The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Capt. Evan Lambert Simmons

Image (1038)

Capt. Evan Lambert Simmons on board of one of his ships the S.S. “Maracaibo.”

Captain Evan Lambert Simmons By; Will Johnson My mother often told me:”Everything was the sea back then.” She meant of course that all our boys and men took to the sea as soon as they had finished the Saba School of Navigation to make a career for themselves. The year 1888 in which Captain Evan Lambert Simmons was born there were 2076 people living on Saba. Nearly all of them had been born on the island. He was one of 62 children born here that year. The difference with him was that unlike most; nearly all the other children born here that year, their parents were both born on Saba, Evan’s mother was born in Philadelphia of St. Barths parents. His father was the well known Island Secretary Engle Heyliger Simmons who was born on Saba on November 9th, 1854 (son of John Michael Dinzey Simmons and Eliza Leverock). His mother Emilie Elizabeth Lambert was born in Philadelphia on November 12th, 1859 (daughter of Frederick Lambert and Susan Lambert). They were married on February 28th, 1881 and they both died in 1920. Emilie died first at the age of 60 on April 15th, 1920 and Engle died on September 15th, 1920. Such is the case often with couples who have been married for a long time. At that time many Saban families had moved to St. Barths then under Swedish rule. There were a number of marriages between Saba and St.Barths people. The same took place on Aruba in later years with many Sabans and people from St. Martin (especially from Simpson bay) marrying, something which had occurred before that time with Barbados where many of the leading families like the Goddard’s, Hart, Bourne, Mayhew, and Hassell families have some Saban ancestors.

Engle Heyliger Simmons Home 1919

The home in which Capt. Evan Simmons was born in The Bottom. It was later sold to Mr. Rupert Sorton and still owned by the Sorton family.


Emily Lambert born in Philadelphia from St. Barths parents, wife of Island Secretary of Saba Engle Heyliger Simmons and mother of Capt. Evan Lambert Simmons.

Evan grew up here on Saba at a time when “the sea was everything” as my mother told me. Many in the Simmons family owned schooners or were captains so that young boys back then took to sea at the age of thirteen already. Evan and his brothers were no exception. He went to the United States for the first time in 1907. The Saba School of Navigation had not yet been officially recognized by the Dutch. However many of the retired captains, for a small monthly fee, were willing to give lessons to the young boys concerning navigation, ports they had been to, horror stories of going around Cape Horn and so on. So that when Evan went to the United States he would have been well prepared for a life at sea. He was born on Tuesday August 28th, 1888. Around 1914 he married Maria Lillian Hill of St. Eustatius. She was born on September 12th, 1883 (her parents were Theodore Heyliger Hill and Robertina Dinzey Horton). The Hill’s of St. Eustatius and the Horton’s of Saba had several marriages together. On a trip to Statia to visit her parents the couple lost a child not a year old yet, named Ethel who died on May 12th, 1918. The baby is listed as having been born in Brooklyn where the couple then lived. They had three other children: Elaine born 1916, Evan Leslie born 1919 and James born 1920. And so Captain Evan has a number of descendants living in the United States still. On the Amazon website in a comment on my book “Tales from my Grandmother’s Pipe” dated September 12th, 2010 his grandson had the following to say: “ This book has a special meaning for me in that the island of Saba is the birthplace of my Grandfather, Captain Evan L. Simmons, pictured at age 13 on page 72. He was born August 28, 1888 and passed away on January 3oth, 1966. My grandson, his great-great grandson, Evan Simmons the fifth shares the same birthday. I have fond memories of him singing sea shanties to me before falling off to sleep, and his story that I am a descendant of Henry Morgan the pirate. I am fortunate to have his sextant. I will be visiting Saba for the first time next year and this book will provide a wonderful guide for the visit. Evan Simmons.” When his first wife died in 1958, Capt. Evan married Olga May Simmons, daughter of Capt. Arthur Wallace Simmons. She was born in 1917 and together they had a daughter Evelyn Marie Simmons born 1959. That lifelong sea breeze had done wonders for the captain as he was seventy one at the time of his last child’s birth. Something similar to my great grandfather Thomas Johnson, who married in his seventies when he was a widower and made four children before he died.  That his wife was forty years younger than him would have helped too. As rumor has it my grandmother was ordered on his death bed. Fresh food and regular exercise helped a lot I suppose.

SimmonsEH restored

Island Secretary of Saba for more than thirty years Engle Heyliger Simmons and father of Capt. Evan Lambert Simmons.

In a letter from Prof. Eric Simmons he mentioned to me that his uncle Evan was his real hero. Eric got to know him while he was attending College on the East Coast. At that time Captain Evan worked for the “Red D Line”, and was captain of the “S.S. Lara”. He was also Captain of a supply vessel which took part in the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France during WW ll. He was also captain for the Grace Lines in New York on the ships “Santa Rosa” and also the “Santa Ana”. The “Red D Line” was one of the few American steamship companies that survived the depression. For half a century the ships of this line had been plying between New York and Puerto Rico and the ports of Maracaibo, La Guairá, and Puerto Cabello in Venezuela via Curacao. Once every week on Curacao one could expect to see the “S.S. Caracas”, the “S.S. Maracaibo”, the “S.S. Zulia” or the “S.S. Philadelphia” arrive in the harbor of Willemstad. They would stay a day and then proceed to La Guairá and Puerto Cabello, and make another stop at Curacao on the return journey to New York. In an article for the State Department in the nineteen thirties the American Consul said:” The Captains of these” Red D Line” ships became our fast friends and lunched or dined with us as regularly as their ship came into port. Food was always a difficult problem on the island as owing to the lack of rain it was impossible to raise cattle other than goats. What these latter lived on it would be very difficult to determine. They nibbled away at the cactus, pushing away the sharp spines with their forefeet, and in some way they were able to reach the succulent leaves of the few small trees that flourish in spite of the arid soil… The ordinary meat that we consumed was from lean cattle brought from Venezuela and Colombia and slaughtered on the same day on which it was consumed. In those days there were no adequate refrigerating facilities on the island to keep meat. The Captains of these” Red D Line” steamers brought with them in the ice box of the ship- choice morsels of beef, of lamb and veal, which were a rich addition to our larder, and they brought us many other delicacies which we would otherwise have to go without.”


Three brothers, all captains, Evan, Engle and Jim Simmons.

“This line of steamers is operated by Bliss Dallett & Company of New York who has the majority of the stock but as the boats depended to a very considerable extent for cargo which they received on the rich German merchants in Venezuela and Colombia, the relations of the Line and these firms were very close. The Caracas office was largely controlled by German interests although its agent was a Venezuelan named Rojas. The agent on Curacao was Fensohn who had a large German staff and who the Consul suspected of spying for the Germans. After the declaration of war in World War l, the Consul recommended blacklisting him and that he be removed as agent of the “Red D Line.”


Artist Elaine Maria Simmons-Steiner, daughter of Evan Leslie Simmons and granddaughter of Captain Evan Lambert Simmons. She was named after her aunt Elaine.

Capt. Evan got his first big commission on the Red D Line in 1919 when he started out being the first officer of the “SS Maracaibo”. On September 20th, 1918 he arrived with his Statia wife Lillian Hill and their daughter Elaine in New York. Their listed address at the time was 811 St. John’s place. Lillian was naturalized by marriage (Evan was already a U.S. citizen) in Southern District Court New York on July 16th, 1912. Captain Evan is listed as 1st Mate on the “SS Maracaibo” on October 28th, 1918. Later on he was Captain of the “SS Lara” and had a long tenure on this ship. He was also captain of the “S.S. Maracaibo”. Mr. David Donker told me that he sailed for awhile with the “Red D Line” on the “SS Carabobo” with Captain Morris. He also sailed with Captain Evan Simmons on the “S.S. Maracaibo”. The ship was caught in a gale in the Gulf Stream off Cape Hatteras. He described it to me as the most terrifying experience in his life. In an article in the New York Times of June 24th mention is made of the wedding of James Lambert Simmons, “son of Capt. Evan Simmons who was a ship captain with the “Grace Line.” In 1936 the “Grace Line” acquired the “Red D Line”. In early 1937 the “Santa Rosa, Santa Paula and Santa Elena” entered the service. Capt. Evan was Master of the “SS Santa Catalina” up until October 15th, 1951. He was Master of the “SS Santa Ana” as of January 15, 1948 and had a long tenure on this ship; He was also captain of the “SS Santa Rosa”. He also served as Master of the” S.S. Chipana” on December 17, 1939.  However most of his years at sea he served with the “Red D Line” and continued on with the “Grace Line”. Also serving at the same time with these companies was Capt. James Knight Simmons of Hell’s Gate who was captain of the “S.S. Santa Barbara”, the old “Santa Rosa” and so on. In 1929 there were a large group of Venezuelans working for the SHELL oil refinery on Curacao. Under the leadership of Rafael Simon Urbina and Antonio Machado a large group of Venezuelans took over the refinery on June 8th, 1929. They then attacked the water fort at the entrance to the harbor next to the Governor’s Palace. They then kidnapped Governor L.A. Fruytier and the garrison Commander Boren, after which they commandeered the “S.S. Maracaibo” of the “Red D.Line” which later became the “Grace Line”. I know that Capt. Evan Lambert Simmons was first mate on the “S.S. Maracaibo” in 1918. He also served as Captain of the “S.S. Lara”. Years ago an old man told me that a Saban was captain of the “S.S. Maracaibo” when it was commandeered by the rebels to take the weapons from the fort as well as the Governor. They were hoping to make a coup against the Venezuelan Government. On arrival in Venezuela they let the Governor go but the coup they had planned failed. The Dutch Government fired the Governor even though he had handled as correctly as he could under the circumstances and B.W.T. van Slobbe, a professional military man, was appointed Governor with instructions to fortify Curacao. Commander of the garrison Bommers was imprisoned for one year. I have asked the firm of S.E.L. Maduro and sons Inc., who were the agents for the “Red D.Line” to check their records and see if they can verify for me who was the captain of the “S.S. Maracaibo” when Urbina and his rebels commandeered her to take them to Venezuela.I am fairly certain that it was non other than Capt. Evan Simmons. Our Saba captains of former times led interesting lives and as you can read in this article they served all over the world and each and every Saban can be proud of the many notable Captains which the island produced in former times. May his memory live on!

Elaine Maria Simmons-Steiner.

Some of the work of the Artist Elaine Maria Simmons-Steiner, granddaughter of Capt. Evan Lambert Simmons.

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