Commissioner Hubert Milton Josiah Peters
Hubert Milton Josiah Peters
By: Will Johnson
One morning I was driving my son Teddy to the Milton Peters College where he attended the VWO. I happened to mention to him the fact that I knew Mr. Milton Peters well and considered him a personal friend. Teddy could not believe that I knew Mr. Peters personally. He had assumed that Mr. Peters had passed away long before my time, but that was not the case.
Hubert Milton Josiah Peters (1891-1985) was born in the village of Cole Bay. As a young man, like many other Sint Maarteners of his day, he moved to the Dominican Republic and worked as a mechanic on a large sugar cane estate. He later (1929) moved to Aruba and worked there for many years in the LAGO oil refinery owned the ESSO standard oil company. Many times I heard him telling stories of his years in Santo Domingo and working on large sugar cane plantations in the area of San Pedro de Macoris and La Romana. There is where most of the workers from the Eastern Caribbean ended up. He was also very much about Aruba and the time he spent there working in the oil refinery. Many of our people from the Windward Islands went to work on Aruba starting in the nineteen twenties up to when Aruba got a separate status in 1986. When you check the phone book of Aruba you will still see many names of Windward Island’s origin. Some names you have to be careful with though. Everyone on Aruba thinks that Johnson’s Supermarket belongs to a cousin of mine. However on enquiry I learned that the Chinese owner did not think he would go far in life with his Chinese name so he simplified it by adopting the name of Johnson. The same goes for the Mayor of London Mr. Boris Johnson. I first thought he was a Russian but turns out his Turkish grandfather was the foreign Minister for the then Sultan and after the young Turks took over his country he moved to England and changed his name to Johnson.
Now after my usual digressing let us move back to my friend Mr. Milton Peters. In 1952 he moved back to St. Maarten where he entered politics and served as Commissioner, and Member of the Island Council until 1971.In 1955 he was the number 3 candidate on the list of the Democrat Party and received 31 votes. He was already 64 years of age when he started to run for office. He was elected to the Island Council and became Commissioner for the Island Territory of the Windward Islands. In the elections for the Island Council in 1959 he ran as the number 2 candidate and he received 44 votes. One must remember that in those days the number of voters was limited. In the Island council elections on St.Maarten, the number of eligible voters for 1951 were: 599 of which 513 voted. In 1955 there were 614 voters and 561 voted. In 1959 there were 681 voters of which 624 voted and in 1963 there were over 900 voters and 856 voted. So as you can see there were not many voters living on the island at the time.
In 1963 Mr. Peter’s votes grew and he received a total of 65 votes and was elected by the Island Council to his third term as Commissioner. In 1967 there were no elections and Mr. Milton Peters then 76 years old was elected to his fourth and last term as Commissioner by the Island Council. In 1971 at the age of 80 he retired to his home in Cole Bay but came regularly to town to visit with the new officeholders in government.
He was always very much about education. He was particularly in favour of the Dutch educational system and the advantages that were to be gained as a Dutch Territory in following the Dutch educational system. I remember having a discussion with him about the benefits of mother tongue language which was English, but he would counteract with a series of names of people who had gone to The Netherlands and who had done well. He always insisted on having the Portfolio of Education and visited the schools regularly. He would never pass a child on the road without finding out from him or her as to what they planned to study for. I must have learned that from him as I do the same thing when I give a young person a lift. Milton Peters did so much for education that when it was decided at the time to name the secondary school complex in his name there was only praise from the St. Maarten community for that decision.
I always enjoyed a good relationship with him. Even when I was the sole opposition resident candidate against the ruling Democrat Party to which he belonged we remained friends. Whenever he met me he would say:” Boy, Will, you brave all right. I thought Cole Bay had all the brave people but it look like Saba has some too.” Mr. Christian Sorton used to tell me that the Cole Bay people were of the opinion that if you were not from Cole Bay you were not from St. Maarten. I was supporting a candidate from Sucker Garden against a candidate from Cole Bay on the WIPM party ticket in 1973 and “Kaiser” who knew the Cole Bay people from Aruba thought he would give me that bit of advice. And of course he was right. However the Cole Bay I am writing about has disappeared. Now Cole Bay is under one roof and I wonder how many authentic Cole Bay people there are left nowadays.
In 1962 I, though I could not vote, was a supporter of the Democrat Party. I had been sent to Saba to campaign for the party. In those days there was one Senator for the three islands. Leading the ticket was the late Senator Claude Wathey. The party would campaign on all three islands. I remember going to St. Eustatius to take part in a public rally. Mr. Peters and I were staying at a Guesthouse across the road from the Administration building. We were getting ready for the meeting. I was upstairs in the building. This building burned down in the eighties but was later rebuilt in the old style and does not function as a guesthouse any more. I heard someone calling for help and the call sounded urgent. I rushed down the stairs. When I shouted out, it was Mr. Peters in the shower. He said:’Will, boy I am in trouble.” I thought perhaps he had fallen. That was not the case. He said:”Boy I am full of soap suds and out of water.” In those days there were only a few hours of electricity in the evenings. The water tank would be filled up with a hand pump. If you wanted extra water you had to go in the yard to the cistern and lower an old butter can or some other suitable can into the cistern and draw the water. Luckily there was such a facility in the yard so I went and drew a can of water. The shower stall was built like one of those Western saloons entrance doors, so that I could pass over the water to Mr. Peters. After the third or fourth can he shouted out:” Thanks, Will, boy you saved my life.” We later got dressed and headed up the road to where the meeting was being held. After that he would relish telling the story to everyone in my presence how “I had saved his life on Statia.”
He like many of the old timers did not take much to the idea of flying in a plane. Nevertheless in connection with his position as Commissioner he was obliged to fly. Senator Kenneth van Putten used to often tell me the story of how once he was flying with Mr. Peters back to St. Maarten from Curacao. Mr. Peters called over the stewardess and gave her specific instructions that due to his fear of flying that every fifteen minutes she should bring him a shot of whisky even though he was not a fan of drinking. Together he and the stewardess figured out how many drinks that would be. When the stewardess figured out that the plane would be on the ground when the last shot of whiskey was due, Mr. Peters exclaimed “Girl, after the landing, only then I will need a shot to calm my nerves. Bring it on whether in the air or on the ground.” And to her credit the stewardess complied. I also remember once being at the airport with Claude Wathey and Clem Labega. Claude was travelling somewhere. Someone from the office came with money for Claude to go with. However the document was only signed by the Lt. Governor and the person said that he could not locate Commissioner Peters. Clem knew that since I worked in the Receivers Office I, as a sort of hobby, had practiced all the signatures of the important people on St. Maarten. Not that I intended to defraud anybody. In this case it was an emergency. No credit cards back then and the flight was already on the ground. Clem turned to me and said “Johnstone do a Milton Peters for me and I guarantee you will not get locked up. So I plumped down the signature with the shaky hand of a person of age. When Claude saw the signature I have never seen him laugh like that ever. He kept staring at it and said: “Boy, Will you are dangerous, that is Milton Peter’s signature all right.” So as you can read in an emergency extraordinary solutions are needed to solve problems and they need not be done for illegal purposes but to solve an immediate and urgent problem.
I remember he had a son John also called “Hank”. Mr. Peters was always talking about a granddaughter who he wanted to go to school in Holland. I also remember once a lottery ticket which I had bought for a few months from Mr. Alexander Richardson “Alec the Butcher”. I think it was number 21387 if I am not mistaken. The week I did not buy it, Mr. Peters bought it and won the grand prize. Well that was the way it was supposed to be. My turn came much later so I cannot complain. At the time though, I thought “Oh boy, why me.”
These personal stories are for reflection only and are not meant in any way to demean the man or to take away from his outstanding record. Despite his advanced age, starting out in politics at the age of 64 years and ending it at the age of 80 he deserves much credit. Some people overstay their time in government and accomplish nothing. They fall in the category of the Oliver Cromwells message to the British Parliament when he told them: “You have overstayed your time, and have accomplished nothing. In the name of God, go!” Mr. Peters was a team player with his party leader Senator Claude Wathey. Despite his advanced age he was always pushing hard for a better education system on St. Maarten and the building of more schools. He should always be remembered for his great interest in education.