The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson


Schooner Trade with New York

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Schooner “Esther Anita” belonging to Capt. William Benjamin Hassell born on Saba but lived on Barbados. As you can see the schooner is docked up close to the Brooklyn bridge. Photo from around 1915 when there was regular schooner trade from Saba via St. Kitts (sugar) and St. Martin (salt) and with passengers from the Eastern Caribbean as well.

These days when most cargo comes in to the islands by container ship, it is difficult to imagine the schooner trade in former times.

Up until the nineteen twenties, Saban schooners were transporting passengers and cargo to and from New York. And not only for Saba ,but also for other islands in the Eastern Caribbean and as far away as Demerara. Some of our schooners were large three and even four masters and could carry substantial amounts of cargo.

There are websites on the internet which list trade with the port of New York such as the Ellis Island website. However they deal mainly with immigrants going to the USA on large ships. I am still hopeful of finding a website with schooners from Saba listed.

In my own research and in interviews with former captains for my book “Tales From My Grandmother’s Pipe” I learned a lot about the trade with New York.

I even have a photo of the schooner the “Esther Anita” in New York Harbour. In 1915 this schooner owned by Captain William Benjamin Hassell made the trip from New York to Saba in a record nine days.

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Captain George Irvin Holm here at the grave site of his father. He always wanted to be buried next to his father and when he died in Florida in his nineties he was brought back to Saba and buried where he wanted to be. When he was in his eighties he built a home in The Level on Saba as well.

The late Capt. Irvin Holm (1891 -1984) told me that as was the custom back then, he went to sea at the age of 13. His father, while farming, had been killed by a falling rock and he and his brother (later Captain Ralph Holm) were their mother’s sole upkeep.

In 1906 he visited New York for the first time. He was the cabin boy on the schooner “Mary Love” belonging to Capt. W.B.Hassell. On that trip the schooner took 22 passengers from Saba, St.Eustatius , and St.Maarten On its return trip to Saba the “Mary Love” brought the lumber to build the home of Captain Ernest Alfred Johnson on Booby Hill. One hundred years later the home is still lived in and with all the hurricanes it has gone though it looks as if it was built yesterday.

On April 28th, 1896 the same schooner sailed from St.Kitts bound for New York and made it there in twelve days time.

In Captain E.A. Johnson’s , Memoirs, “21 knot Johnson” he tells about his experience with Captain Ernest Vanterpool in New York. Freddie as he was called was just a young boy at the time and had signed up with a clipper ship to go to India, He uncle who was also sailing out of New York did not like the idea.

Here follows what Freddie tells about his experience with Captain Vanterpool in New York harbor on July 11th, 1901.

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Capt. Ernest Alfred Johnson of “Bobby Hill” here being visited by Sabans from New York. On the left Joseph Johnson (brother to “Mum” and “Gillie” and Emile Johnson, uncle of Harris Peterson and his brothers and sister. Photo from the 1960’s.

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Schooner “Priscilla” of Capt. Ernest Hugh Toland Vanterpool at anchor in the Fort Bay road stead on Saba island Dutch West Indies.

“ My uncle, John Johnson, was in New York and he arranged with Captain Vanterpool (Ernest) to take me out to the West Indies on his two master schooner “Priscilla”. This schooner was going to Barbados. He instructed the captain to send me home from there as he thought I was too young to sail on a hard ship like the “Shenandoah.”

Captain Vanterpool was from Saba and knew my parents well. He invited me on board his proud little schooner lying at Greenpoint, New York. He took me in his cabin with his brother Tommy Vanterpool. We set sail July 12th at 3pm with a crew of six men and only two to steer, Harold Simmons and myself for four hours each.”

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On the left Capt. William Benjamin “Ben” Hassell (owner of the “Esther Anita” and his brother Capt. Thomas “Tommy” Hassell here on their schooner the “Maisy”. There was a waltz made by Miss Wemely Lynch called “The Maisy is mine and she can sail anytime”.

Captain Solomon Simmons (“Butchy Coonks”) used to sail to New York already in 1876 and perhaps even before. He was Captain of the schooner the “Alice”. By the way “Butchy” a first cousin of my grandfather James Horton Simmons had two families, one on Saba and the other in Jamaica. On his deathbed on Saba he instructed one of his sons from here, also a captain, to go to Montego Bay where he had a lovely Scottish wife with four children and take them to New York. Two of these children later married Saba captains as well.

I have a copy of a letter from Gustaf Ekerman dated May 25th, 1880, to his cousin Alfred Ekerman in Brooklyn New York.  Gustaf was married to Georgianna Simmons of Saba.  He was a native of St.Barths and lived in a house on the property where the Saba Housing Foundation in The Bottom is now located.

The letter reads as follows:

“My dear cousin,                                                        Saba, 25 May 1880

As Captain Solomon Simmons one of my best friends is to home today to take charge of the Brig “Alice”, I embrace the chance to write you these few lines hoping to find yourself and family well. I gave him one of your cards so that he can find you. No doubt by this time Dodo is on “Magnus” and is yet with Capt. Scofaum and Solo is Mate of a schooner in St.Thomas. How can you give us some news of  Clemence. Do try and find out if he is dead or not and write me by the return of the Brig. The Captain will not refuse taking anything for me or for my family. He is a good man. You must treat him well. Also the mate James Hassell and the second mate Peter Simmons. They are all my friends. I am married to a young lady who is the first cousin of the Captains wife.

Hyman Kaliski Original

The famous Hyman Kaliski a Jewish merchant who accommodated the Saba sailors where the “South Street Seaport” facilities and museum are now located in New York. He was the Godfather to the Saban sailors for more than forty years.

“You must talk to Clem for me and let him know that his Mother is yet alive. Tell him for me. I pray every day that God will make him come home. He ought to be ashamed of himself. Remember me to Uncle John and his family. I am in Saba keeping a little school. Nothing much. Send me a little good smoking tobacco as we cannot get any good here and the Captain promised to bring me a pipe.

“There is not one word of news for me to write you. Write me by the return of the Brig and if Dodo is there tell him to go and see the captain and the mate. He must know them. Tell him the mate is Haddocks brother and he will know. Tell him he must write and if he has anything to send Mamma to give it to the captain and he will bring it safe. So I must now stop in hopes of soon hearing from you.

Love to your wife and a kiss for the children Ekerman. Your true and affectionate cousin

Gustaf Ekerman.

The most remarkable story ever written about a trip by schooner was done by a semi-illiterate sailor Edward Beaks Hassell of Windwardside. This is taken from the manuscript by Mr. Kenneth Bolles “Caribbean Interlude” from 1931. We present it as written. In order to retain its unique flavour, despite the grammatical errors, I am sure that our readers will enjoy his story as he wrote it.

He made the trip to New York in 1876. He wrote it in 1931. He died in his eighties in the late nineteen thirties.

“ Fifty-five years past I was to America in the horse and buggy period and Yendy doudle was the topic of the time.

I made my start there with a man from Saba, Capt. Solomon Simmons. The ship was a Dutch Brig. Her name was the “ALICE” and she was in St.Kitts loading with sugar and molasses. The Captain and the Mate and myself was white, the sailors black all of them and the cook from Barbados waiting on the ship he was Mulatta.

When we get to St.Kitts the first thing that took attention, was the blacks loading the ship. They was eating sugar all day. I suppose each fellaw eat 25 pounds of sugar. When you look at his feet they would weight about twenty five pounds. I told a fellaw the sugar he ate drain down to his feet and give him molasses feet.

We left there seven o’clock in the evening and went to the South to weather the fort bay if we could weather it, and the captain give the ship all sail.

About half hour later the wind blew harder, and the captain give orders slack nothing let her go. Soon I come sleepy, but could not get into the cabin it was full and the forecasul had only room for the sailors, so I got to the galley and sit on the stove. Then the cook’s cracker pan began to wim. I picked it up and found it was full of crackers good and dry. I put it on the high shelf where it would not get wet and I began to eat crackers and I eat crackers all night from St.Kitts to St.Martin.

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Capt. Ben’s lovely schooner the “Mona Marie” of which his son Capt. Laurie was captain already at the age of nineteen like so many others from Saba in former times. Here she is off the coast of Trinidad.

We got in St.Martin during the night. In the morning we told the captain he must look for somewhere for we to sleep that we could not wait until we get to America to sleep.

Bout a week after we left St.Martin , we was in the Gulf. A heavy storm came on. We put the ship under close canvas. Night came on and it came worse. Five of us, was oblige to get on deck and when the high seas would strike her they would roar like thunder between the molasses puncheons.

I praed for sound sleep. If I went I would not know how until I landed in Abrahams gulf.

Fourteen days we was on the sea, then we gets into a thick lot of Pilate boats. I counted twenty-four of them. They began to dodge around us to get the first chance. The lucky twenty-six number on her main-sail was the early one in the morning. Five o’clock night we was in quarentane.

I look a head and saw a big hulk about three miles long and two in height. The Pilate told us that the doctors living quarters was on her. He came on board. He had the look of a grim spector. After examining both crews he admitted us but we laid there until the next morning.

The Pilate came on board early hoisted all sail on the ship with a good breeze on in favor of us we dock to number twenty eight East River two o’clock noon.


I have an original painting of this schooner the “Margaret Throop” of which both Capt. Arthur Wallace Simmons and Capt. Lockland Heyliger were captains at one time or another. These large schooners traded all over the world. Usually the captains were part owners of the schooners and when in the region they would stop in at Saba and see their families and friends for a few days while a local retired captain would take her out to see and “lay to” until the Captain and crew were ready to leave again.

Being Sunday the spirit of the day was all around. No sound of traffic to be heard, only four men sitting on the dock. Then I said it looked like eart was Heaven. Later on there came on board twenty boys from five to fifteen as far as one could guess to beg tobacco, around their mouths full of the juice of it.


Crew list of the schooner “Margaret Throop” with Capt. Lockland Heyliger of Saba coming in to New York harbour with last port Genoa Italy . 1919.

“We give them plenty. We had bought it in St.Martin where it was cheap life tobacco. Their greed for it surprise us. Each one would take a big life role it into a big ball and put it in his mouth. They all look like they had a bad toothache and their face was swollen.They behaved very good around asking plenty questions, what is this, what is that, how do this work and how do that work and soon then they begun to spit the deckful. The mate said to hell with you. If I let all of you remain half our longer it will take the whole of the ships crew to wash down her deck.

That night a fellaw came on board after eight o’clock with plenty brass buttons on. He said he work in the “HERALD” office. He told us that the “HERALD” had to sell papers for forty thousand dollars a day to cover her expence now.

I ask the cook if I could give him some pudding and coffee. All he says is you don’t want it if you like give him all of it. I brought one pan pudding and ask him if he would have some. He said yea, I never gets eney thing like this here. He ate the first pan. Can you eat more I said. He said yea and he ate all four pans that was intended for the supper and coffee of ten men.

“Then I said that is why you hear so often people of New York eat to much. We dident see him eney more. After a long time I ask a fellaw about him. He said that supper of pudding that fellaw ate on board your ship made him air tight for a month.

The next morning being Monday the ship began to unload. The unloaders were all Irish. Each fellaw when he come to eat a bucket with about three gallons of oat meal in it to put water on the oat meal and to drink during the day when they was thirsty. They would not drink ships water. They said the ships water from the West Indies was too thick for them. Then they ask me to go up in the street to the storm pipe as they called it for water to pur on the oat meal. I told them where in hell was I to find the storm pipe when I hadent been in New York in my life.

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The schooner “T.N.Barnsdell” owned by Captain Ernest Alfred Johnson of Booby Hill. My uncle Capt. Charles Reuben Simmons at one time used to sail with Capt. Freddie on this large schooner.

Later on I consent to go ashore in New York for the first time. I went with clothes on that I wore on the ship and barefooted. Being accustomed to wear no shoes I didnent mind the July hot sun. The soals of my feet was as thick as a Texas bulls hide, that is why I dident mind sun. I went and found the storm pipe.

On my way back I got into a thick of shoe blacks. Each one of them said to me; Say fellaw when you comes back put on your shoes, we want a shine. I told them I was coming back after five when my work was done, then I would have on my shoes. After five that my work was done I dress in decent clothes and put on my shoes as I want to go on Broadway.

When I got to the head of the dock the crowd was waiting for me. Thay made a rush on me. One fellaw said he want a shine, the other said he want one and the whole made a rush on my shoes. The shine the first put on the second made darker. From the rubbing of so many brushes on my shoes I found I was contracting bo leg. I  push them off and give them a quarter. It was all I was worth. I thought it was the best way I could spend it.

Then I went into Broadway. Being late there wasent many people and traffic must have slowed down. The Horse and Buggie moving along so slow on two occasions I was oblige to push them out of my way instead of me getting out of theirs.

Then I though a fellaw was safe in Broadway. Only a horse and buggie to be in your way and if they happened to get in your way you could push them out being so slow.(1876). Now (1931) I hear Broadway compares to a battlefield.

Capt. Lockland Heyliger's schooner

The schooner “E.Starr Jones” of which the captain was Lockland Heyliger. I remember Mr. David Donker telling me once that he caught a ride to New York and back on this schooner as a young man. She was transporting asphalt between Trinidad and New York and had stopped in at Saba to pick up some crew members and see family.

“ I left Broadway to make my way to the ship. Being late I hurried. When I got within hearing sound of the ship I heard singing. When I got on board I met a crowd of young men and girls jigging Yenkey doudle keep it up, yenky doudle dandy mind the music and the step and with the girls be handy.

Then a number of boys would join hands and form a ring with one standing in the center of the ring. He would pick his match from the ring and begin to have boxing sport. Everyone around would like the sport of it.

One day a shoemaker, came aboard the ship and ask us if we had eney shoes to be repaired. We went around and picks up quite a lot the sailors had left from one voige to another. Probably some might have been Noahs that he threw overboard from the ark. We had quite a lot of them asking him to take two or three pair and make one pair.

He must have thrown away the old ones and bought new ones on our expence. His bill surprise us, and a dispute started between us. He told me we had better pay the bill or he would put a lawyer. The Captain told us we had better pay the bill and we paid it.


My father’s cousin Capt. Augustine Johnson with his hand on his hip, pictured here on the coast of Florida with his insurance agents looking at his stranded schooner the “Robert L. Bean”. She could not be rescued as she was stuck in the sand. He lived to be well in his nineties as many of the other captains of Saba did.

The End.”

The writer married the widow of Dr. Nicolas Anslyn and is the one whom Carl Anslyn described as a lazy good for nothing. If Bush had been around back then I would swear that “Baker”, as he was called, had learned to write from him. Anyway it will come as a surprise to many today that there was a time when schooners from Saba sailed to New York on a monthly basis and traded with the that port for the islands..Sic Transit Gloria Mundiae.

Will Johnson

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