The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Archive for the month “July, 2015”

A report from the colonies

A report from the colonies

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A view of Saba from a plane passing over in the nineteen forties.

By. Will Johnson

When these islands were being fought over by various European powers there was quite some correspondence between the islands and the colonizers in Europe. Lots of this correspondence still survives in the archives in England and other countries and makes for interesting reading.

Here is a report from November 22, 1675 with answers to inquiries sent to Colonel Stapelton, Governor of the Leeward Islands, by Command of the lords of Trade and Plantations by Sir Robert Southwell.

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A view of the historic island of St. Eustatius or Statia from the nineteen forties.

Sir William Stapelton established a Federation for the Leeward Islands in 1674 with one Governor for the Leewards and a Lt. Governor for each island. It was active from 1674 to 1683 and because it was unpopular changes were made. The General Assembly met regularly until 1711.The islands referred to in this report and belonging to the British were, the middle part of St. Christopher’s (the two extremes of the island belonged to the French), Nevis at the time the most important island, Antigua, Montserrat, Barbuda, Saba, Statia and Anguilla.

Answers to the inquiries:

  1. A Council in each island, in number twelve, where persons enough to be chosen, but in most of the islands, except Nevis, there cannot be twelve, not being half populated. An Assembly composed of two freeholders from each parish, yearly chosen. Monthly courts of judicature in each parish, held by the Justice of the Peace, who is commissioned to Judge, with two or three members of the Council of Assembly as assistants, in causes not exceeding 1,000 lbs. of sugar, or 6l.5s.6d. Per 100 lbs., otherwise referred to the General Sessions, held twice a year by the Governor and Council. Recites the custom in Nevis since the infancy of settlement to this day.
  2. Courts of Judicature relating to the Admiralty.
  3. The legislative power is in the votes of the Council and Assembly, assented to by the Governor, who has a negative voice; laws so passed in force only for two years if his Majesty gives not his assent. The executive power in the Provost Marshal by warrant from the Governor, who also signs all executions, letters of administration, probate of wills, and licenses of marriage after publication made in churches.
  4. Many laws in force too tedious to be mentioned, some being frivolous, but those in force comfortable to the laws of England, and those of moment sent home.
  5. Two standing companies of foot in St. Christopher’s, which should be eighty in each company, besides officers, but now are only forty-nine in one company and fifty-four in the other, besides officers, and are in the greatest necessity ever soldiers were in, in sight of the French nation, whose soldiers are well paid, well-armed and accoutered. Seven companies of Militia, foot, English, French and Dutch, but little credit to be given to the aliens for all their oath. Nevis: only twenty-two in pay, and five gunners to guard the guns, a troop of sixty horse, ill-armed and horsed, because generally used to carry sugar. A regiment of 1,300, the Deputy-Governor Randall Russell, Colonel, Francis Morrison, Lieutenant-Colonel, Daniel Lanhather, Major, “sees” them all four times a month, when they are exercised; this country the worst for arms he has ever been in. Antigua: but two files of men in pay, a troop of 33 horse, a regiment of 770 foot, Colonel Philip Warner, Colonel, Lieutenant Colonel Rowland Williams, Major Thomas Mallett. Montserrat: but two files of men paid by the country in two forts, a troop of forty horse, a regiment of 877 foot, the Colonel, his brother Edward Stapelton, who is also Deputy Governor. Small number of people in Statia, Saba, and Anguilla, where Captain Abraham Howell is Deputy-Governor, with sixty men ill armed. In Statia and Saba four files of men, these islands of no advantage, but rather of disadvantage to His Majesty, being refuges for any who design fraud, and were better under water than above. In Barbuda some twenty servants belonging to those who have farmed the Island from Lord Willoughby for thirty years, they look after a considerable stock of horses, cattle, and sheep, which may in time be an advantage for victualing his Majesty’s ships, or the inhabitants of these islands. In Tortola good supply of timber.
  6. Describes the castles and forts within his government in St. Christopher’s, Nevis, Antigua, and Montserrat.
  7. Concerning the number of privateers that frequent the cost, their burthen, numbers of men and guns, &c. The number cannot exactly be given. The French have several at Hispaniola. The Dutch have had sixteen privateers last year in those parts, but none exceeded 25 guns; they much molested our merchants in the late war. Can name but few, Captain Barnes with 12 guns and 150 men, Captain Francis, a mulatto, with 12 guns and 60 men, William Hamlyn, who took a false oath against Captain Warner and ran away with a sloop from Antigua to Curacao; is informed Hamlyn is sent to Holland to be punished. The French and Dutch have considerable men-of-war every year, wars between them at Martinique, where de Ruyter landed soldiers. Whoever is master of the sea, and has good soldiers, from October to June, can carry or destroy the strongest islands.
  8. The strength of his neighbours, whether Indian or other nation: About 1,500 Indians in St. Vincent, Dominica, and St. Lucia, six hundreds of these bowmen are negroes, some run away from Barbados and Guadeloupe, 5,000 at Martinique, and 300 in the Grenada’s. Cannot tell the number on other islands plundered by the Dutch. At St. Cruce 600 men, and at Hispaniola upwards of 4,000. The Dane has no other Colony but St. Thomas with 30 inhabitants, they are but new planters, and have but two trading ships every year. The Dutch have a considerable fort at Curacao, and are settling Tobago where are 600 soldiers, in Surinam 600 inhabitants, but knows not their strength in other places. Cannot give account of the Spaniards and their Indians. Has not during the ten years he has been out seen any trade with the Indians. Trade between the Dutch and Spaniards for Negroes several thousand yearly. The French very considerable as to their trade and commerce.


    A view of St. Eustatius or Statia from St. Kitts. Statia from this point is only eight miles whereas the capital of St. Kittts (Basseterre) is 18 miles from this point. The islands are closer than we think. Colonialism has seemingly forever divided us in the Caribbean. We speak to each other via the colonial masters in Europe even those islands which are independent have to deal with us via a Dutch ambassador in Trinidad.

  9. The correspondence he keeps with his neighbours: With the Indians none at all, who are detestable for their villainies and barbarous cruelties.
  10. The arms and ammunition he found on the place, and has since received, and what remain.
  11. The money paid by His Majesty or levied within his Government towards buying arms, or maintaining fortifications and how spent.
  12. The boundaries, longitude and latitude, and land within his Government, number of acres patented, settled or unsettled, and manurable: Nevis contains by computation 320,000 acres, about 7 miles in breadth and 15 miles in length, 2,000 acres patented, the whole island settled, except the top of the mountain. Antigua, 28 miles in length and 12 miles in breadth, 120,000 acres whereof 100,000 acres manurable, whereof 70,000 taken up. About 3,000 acres in the several small adjacent islands. Montserrat, 25 miles in length and 8 miles in breadth, 60,000 acres, one-half not manurable because very mountainous, 20,000 acres patented, 4000 acres unsettled. Statia, Saba, and Anguilla never surveyed, fitter for raising stocks of cattle than to yield sugar or other commodities. Barbuda computed as big as Nevis, never surveyed, fit for cotton and indigo.
  13. The principal towns and places of trade, buildings, and their strength and size: In St. Christopher’s, Sandy Point, and Old Road, the places of trade, the buildings built ordinary of timber, covered with thatch, very few shingled. In Nevis, five places for trade, but two considerable; Charles Town, where good dwellings and storehouses, built with the country timber, not exceeding 60 feet long and 20 broad, story and a half, the “Hurri-Canes” having taught the people to build low. Morton Bay, where are but few houses, because ships ride at Charles Town and send their long boats to Morton Bay for lading. In Antigua, six places of trade, but only two very small towns; in St. John’s and Falmouth houses built as in Nevis. In Montserrat, three places of trade, Kingsale, Plymouth and the Road, trade and houses small; there were here some stone buildings, but the earthquakes having thrown them all down, they build with timber only except the boiling houses for sugar, which in part must be built of stone.


    At the time when Governor William Stapelton was in charge of the Leeward Islands colonies (Nevis, The center of St. Christopher, Montserrat, Antigua, Barbuda and Saba, Statia and Anguilla) Nevis was the most important island. Here is a view of Nevis from St. Christopher (St. Kitts officially since Independence). In the Governor’s report of 1675 he said that Saba and Statia were of no advantage but rather of disadvantage to His Majesty, being refuges for any who design fraud, and were better under water than above.

  14. As to parishes, precincts, or divisions : In St. Christopher’s, six parishes or precincts , seven divisions, termed so from the divisions of the companies, for they are called such, a captain’s division; the precincts or parishes from the churches formally there erected and demolished by the French. In Nevis, four parishes or precincts, thirteen divisions, which take their appellations as before from such and such captains. In Antigua, six precincts, which are the places of trade, but one church, and that at Falmouth, which serves also for the Court House, their watching and warding against the Indians not admitting of their public buildings, divisions ten. In Montserrat, four precincts, and but two parishes, only two churches ever built, and those demolished by the French, rebuilt by the Governor’s direction on his arrival, but levelled with the ground, by a terrible earthquake on Christmas Day,1672, “ and had the people been in the afternoon at church they had been knocked on the head.” In some houses persons were killed, as in his own “it is beyond my purpose to express the miraculous escape of my own family and others.” Ten divisions from the names of the captains. The other islands were never divided into any parishes or rules.
  15. The rivers, harbours, and roads: Six rivers in St. Christopher’s, and two roads in the English part. In Nevis, three rivulets, and “a very good hot bath,” but one road, the best in all these islands. In Antigua, two rivulets, four good harbours, and many a good road, bay, and creek, all named. In Montserrat, twelve rivulets, whereof three hot at their springs. Four waterworks for making sugar, and might be more if the island were well settled and encouraged. No harbours but three good roads, several good bays of depths for the best ship in the world. In Barbuda, Statia, Saba, and Anguilla, open roads, no rivers or harbours.


    The beautiful island of Montserrat as seen from Nevis. All of the islands in the Leewards are within view from the other islands. From where I live on Saba, on a clear day I once saw Antigua, and usually I see St. Martin, St. Barth’s, St.Eustatius, St. Kitts, Nevis and on a clear day about five times a year I can also see Montserrat from my home.

  16. Commodities of their own growth or production, and their value also of imports: Sugar, tobacco, indigo, cotton, and ginger; about 3,600 tons of sugar exported directly for England, and not more than 40 tons to New England, New York, and Virginia. Very few materials growing, or can be produced for masts, white and red cedars. Imports of the manufacture of England to the value of 50,000pound sterling, and wines from Madeira. Servants, horses, and provisions from Scotland, Ireland, and New England about 20,000 pounds. Sterling.
  17. Knows not of any store of saltpeter, but what Colonel Philip Warner has in cave in Antigua; questionless there are saltpeter, Sulphur, and other minerals in most of the Islands.
  18. The number of merchants and planters, English and foreign, servants and slaves, and able to bear arms: All English, if under that denomination, all the King’s subjects, 3,914, by lists refers to his answers to 5th inquiry, yet never expects two-thirds in the field, much less on service, “for in the exactest disciplined army, unless it be to receive pay or bread, the third part of the number listed does not appear, what by sickness, cowardice, or false musters, much less may be expected from Militia on service.”
  19. The number coming yearly to plant the last seven years and blacks or slaves brought in: No register has been kept, there are no foreigners except in St. Christopher’s, the number of blacks cannot be given for the same reason; the rates different according to their condition; from 3,500 to 4,000 lbs. of sugar given to the Royal Company’s factors, no certain rate but as agreed, from 20 to 22 pound sterling.
  20. Number of whites, blacks, or mulattos, born and christened the last seven years: The scarcity of Ministers, sometimes having none at all, and no registers kept of births, christening or burials is what can be said to this inquiry. No records of this Island (Nevis) have been kept “until they have felt the smart of it and built a good substantial Sessions House, and strong chests to secure all things in hurricane time.”
  21. The number of marriages the last Seven years: Shall advise with the Council of a method in future to enable a satisfactory answer to be given.
  22. The number of deaths: No register kept of burials.
  23. As to the value of the estates of Planters and the wealth of the islands in general: Reasons why no true estimate can be given: they generally conceal the number of their Negroes because levies are made for public charges per poll, yet, as near as may be, in St. Christopher’s 67,000 pounds, Nevis 384,660 pounds, Antigua 67,000 pounds, Montserrat 62,500 pounds, Statia, Saba and Anguilla 1,000 pounds., Barbuda 2,500 pounds.; by a conjectural estimation the wealth of all is 584,660 pounds sterling.
  24. The number of vessels trading yearly and their burthen: About 100, from 15 to 200 tons, besides ketches and sloops lading from one island to another.
  25. Obstructions to improvement to their trade and navigation: The want of a constant supply of servants from England, Scotland, and Ireland; the want of men-of-war; how the French are supplied; has not so much as a sloop to go from one island to another, but has to hire to his great charge. Copy of the King of France’s Order to the Marquis de Granee on this subject.


    The island of Nevis. At the time of Governor William Stapelton, Nevis was the most important colony. St. Kitts for only the middle part belonged to the English, and the two extremes of the island belonged to the French. Governor Thomas Warner who settled St. Kitts for his country in his dealings with the French claimed that he would rather have TWO devils for neighbours than ONE Frenchman.

  26. The advantages or improvements to be gained in their trade and navigation: A constant supply of servants and men-of-war; he building of a strong fort in each island. The French and Dutch have extraordinary care of their plantations. The Dutch now going to settle Tobago.
  27. Duties payable on goods exported and imported: No duties except the 4 and one half percent upon all goods; impost of 200lbs. of sugar per pipe upon Madeira wines, Spanish and Portugal, and of 50 lbs. per hogshead on French wines.

    Bishop's Lodge Antigua -1910

    Up until this day the Anglican Bishop of Antigua has Jurisdiction over the Anglican churches on Saba. Before 1860 all of Saba was Anglican.Philip Warner the Governor of Antigua and son of Governor Thomas Warner who settled St. Christopher for England, also had a brother named “Indian Warner”. When “Indian Warner” and his fellow Caribs from Dominica raided Antigua they took Philips wife and others hostage. Philip later went to Dominica, invited his brother on board his ship and murdered him.

  28. The revenue arising to His Majesty: No revenue but the four and a half percent already mentioned.
  29. The religion most prevalent: The Protestant most prevalent or professed in all the islands, the generality of the inhabitants being all Protestants, the Common Prayer and Divine Service being read every Sabbath. In Nevis, are some few Quakers, and in Antigua are sixty; in both islands as many various religions as at home, but most frequent the churches when they like the parson or a fit of devotion comes upon them; cannot tell the variety of their religions. In Montserrat most part are Roman Catholics, it being first settled by those of that persuasion, yet they give no scandal to the Protestant Church, which is the prevalent persuasion. Every license of marriage, probate of will, and all other ecclesiastical acts according to the Church of England; in fine, the Protestant religion is as eight to one, the Romish, in Montserrat, six to one Protestant and no Quaker, for they won’t let any live among them. The Quakers’ singularity and obstinacy have given the Governor more trouble than any others, not content with the peaceable enjoyment of what they profess in their families, they meet and once disturbed a Minister, for which they were imprisoned and fined, and have since been quiet. They will neither watch nor ward against the Caribbee Indians, whose treacherous and barbarous murders, rapes, and enormities discourage the planters in the Leeward Isles more than anything else.
  30. As to instruction in the Christian religion, churches, and Ministers, and their maintenance, the poor, and whether any beggars or idle vagabonds: The Ministers preach the word of God, parents send their children to some few schools, and Ministers catechize great and small. In all ten churches, in St. Christopher’s two, Nevis four, Montserrat two, Antigua two, in the other islands none; five Ministers in all, one not in orders, six more good ones would be sufficient; their maintenance is 10 lbs. of sugar per poll, white and black, besides what is given at marriages and funeral sermons. In proportion to the number of parishes fifteen Ministers are wanting, besides one each for Statia, Saba and Anguilla, but indeed ten or eleven are more than can be handsomely maintained by all the islands, so that six, with what we have, is enough. Collections are made for the poor, and by an Act parishioners are also rated, to which all voluntarily submit but the Quakers, whose goods are sold for payment of said rates. No beggars or idle vagabonds, for all who can are obliged to plant and work.


    The beautiful island of Anguilla with its world famous beaches was once mentioned in the same breath as Saba and Statia as we were part of one Federation.

33 pp. Endorsed, “Rec. 25 Jany. 1676-‘7.” [Co. Papers, Vol. XXXVIII., No.65; also Col. Entry Bk., Vol. XLV1., pp. 138-190]

This report continues and is very interesting. Also very interesting, though, to note that Governor Stapleton thought that Saba and Statia were of no advantage to His Majesty’s Government, that they were refuges for any who design fraud, and were better under water than above. These several hundreds of years later the Dutch Minister of Finance most probably entertains the same views as Governor Stapleton did in 1675.**

Easier research tool: The Internet.

Formerly my research consisted of going to the National Archives in Willemstad and The Hague and going through old documents one by one. After a while I gave up on the National archive in The Hague as they had so many petty rules and regulations that if you did have a morning free from scheduled meetings you would end up with at best one half hour to go through one old file or check a microfilm.

On Curacao it was a much more different problem. So many people know me there that I had not well sat down to plan my few hours when one or more or even plenty more people doing their own research would enter the building, see me there, and come over to greet me. Even people from another office building saw me go there and later told me that they were wondering what I was doing there as I was accustomed to go by their building and quarrel about projects.

Nowadays I have so many tools available to me via the Internet and from friends that I forget sometimes what all I have in my computer which has not been read as yet. Also with the computer you can brighten up the old documents and enlarge them so that reading documents from more than two hundred years ago is like reading a letter from a recent girlfriend. Just kidding.

Sometime back Ryan Espersen who is doing his own research, shared with me a whole set of documents from the National Archives in The Hague. I had almost forgotten them and came across them by accident when I was looking for something else in the computer. Among those documents are the Vendue Register starting with the year 1780.In these Registers are recorded all the Public Auctions which took place, whose estate was being auctioned off, who were the participants in the auction and so on.

Also I have historian friends who share information with me which they think I would be interested in. Recently my friend of many years and fellow historian Rose Mary Allen of Curacao was attending a conference of Caribbean Historians in the Bahamas. A gentleman from Puerto Rico presented a document at that conference which is of great importance to the History of Saba. I am in the process of contacting him to get permission to use his document. He found the information in the Spanish Archives in the lovely city of Seville . It concerns an incident which took place in 1654. It is quite extensive and informative. I have no problem reading and even translating this document from the Spanish and will do so later on.

For now though I would like to suffice with sharing a tiny portion of the documents which Mr. Ryan Espersen has been so gracious to share with me. Besides this on the Internet I have found so many articles and books which I have been trying to get these many years and now I can read them at my leisure. I am also eternally grateful that I learned several languages from early on and can enjoy reading good novels and historical items in Dutch, Papiamentoe and so on.

To give an idea of what I have in my computer still unread for the most part, here is just one item from the Auction Books.

Saba, September 21st, 1780.

” With consent of the Honourable Thomas Dinzey Esquire Governor of this island, this day is exposed to publick sale by His Honour a cask of rum belonging to Joshua Hassell that was seized for the Honourable West India Company through Peter Halley, neglecting not reporting the rum, he being the Master of the schooner “Three Friends”. This cask of rum exposed to the highest bidder. The cash to be paid the twenty second of this instant to the Vendue Master – Dinzey.

The cask of rum bought by Madam for Peter Halley for 25 Spanish Dollars.

By me: Charles Winfield.

* Now don’t ask me who the “Madam” is, her name is not mentioned, but it could be the wife of the Captain in order to recoup some of the money for the fine paid.

I have just started going through the documents so I will have much more in future articles.

The Simmons fleet

By: Will Johnson


This is the former home of one of Saba’s best known owner of many schooners, Capt. Thomas Charles Vanterpool. The home was finished in November 1900, and in the 120’s it was purchased by the Government for the official residence of the Island Governor a function it still has to this day. Capt. Vanterpool,s mother was a Simmons.

The first Simmons to be recorded in the Leeward Islands was Peter and Charles Simmons in St. Thomas in 1658. This father and son were soon recorded as living on Saba. The Simmons family of Saba originated in the South of England. Some of them if not all had a Jewish background. Those with a Jewish background were usually spelled Simmonds, but many were also spelled the regular way.

Schooner Ina Vanterpool

Sabans owned many schooner one hundred years ago, some of which were lost in hurriicanes. Here is the “Ina Vanterpool” owned by Capt. Thomas Charles Vanterpool and named after one of his daughters. Lost in the 1928 hurricane in the roadsted of the island of St. Eustatius.

The Simmons’ played an important role in the history of Saba. They were Commanders, Island Secretaries, and Harbormasters (although technically Saba had no harbor as such) and they were active in the merchant marine. I understand from a now deceased cousin in New York that in his research one of Henry Morgan’s lieutenants when he captured Panama City was a James Simmons. He probably ended up on Saba as well when pirates from Jamaica captured Saba and St. Eustatius in 1665.

On a list of creditors to the West India Company in 1686 there was a George Simmons and a John Simmons listed. In the population list of May 16th, 1699 there are two Charles Simmons’ father and son, the same for John Simmons and James Simmons as well as a Moddyford Simmons and a George Simmons.

The Simmons’ of prominence in former times mostly lived in The Bottom where they owned much of the land and houses at the time. Especially along the road leading to the Gap on both sides of the road belonged to the various Simmons captains. Through intermarriage among the other white families they were also related to the Beaks, the Vanterpool’s, and the Leverock’s and to a lesser extent the Johnsons’, the Hassell’s. Zeegers’ and so on.


A crew list of the schooner Margaret-throop from 1919 whose Captain was Arthur Wallace Simmons and others from Saba. on this trip H.L. Heyliger was her Captain and Cameron D. Simmons was a mate. Click on the images to get a full frame.

For this article I will highlight the life of only two of the many Simmons’ who were well known captains. A young man from St. Eustatius recently told me that he had never known that Saba had so many captains. I told him that the Simmons family alone had provided enough captains to have commanded their own fleet if they had so wished. In World War I it was estimated that around 135 captains from Saba were serving in the United States merchant marine and on the Saban fleet of schooners at the time serving the rest of the Caribbean, out of Barbados and other ports. In a census taken in the year 1912, out of a total male population of 774, no less than 530 were listed as seamen.

For this article I will highlight the life of Captain Thomas Simmons. He was the son of Joseph Benjamin Simmons (Black Head Joe), born on Saba march 5th, 1866, died august 31st, 1934, and Margareth Jane Simmons (“Maggie Jane).

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Schooner The “Mayflower” of which Captain Charles Reuben Simmons was her Master. Pictured here around 1928 in the harbour of St. Eustatius.

Maggie Jane was born in New York. Her mother was a Manning from Barbados and died at a young age in New York. Her father George brought her to Saba for his mother to raise her. As in so many cases back then he was lost in 1870 on a schooner in the North Atlantic. When Maggie Jane was an old woman her son Captain Tom took her back to New York where she died and is buried. She had ten children several of whom died at sea. In the back of the Anglican Church in The Bottom there is a plaque which reads as follows:

In loving memory of John Simmons, age 52 years. David W. Simmons, age 40 years, Richard R. Simmons, age 22 years, Isaac Simmons age 16 years. Lost at sea, September 1918. We cannot Lord, thy purpose see; but all is well that’s done by thee.

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Capt. Evan Lambert Simmons was Captain of the S.S. “Maracaibo” when she was commandeered by Urbina a Venezuelan revolutionary who took the Governor of Curacao and dependencies as a hostage to Venezuela.

John Simmons was captain of a Danish registered schooner from St.Thomas. The vessel and its crew were lost coming out of Miami. Richard 22 and Isaac 16 were sons of Maggie Jane.

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Capt. Samuel Augustus Simmons and his daughter. He was also harbourmaster. My uncle Herbert Simmons as a young teenager sailing with him on the schooner the “Georgetown” which in a race with another schooner from Curacao to St. Maarten made the 500 mile trip under sail in 48 hours.

Captain Tom as he was fondly called worked his way up from a cabin boy on schooners plying the West Indian trade to ‘Commodore” of the Moore McCormick line. He went as far as second mate on schooners and then joined the American Hawaiian Line as Quarter Master. In 1917 he went over to the Munson Steamship Line as third officer on the passenger liner “Murio’. He later became captain and was in command on the maiden voyages of the old 32000 ton “Argentina” as well as the new 22,000 ton luxury liner by the same name. The old “Argentina”, under his command, was the first troop ship to enter the ports of Australia during World War II and to stand by for D-Day in England. He was Captain of various ocean liners such as the “Western World’, the “American Legion’, the ‘Southern Cross’, and the ‘Pan America’. He later became commodore of the Moore McCormick Line. He spent fifty-two years at sea and was awarded the highest decoration by Brazil to a foreigner.

The following article is taken from the Brazil Herald of February 24th 1963:


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Commodore Thomas Simmons of the Moore McCormick lines with his brother Jim and sister Ottie when he retired from Moore McCormick.

Rio de Janeiro – Commodore Thomas N. Simmons, who arrives tomorrow in Rio on his last cruise aboard the Moore McCormack liner ‘Argentina’, yesterday was awarded the Cruzeiro do Sul by the Government of Brazil. He received Brazil’s highest award given to citizens of foreign countries in ceremonies during the ship’s stopover in Salvador, Bahia, from the hands of Bahia Governor Juracy Magalhaes. Commodore Simmons, friend and councilor to a myriad of international travelers, culminates 50 years on the sea on the SS.Argentina’s current “Sea Safari” cruise. This 63 day trip is Commodore Simmons’ last, as he has announced his retirement effective upon his return, April 17. And coincidentally another 50 years are celebrated in 1963 – the 50th anniversary of Moore McCormack Lines, founded in 1913 – one of America’s foremost steamship owners and operators, whose fleet includes the two new passenger liners, “Argentina” and ‘Brazil”, and 42 modern cargo liners.

SS Munagro Commodore Tom Simmons 3rd office 1922.

One of the many ships of the Rad D. Lines where Commodore Thomas Simmons started out as Captain.

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Captains Will, Jim and Engle Simmons pictured here with Governor Wim Lampe in the harbour of St. Thomas where Saba captains from the time of the Danes were harbormasters in that port.

The innate modesty of the Commodore camouflages a colorful career. To him all the flavor and excitement of the sea is not commonplace – far from it- but so much a part of his life that he accepts the unusual as the everyday, the crisis as the normal. The highlight of his career are people he knew and knows and loves; the Duke of Windsor, Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, corporate Presidents, Cardinals, Artists, Singers. Summing up, all are Tom Simmons’ exciting moments. The Commodore was born on Saba Island in the West Indies, of Dutch forefathers of seafaring bent. Commodore Simmons’ last trip takes him amidst friends in the Caribbean ports of Barbados, in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. Thence he and the “Argentina” sail to South and East Africa, through the Suez, to the Mediterranean and homeward via Italy, Spain and Portugal. These are familiar friendly places to Tom Simmons, faces of friends whom he relishes visiting. At many of the ports, officials, old cronies, visiting traveling companions and the Simmons people are planning commemorative ceremonies marking the 50th and retirement year of service of Commodore Thomas N. Simmons. A Grandfather a dozen times over, Commodore Simmons enjoys his holidays at his home on Long Island. But the sea is part of him, and anyone can see from his “Argentina” that he is a man of the sea.”

He was born in 1895. He met his wife Enid May Bruce in New York (she was born Montego Bay, Jamaica in 1902). She was a daughter of Captain Solomon “Butchy Coonks” Simmons of Saba and her mother was the daughter of the Scottish collector of Customs there. Only on his deathbed did Captain “Butchy Coonks” confess to his Saba family that he had a second family in Montego Bay. His son Captain Johnny Simmons went in search of the family and took the three girls to New York, two of which married Sabans. A son remained in Jamaica and lived to be a very old man.

The home which now belongs to Norman Winfield was the home in which the Commodore grew up in. His descendants regularly visit the island and the home known as “Maggie Jane’s House.”  One of Commodore Tom’s sisters (Elsie) was married to the well known Governor Xavier Krugers.

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Capt. Cameron Dudley Simmons with his Jamaican Saban wife and their children. One of his sons was also a Captain as well as his brother and father.

The other Simmons Captain I would like to highlight is Cameron Dudley Simmons.

He was born on Saba and his wife was Edna Blanche Simmons born 1904 and she also a daughter of Captain Solomon “Butchy Coonks” Simmons.

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A painting of the lovely schooner the “Margaret Throop” which I have at my home. Capt. Arthur Wallace Simmons was at one time her Master. Many Saban sailors worked on her as well.

He was a son of Captain Samuel Augustus Simmons and Mrs. Eva Simmons born Johnson. Captain Sammy was born on Saba and filled many functions in the Saba government administration at the time. His wife “Miss Eva” was born in Barbados. She was descended from a branch of the Johnson family who moved back and forth between Saba and Barbados. Whereas she was born on Barbados, her father William was born on Saba, and her grandfather also William was born on Barbados and so on.

Miss Eva and Captain Sammy also lost three sons at sea. One of them Captain Harold Simmons was lost with his entire family in the Gulf of Mexico. He was captain of a molasses tanker which broke in two in a storm. They were able to get into lifeboats, one of which with a David Johnson from Saba made it safely to shore. I have the report made after the disaster happened and the lifeboat carrying the Captain and his family was lost with all on board. Earlier with Captain Ralph Holm on board as a mate Captain Harold was shipwrecked on a coal boat which sank on route from Philadelphia to Boston. On that trip all were saved. Another older brother, a third mate on a schooner was lost off Cape Hatteras.

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Captain Charles Reuben Simmons when he was working as a pilot on the Demarara river during the Second World War,

Captain Cameron Dudley Simmons was born on July 10th, 1892 and died on January 17th, 1945. Dudley and his brother Samuel left Saba on a schooner sailing between the islands and New York. After sailing as mate on the schooner he then sailed with the American Hawaiian Line until he received his Master’s license. He sailed as Master on tankers and freighters. Some of the vessels which he commanded were the S.S. Antietam, S.S. Bulkco, SS. E.J. Nicholas (tankers) S.S. Alamar, S.S.Cubore (freighters). Just prior to World War II, Captain Dudley took the S.S. Laranaga from Boston destined for Murmansk, but just east of Iceland their convoy was wolf packed. The ship received a hit, but retained watertight integrity and went into Reykjavik for repairs. Captain Simmons went ashore but when returning to the ship on a launch he was injured. He was hospitalized for approximately three months due to a severely injured foot. When the ship returned from Murmansk it put into Reykjavik for him. In July 1942 he assumed command of the S.S. William Wirt, launched with two other Liberty Ships on the 4th of July of that same year. The ship loaded in Newport News, Virginia and the first of August set sail for the United Kingdom, arriving in Avonmouth, England. After discharging cargo the ship was sent to Newport, Wales to await loading for the North African invasion in November. The William Wirt was the first ship to enter a North African port in the invasion. On the next trip from Liverpool to Phillipeville, Algeria the ship was hit in an air attack, but made port and was able to discharge cargo. From Phillipeville the ship sailed to Gibraltar for repairs and returned to the United Kingdom where a survey found the ship not fit to continue carrying cargo, so it returned to the United States. For this he was awarded the Medal for Meritorious Service.

After a short vacation Captain Simmons commanded another Liberty ship until sometime in the spring of 1944. He then became Captain of the SS Point Loma, a seagoing tugboat. He served on this tugboat until his death of a heart attack in January of 1945. I have a copy of the logbook describing how he died at sea. He ended his career as so many from Saba did back then. He was buried at sea in the vast Pacific Ocean.

These were Saba’s glory days. These people immigrated not for welfare but to contribute to the countries where they emigrated to. In future articles I will highlight the lives of such captains of Industry as Ned Peterson who was the Chief Financial Officer of the Cargill company which employed 110.000 people. He was the only non family member of the MacMillan clan to have held such a high position in the 150 year old company.

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Captain James Knight Simmons of the “Grace Lines” here with his wife Helen on his ship the “Santa Barbara” . He was also Captain of the “Santa Rosa” and the “Santa Paula.”

Also Howard Hassell of St. John’s who worked on the atomic bomb, Prof. Eric Simmons (92) from whom only this past week I received a long letter, and Dr. Mozes Crossley a chemist. If you check his name on the internet they will tell you he is a famous United States scientist, though they do admit that he was born on Saba.

Some of these people still have family on Saba who are proud to tell you of their family and what they were able to achieve with the challenges they faced and the limited resources Saba had to offer at the time. The question is, are we rising to the challenge now in our time of plenty?


Natural disasters; History we continue to live with.

Cyclone 26 Sept. 1932, R.C. Church in The Bottom off its foundation.

Hurricanes did not even spare the churches. Here is a photo from 1928 after a hurricane in which the R.C. Church In The Bottom, Saba was blown off its foundation. With some jacks from the Dutch marines and Saba manpower it was placed back on its foundations.

By: Will Johnson

Starting with hurricane Hugo in 1989, the islands people would have to think that we are going through unusual times. This is far from the historic reality of our region. The late Carlyle Granger used to remind me of a sermon by Father A.L. Cromie of the Anglican Church on Saba (1953 -1954). The sermon was on the occasion of the burial of the victim of the first fatal motor vehicle accident on Saba in 1954. Father Cromie, according to Carlyle advised that you cannot question God about everything that happens in life. He said that when you choose to live here you should be aware that you are living on a dormant volcano in the worst part of the Atlantic hurricane belt. Knowing those facts you could choose to live somewhere else. He did not mention tidal waves, and rocks falling down the sides of the mountain and killing people but we have had those too.


The once lovely city of St. Pierre Martinique the Paris of the West Indies was toally obliterated by the eruption of Mt. Pelee in May of 1902. My great grandfathers knew this city well. Over 40.000 people lost their lives.

Over the centuries there has been an awful lot written about natural disasters in the West Indies, including volcanic eruptions, the greatest of which being Mount Pele which destroyed the lovely city of St. Pierre in Martinique. I just finished reading Jean Rhys’ Book of Short Stories. She was born on the island of Dominica in 1890. Let me start this article with what she wrote about the eruption.

“Ash had fallen. Perhaps it had fallen the night before or perhaps it was still falling. I can only remember in patches. I was looking at it two feet deep on the flat roof outside my bedroom. The ash and the silence. Nobody talked in the street, nobody talked while we ate, or hardly at all.  I know now that they were all frightened. They thought our volcano was going up.

“In the afternoon two little friends were coming to see us and to my surprise they both arrived carrying large glass bottles. Both the bottles had carefully written labels pasted on: “Ash collected from the streets of Roseau on May 8th, 1902.” The little boy asked me if I’d like to have his jar, but I refused. I didn’t want to touch the ash. I don’t remember the rest of the day. I must have gone to bed, for that night my mother woke me and without saying anything, led me to the window. There was a huge black cloud over Martinique. I couldn’t even describe that cloud, so huge and black it was, but I have never forgotten it. There was no moon, no stars, but the edges of the cloud were flame-coloured and in the middle what looked to me like lightning flickered, never stopping. My mother said: ‘You will never see anything like this in your life again.’ That was all. I must have gone to sleep at the window and been carried to bed.

“Next morning we heard what had happened. The Roseau fishermen went out very early, as they did in those days. They met the fishermen from Fort de France, who knew. That was how we heard before the cablegrams, the papers and all the rest came flooding in. That was how we heard of Mont Pele’s eruption and the deaths of 40,000 people, and there was nothing left of St. Pierre.

“As I grew older I heard of a book by a man called Lafcadio Hearn who had written about St. Pierre as it used to be, about Ti Marie and all the others, but I never found the book and stopped looking for it.”

I have often referred to Lafcadio Hearn’s book which forms part of my library.” Two Years in the French West Indies” gives a vivid description of life in St. Pierre. According to Jean Rhys it was described as a wicked city. The women were the prettiest in the West Indies. Even the married women tied their turbans in such a way to indicate that they were “free.” The last bishop who had visited the city had taken off his shoes and solemnly shaken them over it. After that, of course, you couldn’t wonder.

On the 27th and 28th of April in the year 1812 there was an eruption of the volcano in St. Vincent. On Barbados the people woke up finding the island under a thick layer of ash. It was not until days later that word arrived of the eruption and solved the mystery of the ash. This ash, by the way, fertilized the cane fields on Barbados for the next 100 years. Again in 1902 a few days after the Martinique disaster the volcano on St. Vincent erupted with loss of life and with nearly the entire Carib Indian population wiped out as a result.


St. Pierre once the loveliest city in all of the West Indies, completely destroyed by volcanic eruption in May 1902. One Saban Roland Hassell lost his life on a schooner in the harbour in that eruption. My grandmother used to tell me that they heard the explosion all the way on Saba and it turned dark in the afternoon and ash fell here on Saba.

There have been also more than 75 tidal waves in the Caribbean region in the last 500 years. Approximately 10% of the world’s total” telesunami’s” took place far from our region but affected us nevertheless. The earthquake in Lisbon, Portugal in 1775 caused a tidal wave which affected the West Indies. Every five years or so a tidal wave can have consequences, like rough seas and can destroy boats and coastal areas. If coasts are smooth surfaced the tidal wave will not break up easy and could cause immense damage. The tidal wave of 1775 was also felt very strongly on St. Maarten. As a matter of fact the entire Great Bay harbor dried up when the sea pulled out and it remained that way for no less then twelve hours. The venturesome few could walk out into the Great Bay with baskets and pick up fishes lying on the sand, which just hours before had been the bottom of the sea. Most of the terrified inhabitants of Philipsburg took to the hills. The water came back with a rush and with a terrific noise.  In his book “Memories of Saint Martin N.P.”, Mr. Josiah Charles Waymouth mentions that 1867 was the year of another great tidal wave and earthquake. “The sea receded an unusual distance and fishes were seen wriggling on its naked bed. According to reports of eyewitnesses, given at the time, there was much consternation and some were preparing to escape to the country – then the disturbance ended with nothing more serious than the swashing of the surf up into “Miss Melia’s Alley’ a cross-street later renamed Loodsteeg.”

Carlson Velsasquez told me that as a boy Miss Helena Buncamper (died aged 92 on 17.04.1958, born 1866) used to tell him stories about that tidal wave. My grandmother Agnes Simmons used to tell me about St. Maarten tidal waves as well and she also claimed that a large wave had come in through the gut below the airport on Saba and had washed down into the Cove Bay. Also teacher Frank Hassell tells me that in the nineteen fifties there was a report on St. Maarten of a tidal wave coming , and that Miss Browlia Maillard had decided to go to French Quarter to stay by friends but nothing came of it.

The New York Times of December 2nd, 1867 reports the following under the headline: WEST INDIES.

Earthquake and volcanic eruptions at St. Thomas, Saba and St. Domingo.

St. Thomas, Monday November 18th. “Another earthquake, accompanied with volcanic eruptions, has occurred. The sea rose 50 feet, causing immense damage to houses and shipping. The losses cannot yet be estimated. The Isle of Saba, one of the Dutch possessions, situated within eighteen miles of St. Eustatius, of which it is a dependency, has also, it is averred, suffered terribly from a like disaster. A slight shock of earthquake has been felt at St. Domingo.”

Havana, Sunday December 1st. “Later news from St. Thomas states that the earthquake above referred to has been followed by another. No details of this latest calamity are given.”

On Saba on February 8th, 1843 there was a strong earthquake with serious aftershocks taking place in the days following.

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St. Martin experience at least twice tidal waves. In my book “For The Love of St. Martin” i write about it.Even on Saba once there was one that came in through the Savannah pond and went overland into the Cove Bay.

Dr. J. Hartog also mentions that the earthquake of 1867 cause rifts in the earth on Saba and resulted in the mountain smoking and gasses escaping. He also claims that this happened again in May of 1920. However I interviewed a number of old timers formerly who could remember nothing of the 1920 claim.

On the last Sunday in December of 1867 the visiting Anglican priest from Anguilla the Rev. Warneford describes another series on earthquakes on Saba. In a letter of 31 December 1867 he said: “I have also to express my great satisfaction at the Congregations in the islands of St. Barths and Saba. I spent the last Sunday in the year on the latter island, on which occasion I had a full assembly at both Morning and Evening services. Indeed I may say I had a Congregation all Sunday night, far into Monday morning – for on that night at 9 o’clock we experienced a fearful shock of earthquake and in a few minutes the Governor’s house (Moses Leverock) was filled by a terrified crowd, for whom, after some order was restored, I prayed, and implored God’s merciful protection, and administered from time to time words of consolation on those ready to faint with fear, imploring them to put their trust in God. On Monday morning, I proceeded to the Windwardside, and held service as usual in Capt. John Hassell’s hospitable house, to a large assembly of attentive and fear-stricken people (for the Mountains still quake). I made my discourse applicable to the occasion and received 6 new communicants.”

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Hurricane “Alice” passing Statia on January 2nd 1955. They can come at any time of year. There was one once in March 1908 in which a Saban schooner and all its Saban crew were lost when leaving St. Kitts.

The Dutch Windward Islands had historic great hurricanes as well. In the hurricane of 1772 the only church and 100 houses on Saba were severely damaged or destroyed. Cotton and coffee plantations were destroyed as well. In September 1890 the hurricane destroyed 20 straw huts and 1 wooden house in The Bottom. Windwardside which was the worst hit lost 32 straw huts and 38 wooden houses. Many people had to live in caves after that including my great-great-grandfather Jacob Vlaun where on Hell’s Gate a cave is still named after him. Of course as soon as they could the Sabans rebuilt their lost houses and no longer had to sleep in caves.

Many of the hurricanes which hit Barbados in ancient times also ended up here by us. Records indicate severe hurricanes in 1670 – 1674 – and a most terrible one in 1675 (August 31st) which swept the island of every house and tree except the few that were sheltered by some neighboring cliff. There were also hurricanes in 1700, 1702 and 1731. However the hurricane of 1780 known as the “Great Hurricane” which reportedly killed 25.000 people in the West Indies was the greatest of them all. Even on St. Eustatius where it arrived on October 12th, it was reported there were 5000 dead. In checking the population figures for that time I think it must have been around 500 dead, still a considerable amount of people. The old timers even claimed that the doors of the Dutch reformed Church on St. Eustatius had been found close to where I live on “The Level” here on Saba.

Schooner Ina Vanterpool

The Saban owned schooner the “Ina Vanterpool” lost in the Sweptember 1928 hurricane off the town of Oranjestad, St. Eustatius. Many Saban owned schooners and their crews from Saba found a watery grave in times of hurricanes. In my book “Tales From My Grandmother’s Pipe” there are many stories of men lost at sea from Saba in times of huricanes.

A report from Barbados gives an idea of the great hurricane. “On the 10th of October of the year 1780, the heavens at an early hour were overcast with a most dismal darkness, and the unusual aspect of the clouds plainly indicated the devouring storm. At dawn of the day the wind, rushing with a mighty force from the North-West, was accompanied with heavy rain, and before midday many buildings in different parts of the island were in ruins. Towards evening the storm increased, and at 9 o’clock had attained its height, but it continued to rage till four next morning, when there was a temporary lull; but like a vindictive tyrant, who in his expiring moments, is insatiate with the carnage of his strength, it struggled to complete the work of desolation and death.

“Before day-break, the cattle and the forts, the church, every public building and almost every house in Bridgetown, were leveled with the earth. This visitation was ever afterwards denominated as the Great hurricane, for it was not until August 10th– 11th, 1831 that a greater occurred. “In July 1831 in Barbados there was an unusual quantity of rain; it, indeed is said to have rained almost incessantly and caused 2500 deaths and 5000 wounded. The description given of the hurricane of 1780 on Barbados can be applied to the hurricane of September 21st, 1819 which destroyed St. Martin. More than 200 people died, 384 houses totally destroyed, Simpson bay was cut off from the land by The Corner and remained isolated for the next 120 years or so. In 1829 when Dutch historian M.D. Teenstra visited St. Maarten he said there were only 26 houses in Philipsburg which were partially useable and the economy was totally ruined. On St. Eustatius it rained from to April 7th to April 13th, 1792 and even swept people out to sea and destroyed warehouses on the Bay. Also on November 1st, 1755 there was an earthquake on St. Eustatius and again on July 11th, 1785 there was a severe earthquake on St. Eustatius which reportedly lasted for two and one half minutes. This happened while church services were going on and the congregation and the preacher rushed through the doors and jumped through the windows of the church.

Since hurricane Hugo in 1989 the islands have had their share of hurricanes, such as Luis, George, Lenny, Marilyn and many more which names we have forgotten by now. Also on the island of Montserrat the volcano started erupting and caused the destruction of Plymouth and the departure of two thirds of the population from the island. And while I was writing this a man presented himself on my porch, said he was God and from Holland and had come to warn me that before Thanksgiving the world will be destroyed. I could only get rid of him by promising that I would mention that he, God had been told that I was the smartest person on the island and through me he wanted to warn you all. So we will wait and see if this God from Holland knows what he is talking about.



No, it was not “Pork Chop” or “Slippery”, “Sleepy”, “Rusty” or any of the multitude of West Indian characters which I have had to deal with in my long political career.

I was having dinner at one of my favourite restaurants at the Maho. I was a bit worried as my Tanzanian dentist on St. Eustatius had done some emergency work on a tooth a couple of weeks ago, and referred me to dentist Halley for yet another extraction. I was not so worried about that part. What worried me was that I had read recently of a man my age who went to the dentist and remembers nothing after that. It was on the news and as my Grandmother would swear to that anything in print had to be the truth. The man can remember everything his grandmother told him when he was in diapers, but nothing since he left the dentist’s office. So certainly cause for concern and I was putting my fears to rest while consuming the best escargot served in the “New World”.

Suddenly I heard a hard knock on the window opposite the booth where I was having dinner. An apparition appeared at the window. A ghost from the past. He had climbed up the side of the restaurant to greet me. How he managed that I still do not know. These characters have eyesight better than your avareage human being and can spot a politician from miles away. He had seen me from way across the street by the Casino where he hangs out. Once a long time ago I went into that casino to try my luck. I seldom do that. On my second try at the roulette the number I played brought home to me $700.– and immediately I was pounced on by the same character with the announcement:” Johnson, I want my share. When you win I win!” He had another nickname back then, either “Ivory Soap” or “Vitamin B. Complex”, I just cannot remember anymore what it was.

While these thoughts were going through my mind the French waiter who stands outside to lure customers to come inside, came in my direction with an incredulous look on his face. Just a minute before my wife and I  who both like President Obama were discussing the high and low points of his Presidency.

The French gentleman then said: “You know Obama?” I thought he had overheard our conversation. But NO! The waiter from Santo Domingo told him: “Mr. Johnson does not want to see Obama, chase him away.” Well! It was only then that I realized that the apparition at the window high above the street level was “Obama” formerly known as “Slippery” or “Sleepy” or something of the sort. I saw him leaving down the steps outside after the Frenchman gave him chase.

With more than fifty years in politics in the islands and as a writer I have accumulated my fair share of these sort of characters. I as a small island politician have also had the privilege to dine with Queens, Kings and a number of Presidents including Bill Clinton and George Bush, and Vicente Fox and most of the Latin American Presidents, and I feel a bit sad that when “Obama” wanted to dine with me he was put to chase by the French and the Dominicano.

When we paid for the dinner I put a twenty dollar bill in my pocket. My wife said to me:” That’s for Obama right?” I said “Yes” thinking that I would see “Obama” on my way back to the hotel as I had to pass the Casino, but it was not to be as “Obama” had disappeared into the night.

As I was writing this I felt something in my pocket. It was “Obama’s” twenty dollars and I will keep it handy for the next time when he climbs up the side of the restaurant to notify me of his presence.

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