered by a broadside from the “Mudian”, a sharp engagement followed. After a hard fight Capt. Trott fell mortally wounded. His gunner, Harry Dilton, then jumped on a gun, gave three cheers and, after pouring a broadside into the English brig, hauled down the flag and surrendered. The Lieutenant in charge of the brig stated afterwards that had another broadside been fired by the force trader he would had had to surrender as the last load of powder on board his ships was in his guns.
“In 1853 I visited the Island and found many descendants of old Bermuda families who vied with each other in extending hospitality to me. I was much surprised to find English spoken by almost everyone excepting the Governor on whom I called. He was living in his fine Mansion with its beautiful Marble Halls, and a garrison of 25 old Hollanders. There was a force of native troops in the Island, all fine looking men, neatly dressed, and well officered and when mounted on their tough native ponies they had a very imposing appearance. The horses are small but swift and very hardy. At that time their slaves had not been freed, and when one jumped from the boat on the dark sandy beach, a pony, saddled and neatly caparisoned, was held by a slave boy, ready for you to mount. The moment you were in the saddle it was off through the town on the beach and up the wide steep inclined road to the upper town. Your black boy attendant (who was clothed in one garment of course material with a primitive girdle around his waist) was there behind the pony hanging on to its long tail, and you may gallop as fast as you liked that swift-footed, negro boy was there at the journey’s end ready to take your pony’s bridle when you dismounted!
“I received a great deal of attention from two old gentlemen, Mr. James Hill and his brother Mr. John Hill. Any one from Bermuda could not help being forcibly struck with the style of the old buildings in the upper town, most of them being built of the Lime and Soft Sandstone brought from Bermuda in the 17th century. Many interesting accounts were given of Admiral Rodney’s proceedings after the capture of the Island. People resorted to many schemes to secrete their money and valuables. Mock funerals were the most general. Friends would procure a coffin, take it to one of their houses and put into it their gold and silver, spoons, gold and silver vessels then take it to a church and after going through certain forms place it in a vault. Rodney heard of these proceedings and sent armed men on shore with instructions to overhaul every coffin on its way to burial and also to open graves. This they did and in consequence found much of the treasure.”


Walls of the old fortifications in Oranjestad.

“In many of the houses beautiful old furniture made of cedar could be seen, cedar chairs with cane seats and some with cushioned ditto, reminded me of an anecdote often related by my Grandmother, Mrs. Elizabeth Peniston, about one Richard Jennings Peniston (who was a relative of my grandfather, John W. Peniston) doing business in the Island of St. Eustatius, and a very rich merchant at the time of its capture by Rodney and his men. They took away everything valuable that could be found belonging to him and destroyed an immense amount of Liquors by setting the taps running. His wife Rebecca, (nee Darrell) fearing the island would be captured, employed herself many days before it was taken in carefully secreting Doubloons and Joes amounting to a very large sum in the cushions of the Bermuda cedar chairs. Mr. Peniston with his family was allowed to leave the island for Bermuda and take the chairs with him. He arrived safely and took up his residence at a place in Devonshire now known as Montpelier. By his will many of his relatives were left legacies of which however, they only received one half. My grandmother, Mrs. Elizabeth Peniston, was left one hundred pounds; she received only fifty as a shortage of the Personal estate was announced by the Executors which was doubted by the legatees. The remains of the immense warehouses of Mr. Richard Jennings Penniston and those of Mr. Richard Jennings with their ponderous Iron bars and hinges were shown to me near the beach.
“I have often visited the islands to purchase Sweet Potatoes and Yams, especially on my way to Bermuda from the Windward Islands. In 1857 I called there and after laying in a supply of Yams and Sweet potatoes I was induced to buy a few Ponies since their price was low. After buying them I was at a loss to know how I should get them on board and was thinking of swimming them off to the ship when Mr. James Hill said, “We never have any trouble in shipping them, bring your boat on shore and a light rope to throw them with on the Sandy Beach, tie their hoofs together after they are turned on their backs, and my negroes will lift them up and put them in your boat, cane tops being first put in the bottom. When you get alongside hoist them as you would a pig, they will be perfectly quiet. You can then tie them on deck, as they wear no shoes they will do the deck no harm.” I went on board, had the Yawl boat hoisted out, a tackle put on the yard arm then proceeded to the shore. The Ponies were brought down and handled according to Mr. Hill’s directions. They were soon on board where they were haltered and their hoofs loosened from the ropes. They jumped up and quickly began to enjoy the cane tops and provender put on board for their voyage.
“There is a tree growing on the mountain side whose Bark the fishermen get, and after pounding it, put it in bags and take it to the fishing grounds. They lower the bags to the bottom; shake out the bark and in a little while the fish come to the surface quite stupefied when they are easily taken.”
Captain Peniston in his short story give a most complete picture of Statia’s history and how the people lived and especially the Bermuda connection with the leading families at the time.

Bird Island or “Aves”.


Bird Island


Quite a lot has been written about Aves Island known to us on Saba as “Bird Island” as well. That does not mean that the last word has been said on the former Dutch claim to the island. I hope that perhaps Walter Hillebrand can write a book about Aves with nice photographs and so on. I am willing to share the documentation I have found with him.
The last time I can remember anyone going to ‘Bird Island’ was a mixed crew from Hell’s Gate and The Bottom with Capt. Matthew Levenston. That would have been in the early nineteen fifties and I remember them with some large turtles, corned fish and even birds.
Saba did not give up its rights to the island without a fight. The Dutch did. At his own expense Lt. Governor Edward beaks financed several expeditions to the island when citizens of the United States were taking away the guano that was there. Lt. Governor Beaks had a hard time to get reimbursed for the expenses he had. Some years after Lt. Governor Edward Beaks was fighting to save the island, the Dutch put a Venezuelan challenge to the island up for arbitration with Spain. Of course Spain ruled in favour of Venezuela.
Sabans by that same decision were granted the right to continue to fish there and they did so until the nineteen fifties. Even though we do not use that right Venezuela should be reminded by the Dutch of that. Perhaps we can trade that right for some cheap oil and cooking gas for our people.
My grandfather James Horton Simmons got stranded there around 1880. A schooner had dropped them off but got lost on the way to Guyana and it was several weeks before another schooner picked them up. My grandfather was credited with introducing canned corned beef to the island. A steamer passing by Aves on its way to Europe left some cases of corned beef with them. They had seen a distress flag and stopped at the island to investigate. When my grandfather and the others introduced the remaining canned corned beef to the island it became a hit on Saba and has remained so to this day.


Venezuelan research station on Aves, south of Saba.

Lt. Governor Beaks correspondence with the Governor on Curacao as well as the supporting reports from Captains and old Saba residents give an interesting history from the Saba perspective. Very old charts showed the island as connected to the Saba Bank. Severe hurricanes such as the category 5 hurricane of 31 August 1772 known as the ‘Great Hurricane’ may have broken through the sandbank connecting the two. Also remarkable is the fact that Sabans were birding and turtling there even before that hurricane as is evidenced from the correspondence.
Once I was a guest at the military headquarters in Caracas Venezuela. I saw a booklet in Spanish on the Aves Island on the desk of the Commander and asked where I could buy a copy. On leaving the reception the General called me aside and gave me something gift wrapped. On arriving at my hotel when I opened the gift it was the booklet signed by the General himself. Nowadays much information on Aves can be found on the internet I guess.
For the record here follows some of the correspondence between Saba and the Governor on Curacao.
Saba, 5th February 1859
To His Excellency
The Governor of Curacao and Dependencies
I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of Your Excellency’s communication of the 8th ulto. Accompanying copy of a letter to Your Excellency of the 28th December 1858 from P. van Rees Esq. H. M. Commissioner, whereby information is asked on certain points, of the eldest inhabitants of this island and myself relative to the Isle of Aves, in order to establish the right of the Netherlands to said island etc.etc.
In reply thereto, I beg leave respectfully, to send herewith to Your Excellency, copies of nine declarations given in my presence, by persons residing in different districts, which I trust will be found satisfactory, as answers to questions No. 1 to 3.
Concerning question No. 4 I regret that I cannot further reply to, than by forwarding herewith to Your Excellency a chart of 1754, by which will be seen a Bank which I presume, is the one alluded to, in said question No. 4 there being no documents, in the archives relative to the Isle of Aves.
With regard to question No. 5 I ask leave to state to Your Excellency, that to the best of my knowledge, persons of this island, have annually for many years, been visiting the Isle of Aves, for the purpose of obtaining eggs, turtles and fish, and have never been prevented doing so by any person, of any nation whatsoever. And that I have always understood, that there exists a Bank that unites this island with the Isle of Aves.
The inhabitants of this island, that followed the aforesaid employment, found it, in general, a lucrative one.
I respectfully trust that the documents, which I have the honour of forwarding herewith, to Your Excellency, will materially aid, in establishing the right of the Netherlands to the Isle of Aves.
With the highest respect, I have the honour to be, Your Excellency’s most obedient and very humble servant, The Lt. Governor of Saba. Edward Beaks.
Excerpts from some of the nine declarations made.
District; Windwardside. No. 1
I the undersigned, Peter James Every, aged 81 years, native and resident of this island. Do hereby certify and declare, that I sailed on board the Dutch sloop ‘Suffererdonda’ Commanded by Matthew Winfield, in the year 1778 and we visited the Isle of Aves in said year, and from thence to this island several persons who were placed there for the purpose of obtaining eggs, turtles and fish, from here.
I also declare that my uncles John Every, Peter Hassell, and Henry Hassell (deceased) informed me, that they also attended persons from this island, placed on said island, during the time they sailed on board certain vessels from this island, previous to the time above stated 1788, and to the best of my knowledge, persons from this island have been visiting the said Isle of Aves annually for 55 years or upwards


My grandfather James Horton Simmons and many other Saba men would sleep here for weeks on end catching turtles, fish and birds.

And, further to my perfect knowledge that the persons placed on said island, were never molested by any person of any nation pursuing the aforesaid employment.
I likewise certify and declare, that I have always understood, that there exists a Bank from this island, which unites it to the Isle of Aves. Saba 1st February 1859. Signed Peter James Every. Witnesses, Hercules Hassell and J.E. Hassell.
No. 2 District: Windwardside.
I the undersigned Josiah Peterson aged 75 years, native and resident of this Island.
Do hereby certify and declare that I sailed on board the Dutch schooner,’ Sisters’, commanded by Moses Leverock as mate in the year 1799, and in said year we carried persons from this island to the Isle of Aves, for the purpose of obtaining Eggs, Turtles, and fish which we continued to follow with said vessel until 1808.
When I became Master of the sloop ‘Aid’ owned by a resident of this island, I continued for some time following said business. We generally placed persons there in the early part of January and they continued there until April according to their success.
And further to the best of my knowledge that persons from this island have pursued said employment for fifty years annually.
I further certify and declare that my Grand father John Peterson (dec’d) informed me that in the year 1772 he was on the Isle of Aves with other persons from this island, turtling, etc.etc., when the severe hurricane of the 31st August same year was experienced in this island, and that he had previous to said year been on that Island obtaining eggs, turtles and fish.
And I also declare that never to my perfect knowledge that the persons placed on said Island, were prevented, following the aforesaid employment. And that I have always understood that there exists a Bank which unites this Island with the Isle of Aves. Saba 1st February 1859 signed Josiah Peterson. A Member of the, Delegated Bench of Justice.
There were 9 such declarations in all. One from Henry Hassell (72) ‘Henny Plunkie’,of Booby Hill, who stated that his father had informed him that in the year 1772 he was on Aves during the Great Hurricane and previous to that. Also Daniel Hassell (72) of the Windwardside stated that in the year 1799 he and many other persons had been placed there by Captain John Doncker of the Dutch schooner “Flying Fish” .He had followed this employment for a few years, after which he sailed on the sloop ‘Aid’ Commanded by Josiah Peterson, and attended persons that were on said island from this island for some time. He further certified that his father had informed him that he was on said island in the year 1772 when a severe hurricane was experienced in these islands, in the same year on August 31st, and also that he had been there previous to that time.
Abram Heyliger Hassell (68) of district Windwardside declared that he had sailed on board the sloop ‘Persevering’ with friends in the year 1816 commanded by Moses Leverock, owned by persons residing in this island, and we were placed in the Isle of Aves for two years in succession. And from the year 1818 to 1840 I commanded two vessels, the ‘Edward’ and the ‘Friendship’, sloops owned by persons residing on this island, and annually for 22 years I carried persons from this island to the Isle of Aves, for the purpose of turtling, fishing and gathering eggs, in said vessels. And from the information derived of persons more aged than myself, who are now no longer in existence, that the aforesaid employment, have been pursued by persons of this island upwards of 80 years.
And during their stay, they never were prosecuted by any person of any nation whatsoever.


THE Venezuelan research station which was taken out in one of the many hurricanes in the past thirty years.

They all declared that they would remain there from January to April and that they would have a Dutch flag hoisted while they were there.
One lady of The Town, Letecia Horton (83) declared that at least from the year 1785 she could remember people from Saba going their annually.
John James Simmons (62) of The Town declared that while there in the year 1824, ‘I was on shore for three (3) months, and during my stay there was visited by His Britannic Majesty’s Frigate ‘Forte (?)’ commanded by Sir Thomas Cockrane, and that Sir Thomas and four officers landed, and that as soon as the ship came in sight, a Dutch flag, was displayed on the island and remained hoisted until the ships departure.
He also declared that his father born 1768 and died 1848, in his youth, had been a captain, and had carried people there.
By the way I have John James’ Bible at home. He was married to Anne Fantose Taylor of Scotland who he met in St. Thomas when she was a young woman.
The old timers used to tell me that they would also row with a longboat from Saba to Statia. They would then row for twelve hours in the direction of Aves Island. If after twelve hours of rowing they would not find Aves they would turn around and row another twelve hours back to Statia. My grandfather was one of the men who used to row the boat.
A, letter to His Excellency the Governor of Curacao and Dependencies.
Saba, 8th November 1859.
I have the Honour to acknowledge the receipt of Your Excellency’s dispatch of the 5th September no. 32, 4/9 containing a request by order of His Excellency the Minister for the Colonies, that at least, once every month, to order an investigation to take place, of what may happen to occur in the Isle of Aves, and to forward a report thereof to Your Excellency, with particular instruction, not to assume the least authority whatever over said Isle etc.etc.
With much respect, I beg leave to inform Your Excellency, that in order to obtain the requested information relative to the Isle of Aves, I chartered the English schooner “Casket” Commanded by Richard Simmons, on the 3rd instant, not being able to obtain a vessel sooner, to proceed to the Isle of Aves, and to return to the island, and desirous always of being serviceable to the Government, as much as possible, I deemed it advisable, to charge myself with the mission to said island, leaving in my stead, the Senior Member of the advising council, persuaded, that the same would be approved by Your Excellency.
I have therefore the honour of handing herewith to Your Excellency a report of my mission to the Isle of Aves, assuring Your Excellency, that I followed strictly your request, not to assume the least authority whatever over said Isle, and I trust that my mission will be quite satisfactory to Your Excellency.
Herewith Your Excellency, will please permit me, to forward an account for the charter of the English schooner ‘Casket’, to the Isle of Aves and back to this island f.125.—which I beg leave with submission to solicit Your Excellency’s attention to as early as may be convenient to Your Excellency, and further to make known to Your Excellency, that an equal sum will be requested monthly, to defray the expense of chartering a vessel to send to the Isle of Aves, presuming that vessels, are not likely to be obtained at a cheaper rate, added to which, what may be deemed right, to allow the person charged with the mission monthly.
I assure Your Excellency, that it will afford me infinite satisfaction to hear of Your Excellency, that my proceedings have been approved of by Your Excellency.
With much respect, I have the honour to be, Your Excellency’s, Most obedient and very humble servant. The Lt. Governor, Edward Beaks.
Report, of my mission to the Isle of Aves.
Departed, from the island Thursday, 3rd November at 5 o’clock P.M. with the English schooner ‘Casket’, Commanded by Richard Simmons.
At 7 o’clock AM the 4th made the Isle of Aves quickly after, discovered an American flag flying on said island. Anchored, at half past seven o’clock. Soon after anchorage a boat with five men visited us, Messrs J.E. Gammage and G.M. Keen of Baltimore; the others were Negroes from St. Thomas.
In a short time after, I landed, and made known to said Gentlemen particularly, the nature of my mission, to the Island, and obtained from them the following information.
That Mr. J,E. Gamage, had an interest in the concern of Messrs. Green, Keen and Co. who were the shippers from said island, of about 5500 tons of guano from the month of January to August past, and that since August, Mr. J.E. Gammage had become the sole proprietor of the business, and that in the month of September, he exported 120 tons of guano, and has now in readiness for exportation about 400 tons and that he is momently expecting vessels to ship it with – that he has been obliged for 12 days past to stop working, for want of provisions.
But as soon as he obtains a supply will commence again. That he is not certain, whether he will leave the island after with the labourers after exporting all the guano that he may have obtained up to the time of the arrival of the vessels expected.
With regards to the further importance of the island, Mr. Gammage is of the opinion, that a considerable quantity of Guano of different qualities, is yet obtainable.
The first quality of guano it appears is found even as low as five feet or deeper, below the surface of the land, and near the beach in some places. Much of the island has been searched by the excavations and the guano obtained there from.
The length of the island is about 1800 feet, the breadth 160 to 180 feet and the height about 12 feet.
The number of persons on the island are 10 including Messrs. Gammage and Keen, the others are Negroes, 6 from St. Thomas and 2 from St. Martin.
Mr. Gammage took passage with me, from the Isle of Aves, to this Island, to obtain provisions, and having done so, left this yesterday, for the Isle of Aves.
Saba 8th November 1859, the Lieutenant Governor of Saba, Edward Beaks.
The correspondence goes on and is much too long for an article such as this. However several things are remarkable that even then certain nations automatically assumed that the world and its resources belongs to them, and other nations then as now are nothing but lapdogs to this creed, and therefore surrender before putting up a fight. In the end Venezuela laid claim to Aves and now has some kind of military installation there. My friend Commissioner Hooker wants off shore property. I hereby give him Aves island to fight for along with Dominica.
And finally who in their right mind would name a schooner “Casket”? I would have on a life vest and sit in the lifeboat all the time .Casket? What a name for a schooner.
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