The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Archive for the month “February, 2016”



BY: Will Johnson


Daniel Johnson as a young man.

In my family there are any number of men with the name of Daniel besides my father and grandfather. It is claimed that our common ancestor was the pirate Daniel Johnson also known as “Johnson the Terror” an honour bestowed on him by the Spanish who were his main target back in the day.

This Daniel who I wrote about many years ago in the Saba Herald (Vol.18 December 24th, 1985 issue 209) was the son of my great uncle Henry Johnson a brother of my grandfather Daniel Johnson. You catch my drift with explaining about all these Daniels?

Back when there were no politics going on I would use the Saba Herald in its rest period from local politics to highlight the lives of a number of Saba people. In retrospect I am happy that I did that. Over the years I have done so many eulogies for people that I could go back and if I had done an interview with them I could use that interview for the eulogy. Afterwards many of the family members of the deceased would come up to me and tell me: ‘I never knew that. I never knew that my grandfather had even left Saba much less to have travelled to all of those places you mentioned etc.’

Now that I have my own blog ‘The Saba Islander’ and my column ‘Under the Sea Grape Tree’ a lot of which I wrote in the past still comes in handy to enlighten a new generation as to who their ancestors were and what they did with their lives back in those trying times.

Sanny Goud a granddaughter of this Daniel has been sending me photographs of members of her family and in my data base I also have some. I want to surprise her with this article about her grandfather Daniel.

Schoolchildren Palmetto Point

A group of schoolchildren of Palmetto Point, Daniel Johnson is in the picture as well as Charles Simmons his brother the little brown boy in back, and the lady holding the baby was a widow and married John Skerritt the teacher who also took this photo.

Palmetto Point and Middle Island were the names given to the two villages established above the Well’s Bay when in 1629 a Spanish fleet captured St. Kitts from the French and the English and chased out as many people as possible some of whom sought refuge elsewhere. In all the official records up until the early part of the past century the village of Palmetto Point was known as such. Oral history has it that it was also called Mary’s Point in the early nineteen hundreds because a woman named Mary had a large number of children and people started calling it ‘Mary’s Point’. So be it but as a historian I am obliged to call a spade a spade so that our people can survive amidst a flood of false history being poured down on them.

These two villages were named after two with similar names which they had left behind on St. Kitts.

The article in the Saba Herald reads as follows:’ in continuing a series of articles on the old folks this month we would like to tell the story of Daniel Johnson who lives on Hell’s Gate. He was born in the village of Palmetto Point (also known as Mary’s Point) on December 1st 1903. He is still very active at his age, and still goes fishing down through the cliffs to “Great Hole” and even out to the ‘Saba Bank’ if you asked him to. His father Henry Thomas Johnson was born at behind-the Ridge (son of George Rodney Johnson and Sarah Elizabeth Vlaun). He moved to Mary’s Point and married Catherine Neesha Bail of Middle Island. He shared up the load of having many children with her sister. This seems to have occurred not only in his case but on St. Martin I knew a number of cases where two sisters bore children for the same father. And my great uncle also managed to produce a little brown berry whose picture you will see in the post with this article of the schoolchildren of Mary’s Point in which Daniel is also present.

Agnes Johnson-Zagers with her family.

Daniel ‘Pat’ Johnson’s wife Susan on the right with her hand on the shoulder of her niece Rose Johnson.

Daniel grew up in Mary’s Point and at the age of eleven he was sent to live in St. Eustatius with the Roman Catholic priest Father Hauptmann for seventeen months. In 1914 there was a big epidemic on the islands and especially on St. Eustatius. Pat’s duties included not only ringing the bell and taking care of the grounds of the church and presbytery but also being an altar boy. He became scared of all these funerals and more and more people dying so he decided to run away and head back for home. He stowed away on the Saban schooner “The Estelle”. Captain Tommy discovered him in St. Maarten but brought him home to Saba anyway.

Schooner Estelle belonging to Capt. Thomas Charles Vanterpool.

The schooner the ‘Estelle’ of Capt. Tommy Vanterpool on which Daniel made his escape back to Saba.

Daniel remained home on Saba until he was nineteen (19) years of age and then he took off for Bermuda. In those days most of the young men especially from Hell’s Gate and Mary’s Point would go to Bermuda to find work and many Sabans remained there. He went with Capt. Ulric Dowling on the schooner the ‘Thelma’ to St. Kitts and then on to Bermuda with the Royal Mail Line. Before that he remembers going once with the ‘Thelma’ to fish on ‘Aves’ or ‘Bird Island’ with Feredoom Hassell, George Johnson, George Hassell, Winnie Hassell and his father Henry Johnson. They went there to catch and corn fish, turtles and also birds.

12746202_1691506737798101_1095613672_n Cynthia Goud-Johnson

Cynthia Goud Johnson only child of Daniel.

Daniel stayed three years in Bermuda. He worked as kitchen helper in the Belmont Hotel, and the Elbow Beach Hotel.  He returned to Saba but went back to Bermuda and stayed there a total of eleven years altogether. He came back to Saba and got married at the age of 29 to Susan Zagers. They couple had one child, their daughter Cynthia Goud-Johnson who lives on Aruba and was here recently (1985) with her daughter visiting ‘Pat” as he is popularly known.(After this was written she, her husband and her two children moved to Rotterdam and in the meantime her husband has passed away).

After he married he went first to Curacao to work for the SHELL oil company where he first worked in operations and also worked as a fireman. However Sabans have the salt of the ocean in large measures in their blood and it was not long after that he that he took to the sea on the Shell oil tanker the ‘Josephine’. He quit later, returned to Saba for some time and then headed out again. This time to the island of Aruba to work for the ESSO oil company. There he once again worked on the oil tankers. Later on he worked in the dining hall until he received his pension in 1961 and returned permanently to Saba where besides his wife Susan he had a large number of nieces, nephews, sisters and brothers as well.


Cynthia Johnson -Goud and her cousin Rose Weerd-Johnson both of them married Dutchmen and ended up in Holland.

When the Captains Quarter’s Hotel was opened in 1965 Pat went to work there as the Chef and worked until 1970 or thereabouts.

Daniel has fond memories of his youth in ‘Mary’s Point’ even though he describes life there as having been very ‘tough’. All there was to do there was farm the land (work in the ground as we say) and fish in boats or along the cliffs. His father had 13 children by the two Bail sisters from Middle Island as well as “Long Charlie” (Charles Simmons brother of James Anthony Simmons). They all grew up in a 2 roomed house. He said they always had plenty food, they even used to give away food to other people. The land above ‘Mary’s Point’, was good farm land and was always worked out. They would exchange their produce for coffee, sugar, clothing etc. They did not keep cattle, goats or sheep but they always had plenty pigs. Every day they had fresh fish to eat, fresh fish and potatoes. Pay says you could get up in the morning at Mary’s Point, run down the cliff and by eight o’clock AM you could be back home with a large string of fish. He says ‘we all worked like hell but overall had a good life and regrets that there was no good school’. He did learn to read and write from Mr. John Skerritt a school teacher who came here from Montserrat to teach the children of Mary’s Point. I have an old photograph with Mr. Skerritt’s class with Pat in the photo as a young boy.

Image (226).jpg

Henry Johnson’s house at the edge of the cliff at Palmetto Point.

Just a couple of weeks ago the bulldozer made the final approach to the Well’s Bay. When completed one would be able to drive in comfort to well’s Bay and the walk from there to ‘Mary’s Point’ will seem like a leisurely stroll.

For people who lived there though it was quite isolated. In 1934 most of the residents of the village were moved to ‘The Promised’ land in The Bottom, while others including Pat’s father Henry moved to Hell’s Gate. When he died he was buried in the yard of his daughter Laurie and her husband Herman. Many people feel that if the village had not been removed that a road would have been there years ago and the village would still be there. However the other problem was the fact that the cliffs below ‘Mary’s Point’ had started to erode and has become worse in recent years. This was a special threat to the continued existence of the village.

Image (227)

The village of Palmetto Point as it looked in 1909.

Pat has lived long enough to see many changes on Saba. Who knows, if he lives some more years, if he will not again see houses in his former village. Even a little hotel and perhaps Pat can have the honour of cooking the first meal in the ‘Mary’s Point Lodge’.

I remember after this interview I made a drawing of the village based on what he told me. When I showed it to him he was amazed and could not believe that it was not done when the houses were there. Years later after he had given back his soul to his God, I found two photo’s in the Dutch archives. One of them shows his father’s house teetering on the edge of the cliffs. He would have been so happy to see the old village in which he grew up.



Maritime Marronage by Slaves from Saba


The Dutch West India company was the principal transporter of African slaves to the West Indies and elsewehere.


This is an interesting document. My friend Rose Mary Allen from Curacao sent it to me after attending a conference of Caribbean historians in the Bahamas. We have permission from the author, Prof. Josue Caamaño Dones from the University of Puerto Rico, to publish it, and also we must thank Mr. Raymond Simmons for his excellent translation of the original document which was in the Spanish language.

I have never seen any Dutch historian refer to this document before. It was found in the Spanish archives in the city of Seville. I will go ahead and post it and then check it with the latest translation and see if we can add more to it as well as some more photos. In the meantime ENJOY!!


The general history of slavery and forms of its resistance from under the yoke of European settlers in various parts of the Caribbean can be well told using a great compilation of literary sources.[1]   In comparison, the phenomenon of maritime maroonage—specifically of those slaves who used the sea as an escape route—has a smaller yet excellent documented source list. Although an abundance of news about the phenomenon exists in sixteenth to nineteenth century literature, only a few proceedings dedicated to documenting these maritime Maroons have been well preserved.

In this brief paper, we present a case of maritime maroonage during the XVII century recently found among Puerto Rican documents conserved in the General Archive of the Indies in Seville, Spain. Our intention is to examine the dynamics of the phenomenon in light of proceedings on record made against 14 slaves who in early April 1654 fled the Dutch island of Saba and reached the southern coast of Puerto Rico in search of freedom.[2]

Saba Island, 1640-1675

The conquests of Curacao and St. Eustatius in 1632 and 1634, respectively, marked the future colonization of the Netherlands Antilles. The Dutch West Indies are officially called Nederlandse Antillen in its official language, Dutch, or Antianan Hulandes in Papiamentu. They are divided into two geographical groups. One, located east of the Virgin Islands, are the Windward Islands St. Eustatius, Saba and the Dutch side of St. Maarten. A second group of islands, located 560 miles southwest and closer to the northern coasts of South America, consists of Curacao, Aruba and Bonaire, are known as the Leeward Islands. The development of the islands was uneven. Although their historical development has many common features, the roles assumed by each island in the scheme of intra-Caribbean trade are subject to some disparities due to their ethnic and socio-economic settings. The available bibliography on these islands confirms these aspects.[3]

Saba is a small island of 13 km2 located 150 miles southeast of Puerto Rico and 26 miles northwest of St. Eustatius. The Dutch began to colonize it around 1640 by founding the port of Spring Bay, although Spanish and Dutch settlers had already arrived to the island before 1632. Its economy practically depended on contraband trade with other areas of the Caribbean. As with St. Eustatius, the presence of an 800 meter volcano, now known as Mount Scenery, left barely any room for any planned and extensive agriculture. [4]


St. Eustatius was one of the Dutch slave trading centers for the Northern Caribbean. I recall Mr. Jose Pinedo of Curacao who was married to a girl from Saba telling me how her grandfather would tell him stories of his grandfather going to Africa to pick up slaves for these islands.

During the XVII century, Saba had become a haven for pirates from Jamaica and elsewhere in the Caribbean. On the island they found good coasts to settle where they could dock their ships and hide from the persecutions against corsairs like themselves. The pirate society of Saba did not prevent the Dutch governors from succeeding in establishing rum production by the Dutch settlers installed to the task from the cultivation of sugar cane, a fairly prominent sector in the economy. Beyond that, agriculture was almost nonexistent; however, part of the population was engaged in fishing.[5]

During this time, the context of the Atlantic wars in the XVII century determined the evolution of the Dutch West India Company or “Geoctroyeerde West-Indische Compagnie” (WIC) and hence, the subsequent evolution of the islands. The British began to emerge in colonial power and competition. Paradoxically, wars against the Dutch Republic in the 1650s ultimately produced economic, instead of political, developments of the West Indies under Dutch control. In 1654 when the WIC lost control of New Holland of North America and Brazil, and in 1664 when New Holland went into British hands, the colonies of the West Indies resented these failures, despite their remaining in Dutch hands. The Dutch colonial losses were due partly to the struggle WIC had in attracting settlers according to the “patroon” system which involved contracts WIC executed with some merchants, encouraging them to emigrate as settlers to these islands. After the bankruptcy of 1674 a new WIC was rebuilt. It abandoned piracy but increased involvement in the West Indies, as privateers who were focused on the slave trade with Africa transported slaves to the West Indies.[6]

Slavery and maritime maroonage in the Netherlands Antilles

The business of slavery brought an important population influx to the Netherlands Antilles. African slaves led by the Dutch ships to the Caribbean were culturally and ethnically as diverse as native Amerindians. The first slaves were brought to the islands from the regions of Senegal, Gambia and the east coast of North Africa. The increase in European competition for dominance of African markets caused significant changes in the main sources of supply of this workforce, forcing them to seek new supply centers in the Gulf of Guinea and then to the Congo and Angola.[7]

With the exception of the sugar and coffee plantations in Brazil, most of the slaves used in the colonies of the Spanish and Portuguese America also worked in mining, fortifications, domestic service in the larger colonial cities, and as agricultural laborers on farms. However, in the case of non-Iberian economies, and especially in the Caribbean, African slaves were used mostly as plantation workers. Occasionally, some (mostly women) were employed in domestic service. [8]

It is often considered that the legal status of African slaves in the Caribbean rendered them powerless and vulnerable to the greed and violence of their masters. However, as is clear in the case of slaves who in 1656 escaped from the island of Saba and later told their stories, they had various mechanisms, based on their position in the social ladder, to show their discontent and quite often resisted the control of their masters. Passive resistance was a daily means of protest and way of expressing disapproval of their misery. Acts of sabotage of crops and property, simulating illness when they were not sick, or showing signs of extreme laziness were among their tactics. A second mechanism used by slaves to show their discontent was the use of individual and collective violence. Although they were few and sporadic, the latter was the best portrayal of the massive rebellion of slave groups within a complex plantation. In fact, the use of individual violence was more common and was characterized by the assault to the foreman or owner of the plantation. Finally, a last resort to show their rebellion was simply to flee the plantations or house of the owners where they worked. In other words, they would become feral.[9]


Another lithograph showing the ships which trafficked in African slaves. Here they are at anchor in the port of St. Eustatius.

Maroon or “Cimarron” in Spanish is the general name given to groups fugitives who escaped from the hands of their owners individually, and often also collectively in order to escape their slave status. These groups of slaves were forced to go inland to avoid the danger of being caught by owners and colonial authorities, and organized their residence in remote areas of the colonies where they lived protected by the thick woods making use of natural resources for livelihood. However, as the number of Maroons grew, the forests could not provide everything needed for subsistence and some fugitives were forced to attack plantations and farms in order to seize animals and useful metal. This was especially true in the Netherlands Antilles where there was not much space for the proliferation of these Maroon villages. It was unlike the colony of Suriname where the phenomenon of runaway slaves was very significant. There, the creation of villages of escaped slaves was possible thanks to large tracts of forest and land far away from the centers of white settlement. [10]

The creation in the Netherlands Antilles of a slave community and a Creole culture, shared to some extent with whites and freedmen, occurred while the resistance to slavery continued by the slaves. Their resistance took a variety of forms, shaped by the peculiarities of the slave owners and forms of work, changes in the composition of the population, and geophysical facts of life on the islands. The decisive influence of these factors, in the absence of the supreme act of rebellion, was that the most viable alternative to slavery was maroonage, that is, the permanent abandonment of slave owners and workplaces (haciendas , plantations, white houses, etc.), and in those circumstances the maroonage came to mean in many cases maritime maroonage.[11]

Under the Dutch government, the three Windward Islands Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Martin formed a wedge, so to speak, between Spanish Puerto Rico with their dependencies (the islands of Vieques and Culebra), the Danish possessions and British to the northwest, and the French possessions, southeast. Many of these islands are within sight of each other. This proximity factor of the islands in a patchwork of national property had an important influence on the way maroonage developed in the Netherlands Antilles. There were significant differences in how the maroonage manifested in the rest of the Caribbean theater where aggregates of individual fugitives sometimes created discrete communities that threatened the military plantation system and economy. Regardless of its location, the viability of such communities was based on the topography. Natural barriers such as the jungle, swamp, and hardly penetrable mountains allowed the development of maroon communities to be isolated and able to successfully defend themselves if attacked. Slaves in the Dutch islands of Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Martin did not enjoy any of these advantages. Extensive clearing of forests to make way for sugar plantations for the production of rum or logging destroyed the only advantage of which the Maroons could benefit.[12]

The relatively higher concentration of the slave population in the busiest seaports in the Netherlands Antilles, however, provided opportunities to escape to other islands. These opportunities were generally more effectively exploited by individuals rather than groups of slaves, and more often by men than by women. Although women were the majority of the urban slave population in the Netherlands Antilles, they were mostly employed in domestic service capacity and therefore did not have access to the male world of the docks and the sea. The data regarding slave men during the XVII century does not allow quantification of their employment. It is reasonable to assume that most of them were engaged in maritime work (loading and unloading boats, driving carts to load or unload cargo, and working in warehouses, or as crew on vessels) engaged in commercial activities between the different Caribbean islands. As centers of economic and commercial life, cities also attracted field slaves to sell fruits, vegetables, poultry, grass or firewood. At least on the islands of Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten, almost the entire population of slaves was in constant contact with the port cities. These port-towns also provide maritime Maroons the best opportunities for access to transportation across the sea to escape and achieve the much desired freedom.[13]


This lithograph of St. Eustatius is from the period after it went into economic decline.

Saba Island to Puerto Rico: the flight of the slaves

By 1656 the population of the small island of Saba, ruled by the Dutch, was around 500 people. A population of about 200 people included children, women, and men from Holland, France, and England, the English being the largest number. The remaining population included 300 black slaves.[14]

Among these 300 black slaves were Manuel, a 24-30 years old male and a native of Yagaboa in the Gambia River but raised in the Cacheu River and lived since childhood on the island of Santiago in Cape Verde; Jácome, 24-25, a fisherman and native of Brazil, born in the town of Puerto de Cabo; Manuel (Aka Mandú), a 28-30 year old male born in the kingdom of Angola although raised since childhood in Pernambuco in Brazil; Domingo, 22-23 and natural Cacheu River in Guinea-Bissau and raised in Santiago Island in Cape Verde; Francisco, 30-32, seaman, natural Cacheu River in Guinea-Bissau and raised in Santiago Island in Cape Verde; Antonio, 20-35, fisherman, natural kingdom of Angola and raised in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil; Pedro (aka Perico.), 20-22 and native of Santiago Island in Cape Verde; Sebastian, of 20-38 and natural Guanda in Congo but established in Brazil land; Pedro, 13 to 14 and a native of the island of Barbados; Isabel, 24-25, married to Manuel and native of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil; Ana, 20-24, married with Manuel (aka Mandú.) And a native of St. Paul of the Assumption of Luanda in Angola’s kingdom; Francisca, of 30, marrtied to Jácome and native of Río de Janeiro in Brasil; Isabel, married to Domingo and native of River Cacheu in Guinea-Bissau; y Lucrecia, of 20, married to Sebastián and native of Congo.[15]

These 14 black slaves, nine men and five women, were on the island of Saba for several years. Each came from a different place. Some came from Africa and Brazil. The Dutch and the British who made them prisoners moved to the island of Saba where they had been enslaved. They all understood that they were Dutch prisoners, not their slaves because when they were imprisoned they were free people. After several years of suffering “bad treatment from the Flemish and mainly willing […] to escape to Christian lands where they could live freely and confess the holy Catholic faith, they were committed to flee at the first opportunity they [had].”[16]

The long-awaited opportunity came Saturday, April 1, 1656 in the evening hours, when all black slaves were collected in their huts and masters were at their homes. According to the statements of the 14 black slaves, they all went to the beach on the island of Saba and seeing a barge that was anchored close to the coast, five of them decided (Jácome Antonio, Domingo, Francisco and Mandú) to swim to the barge while the others would resist on the beach if any Dutch approached from land. When the five slaves reached the barge swimming they boarded, and to their surprise they found inside four Flemish men. The slaves quickly took sticks and a knife they carried and started fighting with them. From the fight there was one man dead, a Flemish submitted and was captured by slaves, and the two other Flemish jumped into the sea and fled swimming.

Once the five slaves secured the barge and its Flemish prisoner they approached the beach and picked up the rest of their cohorts, that is, the other nine slaves who remained on the shoreline as lookouts for the escape. Therefore, quickly, on that tense night 14 slaves fled in a barge stolen from the Dutch. After sailing for two days, carrying only a cast iron pot to cook beans, several sticks of guayacán wood to burn and two barrels of water, they arrived on Monday, April 3, 1656 off the coast of Guayama, at that time a place located in the Coamo Valley southeast of the Spanish island of Puerto Rico. Doubting to what land they had arrived, they continued navigating close to the coast area until they saw some cows. Then, four blacks took a small boat that they brought on the barge and went to land, so they report back:

…having arrived they discovered some men so they turned the boat to board the barge and returned with the news that they had found people on land. They put a white flag up and were reciprocated from land with another white flag. They determined to send four of the blacks, namely Mandú, Jacome Francisco, and Domingo. As they reached land, they explained to the men who were there how they came to surrender. The men and the Flemish man took the small boat, went to the barge where they got […] the others who were left … [17]

The men with whom they met on the beach in Guayama proved to be seven inhabitants of the valley of Coamo, six Spanish and one black, who were engaged in fishing in the area. That day, Pedro Sanchez of Aliseda, 25 years old; German Rodriguez, 40; Dionisio Perez, 40; Pedro Ortega, 20; Antonio Antunez; Thomas Rivera; and Domingo Velazquez, a black report they

Governor Moses Leverock and family 1870?

This is a photograph of Governor Moses Leverock a native of Saba who presided over the liberation of slaves on July 1st, 1863 when there were 702 slaves liberated.

saw a barge passing by, and leery they could steal the canoe they had in the beach to fish; they went as discreetly as they could to a place they could defend. Seeing that the barge had passed beyond the point, they continued to follow, always in hiding, so that they could discover who were those inside the barge. Then they saw them throw anchor and place a small skiff into to sea, and four people embarked and arrived to land. Two of them got out of the skiff, and having seen this witness and companions, they and their partners embarked and went back to the barge. Having been discovered, this witness and his companions went to the beach to call them with a white flag, to which they responded with another. They embarked again in the skiff; up to four came and sat on the oars to talk to this witness and other colleagues, asking them where they came from. They said they were blacks who had fled the Flemish and Dutch who occupy the island Saba. They were Christians looking for a place they would find others. This witness and colleagues encouraged them to jump out on the ground and stay. They replicated saying they did not know if that land was Dutch, because although this witness and others spoke Spanish, it could be that they were prisoners and trying to trick them; they told the truth. Having been satisfied that they were in Puerto Rico and on Christian land, they said four blacks landed the skiff and came on land. The witness and the other companions went on board the barge to retrieve the other blacks on it.[18]

In the city of San Juan, capital of Puerto Rico, Governor and Captain General of the island, don Jose Novoa and Moscoso, heard about the arrival of the 14 blacks almost 20 days later. Thus, Saturday, April 22, 1656 the governor ordered an investigation (informaçión) be conducted to find out what happened in connection with the 14 black newcomers from the island of Saba. He also ordered the lawyer Don Pablo de Laza and Olivares, Lieutenant General of the island and people auditor of prisoner of war, to conduct the investigation, who for this should take testimony of witnesses and other measures. Juan Tisol would assist him as the scribe.

The investigation began the same Saturday, April 22, 1656 with the examination of the statements of four of the inhabitants that found the blacks on the Guayama beach, who explain what we have already referred too.[19] Then the lawyer proceeded to examine the statements of the 14 blacks from April 22 to 25, 1656. All responded to the same questions (where they come from, how long had they been on Saba, why and how they fled, what was their religion, what happened during the trip, what was the island of Saba like, whether they were escaped slaves, etc.). Basically, their statements are uniform: they fled the Dutch because of the abuse they suffered; because they were Christians and the Dutch heretics who did not allowed them to practice their faith in freedom; and, above all, they were prisoners -not slaves- of the Dutch as they were born free when they were captured. Each black clarifies where they are natural from, how and where the Dutch captured them, how they were taken to the island of Saba and why they were willing to give up their lives crossing the sea just to achieve freedom. The only disadvantages faced by the declarants were by Francisca, Isabel and Lucrecia. Since the women were unable to speak Castilian (they spoke in “a very muzzled language“) and there was no one who could serve as interpreter, Mr. Laza determined that they had no capacity to take the oath and therefore to testify.[20]

On Friday, June 30, 1656, Mr. Laza took statements from Bartolomé Prentes, a sailor, 20-25 years old, who was the Dutchman who arrived in Guayama as a prisoner of the 14 blacks in the barge nearly three months ago. As Prentes does not speak Castilian, the lawyer orderd Simón Cornelio to serve as interpreter. Asked regarding what happened he declares that

he was sleeping in the barge with two other large Dutch and a small one … [and] they were assaulted by nine blacks. He jumped into the water but was caught and returned to the barge and they embarked in search of Catholic land. During the trip no harm was done to him, but when they sighted land they wanted to throw him into the sea but desisted fearing that they were being followed and might be reached by the Dutch; having not found this respondent, they feared more punishment.[21]

The Governor’s first resolution

Both the governor don Jose de Novoa and Moscoso were aware that the blacks that arrived from Saba had come looking for the land of the Catholics and that the position of lawyer Laza was to give freedom to the 14 blacks. Nevertheless, they ruled in the first sentencing of the case on Tuesday, July 18, 1656 to “take them as slaves for works on the fortifications and until the Royal Council comes to a resolution of it, [and] that the barge be sold with the auditor’s appraisal, and before the royal officials to cover for costs of prosecution.[22]

Evidently, Governor Novoa had other plans for the 14 fugitive black slaves. Only three and a half months after their flight from Saba, having arrived in Puerto Rico where they hoped to find freedom and appealing to the Spanish Catholic authorities for protection, the 14 slaves found themselves to be awaiting slavery again. The 14 fugitives from Saba ended up being placed by orders of the royal officials of Puerto Rico, Captain Luis Salinas Ponce de Leon, treasurer, and Don Alonso Menendez de Valdes, accountant, to work on the fortifications. Two days later, on Thursday, July 20, 1656 the royal officials put them all on sale on the barge that was already in the marina of El Tejar. They sent Roberto Beque, prison drummer, crier, to initiate the auction of the barge. And so, that day Juan Gomez, a resident of the city and prison gunner, appeared and bid on the whole barge of slaves, 100 pesos of eight reales silver each (800 reais). As Gomez was the only bidder who made an offer in the auction, he became the owner of the barge of 14 black Saban slaves.[23]

The claim of the Dutch: Captain Francisco de Arnao

Although the 14 black escapees from Saba came to Puerto Rico in search of freedom, and ended up subjected as slaves in Puerto Rico working on the fortifications of the city, their luck only got worse. On Tuesday, May 29, 1657 Captain Francisco Arnao, chaplain of the islands of St. Eustatius and Saba presented himself to governor Novoa in the city of San Juan, as master of the blacks Manuel, Sebastian, Antonio, Pedro, Manuel (aka. Mandú), Francisca, Isabel and Ana. He stated that he was Flemish and, subject to the states of the Gentlemen of Holland, that

under the peace treaty signed in the town of Münster between the king of Spain and the gentlemen of the States of Holland, he asked recovery of his property and to be returned to it from any party subject to His Majesty, [and] asked him the deliver the official declaration when the Blacks arrived, clarifying he would only use said statements in defense of his rights. [24]

Later, on Saturday, June 2, 1657 Captain Arnao also asked the eight blacks to declare his claims to his property to say “if it is true that when they left Saba they were his slaves and were serving him.[25] Captain Arnao came to Puerto Rico decided to claim ownership over eight of the 14 black fugitives from the island of Saba. To this end, not only did he try to make them confess to their condition as slaves before running away –not as prisoners of the Dutch, as they claim- but also enforced international treaties signed between Spain and the Netherlands regarding the restitution of property. The agreements Arnao set to enforce included the Treaty of Munster signed on 24 October 1648 which was combined with the Treaty of Osnabrück signed on May 15, 1648 to form the famous Peace of Westphali. This combination of agreements are what ended the Thirty Years’ War in Germany and the Eighty Years’ War between Spain and Holland. They involved the emperor of the Holy Roman-Germanic Empire (Ferdinand III), the Kingdoms of Spain, France, and Sweden, the United Provinces, and their allies among the princes of the Holy Roman-Germanic Empire. Together they contain several provisions that include detail regarding restitution of property.

Following the request of Captain Arnao, Governor Noboa called the eight black fugitives from Saba to testify, claimed by the Dutchman, on Thursday, June 7, 1657.[26] All eight denied having been slaves of Captain Arnao and added that if they were serving him when they escaped from Saba, it was as prisoners. Each narrated when they were taken prisoner by the Dutch and how they ended up on the island of Saba. To illustrate the point, consider the testimony of two of the blacks. Mandú claimed to be a

Catholic Christian, a native of Pernambuco. He denied having been a slave of Arnao. If he was serving him on Saba it was because he was taken as a prisoner leaving Pernambuco heading to the Bahía de Todos los Santos on a boat, owned by Pedro Martin, Portuguese, being the declarant free and making a living as a cabin boy of the sea and from that place, they brought him as a prisoner to the island of Saba. Because of the mistreatments they were subject to on Saba—the Spanish prisoners as well as the free blacks— he tried with other companions to flee and come to Christian lands to enjoy their freedom. [27]

The black Francisca also declared

to be a Christian Catholic and a native of Rio de Janeiro. She denied being or having been a slave of Arnao. Although she served him in Saba she was a prisoner taken out of a Portuguese sugar ship bund from Rio de Janeiro to Bahía de Todos los Santos, and the respondent was in service Manuel de Golfa and as prisoner brought to Saba. Because of the mistreatments they were subject to on Saba, to white prisoners as well as the blacks, she tried to flee with other companions to come to Christian land to enjoy their freedom and not be in a land of heretics. [28]

After the eight blacks, claimed by Captain Arnao as his property, denied in their statements that they had been Captain Arnao’s slaves, as he claimed, and reported they were his prisoners on Saba, the captain submitted another petition on Tuesday, June 19, 1657 to governor Novoa arguing that slaves claimed by him

“declared to be in my service while and when they fled, negating to be my slaves but only my prisoners, which nevertheless, your Lordship will deliver them to me for all that is clear from the record in general is this :

  1. Because said slaves confessed in their information, ex officio to your Lordship when they came to this city as fugitives, that at the time and when the Dutch captured them they were slaves of the Portuguese they mentioned, and being captured the prisoners became goods of war and ownership of such goods are transferred to the winner. Thus, having the Dutch war against the Portuguese, they legitimately acquired any goods seized from each other. Therefore, in consequence, I legitimately possess the said slaves as incurred by a good war and acquired them from those who owned them.
  2. The other is that as said aforementioned slaves never claimed not to be so at the time when they were arrested, they had to be slaves by presumption of law that all blacks are slaves until proven otherwise. Accordingly,having confessed that they were serving me at the time when they fled, it is clearly understood that they were my slaves, and if so, I must then be delivered without litigation,restituting possession of them, whose escapes tripped me of such, as the owner recognizes what is due and his, can take them under his power. Therefore,ask and beg,to be given the slaves, because the records substantiate his request.”[29]

Two days after captain Arnao argued his position and submitted his written appeal requesting the transfer of eight black slaves he claimed were his, the royal officials of Puerto Rico, Captain don Luis de Salimas Ponce de León and Alonso Menéndez de Valdés, submitted a letter to the governor on Thursday, June 21, 1657 requesting that captain Arnao’s appeal be denied. Note that they did not ask that captain Arnao’s petition be denied in order to set the slaves free (based on Arnao’s claim that he owned the eight black in question). Instead, they wanted to retain possession of the blacks as slaves to leave them working at the fortifications of the city. They argue that 1) captain Arnao is not a legitimate party to the case because it had not been proven that he was Dutch; 2) in the case that he was Flemish, and according to the statements of the blacks, they did not appear to be his; and 3) the governor should declare Captain Arnao as not a legitimate party in the dispute and the slaves should pass to the royal orders of His Majesty as have other slaves who who came from the Windward Islands and Santo Domingo to Puerto Rico.[30]

The same day that royal officials submit their request to keep the blacks for the fortifications, the eight blacks claimed by Captain Arnao submitted a letter to the governor requesting to be freed. They had received a transcript from Arnao’s last arguments and requests—specifically in relation to the blacks as having been lawfully obtained based on the series of treaties between Spain and the Netherlands regarding just war— and had been able to respond against it. In their petition, the blacks presented that captain Arnao had no right over them and that the governor should favor them on the basis of being free and not as slaves of the Dutch. The petition states the following:

Manuel, a native of the island of Santiago in Cape Verde; Sebastian, a native of Guandu, land of Congo; Manuel Mandú, a native of Pernambuco; Antonio, a native of the kingdom of Angola; Francisca, a native of Rio de Janeiro; Isabel, a native of San Thomé, coast of Luanda; Ana, a native of the kingdom of Angola; and Pedro are the “colored, who came in search of a land of Christians… fugitives from the island of Saba where we were prisoners… without prejudice to our right, and affirming first and before all else in our statements we have made regarding Captain Francisco de Arnao petition, who says to be Flemish, and now back in the city… in response to the above presented petition [of Arnao] that your Lordship sent us saying we and others contained in this petition are [Arnao’s] slaves, we refuse in any and every bit of its contents, for its lack of truth. Thus, your lordship, in fairness, you must deny what the said Captain Francisco Arnao requests and favor us in our cause, protecting our freedom. As it is recorded in the file of our statements that we are not and have never been slaves to this or other foreigners but were only prisoners…I … ask … [you not to] admit or allow us to be under their power. As Christians… see the bad treatments … we and all other prisoners, white and black, [had in Saba]. [As] fugitives [we] tried to come… to enjoy the good enjoyed by all Christians and our freedom… Please, your Lordship [we] ask and beg to be denied to the said Captain Francisco de Arnao who, so against us, aims and declares not to have… any rights… and encourages us as Christians in our [search for] freedom… we come to find, under the cover of your Lordship, hope and we ask you for justice, etc. Manuel. Sebastian. Antonio. Manuel Mandú.”[31]

The case did not loosen up. For each request submitted by Captain Arnao before the governor, the blacks claimed by Arnao responded with yet another petition. On top of the extension in time of the cause, the royal officials mediated their advantage. On Friday, June 22, 1657 Captain Arnao requested again before the governor that the eight blacks be returned to him, in spite of the claims by the royal officials.[32] The same day, the governor was ready to rule on the case and instructed all parties to present the final allegations they claimed to have in their favor.[33] On Monday, June 25, 1657, Captain Arnao, who seemed sick and tired of going back and forth before the governor, and even more so of the of the Spanish bureaucracy, decided to submit another petition to the governor, perhaps thinking it would be the last time he would do so. This time he requested an investigation to be made with witnesses to prove he is Dutch and, therefore, the rightful owner of the eight slaves he claimed.

Captain Arnao submitted five witnesses before the governor for the inquiry. It took place between Tuesday and Wednesday, June 26-27, 1657. When they made their declaration, each of the five witnesses expressed more or less the same terms. Obviously, they were all in favor of Arnao’s cause. Witnesses were Juan de Mediola, 30 years old, a resident of the city of San Juan and native of the city of Seville; Joseph de Luna, 35, Ensign, a resident in the city of San Juan and neighbor of Seville; Lucas de Galarza, 25, a resident of San Juan and a native of Veracruz; Salvador de Montes de Oca, 27, a resident of San Juan, a neighbor of Santo Domingo; Henrique Moli, 34, a resident of San Juan, a native of Lubeck in Germany and neighboring Amsterdam.[34] After this investigation, the scales of the case were tipped to one side of the cause. Here are two of these statements. The Ensign Joseph de Luna, declared he

knows the parties and knows Arnao to be Dutch and live on the island of St. Eustace with his wife and property, which is subject to the states of Holland from where its governor comes, and as such provide free passage to Spanish prisoners who were fleeing the island of San Cristobal as prisoners of the British.; he witnessed this and others in the group of 19 slaves Arnao brought to this city. He knows that Arno also came to ask for some blacks who had fled the island St. Eustace who contributed to this island and so he heard from Arnao and the islands and has confirmed they certainly are his.[35]

While for his part, Henrique Moli said

Arnao is Flemish, a native of a village attached to the town of Amsterdam, and they heard of him publicly for over 20 years now. He met three of his married daughters in this town of Amsterdam and is Dutch as such; he is resident in the island of Saint Eustatius, where he has his ranch and home, where he met this witness. He knew that St. Eustatius is subject to the states of Holland from where its governor comes from. He knew eight blacks male and female he had in his captivity ran away from Arnao with six other blacks in Arnao’s boat this past year of 1656. In conformity to this, the governor of Eustatius wrote to his lordship’ General, the letter written in Latin read by this witness to his lordship. To this end, Arnao came to this port and all together brought 20 Spanish prisoners who fled the island of San Cristobal from the British on the Island Eustaquio.[36]

Once the investigation with the statements of the five witnesses called by Captain Arnao concluded, he asked once again to governor Novoa for the restitution of the eight black slaves that he claimed were his. Given this, and seeing all the information gathered, the governor resolved, by sentence dated Tuesday, July 10, 1657, that he was

aware that the blacks were slaves when they were seized by the Dutch and that when they fled they were at his service and being eight slaves contained in his request property of Arnao and according to peace and capitulations settled between Spain and Holland, he said:

  1. That the eight blacks were to be delivered to Arnao as his own property he owned at the time of the flight.
  2. Because the blacks were Roman Catholics and Arnao of a different religion, he may not take them away from this island to take them to St. Eustatius or elsewhere where the reformed religion is professed.
  3. If he paid their bond, they would be taken to land of Christians where they would be delivered and disposed of. [37]

Of the 14 maritime Maroons arriving in April 1656 to the beaches of Guayama south of Puerto Rico from the Dutch island of Saba, eight would be returned to its rightful owner in July 1657. Both the Dutchman, who came to the island to reclaim his property, as well as the runaway slaves and even the royal officers of Puerto Rico used the mechanisms afforded to them by the regulations of the Spanish legal and judicial system, to try to prevail in the case that is initiated by a request for restitution filed by Captain Arnao . As discussed below, these eight slaves remained in Puerto Rico along with the rest of the 14 fugitive slaves of Saba at least until after 1673.

The claim for restitution of the Dutch: Captain Floris Simón

A few months after finishing the cause for the restitution of the slaves claimed by Captain Francisco de Arnao for eight of the 14 fugitive slaves from the island of Saba, Captain Floris Simón, Dutch, resident and secretary of Saba came to Puerto Rico, and introduces on Wednesday, November 7, 1657 a request for restitution of five of those 14 maritime Maroons. Captain Floris Simón arrived to claim Pedro, a slave he owned; Jácome, a slave owned by Pedro and Adriana Suaris, his wife, residents of the island of Saba, whom he represents by proxy; and Domingo, Francisco e Isabel, three slaves of Mary de Petris, wife of Pedro de Bris, governor of the island of Saba and deceased, which he also represents by proxy. These restitution proceedings, including the filing of the proxies, submitting petitions, and the request through testimony before the governor for the five blacks who had been his slaves, took from Wednesday November 7 to Saturday, November 17, 1657.[38]

Captain Floris Simon came to Puerto Rico with a very clear mission: to seek restitution of the blacks proving they were slaves in Saba, and seek restitution, in accordance with the treaties signed between Spain and the Netherlands. As manifested by one of the two witnesses presented by Captain Floris Simon, when he was undergoing procedures for submission and confirmation of the proxies that he brought with him, Don Juan Ruiz de Castro, 29 years old and living in San Juan, says

he knew Captain Floris, Pedro Suaris and his wife Adriana Suaris, of Dutch nationality, and knew her while tried on Island of Saba as prisoner with other Spanish partners, which in the presence of this witness and Ensign Mateo Gomez, Spanish, who was also a prisoner, they said a slave named Jácome had fled them in the company of other black slaves from different owners and they had news that they were in this town. A power of attorney was given to Floris to recover them in accordance with the peace treaty confirmed between Spain and the Netherlands.[39]

On Saturday, November 17, 1657 the governor decreed that he be given “to forward the petition to the royal officers, and the blacks being destitute, he appointed to them in this lawsuit defender Sergeant Sebastián Martín Dávila, commission which he accepted.[40] That same day the defender of the blacks took oath; he “gave as his guarantor Juan Sanabria, a resident of the city.”[41] After two weeks, on Saturday, December 1, 1657 the royal officials submitted a petition to the governor Novoa to deny captain Floris Simón his claim on the black Jácome, on behalf of the Suarises, because the blacks are in the account of the King in the Council of the Indies; nor should it be allowed the claim of the other four blacks because Simón was only admitted as a party to the case of Jácome while representing the Suarises.[42]

Two days later, on Monday, December 3, 1657, the governor took statements from the five blacks subjects of the claim by Captain Floris Simón. Basically, the five statements were similar. All allege that they were not slaves but Saba prisoners, who were taken prisoner by the Dutch while freemen and fled seeking land of Christians and a place to enjoy their freedom. For example, Jácome the black subject of the claim of the Dutch on behalf of the Suaris, declared

to be a Christian Catholic, native of the kingdom of Brazil. He denied having been a slave but free because although he was in service of Pedro Suaris from the Dutch nation and inhabitant of Saba, he was captured [not sold] for two years by captain Lambres Pechelingue, who first imprisoned him in the bahía de Todos los Santos. Because of the ill treatment received by all prisoners, they made plans with fellow companions to flee to a land of Christians to enjoy our freedom.[43]

That same day Isabel declared, as one of the three slaves also claimed by the Dutchman but in this case on behalf of Mary Petris, widow of Pedro de Bris, governor of Saba now deceased. Isabel said the she too was a

“Christian Catholic, born in Cacheu and denied being or having been a slave, but free. She fled Saba in company of Domingo, her husband, and other partners. Although at the time she fled from Saba Island, which is Flemish and English, she was serving Pedro de Bris, governor of Saba, as a prisoner. Due to abuse upon her as well as all prisoners they tried to flee and come to land of fellow Christians, as they did, to enjoy their freedom.” [44]

And as a last example, consider the statement by Pedro, the slave whom captain Floris Simón comes to claim as his property. Pedro, like his colleagues, he said that he was

“Christian catholic, a native of the island of Santiago in Cabo Verde. He denied being or ever have been a slave, but a freeman; although at the time he fled the island of Saba with his fellowmen, the island of Saba was populated by Flemish and English, he was serving captain Floris as a prisoner and because of the ill-treatment to all prisoners, he tried to flee and come unto a land of Christians to enjoy their freedom, as they did “.[45]

As all the black stated they were not slaves in Saba but prisoners of the Dutch, and they were free when captured, Captain Floris Simon introduced a new petition on Tuesday, December 11, 1657 requesting another inquiry regarding the status of slaves of the blacks claimed. To that end, he produces before the governor three witnesses who will favor him. They are Gaspar de Espinosa, 23 years old and living in the city of San Juan; Fadrique Goverte, 30 and a native of Holland, sailor; and Fredrique Driquenz, 32 and a native of Holland, “arraiz” of the barge that led the Spanish prisoners from the island of St. Eustatius to the city of San Juan. The three declared in similar terms. They declared they knew it to be true that the slaves claimed by the Dutch are runaway slaves. Frederic Goverte, for example, stated that he

met Pedro Suaris and Adriana Suaris, his wife, and met Pedro de Bris, deceased, who was the governor of the island Saba, and met Mary Petris, his wife, all residents of that island; knew the blacks were slaves because he saw that Jácome, Francisco, Domingo and Isabel were in Suaris’ service at the time when they fled that island and these are the same [blacks} there that day that have been declared [slaves]; also knew said captain Floris Simon whom he has treated, communicated with, and who came in his company and knew, so having seen him, that the black named Pedro was Suaris’ slave, serving in that island of Saba, where the witness was and saw him in that service.[46]

At this point in the case, the Wednesday, December 12, 1657 Captain Floris Simón requested to be handed over the five slaves.[47] Two days later, on Friday, December 14, Sergeant Sebastian de Ávila, defender of the blacks, asked that the request for restitution of the Dutch captain be rejected. The defender of blacks said, and in my opinion rightly so, that the request made by the Captain Floris Simon itself and on behalf of their constituents to deliver him the five blacks

“should be denied […] not be legitimate; as such, the blacks should be free according to their statements; for that reason, they escaped from the captivity where they were. They should be made use of under your lordship to which it belongs; so, the said blacks should be protected; so I ask your lordship and beg to deny the said captain Floris Simón what he requests against said blacks. Protecting them, your Lordship, in their freedom would be justice.”[48]

Although the blacks’ defendant asks for their freedom and that justice favor them, the royal officials in Puerto Rico, that is, the accountant and treasurer, ask the governor in a letter of request on the subject on 15 December 1657, that the request of the of the Dutch captain should be denied and the blacks not be released to them, but be used as slaves at the royal works of city fortifications. That is, they sought the same request as applied in the case of the eight slaves claimed by captain Arnao; they should not delivered to Dutchman, but applied as slaves of the King. Or as they present,

“Your Lordship has to deny that claim, so in general and the following::

  1. Because the information given by Captain Floris provided only two witnesses to testified from his same nation and his friends so they should be banned and contradict the information.
  2. Because all slaves who have come to this island and to Santo Domingo from the Windward Islands populated by foreigners have been applied as royal possession of His Majesty and sold and proceeds placed in his royal coffers.
  3. Because upon the arrival of the slaves to this island, notice had been given to His Majesty in the Royal Council of the Indies, where If they had any right, the said captain Floris and parties may ask Him what suits them.

For all these reasons, they ask and beg, captain Floris should be denied the claim of his pretention to have the five slaves delivered to him.”[49]

Finally, after examining the arguments of each party: the slaves were represented by their counsel; the Dutch represented by Captain Floris Simón himself, who also claimed for himself; and the royal officials representing the interests of the Crown, Governor Novoa, with the advice of the lawyer don Pablo de Laza y Olivares, delivered a ruling with the judgment, which ordered that the five blacks be delivered to Captain Floris Simón on behalf and of his constituents, “in compliance with what is stated in the capitulations held between his Majesty and the lords of the states of Holland.”[50]

The final battle against slavery (concluded)

In 1662 the lawyer Don Gaspar Velez Mantilla, a member of the Council of His Majesty, judge and most senior Major of the Royal Audience of Santo Domingo, and auditor of the island of Puerto Rico and its royal coffers, was in Puerto Rico. The Honorable Velez, among other tasks, was on the island to complete the impeachment trial of the former governor Novoa, who had left the government in 1661 and was replaced by don Juan Pérez de Guzmán, new governor and captain general of Puerto Rico. During the trial proceedings of the impeachment, Mr. Velez seized Novoa ‘s goods to collect the fines imposed on it. Among the seized goods were 12 blacks, and were found to be of the 14 fugitives from Saba.

When Velez tried to sell the blacks in public auction, and for not knowing anything about their flight from Saba, they “went asking them to declare for free because they were not slaves captured while the Dutch in Cape Verde and they offered information.” On Tuesday, July 11, 1662, because of the situation, said the lawyer, and since “there have been several black seized from Novoa who claim to be freemen, and to know the truth, and not to defraud the Royal Treasury, and so they are not in bondage those who were free, being destitute and people who have been unable to attend the proceedings that suit them  … [I] order ex officio to receive information about this cause.” A new investigation began to determine, again, if the blacks were slaves or freemen, and how and why Governor Novoa had them in his possession as slaves[51]

In the files regarding the blacks fleeing from Saba, there is no record of the sale of slaves apparently made by the Flemish owners (Captain Francisco de Arnao and captain Floris Simón) to governor Novoa. Neither is there a record that justifies since when and under what circumstances he came in possession of them. All we know so far is that the Saba slaves remained in Puerto Rico, subject to further investigation, at least until 1673.

As we have noted, the phenomenon of maritime maroonage is complex, and a multidimensional examination allows us to see other underlying realities: the intra-Caribbean relations, spatial mobility of slaves, colligation of interests in the slave world, the cohesion in the maroonage world— the struggle, in short, to survive. We dedicate this essay to the 14 blacks, men and women, who in the spring of 1656, devoured the sea.




[1] Scarano, Francisco A. “Slavery and emancipation in Caribbean history”, in B.W. Higman (ed.), General History of the Caribbean – Vol. VI: Methodology and Historiography of the Caribbean. UNESCO: UNESCO Publishing / MacMillan Education Ltd., 1999, pp. 233-282. Moscoso, Francisco. “Formas de resistencia de los esclavos en Puerto Rico, siglos XVI-XVIII”. América Negra, Pontifica Universidad Javeriana, Bogotá, Colombia, núm. 10, 1995, pp. 31-48. Knight, Franklin W. (ed.). General History of the Caribbean, Vol. III – The Slave Societies of the Caribbean. London: UNESCO Publishing, 1997. Knight, Franklin W. “Race, ethnicity and class in Caribbean history”, in B.W. Higman (ed.), General History of the Caribbean, Vol. VI: Methodology and Historiography of the Caribbean. UNESCO: UNESCO Publishing / MacMillan Education Ltd., 1999, pp. 200-232.

[2] “Expediente sobre la fuga de los negros de la isla de Saba, 1656-1673”. Cartas y expedientes de los oficiales reales de la isla de Puerto Rico, 1660-1700. Archivo General de Indias de Sevilla, España, Sección Audiencia de Santo Domingo, legajo 167, folios 212-294v. (En adelante: AGI, SD 167, f. / ff.)

[3] Antunes, Cátia. “Desarrollo y características de una sociedad multicultural”, en Ana Crespo Solana y María Dolores González Ripoll (coords.). Historia de las Antillas, Vol. III (Cuarta Parte: Las Antillas Neerlandesas) – Historia de las Antillas no hispanas. España: Ediciones Doce Calles, S.L., 2011, pp. 421-440. Crespo Solana, Ana y Pieter C. Emmer. “Las islas holandesas en la época colonial. Evolución político-económica”, en Ana Crespo Solana y María Dolores González Ripoll (coords.). Historia de las Antillas, Vol. III (Cuarta Parte: Las Antillas Neerlandesas) – Historia de las Antillas no hispanas. España: Ediciones Doce Calles, S.L., 2011, pp. 441-477. Nagelkerke, Gerard A. Netherlands Antilles: A Bibliography 17th Century – 1980. The Hage: Smiths Drukkers-Uitgevers B.V., 1982. Oostindie, Gert and Rosemariyn Hoefte. “Historiography of Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles”, in B.W. Higman (ed.), General History of the Caribbean, Vol. VI: Methodology and Historiography of the Caribbean. UNESCO: UNESCO Publishing / MacMillan Education Ltd., 1999, pp. 604-630. Goslinga, Cornelis Ch. A short history of the Netherlands Antilles and Surinam. Assen, Netherlands : Van Gorcum, 1990. Goslinga, Cornelis Ch. The Dutch in the Caribbean and in the Guianas, 1680-1791. Assen, Netherlands; Dover, N.H.: Van Gorcum, 1985. Goslinga, Cornelis Ch. The Deutch in the Caribbean and on the Wild Coast, 1580-1680. Assen, Netherlands, 1971.

[4] Crespo Solana, Ana y Pieter C. Emmer. “Las islas holandesas en la época colonial. Evolución político-económica”, en Ana Crespo Solana y María Dolores González Ripoll (coords.). Historia de las Antillas, Vol. III (Cuarta Parte: Las Antillas Neerlandesas) – Historia de las Antillas no hispanas. España: Ediciones Doce Calles, S.L., 2011, p. 455

[5] Crespo Solana, Ana y Pieter C. Emmer. “Las islas holandesas en la época colonial. Evolución político-económica”, en Ana Crespo Solana y María Dolores González Ripoll (coords.). Historia de las Antillas, Vol. III (Cuarta Parte: Las Antillas Neerlandesas) – Historia de las Antillas no hispanas. España: Ediciones Doce Calles, S.L., 2011, pp. 455-456

[6] Crespo Solana, Ana y Pieter C. Emmer. “Las islas holandesas en la época colonial. Evolución político-económica”, en Ana Crespo Solana y María Dolores González Ripoll (coords.). Historia de las Antillas, Vol. III (Cuarta Parte: Las Antillas Neerlandesas) – Historia de las Antillas no hispanas. España: Ediciones Doce Calles, S.L., 2011, p. 456.

[7] Antunes, Cátia. “Población en las Antillas neerlandesas, siglos XVI-XXI”, en Ana Crespo Solana y María Dolores González Ripoll (coords.). Historia de las Antillas, Vol. III (Cuarta Parte: Las Antillas Neerlandesas) – Historia de las Antillas no hispanas. España: Ediciones Doce Calles, S.L., 2011, pp. 413-416.

[8] Antunes, Cátia. “Desarrollo y características de una sociedad multicultural”, en Ana Crespo Solana y María Dolores González Ripoll (coords.). Historia de las Antillas, Vol. III (Cuarta Parte: Las Antillas Neerlandesas) – Historia de las Antillas no hispanas. España: Ediciones Doce Calles, S.L., 2011, pp. 432-435.

[9] Íbid.

[10] Antunes, Cátia. “Desarrollo y características de una sociedad multicultural”, en Ana Crespo Solana y María Dolores González Ripoll (coords.). Historia de las Antillas, Vol. III (Cuarta Parte: Las Antillas Neerlandesas) – Historia de las Antillas no hispanas. España: Ediciones Doce Calles, S.L., 2011, p. 436-438.

[11] Hall, B.W. Slave Society in the Danish West Indies: St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992, pp.124-138.

[12] Hall, B.W. “‘Grand Marronage’ from the Danish West Indies”. The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, Vol. 42, No. 4 (Oct., 1985), pp. 476-498.

[13] Hall, B.W. Slave Society in the Danish West Indies: St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992, pp. 124-138.

[14] AGI, SD 167, ff. 221v-222.

[15] AGI, SD 167, ff. 219-238v.

[16] AGI, SD 167, ff. 219-220.

[17] AGI, SD 167, ff. 220-220v.

[18] AGI, SD 167, ff. 215v-216.

[19] AGI, SD 167, ff. 215v-219.

[20] AGI, SD 167, ff. 219-238v.

[21] AGI, SD 167, ff. 239v-240.

[22] AGI, SD 167, ff. 240-240v.

[23] AGI, SD 167, ff. 240v-241. Por un autor del gobernador del 21 de julio de 1656, se metió lo procedido de la venta del lanchón, luego del pago de costas, en la caja real: 1) por llevar el lanchón a San Juan con gente y comida: 263.5 rs.; 2) por darle de comer a los negros desde 28 de abril hasta 18 de junio de 1656: 248 rs.; 3) el quinto al Rey de lo procedido de la venta del lanchón: 160 rs.; y 4) el quinto que toca al gobernador: 128 rs.

[24] AGI, SD 167, ff. 241v-242.

[25] AGI, SD 167, f. 242.

[26] AGI, SD 167, ff. 242v-245v.

[27] AGI, SD 167, ff. 243-245v.

[28] AGI, SD 167, ff. 244-244v.

[29] AGI, SD 167, ff. 245v-246.

[30] AGI, SD 167, ff. 246v-247.

[31] AGI, SD 167, ff. 247-248.

[32] AGI, SD 167, ff. 248-248v.

[33] AGI, SD 167, f. 248v.

[34] AGI, SD 167, ff. 249v-253.

[35] AGI, SD 167, ff. 250-250v.

[36] “Declaración de Henrique de Moli, 26 de junio de 1657”. “Expediente sobre la fuga de los negros de la isla de Saba, 1656-1673”. Cartas y expedientes de los oficiales reales de la isla de Puerto Rico, 1660-1700. Archivo General de Indias de Sevilla, España, Sección Audiencia de Santo Domingo, legajo 167, folios 252-253.

[37] “Auto del gobernador don José Novoa y Moscoso, 10 de julio de 1657”. “Expediente sobre la fuga de los negros de la isla de Saba, 1656-1673”. Cartas y expedientes de los oficiales reales de la isla de Puerto Rico, 1660-1700. Archivo General de Indias de Sevilla, España, Sección Audiencia de Santo Domingo, legajo 167, folios 253-254.

[38] AGI, SD 167, ff. 254-257.

[39] AGI, SD 167, ff. 254v-255.

[40] AGI, SD 167, ff. 256-256v.

[41] AGI, SD 167, ff. 256v-257.

[42] AGI, SD 167, ff. 257-257v.

[43] AGI, SD 167, ff. 258-258v.

[44] AGI, SD 167, ff. 259v-260.

[45] AGI, SD 167, ff. 258v.

[46] AGI, SD 167, ff. 261v-262.

[47] AGI, SD 167, ff. 262-262v.

[48] AGI, SD 167, ff. 262v-263.

[49] AGI, SD 167, ff. 263-263v.

[50] AGI, SD 167, ff. 264v-265.

[51] AGI, SD 167, ff. 266v-



BY; Will Johnson

Evered Jackson

Evered Jackson on the right with a neighbor Jocelyn Gordon and two children of Mr. Johan Hop who took this photograph.

I was born in a place called “Behind-The-Ridge”. My mother used to think it was behind the face of God and she could not wait to abandon our home and move to another village on our small Caribbean Island called Saba. For the rest of her life she would associate a dream about “Behind-The-Ridge” with an omen of bad luck. She passed on this belief to her children.

Our house was located on the cliffs above the abandoned old Sulphur Mines, so that my mother’s worries were amplified in proportion to the dangers to her children by these additional natural hazards. Not that life then was not hard enough as it was. Times were not kind to us on Saba in the nineteen thirties and forties. Life was already hard and the Great Depression in other countries and World War II increased our isolation and our poverty. We were already severely restricted to a very limited land area and to very rough seas for our sustenance and our survival. We had no need for a great depression followed by the mother of all wars. Throw in a dangerous natural location on that pile of misfortune, and you can understand why my mother had nightmares for the rest of her life about Behind-The-Ridge. Need I remind you that we had no electricity, no roads, no running water, and no chance of any meaningful employment? By the sweat of our brows and with only a hoe to assist us we laid bare the land to produce its fruit.

On the positive side Behind-the-Ridge had some spectacular views, and no mechanical noises to disturb the grind and drudgery of daily life.



In the Lower right of this photograph and where the photograph ends is where Behind=the- Ridge begins.

Not too far from Behind-The-Ridge, was where the black folks lived, in a place called “The Alley”. Ever since the days of slavery the blacks had their enclaves on the outskirts of the villages. Not too far from “The Alley” lived the Jackson family.

I used to think that the old black local midwife Rosita Lynch born Hassell, who delivered me, did not live far from “The Alley.” She was actually born around there but after she married she lived in English Quarter. Her only instrument was an old rusty scissors. When I get cantankerous I have a tendency to lay the blame on that old rusty scissors which was used to cut my navel string.

From very young my mother taught us to respect people of other races and people in general. To treat people as you would like to be treated. I at times tend to want to jerk out a whole jawbone for a tooth pulled, but on reflection I usually settle for a tooth. No turning of the other cheek for me. But now I have mellowed to the point of thinking, one tooth less, one pain less, so I don’t always exact tribute.

The closest thing to being unkind was a command she issued to me once to hide some ripe bananas she had promised to a friend. Another friend of my mother’s was coming to the house, and according to my mother: “A black person can smell a ripe banana a mile away.”

I don’t know. I used to have my doubts about my mother’s theory. But my good friend of more than thirty years the poet Charles Borromeo Hodge, Jr., with his treatise on the nose of Commissioner Edgar Lynch has renewed my interest in black people’s ability to smell. What distance can it cover and so on? Ripe bananas that is. Borromeo did not get farther than describing the prominence and grandeur of Edgar’s nose in comparison to that of his other colleagues. Borromeo did not shed any light on the various uses which can be made of such a large nose. Can indeed a ripe banana be sniffed out from a mile away?


On the right just above these cliffs is where I was born at Behind-The Ridge.

Borromeo, himself well-endowed in the nose department, should have included in his contemplation on the nose of Edgar its ability to smell. What distance could it cover and so on? What I do believe though is that Borromeo has set the stage for a new form of calypso contest for carnival. This should please those who object to vulgar lyrics in the past. I can hear it now: “Oh what a nose, what a nose!”

I have drifted away from the Jackson family our neighbors. In this week in which we are commemorating the birth of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., I want to eulogize my neighbor the late James Evered Jackson. When our family moved, he moved.

We left our house at Behind the Ridge and moved to the Windward Side. Here again we lived close to yet another “Alley” where the black folks lived. On Saba where so many people lived with the same surname some people were distinguished by their color added to their first name. White Agnes, Black Agnes, White Joe, Black Joe. Once there were two white Joe Simmons’ so one became “Red Head” Joe and the other “Black Head Joe”.  My new  Neighbors became Tarasitha Rose, “Black Agnes” and her brother “Black Joe” (Maxwell) and a number of others.

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Agnes Maxwell (Black Agnes) on the left and Louvena Hassell, bakers for Ms. Helena Peterson/Every’s bakery In Windwardside.

For some reason when the slaves of Windward side and Hell’s Gate were given their freedom on July 1st, 1863 they were given Scottish surnames, Maxwell, Jackson, Dunlock, Wilson, Granger, Gordon and so on.

Some years later we removed the old house piece by piece down to the last shingle from Behind- The- Ridge to my mother’s eternal relief and brought it to the English Quarter where it still stands and in the yard of which my mother, father sister and brother Eric are all buried. My brothers Guy and Eric brought the entire house that way on their heads and rebuilt it.

The English Quarter was the black district close to Windward side. There too lived our neighbor from Behind-The-Ridge, James Evered Jackson. Although he could not read or write he taught us many lessons about life, race relations, and neighbors, which I have tried to practice as best as I can.

Although just like Evered was, I too am a practicing Roman Catholic. Unlike him though, I also have the ability to read, and I also look for inspiration from the writings of the Mahabharata and Ramayana, the Koran and the other great religious treatises of man.

Islam tells you that your neighbor is not just the person who lives next door. A neighbor is anyone living in the 40 houses nearest to you. On Saba that would include not only your own village but also the next one. The life of the Prophet tells us of the man who complained one day to the Prophet about being treated badly by his next door neighbor. The Prophet sent three of his most important companions –Abu Bakr, Omar and Ali – to announce at the doors of the mosque that “even 40 houses away, people are still neighbors” and that “a man who frightens his neighbor will not go to heaven.”



Businessman Clinton Cranston who imported the first convertible mustang to Saba.

Evered was a proud black man and a wonderful neighbor. On each and every occasion for joy in the black community Evered would bring out his big drum. Like an African Prince way into the night he would roll the drum in praise of yet another step forward for black people. He prided himself on being the first person to own a television on Saba. He had sent me the money to buy the television on St. Maarten. “A great day for black people” is the way Evered looked at it.

In his parties though he allowed for a bit of social discrimination. When his only child, a daughter, married on Aruba, he first invited the Nuns, the priest and the government officials at 5pm, and then at 8pm he rolled out the big drum for his neighbors some of whom he did not socialize with on an everyday basis. His belief that he could not mix the two groups was confirmed when a fight broke out at the next party. The next morning I overheard him telling my mother: “Just imagine, Alma if the nuns had been in that scatter. Mind you, your Evered knows what he is doing.”



Part of the village of English Quarter. Evereds house and ours is not in the picture but would appear on the lower right side.

He was also proud when Clinton Cranston bought a convertible mustang. Not only did he roll the big drum but he also raised a flag.

He loved Marcus Garvey and Martin Luther King Jr. Of the latter he said: “That man makes sense. We got to live peacefully together.”

Evered’s pride reached to other areas as well. He prided himself on the fact that in all his lifetime he had only worked one week for the government. According to his oft told tale he made eight guilders for his weeks work and his wife Gusta had to spend twelve. All his life the material things which made him most proud were purchased from his tilling of the soil and selling the products of his labor, and the God he worshipped was with him.

He was a particular man about paying bills as well. When I got married and my New York wife was in the first stages of getting used to a way of life, just coming out of the throes of the “cooking-on-wood” culture, Evereds wife Gusta decided to go to Aruba for a trip.

Evered’s working day on his farm started at 5am. One morning just minutes before 5am I heard my door breaking down. Next door Lorenzo Hassell from Hell’s Gate was already waiting and ready to start on his 7am construction job. As I groped through the dark, while trying to calm my wife, I heard Evered shouting out to Lorenzo, “Will must be dead. Impossible for him to be still sleeping this hour of the day.”

Farmland in Rendez-Vous

Evered used to farm in the Rendez-Vous as well. The Alice flood of January 2nd, 1955 created a sizable lake in the depression in the center called “Juggler’s Pool”. Marinus and Percy Ten Holt decided to take Evereds cow for a swim and she nearly drowned.

I was looking after Winairs interests for my brother Freddy who was on vacation and Evered had come to pay for his wife’s passage to Aruba. I told him “but it can wait, Gusta is not travelling for weeks.” Evered’s answer to that was “Don’t be a fool, how she can travel if I don’t pay first.” How many people today establish those standards on their financial dealings with others?

Islam says neighbors are supposed to help and look after each other, whatever their race or religion. The Prophet blessed and consecrated the tie between neighbors in a famous Hadith:

“The Angel Gabriel urged me so strongly to look after my neighbor that it seemed he wanted me to make him my heir.”

When I won my first election on Saba in 1971 after having lost the first one in 1969, Evered rolled out the big drum and although he was an early sleeper, it seemed like he played it all night. Long after that I asked him; “But Evered, how come you played the big drum for me all night, and I am not black?”

He looked at me in disbelief and contemplatively said: “But Will, we’s neighbors and that’s different.”

James Evered Jackson

And here at “Break-Heart-Hill” you can see James Evered Jackson on his farm. I had a hard time finding this photo among the many I have in my data base. He worked by himself starting at 5  am until noon, then back home and there he farmed also around his own house.

My neighbor Evered is long gone, but he has with him the blessings of Allah as described in the Koran:

“O mankind, we have created you male and female, and appointed you races and tribes, that you may know one another. Surely the noblest among you in the sight of Allah is the most God fearing of you!!”

Evered was a God fearing man as well. I still can recall on Sunday mornings he would be hours ahead of the priest. On his way to church he would admonish his neighbors to follow his example. He would be singing “Amazing Grace” as he gracefully made his way to give praise to his God whom he was convinced worked side by side with him in his fields and that is why his crops never failed. In “Saba Silhouettes” by Dr. Julia Crane there is a long interview with Evered and is a very interesting read for all who would want to know how Sabans survived by the sweat of their brows in former times. May he rest in peace, this blessed neighbor, this noble son of Saba and of Africa, James Evered Jackson.

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James Evered Jackson relaxing here outside his home. One of a kind!


Harry Luke Johnson

Harry L. Johnson

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Here escorting an Anglican church parade, on the right in uniform Harry L. Johnson and on the left police Constable Lester Peterson.

For some time now I have promised myself to do a small booklet on the life of the man for whom the museum was named after. However I take on so many projects that I must put off a booklet for now. Instead the readers of “Under the Sea Grape Tree” which is a wide audience will now get to know who he was.

Harry was born on Saba on November 19th, 1913. His parents were John William Johnson and Alida Johnson born Johnson. He was first baptized as an Anglican and on July 20th 1919 he was baptized as a Roman Catholic.

Harry had a real tough time as a boy. His father was lost off Cape Hatteras on January 29th, 1914 on the “Benjamin F. Poole” which four master schooner was lost while bound from Wilmington Delaware to Baltimore with eight in crew. It was a large schooner 202 feet in length, and built in Bath Maine in 1886. Many Sabans lost their lives at sea in former times. Harry never knew his father as he was just a baby when his father died.

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Left to right. Clair Johnson, Esther Peterson ‘Miss Hettie’, then Doris Johnson-Every, Harry Johnson and his daughter Aileen. Cannot recognize the child.

Cape Hatteras especially took a lot of Saban lives. On December 21st 1902 the “Maggie M. Hart” was lost there with Edward C. Hassell and Alois Hassell being lost. In 1890 or thereabouts Capt. Peter Simmons and others from Saba were lost there, and in 1898 William Simmons Peterson was also lost there on a schooner.

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At the age of 13, Harry went to sail on this schooner the “Three Sisters” with Captain Ben Hassell.

Harry’s mother died when he was only four years old. I remember him telling me that he thought it was all a big joke until he actually saw his mother being lowered into the grave. He describes his loss in the following poem.


At a Cross I often gaze,

Out amidst the evergreen;

Marking dear ones I’ve lost

In brilliant white can be seen.


In the old Church yard

Beneath the sod so hard,

A loving Mother and Friend,

Was placed in the end.


At the age of only four,

As bearers carried her through the door

Oblivious was I then

That I would never see her again.


Beneath this cross an epitaph is seen,

For ones who lived a life so clean,

Bearing eleven impressive words,

Who are now in peace with the Lord.


There was one who had no cross.

In a raging storm my father was lost,

Whose ending days was on the ocean,

Never a word from his lips to hear spoken.

John William Leverock

John William Johnson, father of Harry Luke Johnson.

Harry had three other brothers who all immigrated to the United States and remained there. I have an old postcard dated July 11th, 1921 and sent from Brooklyn New York by Harry’s older brother Colbert. It reads: “Dear Little Harry,

“Just a few lines to say your dear brother arrived in New York the 9th and the damn old ship is tied up again so I don’t know what we will do now. Write another little letter for your dear brother. Signed; Colbert Johnson.” The postcard had a scene of Hamburg so he must have been there with the ship. I guess Colbert figured that Harry at age eight must have been exposed to bad words by then so that he could use the damn word without consideration as to who would be reading the postcard.

Harry Johnson's Museum 2

Administrator Eugenius A. Johnson talking with Harry L. Johnson on a visit to his private museum. He sold his paintings there and paint as well. He was agent for the Sherwin Williams Paint Company.

Little Harry was then raised by an old aunt until he was twelve and then she too died. When his aunt died he went to live with an uncle and he helped his uncle to do the farming. At the age of 13 he went to sea with Captain William Benjamin Hasssell and sailed on the “Three Sisters”. He sailed with Clarence Every and Johnny Hassall (one of Capt. Ben’s sons). He was paid three dollars per month. He sailed to Barbados, also to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and also to South Africa. He sailed for four years and then he went to Bermuda. There he met Doris Every whom he married on September 2nd, 1931 when he was still only seventeen. The poor guy had been knocked about so much in his early years that he needed someone permanent in his life. She worked for Mrs. Frith. Back then Saban women also emigrated in search of work to Bermuda and other places. Doris’ sister Winnie had immigrated to Bermuda before her. Harry’s first children Aileen and Milton were born on Bermuda.

Harry Johnson, Cecil &Bobby Every, Al Hassell

Harry L. Johnson in uniform, then Cecil Every, after that Bobby Every in red shirt (Cecil’s brother) and then Al Hassell.

There in Bermuda he started painting as a hobby and also doing research into the navigational history of Saba. In 1937 he came down to St. Kitts with his family on the “Lady Drake”. After a short while on Saba he went to Aruba to work for the LAGO OIL REFINERY. In Bermuda he had worked as a house painter and in a stone quarry. In Aruba he worked as a fireman for five or six years. Doris took in boarders from Saba. People like Jospehus Lambert Hassell and his brother Peter Anthony Hassell. In those days everyone was going to Aruba in search of work. Harry came back to Saba and did some farming. He joined the Police Force at the age of 31. His daughter Aileen remembers that Harry was going down to The Bottom on a horse to sign up for the police force when he met Osmar Ralph Simmons, also on a horse going down to The Bottom for the same purpose. They worked together in the police force on Saba and St.Maarten and remained lifelong friends.


The Harry L. Johnson museum resting in the clouds.

Harry worked for twenty years as a Policeman before retiring on April 1st, 1964. He was not only a policeman but at the same time served as Postmaster, and checked the rainfall for about eight years. At the age of fifty he retired and started to paint. He never went to art school. His first real painting he made at the age of 17. He gave the painting to Lady Grace Barnes on Bermuda. During his twenty years of service in the police force he made five paintings. After he retired he started to paint again. Two of his paintings appeared in the Chicago Daily News. One was of a wedding procession, the other of a church. Yet another of his paintings was published in Clipper Magazine. He painted on hardboard and tiles with oil paint. He liked primitive art, as you will recognize in his paintings. He didn’t like modern art because as he said “if I buy something and I have to ask what it is all about, it’s no good. That’s why I like primitive art.”

After he retired he started a small museum in his yard in an old house which had belonged to Miss Hester Peterson who died in 1970 at the age of 104. Harry collected quite a number of artifacts and old photo’s of Saba. He was an avid collector of sea stories. Saba is an island of a thousand sea stories. Harry contributed many columns to the local newspaper the “Saba Herald.” Stories, about Saban captains and their association with the sea. He inspired me to carry on and to later publish “Tales from My Grandmother’s Pipe”, which was an accumulation of stories about Sabans and their association with the sea.

Harry Johnson 1973

Harry L. Johnson displaying some private documents in his Musueum located next to his home.

Before he died he expressed the wish to me on several occasions that he hoped one day there would be a museum on Saba. We fulfilled that part of his dream when the Harry L. Johnson Memorial Museum opened its doors on Sunday March 5th, 1978. The house and five thousand five hundred and fifty square meters of land belonged to the Peterson family. The house was built by Captain Allan Atlesthon Peterson around the year 1850. His family is said to have come to Saba from St. Barths. The Peterson family sold the house and extensive property in 1969 to two citizens of the United States, Robert Beebe and William H. Johnson for thirteen thousand dollars. On Wednesday June 1st, 1977 they in turn sold the property to a foundation which I had hurriedly established and named the Harry L. Johnson Memorial Foundation. I was able to buy the property for seventy five thousand dollars of which twenty thousand had been donated to me by Mr. John Goodwin while the balance came from the Dutch Government with the approval of then Minister W.F. de Gaay Fortman who visited the property before it was purchased and agreed to give the necessary supplementary funds to the foundation so that they could purchase the property and establish a museum there.

Harry died of lung cancer in 1972 after suffering for quite a long time. He was a life long smoker as most people were back then and unaware of the danger smoking poses to ones health. Harry loved a good party and is remembered by friends for his love of music and his fascination with the weather. When a hurricane was just starting out from Africa, Harry would be out in hurricane gear and we would have hurricane parties when there were no prospects even of a small squall. I can hear him even now;”Boys let us fire one as that hurricane is sure going to hit us.”


Some members of the board of the Foundation: Walter Campbell, Ann Lichtveld, Commissioner Will Johnson,l donor John Goodwin, speaking Chairman Ray Hassell, then Mildred Campbell and Members of the Harry L. Johnson family.Sunday March 5th, 1978. Photo Johan Hop.

On the occasion of the opening of the museum his youngest daughter Mrs. Claire Hassell born Johnson made a speech from which we quote the following:” Every one of us at one time or another dreams of the things we would like to accomplish and my father’s greatest dream, as you all know, was that Saba too would have a museum of its own. He did not have the facilities or the wealth to bring this about, but he did have the determination to make a beginning in one little room with all the old things from Saba’s past which he could collect. Perhaps he never thought that his little beginning would grow into what we have today but he knew that mighty trees grow from tiny seeds, and if the seed is never planted, the tree will never grow.


Left to right Bob Beebe, Commissioner/Act. Lt. Governor Will Johnson, Chairman of the board  Ray Hassell. William “Bill” Johnson and Douglas Rollock.On Wednesday June 1st 1977 the property was transferred to the Harry L. Johnson Memorial Foundation. I believe that is the bill-of-sale I am holding.

“Since death must come to all of us, my father is not present today to see the tree which the seed he planted has produced, yet I feel that though he cannot be present with us today in body, he is here in spirit, and that his spirit rejoices even as I rejoice to see his dream come true. In his name today I want to thank the Island Government, the board of the Foundation, and all others who have made it possible for his dream to become a reality. Today the thanks of his children go to all of you in his name. May the museum become something we all will be proud of, and may it always be a tribute to his name and a benefit to our island.”

Many important people have visited the museum over the years and it has been a struggle to keep it staffed and maintained. Mrs. Sherry Peterson born Hassell has been the person in charge for many years and will be going into retirement soon and we thank her and all those foundation members who over the years have kept the dream alive of Saba having its own museum.  Since this was first written Mrs. Sherry has retired and there have been several people working there.Mr. Glen Holm continues to run the Foundation and to solicit funds for the cause. We honor the memory of Harry Johnson and thank all of those who have kept the museum going over the years.


Harry’s youngest child Claire Hassell born Johnson unveiling the plaque in honour of her father after whom the new museum was named.

Will Johnson




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