An excursion to French St. Martin, with M.D. Teenstra in 1829.
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
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
- du Cloux Executive of Finance
Joseph Romney Planter/Member
Thomas Romney Merchant/Member
George Illidge Merchant/Member
- Beckers Secretary
Members of the Court of Justice, none of whom were lawyers, consisted of:
Abraham Heyliger President
F.C. Macklot Merchant
- Percival Planter/Member
- Beckers Secretary/Member.
There was also a Court of Orphans and Equity consisting of:
D.J. van Romondt President
- du Cloux Member
J.W. van Romondt Paymaster
- 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.