The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Archive for the month “October, 2014”

Clementina Hassell, Saba’s First Correspondent

Clementina Hassell, Saba’s first Correspondent

By Will Johnson

Image (332)

The village of Booby Hill as it looked when Clementina Hassell lived there with her sister Vera.

In former times lace work or “Spanish Work” kept many Saba families in hard cash. Women who were spinsters (and there were many back then) were especially dependent on the sale of this lace work. When a contact was made with someone in the United States, this contact lasted for many years. It was a lifeline for many a poor spinster here on Saba. The contact in the United States would become good friends and would sell lacework to friends, family and co-workers on behalf of the spinster on Saba. Also packages of clothing, shoes, thread, needles, and even canned foodstuff would be sent from time to time to the spinster on Saba. This was a most welcome relief for someone back then with no means of income.

I remember when working in the Post office on St. Maarten, around the year 1962. There were very few tourists back then and hardly any cruise ships. However one of the few tourists came to the Post Office to see me. She had been corresponding with my mother’s neighbour in the English Quarter on Saba for more than thirty years. The neighbour was “Kiby” (Malachi Britannia Switzerland Hassell). The tourist lady wanted to know all about “Kiby” whom she had never seen or spoken to in all those years. And when I did get the opportunity to go by boat to Saba, “Kiby” was at my mother’s house waiting to get all the details about her friend and benefactor from the United States.

Image (538)

“Kiby” walking up to her home built with proceeds from her “Spanish Work”, and sitting in her gate Miss Adelaide Dunlock, also of English Quarter.

In Dr. Julia Crane’s book “Saba Silhouettes” there is a long interview with “Kiby”. She informs us; “Well, this [that I’m working on now] a friend send to me for from the United States. An American friend sent to order a pair of pillow cases. I haven’t met her. I just write her just so, you know. I came in contact with her by simply writing. We used to write to a company and ask them if they could help us by selling some drawn thread work, and that’s been so for many years. She used to sell a lot of work, but now it’s come she’s retired. [I’ve had] no other job. I have never done anything else but drawn thread work, and that’s been so for many years. And “Kiby” did well. She even built her own home solely from what she earned from her drawn thread work. She willed her house to her Anglican church before she died.

I use” Kiby’s” story to introduce Clementina Hassell better known as “Clemmie” who lived with her sister Vera in a small house on Booby Hill.. She too was a spinster and had a friend, Miss Lorene Baker. I have a very bad photo copy from someone in Bermuda from many years ago of an article written about Saba by Miss Baker. I have a note that she had corresponded with Miss Clementina Hassell of Saba for eighteen years and that the newspaper was from Burlington close to Denver, Colorado. However the internet has brought me no further and I cannot find a newspaper (yet) which would have carried that article between 1932 and 1935. The article was entitled “Saba a village in a volcano”. The article was introduced as follows by the paper of which the photo copy has no name;” The following interesting article about Saba, a volcanic island in the Caribbean Sea was written by Miss Lorene Baker and was given by her at a recent P.E.O. Miss Baker obtained most of her information from Miss Clementina Hassell, a native of the island, with whom she has corresponded for the past eighteen years. Miss Baker has befriended her in many ways, sent her money, gifts and has helped her sell many pieces of handwork to Burlington folks. Beautiful drawn work (Spanish lace they call it) in handkerchiefs, towels, luncheon sets, etc., bring in pin money for the Saban women. After Miss Baker had written her article she sent it to Clementina to see if it was correct. We will print Clementina’s answer next week. In my research I would dare say that this letter from Clementina was the first published article written by a Saban in a foreign newspaper. From different clues in her letter the article was published in the early nineteen thirties.

Image (2063)

Malachay Britannia Switzerland Hassell. This grand name for a child was downgraded to “Kiby” by the local population for easy remembrance. I don’t have a photo of Clementine and since I started the article with Kiby it is only proper that I include her photo.

Miss Baker’s article starts out as follows 😦 “Pirates –with a few women captives, were marooned years ago on an island in the West Indies by that master buccaneer Henry Morgan. They founded a village in the protected bowl of a volcano and formed a settlement that lives and thrives there today.)

img_0043

Clementina and her sister Vera’s house on Booby Hill. Photo Father Bruno Boradori

Some people choose queer places to live in, but about the strangest of all is the town of about eighteen hundred souls, high up in the crater of an extinct volcano on the island of Saba in the Dutch West Indies. Saba is a bare, black precipitous rock rising sheer 3000 feet above sea level. The centre of the cone is to all appearances solid within 300 feet of the top, where there is a bowl or depression; and here occurs the first paradox of this amusing island, a town swung up in the air like a nest in a tree. And the inhabitants call their town Bottom! The island is quite barren on its slopes as it rises out of the ocean. Almost the entire white population consists of two families the Simmondses and the Hassells. The Simmondses are inhabitants of the capital; they are long limbed with dark hair and eyes, and of English stock, descendants of some of Morgan’s men who captured the island in 1665.”

Miss Baker’s article continues with a lot more, but of more interest to us is what” Miss Clemmie” wrote to her. However the part by Miss Clemmie is not completely legible but we will try and quote as much as possible from it. Also we have not changed any mistakes in her grammar as that is the way the newspaper in Burlington carried her article as well.

“In the house a lamp is lit with oil. Now the way they cook. Some has little stoves and some has big stoves with three burners. The poorest people has a fire heart and burns wood under the “pat”, to cook their food. Now the things they eat – tin stuff, corn beef, salt fish – I mean cod fish, fresh fish from the banks in the sea. They has some fresh meat, beef, veal, mutton, goat meat, chickens, eggs and sometimes they bake a pig – that’s the small ones, they kill big hogs. Ha. Now I think I hear you laughing at the part of those things I am laughing at myself.

They has loaf bread, fine cakes, oats, sagoe, milk, butter, green peas – there are plenty more but it will sound so funny, ha! I forgot cabbage, turnips, and onions. Their dresses and hats and shoes all look like them in the magazines. You know what I mean, the styles from the book. Titles of all kinds as Hassells, Johnsons, Simmons, Leverocks and Petersons are all white people; most of the other kind is colored folks bearing every other kind of title. In former years they had owners and when the English Queen freed them every owner got $100 for each one, then they called them slaves. Now they are free and one third of Saba is black people. Some washes clothes, some scrubs, bakes the bread, gets the wood, goes to the bank and catches fish along with the white men and goes to the bay (Ladder) and (Fort). Not so much to the Ladder that is on the condemned side. The floods washed it out so bad you are pretty near going over a large cliff. Once I was to that place and no more. I never been to the Fort as I really never had any call to.

img_0060

Fort Bay.

There are two churches and two schools in The Bottom, catholic and protestant. The Sisters teaches one and another teacher teaches the other. The government pays for the one public school and the Catholic bishop pays for the other one, but the Dutch governor gives the priests and sisters and the minister a grant every month, the same for the windward side. There are 70 scholars in the catholic school at Windwardside School, but only a few in the other one. I can’t tell how many, but I don’t think there are more than 14 altogether. The church in Hell’s Gate is not quite as bad as they say only a large walk on foot and not so near Heaven as they think. I should think it is furder off. Ha! What a joke. The school children is going to have some little play for the sisters jubilee. It is 25 years since she has been a sister. I guess it will be some fun for the children they are to dress in such a funny way. (Part of the article missing). Continuing Clementina writes: “The last time I went there it took me two hours to get home all on foot and my I was tired out. You could never imagine the foolish looking place Saba is – only a solid rock surrounded by high seas, plenty high winds, and plenty warm weather. Only around Christmas it gets quite chilly then we like to wrap up. When we go indoors it is not so bad. I know it would be like I landed in another world if I was in U.S.A. Those things would seem like one from the dead. I have never seen anything burn here except wood and oil all my life.

Now about the radio. Yes there is three here; the government has a station that works from here to St. Martins and the power house is there; (communications established November 2nd, 1931)the priest has one in his house and the postmaster has one. I heard the speaking one day. I like to hear them it would be nice to have one.

10021365

Ms. Maugerite Hassell here doing the famous ‘Spanish Work [Saba Lace Work]

The teacher in the Protestant School is from here; the other lady is from St. Martins, but the sisters in the catholic school is from Holland. We do not have to go to the bottom for our mails. We has to send down to the bottom for our packages, but they send the letters over on a donkey.

I think I hear you laughing about it and then the worst of that a white man with one hand follows behind them. It got shot badly and the doctor took it off. Government gave him the mails in charge to help him as he could not work. The steamer comes in at six o’clock and we get the letters at 1, it is not so bad for such a long way.

You must try and correct my mistakes for you will see I am not very well qualified in spelling but you may manage to make it out. There was something I wanted to mention, that is the little place called Mary Point that was a queer place for people to live in and waiting to go over a large cliff at any time. The government thot it such a pity they got permission to move them to the bottom and now they are comfortable in good little homes, the place where they live is called the promise land for it was a promise for them. I always had a wish to visit the place but I never did and never will for no one will go there again.

There are also plenty of tanks in Saba. We use rain water and no other kind so we can thank God for that blessing always. Now I guess you will be tired reading about Saba and all its belongings so put all the odds and ends together and let it be OK Saba – rock is a hard rock for true that is the end of Saba.

Your faraway friend.

Clementina Hassell

I doubt very much if Clementina ever did leave Saba. As so many people, especially women, back then stayed on Saba until they died Clemmie did the same thing. She was born in 1875. Her parents were Abram Hassell and Albertina Hassell. She died at the age of 86 on May 16th, 1962. She never married. Before finishing this article, via Milton and his wife Erla Johnson in Port St. Lucy I was able to get a copy of the article from Ora Johnson born Hassell who is a niece of Miss Clemmie, however the letter from Miss Clemmie is still not legible in its entirety, but given the fact that her article was published in the newspaper I would describe her as Saba’s first correspondent. Her assessment of Saba as a foolish looking place, I would dare say was sincere at the time. If Miss Clemmie could come back she would be amazed to see the changes on Saba now. Even on Booby Hill where she lived all her life in a very small house, now has two hotels and many lovely homes. But then who knows, she may still prefer the noiseless society in which she grew up in and lived so all her life. People would come here and write all kinds of foolishness about us with no one to correct them. At least Miss Baker gave her friend Clemmie the opportunity to review her story before it was published. Miss Baker also made a correction in her article by stating the following: “The myth of ships being built on the top of the island and lowered over the steep sides to the water is regarded there with mingled ridicule and resentment. Schooners have been built on Saba, but only on the narrow rocky beaches at the foot of the cliffs. The white men leave the (dear old rock) while still in their teens and go to sea. Strange that an island, where boat building can be done only on a beach, about the size of a handkerchief, should produce such marvellous navigators.”

Miss Baker’s approach to letting Miss Clemmie do her own people’s history was obviously a correct one. Saba is still burdened with people coming here and pretending they know more about our past than we do. Not so! And after a while they leave our “foolish little Saba” as Clemmie referred to it, and those who belong here are once again left to their own devices and continue to make their own history! Enough said!!

*********************************

Remembering Clarence Connor

Clarence Connor

Mr. Clarence Connor on the job.

Remembering Clarence
By: Will Johnson
In his obituary the family mentioned me as one of his good friends. And indeed I was. I don’t know if he told them. Perhaps he did. He remembered me especially fondly until the day he died for a special favour I did for him these many years ago.
He also loved to read “Under the Sea Grape Tree”. I remember one night that he called me. It was after ten already. When I picked up the phone the caller was laughing so much that I thought it was a crank call and was just about to hang up. But then I recognized his voice and he said:” Wait for me to calm down.” He said to me: “My wife told me that if you don’t stop reading all that stuff Will Johnson writes it is going to be the end of you.” I told him: “To the contrary if it makes you laugh it is good for your health.” And then he started to tell me the different articles which he liked and would go off into a peal of laughter each time. He was good friends with Frederick Froston and he loved what I had written about his old friend. He laughed so much about the one I wrote when Evans Deher and I had gone to the movies on the Backstreet and some small bad boy had shouted out in the theatre “St. Dominic” and the rest is history. If you mentioned the name “St. Dominic” in Evans presence he would hurl a barrage of West Indian bad words at you something similar to the “goalkeeper” invented by the Dutch to hurl metal objects from their warships at an incoming missile. And that was exactly the night that the poor Nuns had decided to go to the movies. But the reason he called that night was for an article which I had just written about the time I lost a guilder on my way to see my first movie “The ghost and Mrs. Muir” and my friend Alan Busby had to lend me the money to see the movie. I know more or less where I lost the guilder as I had a goat tied up there and had to clear her on my way to The Bottom. He said it had brought back to him the time he had lost his two pence on Anguilla and how each time he went back to Anguilla he wondered if it was still there in the bushes where he had lost it. Even though he was a man of means he said that the poverty he had grown up with was such that the two pence meant such a great deal to him that it was imprinted on his brain. The same it was with my guilder which I lost as a boy. Every time I pass the spot I wonder if my guilder is up there in the bushes.
I first met Clarence when I started working in the Post office in 1960. I may have met him before as I had been passing through St. Maarten twice a year on my way to and from school on Curacao all the way back in 1955.
But the Post office then located in the old Courthouse was just across the street from where Clarence worked at Mr. Cy Wathey’s gas station and grocery store so there was plenty of opportunity to see him and talk to him. He and Mr. CY operated the business as father and son. Mr. CY could entertain you with stories about Clarence while Clarence would just be there behind the counter doing his job and laughing at the exaggerations of Mr. Wathey who was a big joker. I remember one which Mr. Wathey used to tell about Clarence. There was a new Receiver in Town, a Mr. de Haseth from Curacao. Before all taxes were abolished in the Windward Islands in 1950 because of the bad economic conditions, there were all kinds of taxes around including Income Tax. Mr. de Haseth was a man with a mission. Everyone he saw doing something he would be checking on their income for possible income tax. And so he went to Mr. Wathey to find out more about Clarence’s income. Mr. Wathey had allowed Clarence when things were slow to do some tailoring. When Mr. Haseth asked about that Mr. Wathey in trying to play it down said that only now and then Clarence would make a pants or a suit and suggested that Mr. Haseth look around and see how many suits people on St. Maarten at the time could afford. Furthermore Clarence he said was not the best tailor in town and very seldom people would come to him to make a pair of pants or a suit. Well Clarence was seething by this time as he was hearing it all from the grocery. And he jumped up and said” Now Mr. de Haseth don’t you believe what Mr. Wathey is telling you,” and then went on in detail to tell Mr. de Haseth how many clothes he was making in the course of a month. That was the information Mr. de Haseth was waiting on and Mr. Wathey never let Clarence forget that he had been trying to protect him and that he Clarence had given himself away and now had to pay an unnecessary income tax.
The great favour Clarence gratefully remembered me for was the following. I knew where his house was. That land Down Street was part of one of the former salt lots which had come into possession of the government which in turn had leased out lots to who they wanted. Between Clarence’s house and the Front Street there was an open lot and where I worked I heard different people were after it. After all Front Street property was like winning several grand prizes at the same time. I went to Clarence and asked him why he had not applied for it. He laughed and said:”Will you know I would never get that.” I told him: “It will only cost a guilder stamp paper. I will make up a request for you to the government for that land. Go to Claude. He will not refuse YOU a meeting. Look him in the eyes and give him the stamp paper and tell him that was what you wanted.” I was Claude’s opposition at the time so I warned him not to use my name. The move was a successful one. I had enough confidence that Claude would not refuse Clarence a favour. He went on to build a three storey building on the property and it kept him comfortable until his death and I hope that it is still in his family.
He loved to fish and in his last years he would go fishing. His boat was just a short walk from his home down to the beach and so he could ease away his last years doing the things he had done as a boy and enjoying life as much as he could.
For this article I would like to include an interview by Mr. Lloyd Richardson with my friend Clarence. This article appeared in The Chronicle in its edition of Friday, October 9th, 1987 and was a special anniversary issue for the fact that the Wathey family had the SHELL agency for fifty years. This interview will give you the reader the opportunity to know more about Clarence than I could ever remember.

Cyrus Wathey's gasoline pump

First gasoline pump on St. Maarten. This was located in front of the Cyrus Wathey home down street in front of the Methodist Church which burned down in 1942.

The article was entitled “The Old Man, Cyrus Wathey”, and it tells as much about Clarence as the Old Man.
“There is not an hour of the day that passes that I do not think about The Old Man.” Those words were spoken by Mr. Clarence Connor, as he fondly recalled the late Cyrus Wathey, his boss for 23 of his 30 years as an employee of the Wathey family.
As I sat and listened to the friendly, soft spoken gentleman talking about his life as a young man in the services of the one he called “The Old Man,” – even though Cyrus Wathey was only 45 at the time- I knew that this was no ordinary employee/employer relationship, but a tie based on mutual respect and friendship that had evolved to blind devotion and fatherly love by the time The Old Man passed away 23 years later.
“He was a wonderful, truly kind human being and I will remember him that way until the day I die. He was very good to me and one of the good things about him was that he never treated me like a servant who was below him in class or anything like that, he treated me like a friend, a companion or a comrade, who always spoke to me as man-to-man and his young son Claude was just like him a very good person,” Clarence said.

Chester, Cyrus and Claude Wathey

Chester left, Claude right and their father Cyrus Wathey in the middle.

Clarence’s mood changed often during our nearly two hour chat, as he recalled the happy and the sad times in the employ of the Wathey’s. Going back to the beginning, he spoke of coming to St. Maarten in 1944 after leaving his home in Anguilla and first spending 2 years in St. Thomas.
He was just over 20 at the time he first saw Mr. Cyrus Wathey and although he only watched him from a distance he always felt an affinity for him. It was not until several months later that Clarence actually started to work for Mr. Cyrus Wathey. Clarence recalled being very impressed with the way Old Man Wathey had carried himself. He even remembered the color of his clothes and how he looked on that first occasion.
“He was a sharp looking guy you know. I remember when I first saw him; he had just come downstairs from his home wearing all white and was headed to his father’s store opposite the Post Office. Somehow he attracted my attention and I watched him as he crossed the street until he reached his father’s business. That was in January 1945 and I didn’t know then that within a few months I would be working for him,” he said.

scannen0051

Mr. Cyrus W. Wathey with his usual cigar and his wife Mavis Davis, photo from the nineteen fifties.

Clarence started out pumping gasoline at the old pump station in the square, which he said had to be operated by hand. He also worked in the family’s grocery store next to the pump. He remembered that much of the sales in those days were one cent transactions, in which a weighed amount of baking soda, or baking powder was wrapped in little packets of brown paper and sold for a cent.

scannen0009

Young Claude Wathey in his fathers office before he entered politics.

Recalling fond stories of The Old Man, who he said “was a guy who was always out to help you.” Clarence, who was a tailor in his free time, told a story of how he had tried unsuccessfully for a long period of time to arrange the purchase of a quantity of cloth from a company called Odom in England. One day he mentioned his problem to The Old Man and two weeks later he had his Odom cloth. Old Man Wathey had used his influence as a shipping agent to arrange the prompt delivery of the cloth, and on top of that, Clarence added, the generous gentleman then informed him that he could sell his cloth in one section of his store, although he too sold clothing, and this act meant virtually setting up his own competition.
“That was a boss. No other man living or dead would ever have done that, not even a father for his son,” Clarence said, followed by a long period of silence as he pondered the thought. Recalling the Old Man’s reaction when he thanked him for what he had done, Clarence said, The Old Man pushed out his chest macho style, flipped the ashes from his cigar and said “That when you’re big,” with a hearty laugh. Clarence imitated the Old Man’s Voice and jovial personality as he repeated The Old Man’s words.
Recalling the humorous side of The Old Man, Clarence recalled a story of how he had gone to work very sleepy one morning after attending a dance at the PMIA Hall the night before. Clarence simply remembered that “sleep was killing him,” but he managed to stay awake until 1 pm., when The Old Man had retired for his siesta.
“I figured that after he goes up I’d catch a little catnap, since I did not have a lunch hour. So when he went up to take his rest and when he came down at about 2:30, he found me fast asleep. In those days we had the old time drawers and kept the money in a cigar box in it. He took the money and the cigar box and hid them, then he took his cigar from his mouth and flipped a little of its ashes on my arm. Naturally I woke up from the heat and as you can imagine I was very embarrassed. He then went to his office, took fls.25.00 from his iron chest and said ‘Clarence change this for me please,’ of course to show me that the money was gone.
“So when I went to the drawer and discovered that the cigar box and all the money was missing, that time my heart began to pump like the gasoline pump out front man!,” Clarence said, his voice registering the excitement of the moment he was so vividly recalling. “But what saved me from fainting is that I looked at his face quickly and could see the laughter, gearing up there and I knew that he had taken the money. He said, anybody could have come in here and taken the whole place and go with it and you there fast asleep,” Clarence said laughing hilariously at that exciting moment so many years ago.
Becoming serious again, he said. “Any other boss would have fired me on the spot, but he used the situation of my shortcoming to teach me a lesson. I never slept again on the job,” he said.

Cyrus Wathey's gas pump on the left.

If you look carefully on the left in front of Mr Cyrus Wathey’s home and business place you will see the SHELL gasoline pump. This was the only place where back in the nineteen forties and fifties one could buy gasoline, but then again there were few motor vehicles on the island back then.

.

Moving from father to son, Clarence spoke of Claude with almost the same reverence as the old man. He said Claude’s character was much like his father’s and he also was very generous, sympathetic and everything you could think of, “and in those days he did not even think about going into politics or anything like that. This was the forties and Claude did not start with politics until the fifties.” And the article continues with interesting memories. He recalled one story of how a friend of his had come to him and asked to borrow some money for his passage to Curacao, but fearing he would never see his money again, Clarence sent the man to his boss Claude, who immediately gave the man the money without even as much as a word. “About three years later it crossed my mind and I asked Claude if he had ever gotten the money back from the man. He said no, ‘when I gave it to him I did not expect that he would return it, but I knew that he needed it so I gave it to him.’ That was the kind of man Claude was and still is,” Clarence said

scannen0001

Senator Albert Claudius Wathey.

.

Image (108)

The two storey building, first home of Cyrus W.Wathey which burned down due to a faulty kerosene refrigerator in 1942. My brother Freddie told me that they could see the fire from Saba.

He added that these days when he looks at TV and he sees all the awards Claude is getting, he personally knows that he deserves them and even more, because politics or no politics Claude is a very good human being who helps anybody that he can. Returning to his memory of The Old Man, Clarence who had been given the name C.B. (his first initials) by Claude, said that although The Old Man was kind, one made a terrible mistake if one mistook his kindness for weakness. “He was a very good man, but don’t make a second mistake with him, because he never forgave you the second time,” Clarence said remembering that he had been once forgiven for falling asleep. “I remember one time we had a disagreement and he knew that I was right, but he still blamed me. So I took the blame. Later he went up for his siesta as usual and when he came down he carried a placard on which he had marked, ‘The boss isn’t always right but he’s always the boss.” With that statement Clarence laughed out loud with such enthusiasm that before it was over we were both near to tears with laughter. “He knew he was wrong, but he was the boss,” Clarence said after he had stopped laughing .Mr. Clarence Connor is now (in 1987 that is) sixty six years old, but he still breaks out in laughter at the drop of a hat and having spoken to him for just a short time I knew that I had made a friend who would forever be young at heart. He spends his days, fishing now (his life’s hobby) and before I left, he promised (unsolicited) to supply me with some of the fish from his traps.

As I walked away I wondered what the attraction had been that had caused Clarence to become so overwhelmed with The Old Man from the moment he first laid eyes on him and I theorized that it was perhaps that they were of the same kind heart and spirit, which seek out the good in other people. But, if you believe in the stars, could it have been because as he revealed during our chat, both Clarence and The Old Man celebrated their birthdays on the same day?” And so today we remember Clarence or CB as The Old Man used to call him.
********************************************

THE WOMEN OF SABA.

Gladys Johnson, Veda Zagers, Ethel Johnson and Estelle Simmons

Here are four Saba young women doing the famous “Spanish Work” to help in their survival. For more than one hundred years the sale of this work was a valued income for the families, especially on Hell’s Gate and Windwardside. From left to right: Gladys Johnson, Veda Zagers, Ethel Johnson and Estelle Simmons. Photo from the 1940’s.

The women of Saba
By Will Johnson

The women of Saba have always played a prominent role in the development of our island. Because the men were seafarers, and fathers, husbands, brothers as well as sons were all at sea, the responsibility of raising the children and taking care of all the needs of the household rested with the women in the family. Sometimes the men in a household were off-island for years at a time. Many men were lost at sea or succumbed to yellow-fever and other diseases in countries spread around the world where their ships took them in search of trade.

Image (395)

Mrs. Helena Peterson born Every. Lost her husband at sea like so many women at the time, and went on to become the largest employer on Saba at the time with her bakery, store and so on. Her son left here at age 12 and went on to become the CEO of the Cargill company at the time with 120.000 employees.

Image (152)

Mrs. Gertrude Johnson born Hassell, credited with introducing the “Spanish Work” to Saba. She was a teacher and proficient in several languages and taught on St. Bart’s and Curacao. She was a first cousin of my father. She was honoured with a Postal Stamp issue.

Saba with most of its men folk off to sea became known as the Island of Women. A number of well known magazines in the United States wrote fanciful articles about Saba and its women over a hundred years ago.
A selection of comparative figures for the period 1924 through 1929 illustrates best why the island became known as the “Island of Women.”
The population figures for the following years show how the women outnumbered the men.
YEAR MEN WOMEN
1924 604 1011
1925 611 986
1926 603 999
1927 526 968
1928 509 930
1929 492 916
Individual women who have contributed immensely to Saban society were many. I have already mentioned some of the well known midwives of the past. Among the women who worked hard were Sarah Mardenborough of Windwardside and Marie Elizabeth Johnson of Hell’s Gate, neither with much education, but who taught generations of Sabans to read and write the English language of their ancestors.

Gertrude Johnson born Hassell who in her marriage combined the two largest surnames on Saba is credited with introducing the lacework industry to Saba. This work became known as “Spanish Work” as it was taught to her by nuns on Curacao who in turn had learned it from the many Venezuelan students who at the time came to the convent schools on Curacao to further their education. Many families on Saba survival for a great deal depended on the sale of “Spanish Work” to friends in the United States.

Image (522)

Mrs. Othella Maude Edwards/Jackson and her nephew Elmer Linzey. She brought electricity to Saba and the Medical Center was named in her honour in 1980.

Ann Elizabeth Johnson (Miss Shishi), who died in 1931 at the age of 93 was famous for her bush medicine and the setting of broken bones. Back in the past century when it was not always possible to get a doctor to live on Saba it was the local doctor’s both women and men who served the people

Image (213)

Ann Elizabeth Johnson, aunt of Gertrude Johnson Hassell was a local doctor and was known for setting broken bones in an expert fashion. She was also involved in the establishment of the Roman Catholic church on Saba.

.
Her niece Peter Elenor Hassell was also known for her knowledge of Bush medicines.
Someone asked me recently as to what type of health insurance I had. I told him that my health insurance was just enough to cover the witch doctor and to buy me some bush medicine. That is the insurance my ancestors survived with for over four hundred years on this little rock.

Image (165)

Miss Cornelia Jones was the first female member of the Island Council of the Dutch Windward Islands. She also ran the government guesthouses.

Atthelo Maude Edwards (1901 -1970) with the help of her nephews Elmer and Rufus Linzey introduced the electric lights to Saba. The Saba Electric Company it was called, long before GEBE came along. To honour her, the Saba Island Government named the hospital the “Mrs. A.M. Edwards Medical Center”, in 1980. She lost her life in the O.N.A. airline crash off St.Croix in 1970.

Image (399)

Right to left: Artist Barbara Kassab-Every, Teacher/writer Janice Johnson and her sister artist Patsy Johnson. All three very talented women with Barbara known internationally for her paintings.

Cornelia R. Jones (Cuthchie) was the first woman in the Windward Islands to become an Island Councilmember of the Island Territory. She served from 1952 to 1954. She also ran both the Guesthouse in The Bottom and later in Windwardside as well.
Irene Taylor born Blyden, pioneered in the establishment of the Wesleyan Holiness Church throughout the West Indies. The Taylor Memorial Wesleyan Holiness Church in Charleston on the island of Nevis, is named in her honour.
In recent years we have had people like Mrs. Carmen Simmons born Nicholson active in all fields of culture, Patsy and Janice Johnson active in their church but also as artists and writers, Mrs. Ruth Smith a volunteer spiritual and community leader and many others.
Throughout Saba’s history women have worked as porters, labourers, field workers, wood cutters and so on, yet they managed to maintain the reputation of being among the fairest maidens in the West Indies. That is why Saban women are married to men from all parts of the world and they are to be found living around the globe.

Image (206)

Beatrice Pfaffhauser daughter of Amy Simmons and a father Albert Pfaffhauser from Switzerland.

1897 - Saba - Square and white with red-tiled roofs - Susan de Forest Day

This was the home where Beatrice Pfaffhauser was born and always longed to return to but it was not meant to be. The house was situated on the left hand side of the road, the first house at The Gap when you were coming up from the Ladder Bay.

One modern day well known Saban lady living abroad is Mrs. Barbara Kassab born Every, who resides on St. Kitts. Her paintings have represented St. Kitts at Carifesta as well as at international painting exhibitions and she has won several awards for her paintings.
Back here on Saba women continue to play a leading role in the daily life of the Unspoiled Queen. I had the privilege of having a hard working young woman as a Commissoner working along with me for eight years (1999 -2007) namely Ms Lisa Hassell.
I would like to share with my readers two poems written by Island Women.
The poems were written by women who had grown up here where their roots had long been established. An island, which is only a small dot and in isolation at a time when the whole world was backward and communications between peoples was scarce.
Both women had to move elsewhere in search of a better life, and they wrote these poems when they were past midlife.
In my collection of correspondence with the late Charles Borromeo Hodge, Jr., I have a letter from him in praise of the poem by Beatrice Pfaffhauser which appeared in my book “For the Love of St. Martin”. He wanted to contact her. Alas she had passed on many years already.
She was born at The Gap on Saba. Her mother Amy Simmons was married to Albert Pfaffhauser whom she had met on St. Thomas. He was from Switzerland. Beatrice grew up in The Bottom, but after her father died her mother married a white planter from Grenada named Thomas Cecil and the family moved to Barbados. They lived in the house now known as “Sam Lord’s Castle.” They also lived on St. Kitts, Grenada and Trinidad.
Beatrice moved to the U.S.A. and married there. She tried to return to Saba in 1934 but on St. Thomas she received the news that her husband was dying and she returned to the United States. She never saw Saba or any of her beloved Caribbean islands again. Her poem indicates that island people never really get islands out of their blood. Tropical islands especially seem to keep the memories warm.

She was 82 when she wrote this poem some 65 years after she was forced to leave her beloved islands. In the twilight of her years she looks back at her youthful home.
“The skies are gray, my spirits low.
I sit within the firelight glow.
My thoughts go back to other days,
To coral sands and sunlit bays.

Again I see tropic trees
As delight the eye and scent the breeze.
Poinciana, oleander, frangipani, these
And many others my mind’s eye sees.

A banyan is home to a bright macaw,
A monkey sits eating some fruit from his paw.
A land crab scuttles on his way to the cove,
A coconut falls with a thud in the grove.

Ah me! Ah me! That I could go
Where palm fronds clash and trade winds blow,
For these are the things I used to know
So far away and so long ago.

The red-roofed house, by the tall palm tree,
In the long ago, was sweet home to me.
I think of it now as a haven of rest
Where I wish I could go as a bird to its nest.
But the years that are flown have made the dream vain.
I could only return to sorrow and pain.

Image (164)

At the moment I don’t have a decent photo of Stella but I hope to get one which I can add to this article later on. There are several other women whose photo I will post when I find them but a storm is around the corner and I have to prepare.

Beatrice Pfaffhauser loved the islands and she once said: “You never get the tropics out of your blood once you absorb them.”
I would like to end this article with a tribute to Estelle Louise Richardson born Sloterdijk (born 16 September 1914 and died 15 December 2000). She was the daughter of a Dutch Police officer Eert Sloterdijk who came to Saba in the early part of the twentieth century and married Orie Hassell. As so many other people did back then the family moved to Aruba. There Stella met her husband Henry Richardson who is a brother of the well known Louie Richardson of French St. Martin.

Stella and Henry moved to the United States. However she never forgot the little island where she was born and visited Saba as often as she could. The following poem was written by her after one of her visits. The poem reminds me of one written by Rosalind Amelia Young (1907) entitled “Pitcairn, Lone Rock of the Sea”. My cousin Estelle Simmons has often told me that she could read not this poem unless she broke into tears.

ADIEU SABA

Now the time has come to leave thee,
Saba isle of fairest flowers.
Cherished land where I was born and
Where I spent my childhood hours.

Thou art fairest of the islands
In the wide Caribbean Sea,
None could ever be more precious,
Than thou, Saba art to me.

When a carefree child I wandered,
Through the hills and valleys green,
Listening to the songs of bird land,
Full of joy and thoughts serene.

Oh! Those carefree days were happy,
‘Neath thy blue and cloudless sky,
Ne’er a thought of care and sorrow,
As the golden hours skipped by.

Then one day the future beckoned,
And I gaily sailed away,
Just a starry-eyed young maiden,
Setting forth on life’s great way.

But I missed thee dearest Saba,
As the years have rolled away,
And my heart I always promised,
That I would return some day.

Now once more I’ve trod thy pathways,
As I did in years gone by,
Followed trails to secret places,
Watched the mountains kiss the sky.

Drunk the dew of early morning,
Listened to the cooing dove,
Seen the moon in all her glory,
Shredding gold from heaven above.

Danced to tunes so well remembered,
Clasped the hands of friends I knew,
But too soon the time has vanished,
And I have to say adieu.

Here I sit and watch thee Saba,
As the ship puts out to sea,
All thy rugged slopes and ridges,
Etched upon my memory.

Oh, my heart is truly breaking,
And my tears fall fast and free,
For I know not if I’ll ever,
In this life return to thee.
Stella Richardson-Sloterdijk

Image (1420)

The one and only Rebecca Levenstone/Jones of whom I have often written.

Image (425)

Miss Marion Every at the signal station at her home on Crispeen. She used to give the signal when a boat was coming to the island so that the boatmen and the porters from the Bottom could head down to the Fort Bay in time.

Image (417)

A Dutch woman came to the island back in the day to teach the women here the art of plaiting hats. Aunt Sue Linzey and Aunt Maude Blyden were the last of the great hat makers. I have a Saba hat in my collection of things Saba somewhere around the house.

Image (229)

A large part of Mrs. Helena Peterson/Every’s work force consisted of women who collected wood from the Spring Bay, transported flour and other goods by donkey from the Fort Bay and baked the delicious bread of former years.

Image (1250)

Agnes Maxwell and Louvenia Hassell bakers for Mrs. Helena Peterson/Every.

Image (629)

Elizabeth Johnson/Hassell here pounding Guinea or small corn a valuable product in former times. She lost her husband at sea, and is pictured here with her niece Adelina Hassell who later married Leslie Johnson.

Image (1867)

So many women in former times had to use these old iron heaters (called a goose) with coals inside to do the family clothes. Also cook in the yard, including my mother, on wood which we would fetch from the woods after school.

Image (1772)

Many Saba women from ancient times did their part as teachers to our young people. Here I am with some of our teachers handing me a petition when I was a Senator.

Leaving the island by boat brought up many memories and emotions. The same does not happen when one leaves by plane. Perhaps the next great poem of Saba will be written by one of those adventuresome women who prefer to travel by boat.There were many other women who carried the island through the hard times. They were bakers, planters, Spanish Work makers and served in many important functions. I will post some additional photographs of these women and there will be many more who are only carried in the memories of their families passed down to them through the generations.This article I wrote several years ago and I am recycling it for The Saba Islander so that it can be exposed to a world audience.

*****************************

SABA ART EXHIBITION ON ARUBA 1983.

On my recent trip to Aruba I went to visit Mrs. Carla Waal a friend I had met at the Carifesta in Trinidad in 1992. She has two paintings in her home by the well-known Saban painter Mrs Barbara Kassab born Every who resides on St. Kitts. Carla who is now 88 wants to donate these two paintings to the Harry Johnson Museum on Saba. She despite her age is sharp as a tack and takes care of her house herself and lives alone. She has two children living in Holland and she has been living on Aruba since 1950.

She loaned me a copy of a booklet of a Saba Art Exhibition held on Aruba from March  11th through 16th, in the year 1983. The original booklet is a lot clearer than the photo’s I have photo copied and later scanned. I am hoping to get an original copy of the booklet and scan it again sometime. Cara does not want to part with anything yet as she enjoys the paintings so much. However my son Teddy Johnson of Johnson’s Notary services on Aruba will fix some document for her so that the paintings can end up at the Museum in due time.

Gladys Hassell

Miss Glaydys Hassell well known “Spanish Worker” maker. A true artist in her work representing so many other Saba women who did this for their own and their families survival in former times. She was also for many years a teacher of this art in our schools here on Saba.

As can be seen from the postings in this article Saba had quite a few artists who were doing various things. Some of the work of Sabans from former times can still be appreciated in the museum named in honour of Harry L. Johnson who had started a small Museum next to his home. He compared his style of painting to Grandma Moses and quite a number of his paintings were purchased by visitors tot he island and ended up in a number of countries.

Artist Barbara Kassab.

This is the former home of the grandparents of Saba’s most known painter Barbara Kassabb-Every.

CIMG1767

Visiting Ms. Carla Waal at her home on Aruba in October 2014. We met at Carifesta in Trinidad in 1992 where she purchased two paintings of Saban artist Barbara Kassab-Every.

Artisan Foundation (Lucia Woods)

Ms. Lucia Woods at the Saba Artisan Foundation.

Artist Carl M. Hassell

Mr. Carl Mervin Hassell showing a sample of Macramé which he used to teach to interested people here on Saba.

Artisan Foundation 2

Ms. Juliette Johnson at the Saba Artisan Foundation. Here is where many Sabans learned to do silk screen printing.

Artist Miss Maude Linzey known as Aunt Maude

Aunt Maude Linzey from Below-The-Gap making one of her famous straw hats. Together with “Aunt Sue” Suzanna Blijden or Blyden they used to give lessons at the Public School.

Artist Patsy M. Johnson

Artist Patricia Marie Johnson. She is still painting after all these years.

Artist Patsy M. Johnson 2

A typical Saba House.

The traditional Saba Houses built by local carpenters with hand tools are themselves a unique Saban art form. This was even exported as in former times Saban carpenters like Alhonsius Hassell, Tonce Hassell, and others would be asked by St. Maarteners to build some of the former lovely wooden houses on the Front street. This was the home of businessman Bloomfield Hassell, afterwards bought by John Joseph “Josie” Simmons who then sold it to Miss Marguerite Hassell.

Artist Rebecca Levenstone Jones

Rebecca was an all rounder. I have written her life story before and it is also posted on The Saba Islander.

ArtistBarbara Kassab

Despite many health issue not the least being a heart transplant Barbara is still with us in the land of the living and lives with her husband Bichara on the lovely island of St. Kitts. She had never forgotten the island of her birth and when in better health she used to visit here often.

Harry Johnson's Mudeum 3

The old four poster bed in the musueum named after Harry Luke Johnson is covered with a bed spread made from the famous Spanish Work from which for over a century many Saban women helped their families to survive.

Harry Johnson's Museum 2

Administrator Eugenius Achilles Johnson visiting with Harry Luke Johnson at his private museum . Before he passed away I promised him that while I was in government I would find a place for the island to have a Museum. With a $20.000 grant from Mr John Goodwin I started a Foundation named the Harry L. Johnson Foundation and with help from the Minister de Gaay Fortman of Holland was able to buy the lovely home and property where the Museum is located these many years. Even this achievement people coming from the outside world and who did not like me politically tried to pretend as if I had nothing to do with it.

Aruba exhibition

Brochure of the House of Culture on Aruba put out at the time they held the Saba Art Exhibition.

Harry L. Johnson 2

Harry Luke Johnson founder of his own private museum and then after his death honoured by giving the name to the new Museum in his honour as being the first to come with the idea of a museum for the island.

Harry L. Johnson 3

One of Harry,s many paintings some of which are spread to many different parts of the world.

The indigenous population of Saba is in a serious state of decline for a number of reasons which I will not get into. The last years in my books and other writings I have been trying to defend the role our people played in their own history. I have been doing this against an onslaught of people not from here trying to bring our people down. I have been doing this without financing from either the local or the Dutch Government. I have been doing this for love of my island Saba and all the other islands in the Dutch colonies in the West Indies as well as the former British West Insides and the French islands. Our young people can be very proud of what Saba people have achieved at home and abroad. And to those coming here and thinking that they own our culture and history I wish to remind them that when you settle among other people you bring your culture with you. If your culture consists of only bad manners and you cannot adjust to our people and culture then it is obvious that you should consider moving back to a culture more pleasing to you. Sooner or later you are going to run into trouble with the people of the island where you have settled. Some have already run into trouble with me and no one is going to tell me that I do not have a right to my own opinion on an island where my ancestors have lived for close to fifteen generations. Enjoy the history even if you do not agree with my views!!

Post Navigation