The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Archive for the month “November, 2014”

Mucha di Brakapoti


Jongenstad Brakkeput (Boys Town Brakkeput) on the Spanish water lagoon. In this photo that little fellow running behind the pickup truck which carried the food from the Central kitchen to the various buildings is me. In the background the SHELL fuel tanks on the Caracas Bay.

“Mucha di Brakapoti”

By; Will Johnson

I wrote this in 1987 for the Amigoe newspaper when the brothers the “Kruisvaarders van St. Jan.” (The Crusaders of St. John”), commemorated the fact that they had been on Curacao for fifty years. It was later translated into Dutch by me for the 80th anniversary of the Order at their request in a book entitled “Kruisvaarders als locomotieven”, (Crusaders as locomotives). For “Under the Sea Grape Tree”, I will leave it as much as possible in its original form.

Image (305)

This was the large bedroom in the young boys quarters where I first slept. Stinky foot was the problem here so you had to make sure that the fellow with his feet to your head had washed his feet before going to bed. This was around 1955 when I first went there.

“The year was 1955. My mother was getting me packed up with my first pair of shoes. For my first communion my mother had borrowed a pair from someone but as soon as the ceremony was over they had to be returned. A toothbrush and toothpaste was also required. For me it was such a novel experience having my own suitcase and responsible for its contents. Years later when I was a Senator I recall arriving at my hotel on Curacao and upon opening my travel kit, there was neither toothbrush nor toothpaste. I panicked. What was I to do? These were irreplaceable items when I left home for the Boys Town. I had to sit down and meditate on my predicament. Then it came to me. With a good laugh at my own worries of things past I took the elevator and went downstairs to a store in the lobby and for self assurance bought two toothbrushes and two tubes of toothpaste. I once told this story to friends of mine and they had a good laugh about it. No matter how much material things you acquire in life, once you have grown up in poverty the memory of it follows you all the days of your life.

I departed from Saba on an old sloop and after two weeks or more at Miss Browlia Maillards on the Back Street the great day to leave St. Martin had arrived. It happened to be September 22nd, 1955. I had made 14 that day. It was to be my first plane trip to Curacao. A DC3 operated by the KLM. It was a 3 and one half hour flight. Although it carried only 32 passengers there were 2 stewardesses on board and a good hot meal was served on the way down to Curacao.

Recently, to be exact, this year September 22nd, 1987, I was once again reminded of that first trip. Once again I was headed for Curacao, leaving St. Maarten at midnight, passing through hurricane Emily. It was a rough ride. My fellow Senators, Marcel Gumbs and Kenneth van Putten congratulated me on the way down. I told them then of my first ride in an aero plane. My first trip to Curacao! To Brakkeput! Away from home and family for the first time! To new beginnings in what for me was a strange culture, a strange world.

The old DC-3 arrived in Curacao in the night. Saba had no electricity in those days, and St. Maarten had only a small light plant in Philipsburg which operated only a few hours in the evening. You can imagine my awe, my fascination with seeing the lights of Curacao for the first time and from the air! I am reminded again and again of that first trip each time I fly over a large city at night, all lighted up.

Back in the day Elvis was the big rage, so here I am trying to imitate Elvis. The black and white shoes I bought from Henriquez Heyliger. They were too small but because of the style despite sore foot I continued to wear them.

“Overste” Francois Soontiens and Brother Smeins were there to meet me in a Studebaker car. On the way to Brakkeput I remember they were asking me a number of questions in Dutch. On Saba we received very little Dutch in those days, but enough that I can recall Brother Smeins telling “Overste” Soontiens;”Maar deze jongen kent geen fluit Nederlands.” (This boy does not understand one bit of Dutch).

When we arrived in Brakkeput, before the car could come to a proper stop, I was greeted by a fellow student from Saba, by the name of Christian Zagers, who poked his head in the car window.

Now on Saba where practically the whole population at the time was either Hassell or Johnson, it was not customary to call people by their last name. Only as a matter of respect! Not as a means of identification. But somehow the “Promised Land People” to whom Christian belonged, had the habit of calling people by their last name. From the moment the car stopped, Christian poked his head in the car window and said: “Johnson boy, they does serve you black tea with lime in it in this place!” The next morning much to my distress I realized he was not exaggerating. It was black tea with a slice of lime. And with that introduction to Brakkeput, the first lap of my journey was completed.

Image (286)

This is the road we travelled on to Brakkeput. There were three plantations with the same name. Ours was Brakkeput Ariba which is the one on the left. The brightly coloured one is the one to the right which belonged to the SHELL company which they used as a club for their employees.

I spent five years in Brakkeput. I arrived at age fourteen and left a few months before I made nineteen and was working on St. Maarten, so that most of my formative years, my teenage years were spent there.

I have many wonderful memories of Brakkeput. Of the food I tell my children now of the “boonchi-stoba” and the “pan-francees”. I have yet to come across a “boonchi-stoba” as good as those we used to have in Brakkeput. And I will always associate “Pan Francees” with Curacao.

It was that same Christian who got me in my first fight. Aubrey Sealy (yes Aubrey!) was playing a game of pool with another boy from Bonaire. I had never seen a game of pool before. On Saba we had no games. We got our exercise and sports from doing odd jobs on the flanks of our mountain home.

Image (307)

All that you see here and a lot more to the right of this photo was owned by the Brothers. Now it is all built up. When we were there the only buildings were those with the Orange roofs and some more older buildings to the right outside of this photo. The large island had no road to it and no houses at all.

Aubrey said something in Papiamento and Christian said to me: “Johnson boy, that fellow curse your mother, man!” Without questioning Christians knowledge of Papiamento (he had only arrived in Brakkeput a week before I did), and already homesick for my dear mother, I flew into Aubrey and the fight was on. The first fight was a draw. The next day with the Bonaire delegation edging him on, Aubrey won the second fight. A few days later with the Saba team backing me Aubrey lost, and worst of all he cried. You never cried in Brakkeput. It was the worst sign of weakness. Even if you lost a fight you retreated with a few “Coba Mama’s” and you retained your dignity. After that and until this day Aubrey and I have been friends. As a matter of fact the two of us now have the Dutch Government in Court (2014) in a case of human rights for our people to getter a better old age pension. Pachecko Domacasse will tell you that we had a fight also. He claims he won. I think I did. But we are still friends. The same goes for Franklin Every “Mopsie” who won a fight which I started. I tried to beat James Maduro of Statia twice, but old “Chuchubi” as he was affectionately known to all in Brakkeput won both fights. After that it was smooth sailing all the way, everyone knew even if I lost I would not back down from a fight, and there are no more memorable fights to look back to. When Minguel Pourier was a Minister and I was one of the Senators supporting his government there was a commemoration in Brakkeput for the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the Boys Town. Minguel was the guest speaker and commented on my article and said he did not realize I was such a hooligan. The day before at a reception for the Venezuelan President Luscinchi then on an official visit to Curacao many of the dignitaries present had come over to me complimenting me on this article in Dutch in the newspaper, and also on the fact that in an interview in Papiamento on Curacao television, how surprised they were at my command of that language. I have both to thank for my years in Brakkeput and on Curacao.

Image (1805)

Some of the many boys from the Dutch Windward Islands. From left to right: Winston Roberts (St.Maarten), John Alton Johnson (Saba), Hyacinth Halley (St. Maarten) Roland Peterson (St. Maarten) and me Will Johnson. Hyacinth used to be forever teasing Roland that as soon as he got out of Brakkeput he was going to marry Rolands sister, and he did.

Brakkeput boys 1987

On the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Boys Town on Curacao, the brothers paid a visit to all the islands to visit the boys who had been for longer or shorter in the Boys Town. On Saba they were met at the airport, we had a Mass for them and Brother Malstee who had been in Rawanda and became a priest, led the Mass and we also had a reception at Scouts Place. This was 1987. The delegation consisted of the following brothers: John Wilke,Father Anton Malste, brother Antonius van Dongen, and Brother Adriaan Smeets.

I like to think of the men of Brakkeput today as the “Brakkeput” army. The place was run like an army camp. At 5am the brother would come out from his room and put on the bright lights in the “grote slaapzaal”. At 5.05 am your bed must be made. Any delay the brother would make a second round, turn you and your cot upside down and with those big feet Dutchmen have, sometimes he would plant a kick in your backside as well. At 5.15 you must have brushed your teeth, bathed, and be finished with the bathroom and headed to church which started at 5.30 am and at 6 am you were back in the dining room. At 7am we gathered to the sound of the bugle, in formation, in front of the old “landhuis” (plantation house) building, said a prayer and then we were off with the bus to school with old faithful Benny the driver from Montana. In my case it was Mgr. Zwijsen College first, then Radulphus College (where I got in trouble) then back to Zwijsen where I obtained my Mulo diploma on July 2nd 1960. Those schools were run by the Fraters (also brothers, but dressed like priests) who in 1986 commemorated the fact that they had been establishing schools and teaching on Curacao since 1886. I count myself privileged to have gone to school to a number of these Fraters.

In Brakkeput each boy had a task and there was no time for idleness. The idleness, which breeds corruption in our youth of today! We had a farm with 135 Holstein Cows run by a Dutch farmer. We had some pigs, many goats and chickens, and used to harvest and peel oranges for the production of the “Curacao” liqueur. We had sailboats; we fished along the coast of the lagoon. We had several sports fields and our day was laid out for us with a combination of activities. The names of students from Brakkeput sounds like an honor roll, Minguel Pourier, Jandee Paula, Max Pandt, Damien Leo, Rudy Ellis, Angel Salsback, Lou Halley and his brother George, Leonaris Buncamper, James Maduro, Aubrey Sealy, Pacheko Domacasse, Broertje Janga, Dr. Aurelius Scot and his brother Mervin, Roy Smith, Ben Vlaun, Boysie Richardson, Louis van Heyningen, Hilton Hassell, Ronnie Johnson, Ramon Hassell and his brother Alva, Sammy Wilson, Franklin Every and so many others that for this article I cannot list all of the names. Brakkeput was the keystone to the building of a nation. Boys from the various islands were brought together and formed lifelong relationships. Today we ask ourselves, why were these institutions allowed to collapse for lack of proper government funding? We feel that a great opportunity was lost and we lament this.

Image (1808)

Here is Franklin “Mopsie” Every, and driving the delivery truck is Ronald Leverock. When Ronnie visited the island a couple of years ago he brought me a number of these photos some of which I am sharing with this article.

Among my fondest memories of Brakkeput are the various weekend excursions which we used to make to every crick and corner of Curacao.

Image (1810)

Left to right: Willis (Capt. Randolph Dunkins son), Winston Roberts, Roy Smith and Boysie Richardson. The boy leaning against the flag pole I cannot recognize at the moment.

In 1985 I took one of my children with me to see Brakkeput. It had all changed by then. It was then nothing but houses along the shoreline and the “Grote Eiland” all built up, yacht club and all. We used to wade there along a causeway which would dry up at low tide to go exploring and fishing all over the island. There was only one house on the opposite side of the causeway. It belonged to an Italian contractor who had an attractive daughter who used to take the sun on a wooden pier close to the house. I could have swam to that pier it was that close. I went fishing a lot in the hope of seeing her, but for fear of a complaint and expulsion from Brakkeput I was too much of a coward to take the swim. Many years later at a reception in The Hague among the guests there was an attractive looking lady and we started talking. I hesitate to tell you that she was the one I used to admire across those silent waters of the past. When I told my story we had a good laugh and then she told me her story. That her big hope had been that I would have swam across to talk with her.

Image (1812)

In the carpenter shop they used to build these sail fishes as they were called. We used them to explore the Spanish Waters lagoon and beyond, to fish with as well.

To me the Brakkeput of my youth will never change. I identify places and events with smells. I have a great sense of smell. I travelled to Curacao frequently in the past fifty years. On one of my many trips there I was driving with a friend through the countryside during a big rainstorm. We used to long for rain. So accustomed to it on Saba it was one of the things we missed most. We would savor the rainfall when the rainy season finally arrived.

Image (1809)

In one of the dorms with a better arrangement of the beds. Roy Smith and Winston Roberts seated together and the other boy I cannot recognize but Roy will know and I can correct it later on.

Image (1811)

That is John Alton Johnson squatting on the shore. That old boat was found abandoned and Chuchubi (James Maduro) and some of the boys from Saba patched it up and caulked it with old canvas and we used it to go to Barbara beach and all around the coast fishing. It was frail and we had to bail all the time but it lasted all the years that I was there from 1955 to 1960. Recordar es Vivir.

Suddenly during that rainstorm the smell of the countryside rose up to meet me, and once again it took me back to Brakkeput. Long ago and far away! Pleasant memories of a wonderful youth! I have great memories of dedicated brothers, who looked after our welfare, though we did not know or appreciate it at the time. After these many years I say with all sincerity, with all those “Kruisvaarders van St. Jan” in mind who molded us from young rebels into future responsible citizens; I say with complete honesty and humility and thankfulness, having even acquired a taste for black tea with lime. Thank you and God Bless Brakkeput.

Father Kistemakers visit to Saba in 1843

Bishop Joannes Fredericua Antonius Kistemaker

Bishop Joannes Fredericus Kistemaker (1860-1866). He started out as a Parish priest on the island of St. Eustatius and visited Saba in June 1843.

Father Kistemaker’s visit to Saba in 1843. By; Will Johnson Our substitute priest as I write this is an old German priest, Father Joseph now retired in Chicago, who served many years in Indonesia. Last Sunday he was talking about Christian faith missionaries. He said he could not understand what had happened to Holland. According to him in the past two centuries Holland had been number one in sending out missionaries to third world countries. He ended his sermon by declaring that now “Holland has a flat tire.” He gave no further explanation but messed up my thinking in the process as now when I hear any bad news coming out of Holland, I think to myself:”Holland has a flat tire.” One of those missionaries was Father Joannes Fredericus Antonius Kistemaker who was born on August 22nd 1813 in Oldenzaal and came out to Curacao on March 1st 1837 after he had become a priest. His career in the islands brought him to the post of Bishop (1860-1866) eventually. In 1841 he was sent to the island of St. Eustatius to start up the Roman Catholic Church on that island. In 1843 Bishop Niewindt instructed him to go to Saba to see what could be done there. Saba was first Presbyterian and later on became totally Anglican. The problem starting a church on Saba was the fact that no one on the entire island spoke any Dutch. It was difficult finding a priest who could speak English fluently enough, to convince someone to leave the established Anglican Church behind to go back to the Catholic faith.

Image (327)

Landing in a small boat at the Ladder Bay in former times.

Anyway in the month of June 1843 father Kistemaker, making good on his promise to the Bishop decided to visit Saba. Bishop Niewindt himself had been to Saba in 1836 an interesting story in itself. This I have already written about in an article on the history of the Church of Rome on Saba. Father Kistemaker had already hired a boat when he was suddenly called to St. Kitts. The resident priest there was absent from that island and in the meantime the Roman Catholic doctor had become seriously ill. Father Kistemaker left St. Eustatius in the middle of the night in a small boat, which had been sent from St. Kitts to fetch him. He made it to St. Kitts at the break of day and was able to give the doctor the last sacrament immediately upon arrival and the doctor passed away the following day. He left behind a wife and ten children. The doctor was known as one of the best doctors in the region and was also a big support for the catholic priests in this emerging parish. Two days after the funeral Father Kistemaker took upon himself to go to Saba in an open boat. Only they who have experienced this trip themselves, know how torturous that is; one arrives bruised, shook up, starved and on fire of thirst, dirty and wet through and through from splashing sea water. Wonderful!

The Bottom from 1890 as it would have looked in the time of Schorer.

The Bottom from 1890 as it would have looked in the time of Kistemaker when he visited in 1843.

Father Kistemaker obviously did not travel first class. That was also available in those open row boats back in the day. I have a letter from Richard Goddard of Barbados who told me that his cousin “Joey” Hassell had told him that he had travelled first class from St. Kitts to Saba in an open rowboat. Richard asked him: “Can you please explain?” To which “Joey” told him that second class passengers sat on the side of the boat where the waves were coming from thus shielding the first class passengers on the other side from the onslaught of the waves. And so you paid more for that side of the boat. I remember also a story with my uncle George Leonard Johnson going to St. Kitts on the M.S. “Baralt”. He was sitting next to Agnes Johnson of Hell’s Gate and smoking his pipe. He must have dosed off and when the ship lurched he was thrown overboard. Agnes finally noticed that he was not sitting next to her and shouted out the alarm. Sometime later my uncle was located in the sea and rescued with his pipe still in his mouth. Father Kistemakers description of this small, curious island is very good and we have translated it from the Dutch verbatim for our readers to enjoy.

Image (196)

Everything was uphill in those days with very narrow pathways and everything had to be carried on head.

Description of Saba! “That island is small, but very high, which rises lonely from the waves and has its crest stuck in the clouds. One finds there two, or if one wants to, three villages with a population of sixteen or eighteen hundred souls. The lowest village, which is The Bottom, the most important one, is no less than 1200 feet above sea level and of all things is called “The Bottom”. The path leading to there is so steep and rocky, that neither a horse nor a mule is capable to tackle it. Someone, who cannot climb very well, such as in many cases the elderly, and the women, are simply carried up by blacks,. The inhabitants call the path “The Ladder” and indeed it does resemble such. There is however a better path on the other side of the island, but because of the high seas there which make the landing often impossible, that one is seldom used. For me there was no other way than to climb up “The Ladder” to The Bottom. Everything was ready when I set foot on shore to haul my trunks and baggage up the steep incline.


This is what the original Ladder Bay road used to look like.

The landing place itself was miserable. Seldom one arrives on shore at Saba with dry feet; a raincloud burst loose above our heads when I stepped out of the boat. There was a tree nowhere, neither a house to be found in which to hide. Luckily the rain lasted only briefly and now the blacks climbed panting and sweating with their burdens on their heads, ahead on the steep and dangerous path, while I with my two small and still half sea-sick altar servers followed the porters slowly. After a very long and stressful climb we finally reached the so-called “Bottom”, thanking God profusely that we had arrived thus far. If it had taken longer my tediousness would have likely turned into desperation

Image (198)

This was the start of the road to the Ladder Bay above The Gap. In the seventies we took out the steps and the road was made into a motor vehicle road al the way to the home of the late Rebecca Levenstone.

. “Now I was at my destination, a level and fruitful valley, surrounded on all sides by high, green mountain tops which was very pleasing to my eyes; a cool wind blew refreshing against my sweaty face; and while walking on a level terrain while inhaling a pure fragrant air, had a magical effect on the exhausted lungs. In less than no time the blood flowed again unhindered, through all my veins and I felt as refreshed and healthy as I had ever been. This was also the case with both of my boys. No Lodgings. There is no lodging to be found on the whole of Saba. The village consists of fifty or sixty wooden houses most of them small and in no particular order built among each other. Some days before I had notified the Commander of the island (Edward Beaks) of my arrival and it was through his friendly intervention that I found lodging in a small though not unpleasant little house, the dwelling of two protestant spinsters, who were good enough to make it with everything in it, available to me, as long as during the day I would allow them to use one of the two rooms

Old Ladder Bay Road

The real old Ladder Bay road went partly down the gut and partly down the ridge. The cemented part on the ridge was done in the nineteen thirties and I got a project to restore the one on the ridge which we know today.

.” The Reverend Father had no objections against this arrangement .During the nine days that he remained on Saba, he enjoyed there hospitality such as he could never have expected. The only remaining problem was where he could have a Holy Mass. The house was much too small, even for the few Catholics which Saba afforded and there was no Catholic church on the island. Fortunately there was a Catholic teacher who not long before had established himself on Saba. He willingly made available his schoolroom for the Holy Service. A table was converted to an altar and the desk of the teacher was ideal for a pulpit. Each morning the improvised church was full to capacity and many people had to be satisfied with standing room only on the outside. Easy to understand this was a piece of luck, a formidable happening and one had to profit from everything that could be experienced. On Sunday the priest sang a High Mass and during the week he preached every evening in English and also prayed in English. Several Protestant ladies volunteered, now and then, to sign a hymn, of course a Catholic hymn. Although the entire service naturally was Catholic, there was a typical Anglican character over it. The hymns were sung while standing and each verse was first read in a distinguished manner by the schoolteacher. Everything however was very edifying and the priest let the community peacefully flow with the tide. The preaching of the Catholic faith caused much amazement among the Sabans. The nonsense which they had been told about the Catholic faith was vastly different from the Catholic teachings as was taught by the Catholic priest (Father Kistemaker). The last evening Father Kistemaker baptized two children, a gave a rousing departure sermon and was amazed after the sermon to find no less than eleven respectable ladies waiting on him, to announce their wish to be taken up into the Catholic Church. They requested him urgently after the hurricane season (thus after September 25th) to be willing to come back and then for longer time than now. They already had catechism books and they were very happy with several books about the Catholic Church which the priest provided them with.

The Ladder 02

This was in better days when the path was maintained but for someone coming to the island for the first time it was an experience long remembered. The Ladder Bay Road.

Each religion is good. The Anglican priest was exactly in those days on a journey, but came back from the outing on the same day that the priest intended to depart. The boat delayed the departure however until the following day and the elderly clergyman came immediately to pay a visit to the priest, who had time to return the visit. The clergyman told him that he was already forty years in the West Indies and was born in Ireland (John Toland) and was originally an orthodox Anglican, but as time went by he became more liberal in his opinions; each Christian religion according to him was good; especially against the Catholics he harbored no grudges. He had just been received very friendly by the Catholic priest on St. Thomas and some years ago had enjoyed the hospitality of different priests on Guadeloupe and even by the Bishop of Basseterre of that island. He had constantly gone to Mass by the Catholics there and he regretted very much that he had not had the opportunity, to attend the services of Father Kistemaker. He complained of the stubbornness of the Sabans and urgently appealed to the priest to take them to task once and for all. After that they said a hearty farewell to each other.

105 - Saba-August 2007 - The Ladder-01

This is the shaded part of the Ladder Bay road and many visitors to Saba walk it down to experience it.

Many Sabans were seamen and the rest lived from farming. Commerce was unknown it can be said; there was not one warehouse or shop on the entire island. In this aspect much has changed since one hundred years ago. There was no garrison, not even a militia and there were no taxes. There was no doctor and the clergyman together with his wife practiced this profession with combined forces through a lack of better. Most of the inhabitants were white, but despite that the Sabans were not ashamed to work in their rough linen clothes in the fields the same way as the least among the slaves. The island is very fertile; European vegetables were grown there and one could find there many sheep, goats and cattle. The climate is healthy and inviting; it can get cool and the inhabitants complain even of cold at times; this is a natural consequence of the high elevation above sea level. Several hundred feet higher, at a distance of one hour from The Bottom, lays Windward side, another Saban village. Father Kistemaker also received an invitation from there to come and preach, but a lack of lodgings caused him to postpone this undertaking until his following visit. Finally in the night of July 1st 1843, Father Kistemaker landed once again on St. Eustatius the island where he was stationed and thus ended his outing to Saba.

  • This short history is part of the History of the Church in the Windward Islands written by Father Brada ( Willibordus, Menno, Jan) in Willemstad, Curacao in 1952. We took the liberty in the translation to make one important change. Where in Dutch, Father Brada referred to Methodists, this should have been Anglican. Saba only for a short time and in a very limited way experienced Methodism and the order of their services differs greatly from that of the Catholics compared to the Anglican service. I will write a separate article when I get a chance on the Reverend John Toland. He and his wife from Antigua were the grandparents among others of the Vanterpools and some of the Richardson’s of St. Maarten and I have contact with some of his descendants in the United States who now refer to themselves as “Tolan”.

An excursion to French St. Martin, with M.D. Teenstra in 1829.

A long time ago, Marigot.

Town of Marigot around 1900.

An excursion to French St. Martin, with M.D. Teenstra in 1829.

By Will Johnson

Martin Douwes Teenstra, was born in Ruige Zand on September 17th, 1795 and died on October 29th 1864 at Ulrum. He was a farmer as a young man in The Netherlands. After a career in the East Indies and Surinam he visited the Dutch West Indian islands in 1828/29 and 1833/34, returning to Holland in 1834 after holding a post as a senior clerk at the registry of the Court in Surinam for a short time. In 1836/37 he published his study in two volumes entitled “The present state of the Dutch West India Islands.”

His first visit to St. Martin was just ten years after the devastating hurricane of 1819 and signs of the damage done could still be seen everywhere. In his book Teenstra mentions all of the damage done to the island ten years earlier little of which had been restored. Many people had in the meanwhile left the island and moved elsewhere. While on St. Martin he made several tours of the island. For this article we will only mention his tour of the French part of the island.

“Other than Simpson bay, there would be little left for close inspection on the Dutch part of St. Martin. However, I wanted to become acquainted with the French region as well, deciding for that matter, to make a trip on horseback through the entire island, easy to accomplish in two days time. Here again Mr. Du Cloux was quite willing to accompany me on this trip. After making the necessary arrangements for hiring horses, being no trouble at all and with people’s readiness and hospitality, we fixed the date for our journey.

“We mounted on Friday morning February 20th at six a.m. and rode in a westerly direction to Marigot, being the shortest route and only five miles distance from Philipsburg. We were riding past the estate on the left hand side of “Kool-Baai”, belonging formerly to Mr. A.T.Kruijthoff ( who Teenstra earlier said had taken off to Surinam with 60 of his slaves after the hurricane of 1819), and climbed the “Kool-Baai” mountain, offering us a splendid view from its top into the saltpan and fresh-water pond behind us.

Image (82)

Cattle raising beyond Marigot in the past century.

“We took a rest for a moment on the slope at the back of the mountain under the shady “Lollobby” tree which would yield a hardwood timber, its trunk plastered with “pasquinades” (graffiti) and satire, just like the broken statue of Pasquin in Rome, from which the word has been derived. From here we looked down into “Simpsons Bay” valley close by, a poor fishing village built on a sandbar the same as Philipsburg, between the bay and a large inland lake. This lake has a tortuous shore-line, a few nice green elevations or islets right in the middle, with two outlets to the sea ever since the 1819 – hurricane, viz., one of these near “Simpsons Bay”, the other one off Marigot.

Image (769)

The old road leading from Marigot in the direction of Colombier and on to Grand Case.

“The view of the low lands, nearly uncultivated on the lake’s background, is less pleasing to the eye, contrasting more vividly with enchanting “Kool-Baai”- valley extending on your right hand. From there the first estate of the French Quarter, “Mont-Fortune’, makes a most pleasant and comely impression, its buildings standing on a knoll the green plot of which is nicely outlines against white walls and red windows. This enchanting valley is variegated and cheered up now with light- and dark greens of sugar cane fields and pastureland with grazing cattle, now with numerous blacks working in grayish dug terrain. Far away in the background you would notice the long South West angle of Anguilla, behind it Dog-Island and Prickly-Pear, two insignificant small islands.

Image (501)

In the distance Simpson Bay bordered by the lagoon and the sea. The villagers there were fishermen.

“Riding on we continue along a fine wide road planted here and there with palm trees. Once you have passed the boundary between both Administrations there is the beginning of ‘Mount-Fortune’ estate on your left, owned by Mr. Durat, the next left one belonging to his mother, Madame Durat. Her estate has the appearance of waste-land because of its dark craggy area. Straight in front of you there is the mountain and fortress of ‘Marigot’ flying the French white flag in those days; as a matter of course it should have been replaced by the tricolor now, however difficult it may seem to adhere to this nations historical changes.

“We are now riding past the plantation of Mr. Charles Blyden, called ‘Anna’s Hope’, on the right hand, arriving by 8 a.m. in Marigot, country-seat of the French side.

Image (653)

Another view of the Simpson Bay lagoon as seen from Cole Bay Hill.

The French part of St. Martin is subdivided in five districts (or quarters); Marigot, Friars Bay, Grand Case, l’Orient and the inner-quarter Colombier, the most fertile region, enclosing 30 sugar-plantations. The population consists of six to seven hundred whites and free residents as well as four thousand slaves. The average yield is estimated at two thousand ox heads of one thousand pounds of sugar, rum and molasses pro rata – well over three times the output of the Dutch side of the island.

“In Marigot we took lodgings with a kind and courteous gentleman Mr. J.L.Hitzler, son of the author of the manuscript referred to already, and most kindly keeping us company the very same day when viewing estate “The Paradise”. Leaving Marigot on the north end we crossed a rather long stone bridge and came upon the estate of Mr. Verveer (the occasional head of the Dutch part), situated to the right. Then we continued riding up a mountain from where we looked into “Friars-Bay” and Anguilla on the left. We turned to the right on the way to Colombier when we were caught in a heavy shower of rain, forcing us to take shelter under a tall tamarind-tree near to the estate of Colonel Gumbes, living in Anguilla. Scarcely had we dismounted when two English ladies came sharing our hide-out and we continued our trip together as soon as the rain let up.

Image (222)

Old plantations in Cole Bay going all the way down to the Simpson Bay Lagoon.

Image (313)

This was the road going over the hill from Philipsburg to Cole Bay and on to Marigot. Everything was by horseback in those days.

We were to experience before long, though, that two first-rate Yeoman-horse women were involved here, their riding skill worthy of all praise. On we went; uphill and down dale, ‘ventre a terre’ (belly to earth) having ample opportunity for noticing the charm of their pretty curls under comely hats and ribbons fluttering in the wind. Needless to say that we, men, did not make an effort to lead the van and when our charming fellow-travelers left us at last, turning left, we rode further into the valley and came on its end upon the significant joint estates “La Loterie” and “Le Paradis”, both belonging previously to Messieurs John S. Cremony and George D’Ormois, now property of the latter only, who has been living in “La Loterie.”

“Le Paradis” is only inhabited by a couple of blacks with a sugar mill and cook-house of little significance. After taking some refreshments with Mister D’Ormois we ascended the fertile mountain-range of the so-called Paradise, crawling on horseback through sugar cane which is incredibly tall and heavy owing to extraordinary strong vegetation so that the cane tops were far over our heads. On the mountain and its gullies we found various fruit trees and shrubs, bananas, coffee, cacao, etc., growing luxuriantly. The view from the mountain, St. Martins highest except for “Mount Bellasses’ towards the North, is quite marvelous. We overlooked almost the entire island, its cliffs, bays, mountains and valleys, Philipsburg and Marigot with fortresses, ships coming and going as well as those riding at anchor, etc., the climate being very cool and pleasant at about sixteen hundred feet above sea level. While staying in the Paradise I was bold enough to pick and eat a few of the delicious ‘apple-chinas’ growing here, which were more refined than those in Surinam.

“After a while we rode on to “La Loterie’, then back to Marigot when we dropped in its small and newly built coffee-house with just a trio of gentlemen playing billiards, keeping us neither company or in conversation so that we left early and retired to rest.


Going in the direction of the town of Grand Case. Everything has changed now and St. Martin is under one roof.


The road in Colombier and leading up to “La Loterie” plantation of former times.

Rumor had it already, not surprising in such a small place, that a Dutch engineer had arrived in Marigot. In the morning I found an invitation card from one Philip Shuch, a German who had settled here as a blacksmith, brazier and metal founder, asking kindly for a survey and a map of his plot or yard, recently purchased. The fellow did me a good turn by lending his horse for the return trip and therefore I could not possibly refuse. His yard was situated right at the foot of the fortress and consequently I had Mr. Schuch apply for a surveying-license with the Commander. This request was declined though, and my survey and thus the mapping failed to materialize. Nevertheless, kind Mister Schuch would give credit to me for good will instead of action, saddling up his horse as promised and bringing it to the door. Bad luck would have the poor beast stumble time and again for all that and, being weak in the mouth, she would not trot on unless loosening the reins; right from the start I knocked down one of the window shutters from one of the houses. On riding down the mountain she was afraid of falling, shivering and trembling with fear, when I had to spur on heel for leather, making me not in the least apprehensive too of these perilous mountain paths


Coming up to the place where the ladies had left us before, we turned left and arrived in the Grand Case department on crossing the mountain. We found first of all the large and well kept estate of Mr. O’Reilly and, farther on a couple of poor hovels on a sandbank between a large pond and the bay. On the right of the road we saw the church yard, in former times with a chapel, and the low and flat island of Anguilla straight in front with its very needy people. There are reported to be land crabs there, uncommonly huge and of the kind which would have devoured the British Admiral Drake on neighboring “Crab Island”. (Viequez). Some netting hanging from the dwellings in Grand Case indicated the occupation of its inhabitants.

On our arrival in the department of D’Orleans quarter we called at one Banjamin Hodge Junior for private business to be discussed between Mr. Du Cloux and him. I have not found anywhere else a place as dirty and gone to ruin on the entire island. The only pleasure Hodge seem to get out of life was drinking to excess strong liquor in his living room, besides witnessing cock fighting, and we met him in a grimy room, its floor spread with some corn straw, very busy in trying to sleep himself sober. That is why we rode on as soon as possible, though the road was getting worse as we went along, and what’s more it was craggy as well. We still managed to return to Philipsburg three and one half hours after starting out from Marigot.

“The Lord be praised for giving me a sound and safe return!” I said on dismounting, since my tripping horse had fallen twice on sharp stones and crags, with me and I got off with a fright every now and then.”

In 1829, when Mr. M.D. Teenstra visited St. Maarten he also mentioned who were in charge of the island. The President of the Council of Policy acts as Commander of the Dutch side. According to a decree of His Majesty King of The Netherlands, dated July 13th, 1816 Nr. 48, the Government was constituted of a Council of Policy and a Council of Justice. In 1829 the Council of Policy consisted of the following persons.

D.J. van Romondt               President

  1. du Cloux                           Executive of Finance

Joseph Romney                   Planter/Member

Thomas Romney                 Merchant/Member

George Illidge                       Merchant/Member

  1. Beckers                             Secretary

Members of the Court of Justice, none of whom were lawyers, consisted of:

Abraham Heyliger               President

F.C. Macklot                           Merchant

  1. Percival                               Planter/Member
  2. Beckers                               Secretary/Member.

There was also a Court of Orphans and Equity consisting of:

D.J. van Romondt                 President

  1. du Cloux                           Member

J.W. van Romondt               Paymaster

  1. Beckers                             Bookkeeper

The remaining staff of civil servants on the island was as follows: Abraham du Cloux, Senior sworn clerk at the colonial secretary. Abraham Heyliger, Commissioner of the Seal and collector of Succession-duties. N.D. Blyden Harbour-master, Custom House Clerk and Pilot. D.C. van Romondt , Translator in the Dutch and English languages. A. Beckers, Auctioneer. Jan Sauer, Usher, Bailiff, Warder and Grave-digger, and Jan Rutten Deputy Sheriff, and last but not least, Polidore, a Government Slave, in the function of Executioner. There was also a garrison consisting of 27 soldiers and the Commander was the Second Lieutenant D.A. Du Cloux.

This is only a small portion of Mr. Teenstra’s book written in the Dutch Language and covering the other Dutch West Indies as well. These islands will remain English speaking as far as we can see and it would be a good project to have the most important of the history books pertaining to these islands translated from Dutch to English so that everyone can enjoy them as much as I do.



Spritzer & Fuhrmann

By: Will Johnson

The first time that anyone became acutely aware of such a thing as specialty stores was with the arrival of Spritzer & Fuhrmann and El Globo on the Front street, under the home of former Act. Lt. Governor of the Windward Islands the Hon. Walter Granville Buncamper. That would have been around the year 1962 if I remember correctly.

Mr. Illis of Sucker Garden certainly noticed it. I remember him coming into the Receivers Office just a couple of buildings from the location of the new stores. He had come to see his friend Fons O’Connor. Mr. Illis’ take on the new situation was as follows:” Well Fonsie, meh boy, St. Maarten gone to hell wholesale now. Imagine I came to town to buy a machete and a pair of khaki pants and neither one o dem stores have anything like that. Matter of fact they laugh at me when I did aks.”

Before Spritzer & Fuhrmann one could go to a store and buy a shot of rum, two cans of sardines, a khaki pants and yes even a machete. So in a certain sense Mr. Illis was right in his assessment. And looking at it from another angle namely the start of mass tourism and subsequent development of the island he was also right.

Image (83)

Local Judge Herman Hassell (left) with my father Daniel Johnson 1960’s.

I was always intrigued by the combination of those two Eastern European Jewish names into one famous business empire in the former six islands of the Netherlands Antilles. Even before going to Curacao I was aware of the firm as believe it or not there was a branch on Saba even before St. Maarten.

I am reliably informed that Mr. Herman Hassell a bachelor, local judge, ship chandler and grocery store owner (yes one of those ranging from a shot of rum to a cutlass as we called them on Saba), was friends with Mr. Spritzer who used to roam the islands as a “mechante” selling jewellery to an impoverished region. He became friends with Herman who had accumulated quite a savings for those days. A loan from Herman was negotiated to the tune of ten thousand guilders and when Herman passed away in 1960 or so that loan netted his heirs from hither thither and yon close to one hundred and fifty thousand guilders. The loan had been converted to shares in the firm and people who never knew Herman but inherited from him were well rewarded for those days when people like my father was making two guilders and fifty cents a day when he could find work. And only because he was a mason and a foreman for the government was he making that. And so Herman would have watches and other jewellery displayed in a flat glass display case from Spritzer& Fuhrmann, amidst the rum and the cutlasses, sardine and corned beef cans, salt beef and so on. Spritzer &Fuhrmann could not have wished for a more prominent display of their merchandise. And believe it or not things sold. Every hand while you would hear in the village gossip that so and so had bought a watch. Or that a gold chain had been bought for a girl by a suitor but that “he doesn’t know but she’s in with someone else.”


The new Spritzer & Fuhrmann building on the Front street in Philipsburg.

Long after Judge Herman Hassell had passed on to other courts, a cousin of mine Marie Hughes working at the firm on Curacao met her husband Eddy Senior also working there. They came to live on Saba and Eddy used to manage the Philipsburg Utilities Company. He and Marie were very active members of the Saba Lions Club. Eddy was from one of those ancient Jewish families on Curacao who made the famous “Curacao Liqueur”. When Eddy died many years later we churched him in the Roman Catholic Church with his friend Julio Meit and a real Rabbi doing the service according to their ancient traditions and he is buried in the Roman Catholic cemetery. He loved life and to travel and was a speed king on the road going into his nineties. He was not a road kill. Old age took him out. When I see Marie we still have many stories about Eddy and her days at Sprizer & Fuhrmann. Once when I was Commissioner visiting the Tourist Office a young Israeli soldier on leave, came to see me. We had a good chat. As he was leaving he said to me: “There would not be any Jews living on this small island, would there?” I was about to say no when Eddy came to mind. He was so excited to hear that news and I gave him directions how to get to Eddy and Marie’s house. Half an hour later Eddy sped past me on the road and the young Israeli soldier in front of the speeding car holding on for dear life. Eddy was giving him a tour and took care of the young soldier for the rest of his time on Saba.


King of The Road. Eddy Senior and his wife Marie Hughes. Eddy used to manage the Utilities Store in The Bottom and would rush home at lunch to get a swim in his pool during his lunch break. It worked for him as he lived past ninety.

When I went to Curacao in 1955 to the Boys Town, on the occasions we were allowed to go to town, we were impressed with the firms building on the later to be named Dr. Gomez square. We later got so bold and would walk in the store to look around at items we would never be able to afford, and yet to dream of days to come, when we could buy a gold chain to present to a girl even if you suspected she might be fooling you.


The left building on the Dr. Gomez square in Willemstad, Curacao, was the main building of Spritzer and Fuhrmann for many years.

I was already working and living on St. Maarten in 1960 and so when the firm established itself close to my office for me it was nothing new. Not so for many people on St. Maarten and even Anguilla and St. Barth’s. In fact it seemed as if the whole Eastern Caribbean was infatuated with the new store. Coming and looking, and coming back again. Not much buying. Just looking and being able to tell your friends back home “Mind you, I does do my jewellery shopping at Sprtizer &Fuhrmann on St. Maarten, you know!”


Another view of the Spritzer & Fuhrmann building on the Front Street in Philipsburg.

The new Manager was the now famous Frans Mulder. A young man back then of course. He later did much social work for the Island as Chairman of the White and Yellow Cross Foundation and he was active in many other fields. He and I never set horses, politically speaking, at the time. We even had a spat some years later. Mr. Alrett Peters of the General Workers Union and I became great friends and I used my writing talents to publish “The Labour Spokesman” on behalf of the Union. He would also turn to me for help and advice when trying to get a collective labour agreement. That was around 1969 or so. Turbulent times back then. I was always dressed in a Dr. Che Guevara outfit and getting into also sorts of trouble anyway so why not stir up the pot a bit more by getting involved in the first labour union to be established on St. Maarten.


Opening of the first Spritzer & Fuhrmann store under the Buncamper Home on the Front street in 1962.

Spritzer @ Furhrmann had grown exponentially by that time and had some 40 employees in their own new building across the street from the old policeman Anderson Vlaun and business for them was booming. We decided to unionize the firm. Douglas Johnson was working there at the time. Dead scared to be fired all Douglas could do was bring us the bad news. Who had said this who had said that and that no one in the business would join the union. Long story short, I don’t know how we got a majority to sign up but we got an impressive majority, enough to call a vote. In the meantime Mr. Frans was aware of what was going on. Some fifth column or the other had been encouraged to sign up and to bring back the needed information. On the weekend before the vote it seemed as if the lights burned all night at Spritzer & Fuhrmann. Mr Frans was out and about as if he was running for political office visiting homes of employees all over the island. This I was later told. Sunday afternoon at the” Passangrahan” bar Douglas told me: ”Boy you and Peters are in trouble. I have never seen Mr. Mulder in such a good mood as in the last days.” Come Monday morning Frans was at the door of the jewellery Walhalla welcoming his employees to the jewellery Kingdom. He was all smiles. Any fool knowing what was at stake could have known that Frans had won something. It did not become apparent to Julian Lynch, Alrett Peters and me (in the shadows of the conflict). No we had at least thirty signatures. When the Government Mediator announced at 9am that there was no need to extend the voting time as everyone had voted, a decision was made to count the votes. Well, well! Turns out, ALL in favour of the firm, and ZERO for the union. I still think that Frans should have run for office. In later years with the passing of time Frans and I became good friends even though I don’t see him often. I know that he loves my articles and I am sure that he will like these memories of those days.

I will quote some of the history of the firm from an article written by Ms. Helma Maduro-Molhuijsen written for the “Archiefvriend” on Curacao.


Opening Spritzer & Fuhrmann on St. Maarten. Among the faces I see Mr. Walter Buncamper and his wife Olga, also Chester Wathey, Claude and Local Judge Aubrey Cannegieter and I believe the man in the black jacket is Mr. Fuhrmann.

Spritzer & Fuhrmann started here in 1927.

Spritzer & Fuhrmann N.V. started at this location on the waterfront in Willemstad in 1927.

“The firm of Spritzer & Fuhrmann in the past century was a household word, not only in the Antilles, but also in many other countries. Besides the extensive jewel-and watch collection, they were also known for their lovely collection of crystal and porcelain of the best European brands, such as: Daum, Lalique, Orefors and Wedgewood. Besides the jewellery and gift shops, there were specialty stores, goldsmith shop, watch repair shop and the section for decorations among which the packaging materials were made, such as the exceptionally pretty boxes and cases for presents to the Royal Family and other guests to the islands. For the display windows there was a permanent staff employed who won several prizes for their artful displays.

In 1927 Wolf Spritzer established himself on Curacao. He was from Budapest, where during the First World War he lost his trading company. After a sojourn of several years in Berlin he departed for Curacao. In 1929 his family came over. Wolf Spritzer was married to Rosa Spritzer; the couple had two children, son Erno and daughter Frieda.

Charles Fuhrmann was from Romania. In connection with the ever present persecution of Jews in that country he left his homeland, and via Vienna, to Hamburg with the intention to travel to Venezuela. In the end his final destination became Curacao. Via a fellow traveller he came into contact with Wolf Spritzer who at that moment in time could use professional help. In 1948 Wolf Spritzer at the age of sixty stepped down from the business. Also his son Erno who was working for the company together with his wife Ivy Capriles and their children moved to Holland.


1962. In conversation at the opening of Spritzer & Furhmann’s first store on St. Maarten. Senator Claude Wathey, Local Judge Aubrey Cannegieter, and businessman Louis Emile “Lil Dan” Beauperthuy.

Charles Fuhrmann in the meantime married Frieda Spritzer and they had two daughters Helga and Judith. Charles Fuhrmann then became the only owner of the firm.

As a teenager going to the” Radulphus College” I used to pass the lovely home of the Furhmann’s with its black tiled roof not far from my school. That area of Curacao still has many lovely homes and gardens and the Fuhrmann’s home was quite impressive.

In the building of Amador Maduro on the “Handelskade” Wolf Spritzer rented a small part of the building where he started his work as a watch repair man and goldsmith. With the arrival of Charles Fuhrmann the business was “expanded”; a window was removed and was replaced with two panelled doors and two flat show cases, with the watches displayed in them. Sometime later they were able to purchase an entire collection of fine jewellery. The decision was made to sell a part of this on Aruba and in 1930 a small store was opened in Oranjestad. In the meantime on the “Handelskade” a new building was taken into use, now on the other corner of the “Windstraat”, which was given the name “Relojeria Alemania”.

The business continued to grow. On the fiftieth anniversary of the firm in 1977 there were 32 stores and more than 550 people in service and after 1977 several more stores were established.

The company and Mr. Fuhrmann especially were given many awards and a special issue of stamps was issued in 1977 for the anniversary of the firm.


Advertisement for the firms locations in Willemstad in the nineteen fifties.

After my friend, Governor J.J.”Japa” Beaujon, left the position in the Windward Islands and returned to his native Curacao, he worked for the firm. I remember visiting him there in his office in the main building.

Spritzer Fuhrmann's Jewelry Store

The famous carillon at the main store on the Dr. Gomez square on Curacao was a big hit with the many tourists who used to shop at this famous store.

A change in fortunes took place in the nineteen eighties. The large cruise ships such as the Queen Elizabeth and the Michelangelo did not call in at Curacao anymore and with the devaluation of the Bolívar in 1985 the spending power of the Venezuelans had diminished to the extent that they could not come to Curacao in their numbers as they used to. Reorganization in 1984 and 1985 was of little help and in 1990 the firm had to close its doors after selling off most of their properties. A great loss for the Antilles and a loss of that glorious name so pleasing to the eyes: ‘SPRITZER & FUHRMANN’.





Post Navigation