The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Archive for the month “July, 2016”



The Man and the Times in Which He Grew Up in


Image (1384)

Claude here with me and others forming the 1986 coalition government.

    I have been asked to say something here tonight about Claude the Man. Rather than Claude the politician. However having spent nearly as long in politics as Claude I know that your personality is shaped by the times in which you grew up in and the profession in which you are involved in.

A life long profession such as politics involves dealing with a wide range of human strengths and weaknesses, like no other. You are perceived by some to be a saviour, a banker, a patriot, a devil and so on.

It is therefore difficult to talk about Claude the Man without referring to how his personality was affected by the profession which was thrust upon him as his lifes work, and by the history of Sint Maarten and the harsh economic realities when he entered politics in l950.

As a young boy I saw Claude when he came to Saba to campaign for Charles Ernest Voges in the l950 election. Claude was in his early twenties at the time.

In those days politics produced strange bedfellows, as I am sure it still does today.

In my collection of Memorabilia I have a copy of the permit issued by then Administrator Mr. Pieter Dijkstra for the political rallies held on Saba.

Before reading it let me tell you the following. When Jackie Voges was Minister there was a time that he and Leo Chance were at war. I gave Jackie a copy of this document on the plane coming up from Curacao and asked him to go easy on Leo. Every time I looked back Jackie was laughing his head off.

The permit reads as follows:

“I the undersigned ONDERGEZAGHEBBER OF Saba hereby grants permission to Charles Earnest Wilfred Voges, to lecture in Hellsgate district on the 7th of November l950, from 5 pm until 6.30 pm and in the Windwardside district from 8pm until l0 pm and in St. Johns District on the 8th of November l950 from 4.30 p.m. until 5.30 pm, and in The Bottom district from 8 pm until 9.30 p.m. with Julian Conner and LEO CHANCE singing songs during the lecture.

Signed Pieter Dijkstra, Saba 6 November l950.

Leo Chance? Can you imagine Leo Chance as a singer? A rabble rouser yes, but a singer? I called him and he said that Julian Conner played the guitar and he did the singing. Next time you see Leo ask him to sing you a lullaby.

I saw Claude again in l955. By that time he had started on his second term as Commissioner. I was on St.Maarten in transit to Curacao something which was to take two weeks. The sloop from Saba had missed the plane, and since the plane (A DC3) could only carry 30 passengers I had to wait my turn here.

Image (64)

Claude here in the middle with my father Daniel Johnson on his left, with Mrs. Irausquin at the opening of the airport on Saba on September 18th, 1963

I was staying at Miss Browlia Maillards just across the street from here.

Claude was sitting on the wharf in his bathing suit and someone said to me” That young man is Claude Wathey.” He was only 23 in l950 when he entered politics as the # 5 candidate on the NVP list.

To understand what shaped Claude’s personality and determined his political career one must look at life on St. Maarten as it was in the l950’s

My experience here on backstreet the first days I was at Miss Browlia made an impression on me which I still carry with me today. In the back of the little building in which I stayed there were some large clay jars which caught water off the roof. This you dipped up and filled up a washbasin and if you wanted a bath you had to fill up a galvanize tub and try to fit yourself in it. The first thing in the morning ladies would be coming around from Middle Region and as far as Colombier with trays on their heads selling vegetables, bread, fresh milk and so on. Fresh bread every morning was available from Mrs. Louisa Hazel just a few houses up on the other side of the street. Somehow the St. Maarten bread tasted better than anywhere else. And don’t ask about the fried fish. No one anywhere could fry a fish better than people from Sint Maarten, especially from Simpsonbay.

Image (868)

Claude here with members of the Island Council of the Island Territory the Windward Islands in 1967

Everyone would take an early morning swim. I could not swim as on Saba it was not possible to swim among the rocks. I used to go down the alley by the Roman Catholic Church and Mr. Cy Wathey and others would be taking an early morning sea bath.

In the run of the day anyone who was anyone, would be in town. Very few people lived in what was then called “the country.” If I was lucky Frederic Froston who was a jack of all trades would carry me in his taxi to the “country” and to Marigot.

Compared to the nineteen forties the islands population was in a serious decline in the l950’s. The population in l940 was 2004, in l943 it was 2085 and in l946 it was l609. The decline in population continued throughout the fifties.

In l950 the population was l478. In l95l, l458, in l953, l57l, in l954, l577, in l958 the population was l537. By comparison the French side in l954 claims to have had 3.360 inhabitants. However a report made up at the time claims that the figure were “parfaitement invraisemblable” because many people who leave the island never write out as they intend to return and then never do.

To compare with the other Dutch Windward Islands: In l957 Sint Maarten had l554 residents, Saba ll24 and Sint Eustatius l055.


The Government Administration Building from which Claude ran St. Martin.

In l961 finally a census was held. I had the responsibility to count from Prince Bernard Bridge to French Quarter, not including Middle Region. By l o’clock I was finished. A Mr. Milton was my driver. He knew everyone in the district and we could count from his car. I remember there were about 32 houses on that whole track and less than 200 residents.

However Sint Maarten’s population figures have always been suspect, and not only those on the French side but here on the Dutch side as well. In l969 when I opposed Claude for Senator I was living in a house in Cole Bay for awhile. After the elections I went through the voters list on the advice of Wallace Peterson.

I found 36 voters living in Grand Case registered in my house in Cole Bay. Talk about adding injury to insult? I am sure they had all voted for Claude. If I called off some of the names the audience here would laugh until next month, so I will let that go down as one of experience.

Most of these people had returned from Aruba with Dutch nationality and were

Image (53)

This scene would have been a very familiar one to Claude where he grew up in the then small town of Philipsburg.

registered here as voters, and of course they voted on the  French side as well.

The census of l961 indicated that there were supposedly 2728 people living on the Dutch side.

The population consisted of l665 people of Dutch nationality and l072 foreigners. Those of Dutch nationality were as follows: Born on Curacao 97, Aruba l38 (These were St. Maarteners who had returned back home mostly), Bonaire 6, St. Maarten lll3, Saba l8 and Sint Eustatius ll, Other countries 89, Suriname 20, and Holland 66.

To give you a breakdown by village it was as follows:

Philipsburg  ll58 of which 443 were foreigners

Simpsonbay   l50 of which    22   “        “

Cole Bay        375     “       l66     “        “

Cul-de-Sac     3l6      “       l78     “        “

Upper P.Q.      258    “       l00     “        “

Lower P.Q.     285     “       l04     “        “ That is not what I counted. Half of French Quarter was registered in Dutch Quarter as their children went to school on                                                             the Dutch side. Someone made the correction later on I guess to accommodate them.

Middle Region l86 of which 59 were foreigners.

The foreigners were divided as follows:

British/ French (Mostly Anguilla, followed by Nevis and St.Kitts): Total l008

Canada and USA        23

Dominican Republic 25. Nearly all of them were Sint Maarteners born there who had not got their Dutch nationality as yet.

5 from other countries and 2 from Europe other than Holland. The Sint Maarten society was so small at the time that looking at the various places of birth one can go back and count e.g. the Surinamers, like the Lobo family, the Ferrier Family, Lindeboom and so on.


Claude here on the left of Lt. Governor J.J.’Japa’ Beaujon witnessing the signing of an agreement.

Claude entered politics with a very small population and no economic activity to speak of. The declining population and its effects on daily life was commented on in the booklet on the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Methodism on Dutch Sint Maarten.

In the booklet the Reverend R. Colley Hutchinson the Methodist Minister in l95l had the following to say:

“The island families of which the Van Romondt’s and the Brouwers were among the most prominent, have almost entirely left or died out, and the older generation which was contemporary with them is quickly passing away. Those who would have been the natural successors are most of them living away. In their place an unceasing stream of immigrants from the neighbouring islands supplies the craftsmen, manual labourers and domestic servants of today.

Life in Sint Maarten today offers a striking contrast to that of l00 years ago. The extensive fields of cane and cotton, the busy sugar mills, the ox-carts and carriages on the winding roads, the scenes by the salt-ponds, the prosperous estate houses with their bossy mammies and their swarms of servants and children, have become a legend. The independence and self-contained life of the island, pleasantly disturbed only at long intervals by the coming of a ship, is like a tale that is told.”


Image (362)

Busy traffic day back when Claude took over the reins of the Sint Maarten Island Government in 1951.

When Claude assumed power in 1951, this is what he met. A population of 1458. There were 20 cars in 1945 and 65 in 1951. Mind you half of these cars were never on the road as if they broke down you had to order parts via surface mail and it would take months.

The salt industry had come to a halt. Whereas in l923 there were 55.843 barrels of salt exported weighing 6.42l.945 kg. This had dropped to 6 to 700 barrels between l940 and l945 totaling not more than 80.000kg.

The exports for the year l950 were as follows:

Potatoes f.307.—

Other Ground vegetables f.200.—

Lobsters f.25.549.—

Goats   f.4.737.—

Hay      f. 2.088

Skins    f. 2.242

Cattle   f. 32.365

Sheep   f. 22.ll0.—

Pigs      f. l.865.—

Total f. 9l.463.—That was for the entire year mind you. An export of less than one hundred thousand guilders. The imports were f. 3l8.050.

To compare to former years so that you can see there was little movement in the economy here are the export figures for the year l924 when salt was in full production,.

Goatskins                         332 kg              Na f.      274.—

Cotton                           2.850 kg                 “     3.729.—

Manure                       540.000 kg                “      4.111.—

Salt                           6.209.000 kg               “    37.305.—

Cattle, horses etc.                                          “      3.360.-

Total export:                                                  f. 45.4l9.—

So in 27 years the export had grown by less than f.50.000 per year.


Front row, Claude, his wife Eva, followed by Milton Peters, Lionel Bernard Scott, Mrs. Hertha Beaujon and Governor J.J. Beaujon with behind him Clem Labega. That is Claude’s house in the background.

When I came to St.Maarten in 1955, the light plant which was next door closed down at ten o’clock. I had never seen electric lights on Saba so I remained outside looking at the street light waiting for the wind to blow it out, so when the light plant went off at ten and there was a heavy wind I was not a bit surprised. As a matter of fact I was told that the Philipsburg Electric Light Company had wanted to go till eleven o’clock. However Mr. Lionel Conner a shareholder had raised strenuous objections against that. He questioned what decent person would want a naked light bulb shining in their house after ten o’clock at night. Those where the realities of the day.

Cattle raising was the main occupation when I lived here. Fishing was done by the Simpsonbay fishermen and I can still hear the sound of the conckshell as the fishermen came into the Great Bay in the morning to sell their fish. A strap of fish was twelve cents (f.0.30) and is you bought a strap of fifteen cents you got a lobsters for free. I remember going to Marigot with Frederick and he trying to sell the fifteen cents strap. People fed lobsters to their pigs back then and the ladies would tell Frederick “Go fire your backside, what I going to do with lobster.”

In l95l there were the following livestock recorded here:

Horses l25, Donkeys 220, Horned Cattle l875, sheep l650 goats 850 pigs 650.

There were many more cattle also on the French side. People gave in less numbers for the fear of being taxed. I recall that there were as many as 7000 head of cattle island wide. My friend Lil Dan Beauperthuy on his various estates would have as many as 7 to 900 head of cattle at times.

The airport activity was as follows:

1950: Plane Landings             121                              Passengers 866

l956       “        “                     985                                   “          2.974

l957       “         “                    l338                                   “          3.9l9

Because of the central location of Juliana airport in relation to a number of islands, many of these passengers were locals in transit.

Boat passengers:

  • A total of 895 passengers of which 605 in transit ( mostly from Saba etc.)

1959 A total of l.277 passengers of which 640 in transit. The first cruise ship was the Stella Polaris on January l4th, l958 with l55 passengers.

In l950 there were a total of 320 sailing vessels (mostly sloops, schooners, the Blue Peter and so on), l84 motor vessels and l2 yachts. Saba by comparison had 23 yachts for the year and it was a cause of jealousy on Sint Maarten at the time. See how many yachts Saba getting etc.

Enough figures already but they are important for the story of Claude and what motivated him.

Image (108)

The house of Claude’s grandfather also A.C.Wathey in which Claude was most probably born.

The myth that Claude’s family were millionaires when he started out in politics and that his father could buy him an election were just that. Claude’s father Cyrus Wilberforce Wathey started out as a mechanic, later on he sold bicycles and so on. The all powerful Van Romondt family which was in decline in the l930’s, were being bought out by Mr. Louis Constant Fleming on the French side and by Cyrus Wathey on the Dutch side. Sydney Lejuez used to tell me that the slogan back when he was a boy, to keep the Watheys down street, which was considered less than up street which was dominated by the Van Romondt’s back then.

So when Claude entered politics there was no economy on Sint Maarten to speak off. His father was well off by the standards of the day but would have only been considered a small grocer today. He had some good agencies and these paid off as the economy grew of course.

Elections were based more on personal contacts than on money spent on elections. All of that came later in the l960’s.

There was wheeling and dealing however. Claude told me more than once that when he wanted to change around the traffic in Philipsburg there was an uproar. Piesco (Charles Wilson) was a crucial vote to get the bill through the house. He was acting funny and proving hard to get. On Claude’s behalf Clem investigated and found out that a small calf would do the trick. One was bought from either Lexie or Miss Ela Brown and Piesco was back on board. And so for the price of an ordinary calf traffic in Philipsburg was turned around. Not even a Golden Calf would do the trick nowadays.

Did Claude’s colour play a role in assuring success in his first election. No doubt it played a part. St.Maarten was still dominated by a few white families.

However unlike Saba at the time where I grew up, I did not experience racism in the old St.Maarten families white or black. I was treated by everyone from Great Bay to Marigot and back as if I was part of the family. In the early elections the next biggest vote getter after Claude was Mr. William Benjamin Peterson who was also a white man.

In l950 there were 558 voters of which 424 voted. Claude got 4 votes but he was campaigning for Ernest Voges at the time.

In l95l there were 599 voters of which 5l3 voted and Claude got 239 votes. In l959 there were 68l voters and 624 voted. On Saba there were 5l3 voters and on St.Eustatius there were 422. It is for that reason that each Island had 5 seats on the Island Council. The three islands formed one Island Territory. I was elected in l97l and served from l975 to l983 as a Member of the Executive and Island Council of the Windward Islands.

My first speech to the Island Council was that “ I am not here to praise Ceasar, I am here to bury him.” I was referring to the system of government, but everyone

Was cursing me out saying I meant Claude.

By the time I started to work in the Postoffice in l960, Claude was already in his third term in office. Very little had changed. However with the Cuban revolution and with the assistance of a dynamic Governor Japa Beaujon there was a change in the weather,

Do not underestimate the power of the Lt. Governor. In the sense that the writer Naipaul once said that” the problem in the West Indies is that there are too many people in positions of authority with the power to hold up progress and who lack the initiative to make things move.”

I have worked with many Lt. Governors and few of them are serious about their jobs. Always traveling to nonsensical meetings . Highly paid by the Island Territories but with no interest in their jobs other than the privileges which go with it. I have experienced Lt. Governors being away from their islands 285 days out of the year and the Act. Lt. Governors having to do the jobs. The politicians who are elected are frustrated to death by Lt. Governors not functioning.

And so Claude was fortunate that he had a hard working man like Beaujon to help him get St.Maarten on the move. That they had a falling out later on, a political falling out, is a fact, but in the beginning Claude and Sint Maarten benefited by having a hard working Lt. Governor.

The Claude I knew back in l960 was a dynamic person. He was good looking , lived among the people and got things done and took care of his loyal followers.

He was rather a quiet man and came over as shy and was not a dynamic speaker. In a discussion he would  outwait you and would not easily commit himself. You never knew where he stood until he saw the need to strike out at you.

He lived opposite the Post office. The doors were open then, no air conditioning of course, so working there we practically eat out of the same kitchen so to speak.

I can see him now jumping over his verandah railing and heading up the street to his office. I remember once seeing a film of him doing just that. The film was well done and showed Claude as a man of the people. Even I who was running against him had to admit that we were in trouble with that film.

Claude was known to hold his liquor as well. I remember once we are the Pasangrahan bar and being young and inexperienced we challenged Claude to see who could drink the most. We started to drink from the top shelf bottle by bottle. All kinds of mixed up drinks. All I can remember from that drinking spree is that two days later I was awakened by Capt. Hodge telling me “Man you bring shame on me.” I asked him what happened and he told me that they had brought me up the beach on a door of the Pasangrahan and had dumped me off in my bed. That hangover lasted for a month. Claude had survived of course and was seen the next morning jumping off his verandah and heading up the street as always.

I remember when he was having a problem with his heart. He was going to Puerto Rico. Everyone was concerned. When we looked there is Claude coming out of his house, jumping over the verandah and getting in his fathers car to go to the airport.

Claude had a difficult task in balancing family life with a public career. Although 7 children were considered a small family at the time. I had friends with 48, 65 and so on. One friend had 29 children by 29 different women. I do not need to mention names here. Just the numbers will indicate to old timers who I am talking about, so relatively speaking Claude was mostly a home boy with a small family. If you have been reading the papers the last years you will realize that the same story does not hold true for his brother Chester.


Image (806)

Claude here with the members of the Island Council of the Island Territory of the Windward Islands in 1975.

Shortly after starting to work at the Post office I became close with Claude and Clem. I was making f.192.50 a month back then. After paying room and board I had f.27.50 left over.

Back then I measured the cost of living by the price of a glass of rum and a pack of camel cigarettes. A pack of cigarettes at Carty’s store was f.0.25 cents and the price of a glass of rum or whiskey was five cents.

At the Lido we could snuggle up close to Claude and Clem’s table and you done know. The taxpayers were charged for we glass of rum back then.

By l962 I was so close to Claude and Clem that they never made a turn unless I was around them. Claude sent me in l962 to Saba to head his campaign over there. He was in trouble. He had Voges, Lopes and Henry Every running against him. Claude had decided to run for Senator.

I was campaigning for Thomas Van Hugh Hassell. He was the first man of colour from Saba to have made it high in the civil service. His father Capt. Thomas Charles Vanterpool was a relative of my mother and Van Hugh was my brother Freddie’s godfather.

The party of Hugh Lopes got 747 votes and the DP 893. Claude won by l46 votes. I had managed to get l7l votes for Van Hugh of which l52 votes on Saba. It was not an easy job mind you. No one knew him as he had lived most of his life on St.Maarten, Curacao and Aruba.

There was always the mystique of political power. Claude I must say was not easy in dealing with political opponents if he had to. As the Dutch say:” Ik heb het aan de lijve gevoeld.”

I remember once on the Alm plane coming from Curacao. My friend Rupert Maynard told me this story. He was employed by public works at the time digging a trench somewhere. Rupert said something negative about Claude. Maurice Maccow jumped up and challenged him to repeat it in front of Claude. Maurice jumped in the truck and in a jiffy was back with  Claude. With Maurice challenging him to repeat what he had said, Rupert admitted to me that he was scared as hell and would not repeat anything. Jobs were very hard to come by back then.

In l955 Claude got 255 votes. The second biggest vote getter by far was Willie Bee Peterson with l0l votes.


Claude here in November 1955 welcoming Her Majesty Queen Juliana to St. Maarten.

Claude’s personality was also shaped by the century in which he grew up in. St. Martin’s prominent people like Josiah Charles Waymouth had been fighting the colonial government all along. Waymouth publish St.Maarten’s first newspaper St.Martin Day by Day from 1911 to 1922 and later on “New Life”. He also published a wonderful book “Memories of St.Martin N.P.”

I have a copy of his newspaper and his book.

Willem Frederick Adolphus Labega was an educator by profession and collaborated with Waymouth. The newspaper “De Bovenwindse Stemmen” praised him in l937 edition for his writings.

The next great St.Martiner was Anthony Reynier Gravenhorst Brouwer. Although he was born on Saba of Dutch parents his father AJC Brouwer had been Governor of all three islands for thirty years.

No one felt more St.Martiner than “Broertje” Brouwer. He was married to a Van Romondt and he had his own newspaper “De Slag om Slag>’ I have copies of nearly all his newspapers at home.

Claude as a young boy would have known Brouwer. He had his home and printery where Vina Del Mar was later located just across the street from the Oranje Café. Brouwer fought hard for better communications for St.Martin.

When he questioned the Governor-General on the voters list he was jailed for a month.

In l939 he published an article which was considered insulting to a friendly Head of State. The word came to him that the Governor had ordered his arrest for six weeks. The friendly Head of State was Adolph Hitler. Brouwer was terrified of being confined to small spaces. He was a big man. He went across the street to the Oranje Café, had a few drinks, came back home put a gun to his head and committed suicide rather than go to jail again. A short while after that Hitler invaded Poland and later Holland as well’

Allan Richardson used to carry around the “Slag Om Slag” for Brouwer and used to tell me stories about him. Allan by the way was a love child of Brouwers by an Anguillan mother.

While St.Martin’s population was being depleted, the islands of Curacao and Aruba were booming. In later years Claude would always complain about people who had left St.Maarten and who years later had returned to put up a big mouth. His cry was “Where were they when St.Maarten needed them.”

Claude liked to be seen as an expert on how to bring a lighter ashore and loved to give directions. Remember there was very little to do back then. One way to show leadership was when the monthly steamer came in. Claude would be on the wharf directing operations all day.

As the sixties approached so did change come. Between l962 and l966 Claude had to travel often by small plane to Curacao as he was part of a coalition with only l2 members supporting the government. In later years in traveling with him, even though we were from opposite parties, I learned to appreciate his sense of dedication. He loved his children and had to spend many lonely days away from them.

One cannot talk about Claude without in the same breath mentioning Clem Labega. They formed a political tag team like no other in these islands.

Wallace Peterson used to call Clem “The Evil Genius”. From l960 up to l968 I was constantly in their company. I could tell that I was in trouble when I would walk into a bar and Clem gave me the cold shoulder. Clem was the one who would throw verbal blows in you to soften you up after which Claude would move in for the kill.

To be honest with you I was not easy myself, and it did not endear me to them when I started writing for the Windward Islands Opinion. I also reported the news from l965 – l968 on PJD-2. These were activities highly suspect to Claude and Clem.

In l967 Claude engineered it that there were no elections on all three Windward Islands. I went along with Claude to both islands to work out the deal. I was the one who he sent to ask Jose Lake to join him at his table at the bullfight at St.John’s Ranch. A deal was struck and the next week an advertisement appeared in the Opinion for the Shell Company, whose agent at the time was Claude.



Claude used to consider himself a sort of expert in directing the landing of cars on the beach of the Great Bay harbour. This one belonged to his father who was the agent for General Motors.

After the 1967 non election I happened to mention to Mr. Lake that if there was ever a threat again of a non-election that I would oppose Claude myself.

After May 30th l969 Mr. Lake called me and asked me if I was of the same mind. I threw caution to the wind and said yes. The next day the headline in the paper was “Will Johnson to oppose Claude Wathey” and the heat was on.

This talk is about Claude Wathey though and I want to say that even though I was his opposition for the rest of his life we did have a cordial relationship, however rocky it may have seemed at times.

I would like to leave room to answer questions from the floor, but I would like to offer some final points of reflection on Claude :


  1. He was a product of his time, shaped by the small scale society he lived in, a declining population and a weak economy.
  2. Claude was aware of the struggle for recognition of St.Maarten by people like Waymouth, Labega, Brouwer and others.
  3. In l951 when he became Commissioner he saw that St.Maarten would continue to be neglected and that something had to be done. He told me that he had once went by boat to Cuba and was very impressed with tourism there in the late nineteen forties.
  4. Claude was also influenced by the fact that prominent representatives like William Plantz, Charles Ernest Voges and Hugh Lopes who were living on Curacao were neglecting the interests of the Windward Islands by doing so. In 1962 Claude decided against all odds that he would remain residing on St.Maarten. He opened thereby the possibility for all future representatives to live on their islands.
  5. Claude was a keen observer of human wants and needs and played into that in a personal way and thus remained in touch with the voters and ahead of the political field.
  6. Claude had the ability to attract and keep a close knit loyal following among a key number of people in the Civil Service who could advance his agenda and assure success in future elections.
  7. Claude governed best with few people to deal with. The decision making process became too cumbersome for him with the extension of the number of people holding political office. Capital which has its own life when coming in to St.Maarten became a factor which could no longer be controlled.

8.Claude was generous to those loyal to him , even though it can be claimed that the Island Budget was stretched and squeezed to the limit in order to accommodate those loyalists. He saw the budget as something to be shared up among the St.Maarten people, and if infrastructure had to be neglected in the process, well so be it.

  1. Claude was a regionalist and even though his call for independence did not seem sincere because of the circumstances under which it was made at the time, I am convinced that he saw the possibility of an independent St.Maarten.

10. Claude could not have anticipated the growth of the St.Maarten economy and would not have wanted St.Maarten to develop to the extent that it did. Testimony to that is the fact that all his ancestral homes and properties acquired are the same as his father bought them. If the Van Romondt’s came back alive the only buildings they would recognize on St.Maarten would be the buildings owned by the Watheys.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me end by stating that even if I wanted to forget Claude I could not. He was born on my mothers birthday and he died on my fathers birthday.

I want to thank those who have come here tonight and if there are any questions about Claude and the period of which I have been speaking I will be happy to answer them.


Thank You

Will Johnson

July 24th, 2007

Community Center






My friend Clementie


Mr. Clem Labega seated behind Lt. Governor J.J.’Japa’Beaujon in uniform.

My friend Clementie

By: Will Johnson

Many times he would tell me: “I want YOU to write my story.” This column is written in such a way as to reflect my personal relationship with the one I am writing about. It is not an exact history of the person. I leave that to others. What I do think though is that a Committee should be established and given a list of names of people who can be considered a National Hero and let someone write a booklet on each one of these persons. A booklet based on historical facts which can be used in schools and libraries. My stories are all personal memories of people I was close to in the islands. So this is not only his story. It is mine as well.

I can remember exactly the day I first met Clem. It was August 2nd, 1960 just two days before hurricane “Donna”. On July 2nd of that year I had obtained my MULO diploma on Curacao. I had returned to Saba awaiting a response to my application for a scholarship to further my studies in The Netherlands. One day on the road to English Quarter Lt. Governor “Japa” Beaujon, who was visiting Saba, flagged me down and asked if I was the boy with the diploma. I was to learn later on that Lucy Smith living on the Backstreet and I were the only ones in the Dutch Windward Islands with a MULO diploma. Mr. Beaujon rightly predicted that I would not get a scholarship as I did not have any political pull on Curacao and he needed me to work in the Courthouse on St. Maarten doing a variety of jobs, but primarily working for the Post Office which was the center of activity at the time.

In the meantime I had become a small contractor. Dolphie Johnson and I had taken on a contract from my brother Freddie, on behalf of Earl Johnson, to dig the trenches for the new movie theater in Windwardside. The trenches had to be a certain depth and width. Located next to Freddie’s house there was no cheating possible on the job. Freddie being a teacher and all of that, as soon as he got home from school, would get his tape measure to check on the job. After what seemed like weeks of work we finally got our agreed on one hundred guilders for the job. Of my fifty guilders no less than thirty two guilders went to pay for my return passage on the M.V. “Antilia”. My brother Eric and his wife Wilda went on the same trip on their honeymoon. The “Antilia” made a stop in Statia where we went ashore. Then it was on to St. Kitts where we overnighted. We went into town to see our fellow islander Mr. Eric Skerritt and his family. He had a bevy of pretty daughters who along with their visiting Lebanese girlfriends gave me visions of paradise. From then to this day I have a warm feeling for St. Kitts. You see how the soul and the mind of man work and that which influences him most? In later years I remember going twice with Clem to St. Kitts. He was good friends with the Prime Minister the Hon. Llewellyn Bradshaw. We stayed at the “Blakney’s Hotel” with Joe Astaphan. The Blakney’s was right across from the Government building.  And Joe was always putting hell for Bradshaw. I said to him “Are you not afraid of Bradshaw?” Joe said:” To hell with him. He cannot do me anything, and besides he is married to my wife’s sister.”


Mr. Clem Labega in light suit looking at camera on the occasion of the opening of Spritzer and Fuhrmann jewelry store in St. Maarten 1961.

The next day on landing in St. Maarten I went to Mr. Beaujon’s office. Back then everyone was seated in the same large room under the house of the Lt. Governor. Since he knew me already he told me to go to Clem Labega who would help me to make a petition to the Minister. That was the first time that I met Clem. I did know his father Mr. Percy Labega who was the wireless radio operator on Saba for some years. On September 1st, 1959 Mr. Percy and I were on Capt. Matthew Levenston’s sloop the “Gloria” and were caught in a storm and nearly got lost.

I started working on October 10th 1960. I used to see Clem often at the Lido Bar where all politics were conducted. We would hang out there and the recently deceased Calvin Lake, bartender at the Lido, who knew me from school on Curacao, would give us a drink now and then and charge it to Clem or Claude. Calvin’s theory accompanied with the necessary expletive deletives was that the government would pay for it in the end. We were not too heavy a burden on the government I hope. A large shot of whiskey was five coppers, and you couldn’t handle too many of those big shots of whiskey. In 1962 when Claude was running for Senator against heavy odds I was sent to Saba to support the D.P. against the then popular Saba candidate Henry Every.

The election results on Saba for the D.P were as follows: Claude 11 and Th.V. Hassell 152.  Since Van Hugh was my brother Freddie’s godfather I supported him.  The DP got a total of 193 votes and the other party 270. At the beginning of the campaign it was expected that the other party would take 400 on Saba. The DP had a total of 893 votes on the three islands and the W.I.P.P. had a total of 747, so the D.P. won by 146 votes. When I returned from Saba I was given the cold shoulder by the powers-that-be. I thought there would be tremendous appreciation for the job I had done for the party. I was not even 21 yet and could not even vote. Finally some weeks later I came across Clem at the Sea View Hotel. His home was directly opposite the hotel. When I worked up enough courage I asked him the delicate question. With the necessary expletives he asked me who Claude had sent me to Saba to campaign for. Later I understood that it had everything to do with personal votes, and the consequences it would have for the following years Island Council elections on the three islands. Also against all odds and with a bitter fought campaign it seemed as a foreboding of things to come, and I was being looked at as a possible future threat. Clem acknowledged my contribution but pointed out that Claude had sent me to Saba and not Van Hugh.

Image (845)

Clem Labega on the left and Claude Wathey on the right when they were inaugurating the Clem Labega Square.

I remember Clem coming to the office to fetch me one day. There was trouble brewing. My good friend Joseph H. Lake Sr.  had joined the DP in 1967 and there were no elections. When in 1969 Mr. Charles Vlaun resigned as Commissioner, Clem decided that he would become the Commissioner and wanted me as a witness. We drove over to the then Government Agricultural Station where Mr. Lake had his printery. Clem just walked in and told Mr. Lake:” I will be nominated by the party tomorrow for Commissioner and I expect your support.” I don’t know what had been promised to Mr. Lake by the party but he was obviously upset, but Clem after having made that statement just walked out and we then went to the airport. The next day I was at the meeting when Clem was elected Commissioner. I  think that Mr. Lake abstained but Clem’s election went through, and again he wanted me to go out with him and again we ended up  at the airport where Clem told all and sundry that if anyone wanted trouble with him they would be bringing their pigs to the right market

Image (868)

Clem Labega squatting on the extreme right in 1967 when he was a Member of the Island Council of the Windward Islands.


Clem and I became closer as time went on. In 1969 when I joined the URA party and decided to take on Claude for the election of Senator I thought that Clem and I were done with it. Clem knew my hideouts though. In the heat of the battle Clem came by the Pasangrahan beach bar where I was sitting under the sea grape tree. He asked me why I was avoiding him. I told him that I knew we would be ending up in a big argument and I had enough of those to deal with. He assured me that would not be the case and that since “we are going to beat you anyway; there is no need to lose friendship over that.” At that time old “friends” would see me coming down the street and would find an excuse to quickly head down an alley so that no one would tell Claude they had seen them talking to me. Clem to his credit had no such fear. I remained his friend throughout.

In the end I did better than expected. On the three islands I got 592 personal votes and Claude got 1401. The day before the elections bets were being placed that I would not get more than 100 votes on the three islands. Fidel said that you have to write your own history. For whatever reason, I notice that political histories exclude my role in Windward Islands politics. Clem acknowledged that there would have been no elections in 1969 without my stand. In 1967 there were no elections on all three islands and expectations were that the nuisance of having elections was a thing of the past. In an interview with Mr. Fabian Badejo for the special 50th anniversary of the DP on July 23, 2004, Clem in describing when he came back to St.Maarten from Curacao in 1954 to promote the DP said that:” I was refused by the Executive Council to hold meetings. I requested permission for a public meeting at the Oranje School, they turned me down; I requested for the Cole bay school yard, it was refused. All my campaign then was house to house.” Well guess what? Fifteen years later when I asked permission to hold a public meeting at the Oranje School it was refused. The following week the DP held a meeting there. I asked to go on the radio station. I was told that Chester Wathey did not want politics on the station, but the DP was banging away at me every time the radio was turned on. So I turned to issuing hard hitting pamphlets with Freddy Lejuez and others sent from Curacao distributing them. Each time the DP held a meeting it was to respond to my pamphlets.

Image (866)

When I knew Clem he and his family lived in the house on the right in front of the Sea View Hotel. He later built a home on his family’s estate in Cul de Sac, Betty’s Estate.

Percy Clement Desmount Labega was born on St. Maarten on January 26th, 1926 and he died on May 27th, 2009. Around 1942 he, like many other young St. Maarteners, headed to Curacao where he worked for the government radio wireless station like many others in the Labega family. In 1954 he returned to St. Maarten to run with the Curacao based Democrat Party. In 1951 Mr. Melford Augustus Hazel had his own Democrat Party and the colour was blue. Mr. Hazel got 86 votes and was elected to the Island Council.

In the elections for the legislature of the Netherlands Antilles of November 15th, 1954, Clem ran as the number 6 candidate and got 23 votes. He was able to convince Claude to switch his support from the N.V.P. in the middle of the campaign and to support the D.P. instead. Clem ran for the Island Council elections on June 13th, 1955 as the number 6 candidate and got 11 votes. He must have not had time to campaign enough. I guess he was too lonely for his girlfriend Rosie Scott who he had known from Curacao. He decided to get married. Rosie tells me that she came from Curacao and went straight from the airport to the government office and got married the same day.

In the Island Council elections of 1959 (May 25th), Clem got 48 votes. Not a bad amount as Claude got 280 and Milton Peters 44.  In the elections of 1963 (May 31st) Clem was the number three candidate and received 64 votes (Claude 275 and Peters 65). The electorate was still small even in 1963. Clem served on the Island council from 1959 to 1971. He also served as Commissioner for two years in the period from 1969 to 1971. Clem preferred though to play his role in the background advising Claude and in the foreground actively campaigning and making deals on behalf of the party on the three Windward Islands. As such the “bush lawyer” Wallace Peterson pegged the name on Clem of “The Evil Genius” and it stuck. Not that Clem was evil. He was my friend and came to my rescue in more ways than one. This article does not allow room for all. Except that he had the police arrest his cousin Fried Richardson and me. We were arguing up under the bar which was located under the A.C.Wathey pier. In the heated discussion Fried recklessly told Clem that he had no power and young and foolish as I was I took Fried’s side. Turned out to be the losing side. Clem went to the phone and then came back and sat down quietly. Minutes later a police car pulled up and Fried and I were escorted down to the Police Station for questioning. No overnighting on that occasion though. We were released and found our way back up to the pier. Clem asked us if we still thought he had no power. And believe you me I never joined Fried again or anyone else for that matter to question whether Clem had power or not.

Clem and I remained friends over the years. I used to spend lots of time with him in the period up to 1973. It was a habit of Clem’s to come to the office and tell my boss Fons O’Connor that he needed “Johnstone” as he always called me, to go somewhere with him. Up until 1983 when I was still involved in the politics of all three islands as Commissioner and Island Council Member, I would see Clem a lot. After the Island Territory split up and I was elected Senator I worked in coalition with the D.P. at Central Government level though it was never an easy relationship. Through it all Clem and I remained “buddies”, one of his favourite words for his good friends.  Clem liked to spend time in these little holes in the wall. I knew where to find him. When he changed location I could call his son Erno who would direct me where to find him. I still regret that I was not able to attend his funeral as I was on my way to Holland when someone told me at the airport that he had passed on.

And can I ask someone in government to honour my friend Clem with a real square. Take away the parking lot. Plant some nice Royal Palm trees. Place benches there where young and old can congregate. Let someone build a parking garage elsewhere for the excess cars in Philipsburg. But please give the square some priority. I think that Clem and by extension the Labega family deserve such an honour. How can one call a parking lot a square? The location though is excellent, all we need now is to remove the parking lot and make it a real square. Incorporate the road in front of the Administration building in it as well, and around the square put statues of people like Melford Hazel, Joseph H. Lake Sr, Wallace Peterson and others. Clem I cannot write your full story in this one article, but at least I have been able to put you “Under the Sea Grape Tree”. Back in the day you knew where to find me. I remember also when Mr. Alrett Peters and I were under the sea grape tree plotting a show of solidarity with the May 30th, 1969 labour union disturbances on Curacao. Clem walked in and said;” let’s compromise we don’t need demonstrations on St. Maarten at this time. What about giving the workers a half day off instead?’

Mr. Peters was the boss, but he turned to me and said:’ Johnson is that good enough for you?” We shook hands with Clem who went back to the Government offices just down the street and carried out his part of the agreement and Mr. Peters and the General Workers Union withdrew the request for a protest march. Recordar es Vivir . To remember is to live, and to have many fond memories of good friends like my friend “Clementie”.



Conch Shell Voices


Percy ten Holt on the right and next to him his brother Marinus.

Conch Shell Voices

by: Will Johnson

The use of a conch shell as an instrument to communicate with goes back to the early Amerindians who inhabited these lovely Caribbean Islands.

Many would be late sleepers around Windwardside would be happy to find out and to put a proper cursing on whoever it was who taught Percy Ten Holt to blow the conch shell.

This year will be thirty years that, promptly at 6AM the residents of Windwardside are reminded by Percy with his infamous conch shell that it is time to get out of bed and start a new day. That added to a night of tree frogs and crickets and the roosters who start off their own day with an alarm system set to go off at 5AM. Over the years Percy has had to fend off mostly complaints from late night revelers who were under the illusion that they could go to bed at 3Am and look forward to some hours of good sleep before having to contend with a hangover. Except, on Sunday that is, Percy’s conch shell blowing policy is “Never on Sunday.”

I am not aware of any in depth research having been done on the past and present use of the conch shell as a communications instrument. However I may be mistaken as there has been so much research done on such a variety of subjects that it just might be possible there is a book out there on the history of the use of the glorious conch shell. I remember once reading that a wealthy Norwegian ship owner had commissioned an antique book dealer to do research on books written about the art of tying knots in ropes on sailing ships. Well! The book dealer came up with no less than seven thousand titles written by learned people on this particular subject. Can you imagine? Seven thousand books on how to tie a piece of rope. So you never can tell. So for this article I will stick to what I know about conch shell blowing and about our friend Percy who reminds us every morning that it’s time to get up and go.

On Saba before the signal station was built on Crispeen at the home of Miss Marion Every to alert the boatmen of The Bottom to the approach of a vessel to Saba, there was a watchman at the Fort Bay to blow the conch shell for the same purpose. And if he was not there our West Indian schooners and sloops would be equipped with such a vital piece of communications equipment to do the same job.


For a number of years now Percy has been working in Security.

Joshua Kenneth Bolles in his soon to be published book “Caribbean Interlude” edited by yours truly writes of his arrival on Saba on the sloop the “Lady Nisbeth” from St. Kitts in 1931. “I heard a cool resonant blast, and looking toward the bow of the boat, saw one of the black men in ragged shirt and trousers with a conch shell at his lips. The signal was one agreed upon. It informed the Harbormaster in The Bottom, a small village 800 feet above that a sail boat had arrived from the East with passengers and luggage.”

With all the artificial boom-box and other noises now no one would have heard the sound of a conch shell coming up from the Fort Bay to The Bottom. But back then there was a peaceful atmosphere all around and there was practically no noise other than when the occasional fight broke out and a flood of bad words drifted through the ionosphere and alarmed vale and dale with everyone screaming and shouting all at the same time.

On St. Martin in the early nineteen fifties I came to appreciate the sound of the conch shell announcing the arrival of the fishermen from the village of Simpson bay with fish for sale in the early morning hours. This was quite a happening and the early morning event broke the monotony of daily life in the town of Philipsburg nestled quietly on the beach of the beautiful Great Bay harbor. I can still remember the first time becoming aware of this tradition and walking down an alley to an area where on the beach negotiations were going on for the fish being brought to market. A “small” strap of fish went for twelve good cents (f.0.30) and a large strap was fifteen good cents. If you bought the large strap sometimes a lobster would be thrown in for free. They were so plentiful back then that people boiled them to feed their hogs with.41UyOZYuqLL

Now back to Percy, the main man of this story. His Dutch last name ten Holt came from his grandfather a colonial police officer. The officer’s full name was Harman Frederik ten Holt who was born in Hummelo en Keppel in The Netherlands on Saturday 26 March 1892, son of Derk ten Holt and Gerritje Wessink.  On Wednesday June 2nd 1920 on Curacao he married Gertrude Elizabeth Bergland (age 25) who was born on Sunday September 9th, 1894 on St. Eustatius, daughter of Maria Bergland. Their son, also a police officer and stationed on Saba married Cynthia Hassell of Saba and they are the parents of Percy Ten Holt born on Saba on June 6th, 1944. On the ten Holt side of the family Percy is a cousin of the famous Dutch football player Patrick Kluyvert who is a grandson of Percy’s aunt. At the age of 13 he went to live on Curacao with his father Jan Wilhelmus Ten Holt. He also went to Holland for awhile. At the age of twenty he came to St.Maarten and started working for Spritzer & Fuhrmann N.V. He later worked on Curacao for Rockwell International and was sent for training to California and Mexico. He also worked in various casinos on Curacao as a dealer. Later on he sailed for three years on the “Yankee Clipper” a well known schooner which transported tourists around the Caribbean.


Percy here demonstrating how he can still blow the conch shell, July 26th, 2016

In 1980 he returned to Saba to live. At first he lived with his brother Frank Granger and then in 1983 he started living at the home of Peter Every up in the Mountain. Peter used to blow the conch shell from that location in a time when Saba had three horses and three telephones. Percy started working for Public Works, then worked as a taxi-driver and transported schoolchildren as well. He later worked for the Saba Marine Park for many years as Assistant Manager. When he stepped down as he had reached retirement age he continued to work as a security officer at the RBTT bank and now he works in the same position at the Saba school of Medicine. In his years of struggle good luck attended Percy twice in the year 1992. First his lottery ticker 33092 won the grand prize and secondly despite speculation that it would disappear like oil on a hot plate, Percy used the money to buy the home and much of the land of former Commissioner John Arthur Anslyn. He called on me to assist with preparing the documents and when they were signed he and I became emotional over his good fortune and consequent decision. His mother Ms. Cynthia Hassell and the rest of the family I had always been close to and so for me also it was nice to see that he had finally arrived at his earthly Walhalla.


. He is among others a brother of Marinus and as boys growing up in Windwardside we had many adventures together. One or two I will recall here for my readers.

When the contractor Jacques Deldevert was building the Roman Catholic school in Windwardside we boys were asked to break up large rocks into gravel for use in the construction. Each one had their own pile of gravel. On the morning when the contractor was coming to measure each pile of gravel I insisted that my mother wake me up at 4 AM. I know my people. I had calculated that by then Percy and Marinus would have reduced my pile to little more than a few pebbles and would have become tired and off to bed. By the time Percy and Marinus came around to witness the measuring of the piles some boys were aware of what was happening. I heard Percy in the distance tell Marinus: “something is up.” As they got closer he exclaimed:”Boy, Will got we.” Their two piles looked like Mars Cohone Hill and Old Booby Hill, while mines looked like Mount Scenery. I will abstain from adding the expletive deletives attached to this pronouncement and recognition of defeat. As a precautionary measure I had asked Mr. Deldevert to pay my father for me as I figured Percy and Marinus would hold me down and get the money back. After a few days we were back friends again and could make jokes about it. I even heard Percy telling someone the story ending it with:”Boy, Will humbug we.”


Percy in an interview with Boi Antoin, July 26th, 2016.

Another episode I remember is with Evered Jackson’s cow. On January 2nd, 1955 hurricane “Alice” passed by and left some twenty two inches of rain in a twenty four hour period. A sizeable lake formed in the Rendez Vous and the three of us decided to take Evered Jackson’s cow for a swim. The lake is known as “Jugglers Pool” after a boy who got stuck with something while swimming there and got blood poison. The lake has not formed again since then, but you can never tell for the future.

Percy tells me that on several occasions the police told him that he had to stop waking up people so early in the morning. Policeman Maria and Major Crips especially he remembers warned him on several occasions. The only compromise he was willing to make was to give people a break on Sundays. The curious thing is that his house which he bought from Commissioner Anslyn’s son is just a short distance across from the late Peter Every’s house in the mountain, so that he has the same amount of coverage of Windwardside as he did before.

Percy tells me that he is getting tired now and needs a successor. However he carries on and just as we have grown up with the roosters, the tree frogs and the crickets we have grown accustomed to Percy and his conch shell. In my large great grandmother’s mahogany four poster bed all the way up here in The Level I can hear the conch shell promptly at 6Am depending on weather conditions.

I resisted the temptation to Google anything about conch shell blowing. Now just before finishing this article I did so and you will be amazed as to how much attention has been paid by writers to this subject. I would not venture to take a bet if it comes close to the art of tying knots in ropes on sailing vessels but it is a lot. William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” features frequent references to “the conch”. In the book, the conch is used as a trumpet to call everyone together and held by whoever is speaking at meetings, symbolically representing democracy and order.

The famous old English riddle ‘Ic was be Sonde’ describes a conch; “I was by sound, near seawall at ocean-stream; I dwelt alone in my first resting place…Little did I know, that I, ere or since, ever should speak mouth less over mead-benches.” Another meaning given to this riddle ‘Ic was be Sonde’ is that the sound of the conch corresponds to spiritualized sound as heard in higher realms. (Like me up here in the Level in a higher realm than where Percy blows his conch shell from.)

In popular folklore, it is believed that if one holds an open conch shell to the ear, the ocean can be heard and the mermaids will whisper sweet-nothings to entice you to want to join them in their ocean realms.

Finally in Prakrit poetry, the conch has an erotic connotation:


a still, quiet crane

shines on a lotus leaf

like a conch shell lying

on a flawless emerald plate.

Percy, congratulations on thirty years of blowing the conch shell to the amusement of many and to the irritation of some residents of Windwardside village who have now grown to appreciate your dedication to this unusual form of alarm clock use for people wanting that sort of wakeup call or not.



The Honorable Arthur Valk

Image (117) The Honourable Arthur Valk on the left with Mr.Irvin  Mussenden

I often heard Senator Kenneth van Putten and others talking about Mr. Valk. Usually it had to do with how smart he was for his times, his collection of books, his expert knowledge on the history of St.Eustatius, and the fact that he was a love child of Mr. Daniel James Hassell Every the owner of Schotzenhoek estate.

Years ago Kenneth gave me an old chair which belonged to Mr. Valk. Capt. Randolph Dunkin did the caning for me and Henk Bontenbal restored the old chair. Reportedly it had belonged to the Honen Dalim (The one who is merciful to the poor) Synagogue and had been used as a baptismal chair. I placed the old chair next to an old vanity set which had belonged to my mother Alma Simmons. She had told me once that it had been built here on Saba for someone on Statia. Somehow, and I cannot remember the story, it ended back up here on Saba and in her possession. It was in bad condition and I restored it myself. Somehow I felt that the two pieces belonged together.

Statia - Gallery overtrading the road is the home of Mr. Arthur Valk.

Gallery over reaching the road was the home of Mr. Arthur Valk.

There are three letters scrolled on the top of the vanity piece interlocking into one another. One day while meditating in the old chair, I, as the old people would say, deciphered the letters to read J.C.E.  I then realized that it could only be John Carl Every at one time not only the richest man on St. Eustatius, but also one of the richest persons in the Eastern Caribbean. The wealthy people then were not only the biggest land owners, but they put their land into productive use. Much can be said now as to how they used it, but these islands were poor and had no local markets for sugar and other produce, so that people like the Every’s also had whaling schooners and regular schooners to trade with and supplement their income.

It is only when I found out that the vanity piece had belonged to John Carl Every that I realized why the two pieces of furniture belonged together. Mr. Arthur Valk and John Carl were brothers. Jocelyn Gordon used to tell me that the Bible does not mention anything about half brothers so that the term half-brother should not be used. Godfred Hassell gave the chair a good restoration in 2015 and it is from this chair that I do all my writing and meditation on things past.

For some reason I always thought that Mr. Valk was of mixed race ancestry (like Obama). However Kenneth told me that his mother was a white woman.  She was Margaret Ann Hodge born November 2nd, 1825 and died May 9th, 1900. Her parents were Thomas Hodge and Susan Elizabeth Valk. Seeing the stigma that  being illegitimate carried with is, being that Margaret Ann was from an important local family at the time, Arthur decided to use the surname Valk for his entire life.

Statia - Arthur Valk and his mother

Arthur Valk and his mother Margaret Ann Hodge

He was born on St.Eustatius on July 2nd, 1855 and died July 31st,1933 at the age of 78.

He was a teacher, co-founder of the public library, renowned historian and translator of documents from Dutch to English. He was a devout Methodist. He taught not only at the Public School but also had a private school at his home which was customary back then. People with some money would send their children to a private teacher. He remained a lifelong bachelor. On his death he bequeathed one of his houses to Kenneth’s aunt Miss Miriam Rhoda. Yes the same aunt whose coffin Kenneth used to “lend out” from time to time. Before he died he had sold one of the houses to Kenneth’s grand father. And so the two large houses sitting next to each other next to the Old Dutch reformed church ended back up in the  hands of one person, namely Kenneth.IMG_0188a

Over the years I have heard much about Mr. Valk so I decided to try and bring him back on the scene.

He was so well known for his research on history and his great intellect that all of the dignitaries visiting the island would pass by him to hear him out. Some of his best books ended up as gifts to people from Curacao. The Inspector of Taxes Mr. van Werkhoven was loaned a prized first edition of Southey’s “Chronological History of the West Indies”.

Mr. Valk also translated into English all of the Dutch songs used for ceremonial occasions. These were published in 1899 as “The Celebration of The Queens Accession” in the Journaal “Geschied-Taal-en Volkskunde Genootschap” in 1899. The text of the translation can be read starting with page 17 of the Journal. They were also published in the form of a small booklet of which I have a copy in my collection.

Image (779)

The house of Mr. Valk was situated behind the Fort on the Kerkstraat.

Mr. Valks people in the time of the “Golden Rock”, the Hodge’s and the Valks had been among the wealthy families of the island. When Mr. Valk was growing up things had changed radically. The few plantation owners, who were also the largest employers,

were obliged to live off investments made elsewhere.

The Government in the time of Governor van Grol tried through various ways to revive agriculture. But the combination of droughts, labour shortage and a mass exodus of the population to the USA, Bermuda and then to the oil refineries of Aruba and Curacao, had left the island with only a small population.


The man on the left with the hat and beard is most likely the legendary Arthur Valk, historian and teacher while the one on the right is Mr. Lampe from Aruba. Photo from around 1900.

Whereas the population of the island in its glory days was 8124 registered in 1790, it had declined to 2668 in 1850 a few years before Mr. Valk was born. The population figures of the first half of the twentieth century show a steady decline.

Year 1900 a total of 1334 people, 1915 there were 955 people, 1925 only 1135, 1935 there were 1198, 1940 there were 1130, 1945 only 976 and 1950 a low point of 970 had been reached. In 1960 things started to change but only slightly. The census indicated that the population was 1014.

Mr. Valk grew up in a much quieter atmosphere than the islands have today. No motorized traffic, no boom boxes, no planes flying overhead. The peace and quiet was only disturbed at the break of morning when a myriad of roosters would break forth in a cacophony of song announcing the birth of a brand new day.

One can see how Mr. Valk was drawn to his books and research. He and Mr. Irvie Mussenden were the principal ones behind the establishing of the Public Library.

Image (208)

Looking down the Kerkstraat with the home of Mr. Arthur Valk

The library for many years was housed in the building opposite the Government Guesthouse ( which is now the Government Administration Building). The building is owned by Mr. Siegfried Lampe now in his nineties and the last of the old white families living on Statia. The last man standing so to speak. Siegfried himself never married. His father was from Aruba and his mother a daughter of Governor A.J.C. Brouwer, so that technically his roots are not as deep on Statia as say the Pandt family who go back hundreds of years. Since this was first written Mr. Lampe passed away.

Mr. Valk being an intellectual curiosity for that period  was referred to by all as the man to see if you wanted to know about Statia’s history. I also have a copy of history that he wrote, but now to find it. An archivist would have a Herculean task to find all the paper work I have stored around the house.

Mr. Valk also maintained an extensive correspondence with friends and family abroad that had left the island to seek their fortune elsewhere. I will write an article on the French Hugenot families of Statia which include the Lespier family or l-Espier, one of whom is the grandmother of the late Joaquim Balaguer who for many years was President (some would say dictator) of the Dominican republic.

As for Mr. Valk, even though he was well known in his day, he is now only remembered in a small circle. That is why even though some may think he is only a ghost from the distant past, I want to highlight him as he deserves to be remembered.

Will Johnson


Commissioner Alexander Theophilus Illidge.


Two great St. Martiners, Alexis Arnell (Lexie) in front and Commissioner A.Th. Illidge right behind him. Pasangrahan Hotel 1955.

Commissioner Alexander Theophilus Illidge

By; Will Johnson

His grandson has been corresponding with me about writing something about Commissioner Illidge.

I knew him when I worked in the old Courthouse. Among other things my boss Joseph Alphonse Constantine O’Connor was also the Acting Notary for the Island. I had no job description back then. I would be called on by Lt. Governor J.J.’Japa’ Beaujon on weekends to type letters and reports and I was not even working for the Island Government. And so it was that I did lots of Notary work. Years later Notary Speetjens told me he was amazed at the number of deeds had my signature to them. Sydney Lejuez a customs officer, working with me, and I were the star witnesses for ‘Fons’ Notary practice. All unpaid for of course.

One of the people often in the office was Mr. Illidge and he lived in the Mount William Hill area. He was constantly getting various lands notarized. These he had either inherited or bought them from other families. I remember him always having a little stick which he twirled around in his mouth. It seemed to be part of his body as I can never remember ever seeing him with a stick in his mouth.

He and Fons clashed at times with Fons once remarking; ‘Man you want to claim the whole of Mount William Hill’. But in the end Mr. Illidge proved to be well documented.

13707534_10154247814097457_4052562111955808258_n (1)

Lighter boat with car being towed into Great Bay for landing. Photo Guy Hodge.

For this article I will quote from articles in the Windward Islands Opinion to which Mr. Illidge often contributed articles and letters to the Editor. Also from Kenneth Cook’s book;” The politicians who made a difference.’

Mr. Cook gives the following information on Alexander Illidge.

‘In 1951, five members were elected to the St. Maarten Island Council. One of them became a Commissioner. His name was Alexander Theophilus Illidge, who came from a large, renowned family. Born in 1894, Illidge later became a mason and expert in granite stone making. As a young man, Illidge left Sint Maarten and worked for a company in Philadelphia Pennsylvania, known as the O’Brian Corporation. At O’Brian he worked as a contractor.

During the late 1940,s, he returned to St. Maarten and engaged in cultivation, while at the same time doing masonry work. In 1951, Claude Wathey asked Illidge to run for the 1951 Island Council election. Claude, at that time, was the leader of the NVP party. Even though he only secured six votes, Illidge became a deputy, which was the same position as a Commissioner.

Wathey had asked Illidge to join him in politics because he (Illidge), was a well-read man and a gifted speaker. According to one of Illidge’s cousins, Ramona Illidge, he was such a gifted orator he would say things that would ‘knock you off your feet’. During campaign rallies, Illidge was often quoted as saying, “the dogs are barking, but they cannot bite.’

Illidge made a difference for the St. Maarten people in various ways. He aided and lobbied scholarships for students such as Lesley Cannegieter, and he revived agriculture and held many animal exhibitions in conjunction with the French side farmers. The latter was done to determine who had the best and healthiest animals.


Lighter with car at the pier in Philipsburg. It would still be towed to the beach and landed on the beach.


Towards the end of his term Illidge faced the biggest challenge of his career, which came in the form of Claude Wathey.

During an island council meeting, Wathey and Illidge signed an agreement with developers to construct a hotel. Several months later, Charles Voges telephoned Illidge and asked; “How could you do that?” Illidge was stunned and confused. Voges informed him that the Executive Council had withdrawn the license that was given to developers. Illidge stated that he knew nothing about this development. He immediately called his chauffeur, Mr. Jarvis and went to Wathey’s home. Wathey was not there, so Illidge told Cyrus Wathey (Claude’s father) that he must inform Claude to return the license to the developers. He also claimed that the act amounted to forgery. Illidge reportedly told Cyrus that if Claude was unwilling to do so, he would face the wrath of the local authorities. When Illidge met Claude they had a heated argument. Tensions between both men existed until Illidge’s term concluded in 1955. Claude vowed to never sit in an Island Council with Illidge.

In the 1955 Island Council elections, Illidge ran together with Lionel Bernard Scott. He obtained only two votes. Illidge saw this performance as a sign to discontinue his participation in politics.

Before he died in 1967, he made a crown shaped out of granite stone and presented it to Queen Juliana of The Netherlands, while she was on a visit to St. Maarten.’

I was on vacation for the latter part of 1967. I remember when I came back to work in the Receivers Office I learned that in my absence several long married couples had died shortly after one another. Theophilus Illidge and his wife were one of those couples.

In the sixties Mr. Illidge sent in letters and articles to the Windward Islands Opinion. Dependent in those days only on what you had learned from books and life’s experiences it is refreshing to see that a stonemason had such an advanced outlook on life.

On Saturday January 11th, 1964, in the Windward Islands’ Opinion Mr. Illidge published the following article.


By; A.Th.Illidge

We are indeed thankful that we have been spared to make another milestone in this our transitory span through no merit of our own. But by the grace of God, it is then therefore fitting, that we rededicate ourselves anew to God in love and loyalty – this year 1964. Wishing you all a Happy and a Prosperous New Year, I now wish both the French and Dutch Government a happy continuation of administration.

And now to our Island Government, after having been instrumental in the laying of the foundation and first cornerstone in the August temple of our Independence. Today as we look around we certainly can appreciate what has been accomplished in the fourteen years of our Self Government. Great improvements have been made, in every field of human endeavor, especially in promoting as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge, for the children. In proportion as the structure of a Government gives force to public sentiment, it is essential, that public opinion should be enlightened. An Eminent English jurist says, that sentiment is more powerful than law, for law is the expression of sentiment. And cannot be enforced without its support. A distinguished French critic in writing the history of a National literature says, that the motive force in history is to be sought in human sentiment.

We have just had the Christmas play, of which I regret I was unable to attend as gatekeeper, due to a fall I got a little before. But how proud I was to listen to the public sentiment. It is evidently convincible, the most enduring moment is that which has been created in the minds of our people. Let us all hope for a yearly continuation of the play.



On the left with flag was the home of the Lt. Governor upstairs and downstairs were the government offices for the Executive Council of which Commissioner A. Th. Illidge formed a part from 1951-1955.

Honored Sirs, I wish you all a happy continuation of Administration. And console yourselves with the fact that no government is free from mistakes. Mistakes are error of judgement and not of intend. We often act according to our best knowledge which often fall short of the proposition in question. So leave all comparisons to history. Being receptive to the various governments of the world I would like to examine the greatest cause for errors in the governments of the world – Julius Caesar, the great Roman General and Statesman, 44 BC – Says in deliberating on dubious matters. To be influenced neither by hatred, affection, nor anger, nor pity; the mind when such obstructs its view, cannot easily see what is right. Nor has any human being consulted at the same time his passions and his interests. When the mind is fully exerted its reasoning is sound. And it is right here all the mistakes are made in life.

Honored Sirs, continue to build upon the foundation which may someday rise to the high mature mark, and May the Guardian angel of the Island of St. Maarten, French and Dutch, guide and direct all your Councils, in the interest and welfare of the people.

And now to the people of St. Maarten – Experience has shown that more than two thirds of us are still slumbering in apathy. It is you the people that make public sentiment more powerful than law. Do you know it? And law cannot be enforced without its support. Fellow citizens of St. Maarten, we are now living in the 20th century, and not in the 19th. – Wake up! And think for yourselves, learn your power of thoughts, by thinking and power of action by acting. You must become receptive to the fact, that the intellectual development of the human race today, has been suddenly raised to a higher plain than that of our fathers and grandfathers – And we are on the brink of a mighty revolution in human thinking. An intelligent people is an asset to a government, but, ignorance is a liability and a hazard. Fellow citizens, nature endows us at birth with the instinctive desire for liberty and truth. But, whether because of negligence, or because of an inclination inherent in humanity, it is still somewhat under bond, imposed upon it, perhaps by the tradition of slavery.

Too many of us are still suffering from mental slavery. So many of us don’t believe in the axiom of God creating man equal. For the benefit of those who don’t believe – I will make it more plain. A wise person contains in himself every bit of the foolishness the foolish one contains, plus the attributes and characteristics of the wise one. But, his foolishness is held in check by discretion, and instead of energy being blown out by caprice, it is controlled by judgement. Evidently ignorance is the only slavery.

Now Wake up and become an asset to the community, state, and Government, so that we may all work with firm steps – to the August temple of Independence.


The Old Courthouse where the Island Council would meet upstairs from time to time.

Commissioner Illidge was one of the few politicians, who was bold enough to commit his thoughts to paper.

Here is another contribution of his in the Windward Islands’ Opinion of Saturday January, 18th, 1964.

Dear Editor,

After listening to the lecture of the Hon. Teacher Mr. Arrindell of Marigot – on his theme of Education, at the Men’s Club at Marigot – And his answers to the various questions and to Mr. Bailey, teacher of Cole Bay and many others on the subject of Education, School, Teachers, Guardians and children.

The entire subject provided food for thought – and has given wings to my mind and flight to my imagination. Consequently I have seen the imperative necessity for a general meeting of all teachers, parents, guardians and children for a better understanding on the whole.

Therefore I made immediate contact with the Principals of the schools for a general public meeting, which was gladly accepted. I also spoke to Rev. Khan on the subject, who immediately agreed and offered one hundred chairs, for wherever the meeting will be kept. But, asked please not to keep it in his absence, as he would like to voice his opinion. The Honorable Principal, Mr. Lindeboom will give a lecture on the subject, all parents, guardians and children are politely invited to be present at this particular meeting. It will be one of the most constructive and important meetings of its kind. Public sentiment will be a potent factor. The Lady Principal will also voice her sentiment on this important issue. Mr. Bailey, teacher of Cole Bay has been long waiting for an opportunity to express his views – and many more including Miss Bell. This issue was brought about because of parents going to teachers with reference to the behavior of children.

Too many mothers love for her child is like the instinct of an animal – only ready to butt and bite.

Fourteen or fifteen years ago, due to some action on the part of one of the teachers who lost control, and ill treated a child – The Hon. Legislative Council, passed a law, that teachers may not whip or strike a child with their hands.

The children of today, are taking a direct advantage of this situation, no fear, no respect, one way or another; which is causing a terrible reaction in community life, State and Government. It is time that the general sentiment of the Public be moved in this particular direction – It should be understood, that the teacher is the child’s other mother. In a pure state of nature the child would need no other teacher than its mother, but the economic demands upon the poor and the social demands upon the rich; make a third party indispensable. In the average home, there is a woeful lack of love everybody is so busy. So the child is sent to school, and the other mother gives her mother’s love, her patience and her tact to bring about a pleasurable animation, a condition the average parent cannot evolve; and without which, mental and spiritual growth are impossible. Therefore teachers need the moral support and co-operation of parents – and not their ignorant displeasure. So a meeting has been planned for early February. The General public will be informed of the date and place in a later issue of this newspaper.

So we all thank the Men’s Club of Marigot for the pleasant evening of Men’s Fellowship, there were about 65 to 70 men present.

We thank the guest-speaker of the evening for his theme on education and the many persons who asked questions, on the subject of parent and children and the regulation of law governing the situation . Theophilus Illidge, Publicity Agent for the Men’s Club.


Back when Mr. Illidge was Commissioner this was the only pier at which all cargo and  passengers arrived. The Lido Hotel and bar downstairs on the right.

There is another Letter to the Editor which I found dated February 8th, 1964.

…Really without council, purposes are lost. One can think and evolve an idea, but without council and cooperation, the thought will die where it had its birth. On Tuesday night around seven thirty a Committee of teachers, the Editor of the Windward Islands Opinion and myself met at the Sea-View Hotel for a discussion on the proposition of a meeting with parents, teachers, guardians and children.

I confess the meeting was very nice, and educational. It is an obvious fact that a great part of every man’s life must be employed in collecting material, for the exercise of genius, invention, strictly speaking is little more than a new combination of those images which have been previously gathered and deposited in the memory. Nothing can come of nothing. He who has laid up no material, can produce no combinations. The more extensive, therefore, your acquaintance is with the works of those who have excelled, the more extensive will be your powers. It was a pleasure indeed to listen to the various speakers.-

There will be a general meeting at the P.M.I.A. hall, with parents, guardians, teachers and children, on Friday night the 14th of February.

As it involves, community, State and government, Ladies and Gentlemen, this letter is in behalf of the honorable Committee- So I conclude by saying: Nature’s best use for genius is to make other men think. To stir things up so sedimentation does not take place; to break the antidote  of self-complacency, and start the stream of public opinion running so it will purify itself.

So then until the next issue

Yours truly

A.Th. Illidge

Mr. Illidge also dabbled in poetry. In the Windward Islands’ Opinion of Saturday September 29th, 1963 we can read one of his poems.


By; A. T. Illidge

A poem may be made by a fool like me.

But only God can grow a tree,

So I am sowing seeds among the rocks

Some one some day may be shocked.


I sow the seeds in the earth,

But it is nature who, gives it its natural birth

It shoots its blades in the air –

And its roots go down to keep it there.


There is life abundant in the soil –

It is this life that makes life worth while,

Get up in the morning and till the soil

And you sure will live for a very long while.


I sow flambeau seeds on Fort William height

Those trees are known for their beautiful sight

They have their origin away in France

From the fifteenth century they advance.


Some one in the future may sit and rest,

Beneath the trees and try to guess –

Who planted them there at such a year;

To be a shade and comfort so rare.


They will try to guess as we so often do

When we stop beneath the tree and rest

And Oh, how often we God bless –

The hand that planted – and now at rest-.

Next time you are driving along the A.Th. Illidge road be grateful for his contributions to St. Maarten. I personally feel that with his interest in education a school should have been named after him.



To the Island of Bequia

Image (4)

Mr. Orton King here with his turtle sanctuary at Spring Bay.

To the island of Bequia

By: Will Johnson



On April 20th, 2009, I visited the island of Bequia with my son Chris. The ferry from Kingstown, St.Vincent was a large one. As a matter of fact I was a bit surprised at the number of large ferries which service the Grenadines out of St.Vincent. The one we were on though large was rather slow and tossed about quite a bit. It took over an hour to do the nine miles between the islands.

I had never been to Bequia before. I had read somewhere though that some Saba people had migrated to that island in the eighteen hundreds. I also found in the archives here on Saba a document in which the colonial British government was encouraging people from here to emigrate to that island. I did not think much about it as I had never heard of anyone from Saba there.

However after visiting Bequia the following day in the meeting with the OECS Ministers of Tourism the young Minister of Tourism for St.Vincent and the Grenadines, The Hon. Glen Beache teased me that after the meeting was over we would have to talk passport. This after hearing me talking about all the family I had met there.

Scan1104Here is what happened. When we arrived in Admiralty Bay I looked around the shore for the Frangipani Hotel. It belongs to the Mitchell family. The former Prime Minister “Son Son” Mitchell (Sir James) is from Bequia. He served as Prime Minister of the island chain for twenty years. I corresponded with him once and sent him a copy of my book about Saba. I also read his memoirs. I never did get to meet him in person. I was hoping that even though we were only spending five hours on Bequia that I would at least get to say hello to him. However he was off-island that day.

After having breakfast  we saw a white man siitting there and everyone seemed to know him, so we asked him some directions. He said ;”Me not from heah, me ben here eighteen years. Me from Jammeny.” He was from Germany and had learned his English in Bequia .In the town we engaged a Taxi which was a pickup truck and decided to do a tour of the island. The driver would shout out from the inside of the cabin in order to give his tour. I had told him that I wanted to see the turtle sanctuary. He did his best to show us as much of the island as possible. When we arrived at the turtle sanctuary I saw Mr. Orton “Brother” King of whom I had read in “Destinations” magazine. I asked him if he was related to the King family on St.Kitts. I had not yet told him who I was. He said “I don’t know anything about them Kings on St. Kitts. I am a “Saybee”. And then he went on to tell me about his grandfather Robert Simmons who was the famous whale harpooner on Bequia and his other Simmons ancestors. He told me that he had been on Saba in 1984 for a few hours on a ferry. He had made it as far as Hell’s Gate. However he was disappointed that no one seemed to know anything about the Simmons’ family which he descended from.He said that he did see the plaque on Hell’s Gate dedicated to my uncle Captain Charles Reuben Simmons. I then told him that I was from Saba and that my mother was a Simmons. It was like a family reunion. His turtle sanctuary is at Spring Bay.

Image (6)

A Simmons sail maker of Bequia in former times. This could be Nolly’s father but I forgot to ask him.

Brother King insisted that I must see Nolly Simmons before I left the island. So the taxi driver took us up to an area called “The Level”. Nolly is an architect, a builder and part owner of the stone quarry and other businesses. Nolly was in the process of building a new home with a fantastic view looking down to the town. I joked with one of the workers in the yard to go and tell Nolly that I had come to take him back home. Nolly is in his late sixties, early seventies. A tall ,brown skinned, man. When he came around the corner of the verandah he looked intently at me. He said:”I understand you have come to take me home? Well the only other home that I have is Saba.” After talking with him for awhile he asked me, “You wouldn’t be Will Johnson by any chance?’ When I told him yes, he said;”Man I have read your book about twelve times.” Brother King had complained to me that Nolly was hanging out with the girls down at the Frangipani Hotel. I did not ask Nolly but after I got home I speculated that he had gotten my book from “Son Son” James Mitchell. I guess Sir James had heard him talking so much about Saba that he had given him the book.

Scan1105After the tour was over the taxi dropped us off at the Frangipani. Nolly was there waiting on us and took us back to the ferry. We had a callalou soup at the frangipani. When paying the bill I joked with the girls that I had come to take Nolly back home. One of the girls said;” Lord I hope you joking. Where you planning to take Nolly?” When I told her Saba she said:” Don’t tell him that. He is my boyfriend. All he talks about is this Saba where his people came from.” The ladies promised me that when the Frangipani closes down for a month in September that they will be coming to see Nolly’s ancestral home. Some years ago when I was Acting Governor a lady named Mrs. Drewy from Virginia came to see me. Her family was Simmons’ and had been in Virginia since the early sixteen hundreds. They own vast tracts of land there. She told me that she had never heard of Saba. She had been visiting Bequia as she understood there were Simmons’ there. At the bar in the Frangipani she had been told by the bartender that a man from the Dutch island of Saba had written a book about the Simmons’ of Saba. I always wondered who that man could have been. That is until I met Nolly of course. He confirmed that it was he who had told the lady about me. Also he knew Linda Garfunkel quite well .She used to have a home on Saba. Nolly told me at the hotel about his father the famous sail maker. He also told me about his ancestors from Saba who at one time had owned large portions of Bequia along with the Hassell family (now spelled Hazell there). On one of my trips to the United Nations with Mr. Xavier Blackman, the lady who is chairman of the Decolonization Committee Margareth Hughes Ferrera told me: “You don’t have to tell me about Saba, Mr. Johnson. My ancestor was Captain Hercules Hassell

Port Elizabeth, Bequia, Grenadines.

Port Elizabeth, Bequia, Grenadines.

of Saba.”

Nolly also asked me if “Brother King” had told me why he had started the turtle sanctuary. I told him that we had been too busy talking family. Turns out that after the Second World War Brother King had been shipwrecked on a schooner. He was the only survivor. He was more than two days in the water holding on to a piece of the wreckage. He could see that he was drifting in to the island of Martinique. He was about to give up from exhaustion when he drifted into a bay on the Windward Coast of the island. However he dreamt that his brother was telling him not to give up. When he awoke he could feel the sand under his feet. However it was rough and he was so tired he felt he would not make it. All the while he was in the water some porpoises and turtles had surrounded him as if to protect him from sharks. A man from Martinique on his way home from work saw what he thought was a large turtle coming in to lay her eggs. He told his wife about it. He got a friend to go with him to turn the turtle. When they got there,”Brother King “was being tossed about in the waves just about dead. The two would be turtlers recognized his plight and saved him. Brother King then made a vow that he would do everything he could to save the turtles and that he is doing today.

When I got back home to Saba I sent both of them my books and I looked up family information for them.  I also found a book “Under the Perfume Tree” edited by Judy Stone with several short stories about the islands.

One of the stories is by Peter Stone entitled “Marooned by Pirates” taken from a family history entitled “Ten Little Islands”, and I quote from the book:

“After the European explorers came the European settlers. They did not have an easy time of it. Based on actual events, this extract from the family history ‘Ten Little Islands” recreates the struggles of several pioneering Dutch and English families in the late 18th century. Bound for a new life in St.Kitts, the emigrants’ first experience of the Caribbean was to be chased by pirates and marooned on the sheer rock now known as Saba. Peter Stone, late of Trinidad & Tobago and a direct descendant of the heroic master craftsman Hercules Hassell, tells how the settlers eventually escaped the island; how they encountered free blacks, the slaver Zong and an abolitionist: and how Hassell came to establish the famous boat-building industry in Bequia.

“The Dutch merchantman Van Dyck, out of Rotterdam, was bound for Wilhelmstadt. There were Dutch passengers aboard and two English families picked up at Plymouth to be dropped off at St. Kitts. These latter were Devon folk, the one family consisting of a schoolteacher named Simmons, his wife and two teenage children, a boy and a girl, and the other family a blacksmith, Henry Newton, his wife and infant son. The vessel had made the crossing in less than five weeks, and was still going well when, rounding St.Maarten, she acquired a tail.” You will have to read the book for the rest of the story.

Also in “Emancipation School” by John Hazell we read the following;” Following its settlement by Europeans, the island of Bequia flourished, and so did the Dutch-English descendants of Hercules Hassell, the hero of the preceding account. In his brief autobiography “The Life of John H.Hazell, Hassell’s grandson, who was to serve as Speaker and later President of the Legislative Assembly, Assistant Justice of the Supreme Court and Member of Queen Victoria’s Privy Council, sketches a contemporary view of the developing society in this tiny island during the early 19th century. I will quote briefly from his book:” I made one or two voyages with my father in his sloop ‘Messenger’, having been still fourteen years old when, in 1831, I had assisted at the repairs of this vessel, working as an apprentice at the ships carpenter’s trade. My father taking charge of his sloop and returning to his occupation at sea, I accompanied him. But I proved a very bad sailor, and suffered so much from seasickness that, after a voyage to St.Thomas and one to Barbados, I sought and obtained employment in the grocery and liquor store of Alexander Glass Esq., a Jewish Scotchman, whom I served until the early part of 1834. I then sought and obtained employment in the lumber and provision business of Adam Skelly Esq., a Scotch merchant and dealer in estates’ supplies, whom I served to the day of his death in 1840. I finally closed his business in 1841. Having accomplished this I commenced my own career in business, of which I will write hereafter.”

Admirality Bay, Port Elizabet, Bequia. Grenadines.

Admiralty Bay, Port Elizabeth, Bequia, Grenadines.

The following memorial is placed at the Anglican Church in Bequia – “In Memoriam Hercules Hazell who died in September 1833 at the age of 84 years, and Elizabeth his wife, were among the early settlers in this island. Their son, Hercules Hazell died in September 1848, aged 63 years and with his parents is buried in this churchyard. His wife Elizabeth died in August 1869, aged 83 years and is buried in St. George Churchyard, Kingstown. This tablet is erected in their memory by John H. Hazell in 1876.

Another tablet reads: In loving memory of John H. Hazell who died at the island of Mustique 22 November 1886 and was buried at St.George’s Cathedral, Kingstown, aged 70.

If you ever visit Elizabethtown you will find Nolly Simmons at the bar of the Frangipani. If you want to hear history tell him that his cousin Will sends greetings from Saba. And now you know something about the “Saybees” of Bequia. The “Country Cousins” band, the Leslies will also tell you that via the Simmons’ they too have roots on Saba.

* * * * * * *


Far From The World’s Turmoil. Part 1

.Image (1357)

The St. Martin he loved.

Far From the World’s Turmoil. Part One.

By. F.S. Langemeyer Civil Engineer

After I went to the trouble to translate this article from Dutch, from the West Indische Gids, I discovered that the same article had been published in a booklet entitled Tropical Mirror. Anyway I felt that many of our readers of Under the Sea Grape Tree would be especially interested in reading this.

Frans Silverius Langemeijer was born in Zeist, The Netherlands, on May 13th, 1886. After finishing his education he was employed by the Rijkwaterstaat in Maastricht and Hoorn before leaving for the Dutch West Indies.

In Hoorn on April 24, 1917 he married Antonia Maria Winkel who was born there on November 15, 1894. They had two children: Eugenie Frances Antonia born March 10th, 1919 on St. Maarten, and Henri Cornelis Gerard born September 22, 1922, in Terneuzen.

In the Dutch West Indies he worked for the colonial government in Curacao and conducted a study on the building of a harbor on St. Maarten. For this article I will concentrate on the human interest aspects of his sojourn at the Vineyard and people he met.  After his return to The Netherlands he worked again for RWS in Terneuzen from 1921 to 1925 and in Zwolle and Alemlo from 1930 to 1951. During the intervening five years, 1925 to 1930, he was employed by the Shell in Balikpan (Borneo), Indonesia. He died in Zwolle on October 23, 1954.


‘Putting down my reminiscences of a two year’s stay in the Caribbean cannot be done easily because my mind is captivated by events far more important in our precarious times. Nothing spectacular, or anything shocking, occurred in this tiny spot of Dutch territory at the very moment when Europe was ablaze. Topics of the hour lose topicality many years afterwards and in recalling what must be remembered one may err without the lively image of what has just happened.

Still, blurred images come to me and, recalling those years long past, I cannot disengage from the perusal of old letters and documents. Just now, with old feelings of hatred from 1940 flaring up again, a longing surges for this small island’s tranquility, segregated from hotbeds of war and corruption outside in the big world, yet certainly not beyond Gods own big world.

Admittedly its people lived far away from circles of development and culture, away from theater and movies. Europeans in St. Maarten might dispense with variety and liveliness, but not so with the proper meaning of life. They would have had cars rarely, if ever, and factories never, but they did know a magnificent soft rain and sunshine too, glowing over dark green slopes and endless expanse of ocean.

And since neither people nor animals come across perfect peace anywhere, the St. Maarten resident also was aware of human passion and desire, of joy and grief reflected in the minds of male and female inhabitants, of whites and blacks alike. Almost nowhere can you find a spot wholly devoid of such emotions.

In those years around 1918, many St. Maarteners went to work in the sugar plantations of Santo Domingo which apparently were prospering at that time. Some of the more enterprising men set out to sail; other people went to the American continent. On their homecoming they told, or put in writing, their stories of the outside world. One of the men who took a job as a bricklayer or stonemason in the USA during the construction of a harbor even gave me a piece of advice as to how Philipsburg could develop its own port. They did not lose their interest in their native island, ‘the best place in the world.’

We were very pleased, of course, to receive daily publications and magazines in those quiet days since, as young people, we could not possibly give up our contact with the world. We wanted to live and to experience adventure. Let me now try to arrange my experiences in neat order.

Schooner Estelle belonging to Capt. Thomas Charles Vanterpool.

Schooner the “Estelle’ at Fort Bay. Owner Capt. T.C. Vanterpool.

The very last day of May, 1918, the government packet ‘Estelle’, a schooner, dropped anchor on her last monthly trip to Great Bay, the final destination for me and my wife. The ship anchored near Fort Amsterdam which was situated at the outermost western point of the bay, which from there curved inwards in a straight line to the town.

Philipsburg appeared ahead in its tropical setting of high palm clusters and dark green manzanillo trees, its houses looking bright and prosperous whilst an early morning sun bestowed luster and loveliness upon the surrounding scenery. Up on deck we watched as all of the sails flapped downwards in succession. The ever-present noise of the propelling wind disappeared from the ship all of a sudden. Just a calm lapping sound we heard at the bow when the ship slackened momentum, followed by a curt command, the screeching anchor chains running down, and then complete silence and standstill. Far out in the bay, the lighter men were drawing near already, rowing with agile black hands which reminded us of a similar scene in the Haiti harbor, except for a lot more shouting. Indeed, one had to recognize that the cool hand of the Dutch had put its seal on the black population here, because everything took place with outward calm and good order.

The passengers – the last ones- because the ‘Estelle’ had already called at S aba and St. Eustatius – were taken over the side into one of the boats, along with necessary luggage, and rowed to the small jetty in the town Center where Customs did not make great demands on our time. The officer in charge Mister Huith by name and always on duty because he happened to be the only one, was a genial ex-colonial fellow who had kept puttering about on the island, marrying a mulatto. I got to know him better as a well-spring of information. He was always fully abreast of tidal movements in the bay as well as of the export figures for salt.

The customs office at the pier-end, serving as a Post office at the same time, contained a third room occupied by the island’s second authority who combined such varied functions as tax collector, counsel for the prosecution and postmaster – very much alert to all of them.

At the landing stage Mister A.J.C. Brouwer, the Administrator, gave us a cordial welcome. He was a kind, elderly gentleman whose tropical service made him look older. With retirement drawing near, he was very much aware that a higher office would not be given to him.Image (1436)

Mr. Brouwer guided us to an elderly lady of Anglo-colonial descent Mrs. Dinzey. She was expected to give us board and lodging for a couple of days until we could find our own home. Mrs. Dinzey was an unassuming lady of retiring disposition, who appeared to be afflicted by the difficulties of life itself, difficulties which, by the look of her, ennobled her character. We might have wished her a better fortune in a less vulnerable position than that which was imposed on her by life’s vicissitudes, yet attaining old age in peace was the very best which would happen to her. Although we later spent two years in this small community, we saw her rarely, if ever.

Obviously looking for a house was to be my first job. While aboard our ship we had seen, shining above the green manzanillo around the eastern bay corner, a little white house top adorned with a big yellow star, looking very inviting from a distance. The estate belonging to it bore the sonorous name of ‘The Vineyard”, and it proved to be untenanted – although regrettably we could not find any grapevines.

Image (66)

Close up view of ‘The Vineyard.’

I had to put up with a fairly stiff rent by St. Maarten,s standard but was not sorry because it happened to be the most suitable home imaginable. Our house was situated on the face of a steep hill, richly grown and strewn with boulders. When walking home through Front Street we often fell under the spell of the spot, especially so in bright moonlight, enhanced by the mysteriousness of the sounds of the living creatures in the wild darkness of the hills.

Because of its location, slightly elevated, the house afforded a splendid and varied view from our front veranda. Both of the green-walled village streets ran between the bay, always vivid and fidgety with the wide sea looming in the background, and the darker, nearly purple, water of the large salt pond.

Fort Amsterdam, situated in a narrow neck of land, manifested itself as a boundary between the bay and the Caribbean. Casting a glance from there to the right you could follow the upward line of the hills, resting finally on the highest summits of Sentry Hills, Mont des Accords and Flagstaff Hill. Their contours were shaped like a reclining giant in the background of the salt pond and, further up north, we saw the plantation house of ‘Madams Estate’ and the hills of Prince’s Quarter.

Imagine the Vineyard being no less than a ten minute walk from this cozy corner. I now shake my head at such a youthful obstinacy but at the time we, the reckless newlyweds, had no objections.

Image (42)

Front-street as it would have looked in 1918.

After having fixed up our home I started hiring some laborers for my survey in the country. The surveyor in my company was a heavily built, tall, mulatto, middle-aged man from Curacao by the fine Dutch name of Van den Beld, sporting an impressive moustache and toupee. He was a blacksmith by trade, properly speaking, but he was a loyal assistant during my surveying work, handling levelling and drilling operations.

Van den Beld selected and took care of a small work gang setting out with me daily for several months and performing jobs like holding the beacons, fastening pickets, introducing drilling pipes, and similar work involving the engineering survey. If I remember rightly, at that time they made about f.1.00 to f. 1.40 a day, considered to be good wages in St. Maarten. To the best of my recollection two of these chaps stuck faithfully with me till the end of my work. They were totally dis-similar from each other and went by the names Nathy and Julio. Surnames were not that important with the St. Maarten blacks, who carry a fine variety in first names given from the books.

Nathy, or Nathaniel, was a splendid fellow. I think back to him with compliments, a good natured character from ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, dark as ebony, strong as an elephant, always walking around in tatters. When there was a hole in his trousers, hardly a small one, he put a second pair of trousers over the first, and though the garment might not be hold free either, it would cover up anyway. The trousers were made of a kind of raw cotton fabric of vague color, turning to brownish-grey when clean, in general the prevailing shade for working clothes at that time. Nathy never wore anything else, though I gathered that he had a good wash on Mondays.

Image (96)

Another view of ‘The Vineyard’ around 1918.

Nathy was a priceless worker, calling me “Chief”, perhaps mocking me in a mild manner, but it never hurt and he would go through fire for me in adverse circumstances while doing his job. I did not take advantage most of the time, being aware of his unremitting good will. Nathy was a native of Anguilla, one of the British Antilles, and this had left its mark clearly upon him. The influence of colonizing nations on those colonized is most remarkable, as I observed later in the East Indies as well. Nathy could put on a solemn face and speak almost unctuously. In this he differed greatly from Julio (pronounced the Spanish way), a fervid, cheery and lighthearted chap from Curacao, an island ruled by the Dutch for more than three centuries, though liable to a substantial Spanish and Portuguese influence – a lasting influence being the proximity of Venezuela and Columbia.

Characteristically different traits between Britons and Spaniards were expressed in their religions as well. Nathy was a Methodist; Julio a Catholic. The latter just loved sauntering about the streets on Sunday after Mass, looking trim and neat, wearing shoes of an unlikely vivid brown.

I have digressed from giving an account in detail of my daily business in St. Maarten but I cannot let the opportunity slip by altogether. My first and foremost job was checking the prospects of building a port in one of the Windward Islands, one which might stand a fair chance of serving as a port of call on the navigational route from Europe to the Panama Canal. There existed some apprehension about Curacao, as being too far south, whereas Saba and St. Eustatius did not have a suitable bay at all. So, St. Martin’s Great Bay had to be considered for closer inspection. It seemed that this bay offered a proper bottom surface affording safe anchorage, even for heavy draught vessels, except in the event of a southern gale which, however, seldom occurred.


Front Street in former times.

There existed a good recent topographical map of the island of St. Maarten but I disregarded the older maps which lacked accuracy. I also was able to avail myself of the nautical charts of the Great Bay. Making a detailed sketch came first and to this purpose we had to lay a secondary three way-way network across the bay and surrounding terrain, to be measured by the primary network of a polygonal survey. For a polygonal survey, though, we had to carry out altimetry using the theodolite, because, as a rule, the disparities in height were too large for water levelling. Therefore, for the survey we had to climb two hilltops, Battery Hill and Naked Boy, with heights of 200 and 300 meters respectively. Reaching these summits was far from easy because their precipices and smooth rocky faces, overgrown with opuntias (prickly pear) and other cacti, impeded our ascent.

I remember crawling over a moist and slippery rock projection near Battery-Hill, when I lost my footing. I felt the ground sinking from beneath me and, in panic, caught the first support available. Unfortunately, it happened to be a tree cactus. Its thorns stuck into my hand and the plant broke, but so did my fall and then we were able to proceed.

The lineal distance from The Vineyard to the summit of Battery Hill was not more than 700 or 800 meters but it took three to four hours of climbing. For all of that, it was the less difficult of the two.

Apart from surveying we also had to obtain soundings and earth drilling samples in and around Great Bay. Having settled errors of perception, we could then draw an accurate map and plan for a Port of Call.

An adequate terrain for sheds and further port facilities might present a special problem, but we could possibly solve this by constructing a breakwater pier sheltering the harbor completely from southerly winds, as well as offering a mooring site for heavy draught vessels. Pointe Blanche valley, situated East of the Bay between Battery Hill and Pointe Blanche hill, was considered for various buildings. Ships of rather shallow draught, having fairly normal trim, were to be accommodated by the construction of a quay-wall equipped with derricks, so that several ships, could be handled at one time, thus encouraging the establishment of a regular shipping line.

It stood to reason that engineering these works would require a vast sum of money, but any expense less would not be worth considering. All information and data gathered were sent up in a technical report to the Governor and submitted later to the States-General through the Minister who might evaluate its cost and find it prohibitive for either the whole or part of it.


The Vineyard situated below the rock on which Michel Deher is pictured here sitting.

This had been happening also to the companies involved in St. Maarten’s salt industry, as recommended in a report compiled at the same time, which advised a number of corrections in and around the big salt lake near Philipsburg. Private enterprises were supposed to initiate such corrections but could not afford its outlay.

A vicious circle was at stake here: since the output of salt could not be trusted because of too much rainwater, vessels calling at St. Maarten could not depend on its production and did not come to fetch it. Therefore earnings were low, thus eliminating the capital needed for expensive improvements.

What would be necessary, first of all, was to separate completely the rainwater pouring down from surrounding hills, from the proper area of the salt pond. During the time we passed in St. Maarten we found that the water courses in existence could not absorb the total water flow, thus flooding the saltpans. There was a spillway constructed in the western barrier for fear of its collapse and, besides, the northern rainwater reservoir had been separated from the saltpans by only a very low dam.


Harvesting the salt.

Furthermore, the subdivision of saltpans lacked adequate differentiation between pans of more or less concentrated brine, and the final salt forming pans were too deep.

The first concessionaire, a Frenchman, A.F. Perrinon (1858), had envisioned an operation based on the ‘Salines au Midi’ in France as a model, but, due to lack of capital, failed to make a satisfactory beginning. Nevertheless, reasonable and even important salt production sometimes occurred under the existing conditions, when circumstances were favorable.

We observed salt production once in those two years which, although not remarkably abundant, cheered up all of the island. Willing workers, men and women, came to Philipsburg to lay by a little money. Salt pond and environs bustled happily with life for several days, from the wee hours in the morning till the heat of the day hampered busy work.


Bagging salt for export

In those days it was not easy to get sufficient manpower because many workers went looking for work in Santo Domingo. Therefore production took longer and could barely be completed.

Production was contracted for in shifts, each one having its ‘captain’, ‘mate’ and six to nine sailors, some of them females. The men stood knee deep in the pans, purple with infusoria, and brought up the salt cakes by hand, carrying them on so-called flats, or small boats, to the nearest dam, and from there re-loaded and transported to the village on somewhat bigger flats. The salt was piled up there in the open air, encrusting it with a hard layer so that little salt was lost, even under heavy rain showers.

As far back as to the time when the pans were public property, each collector selling his salt to merchants at a low price, the situation of the working class was practically unchanged owing to payment by piece rate. Granting concessions did not explain the scanty results. On the contrary, if concessionaries had been doing a proper building job, its advantage to the industry would have been obvious.

Concessions granted were subject to an export duty, payable to the community, for each and every cask of salt loaded aboard ship. On the ship, measuring-casks were installed with measurement under supervision.

F or that matter, loading a ship provided an exciting spectacle. The salt was cut up from the pile with a pickaxe by the males. Bags were filled by women and children, to be carried on their heads to the lighters. Schools were not attended properly in those days and, though the work was rather heavy, I suspect that the little black fellows with smooth lithe bodies and big eyes in pretty faces would have liked it by way of a nice change. An overseer was always present, a shouting bully brandishing a small bough, reminding me of slavery, although the little ones did not seem to be bothered, what with their cheerful cries and laughter.

Just once we saw a ship from America arriving to fetch salt, a three master, M.S. “Emily”, measuring 600 tons and loading a quantity of 5000 barrels, rather a lot for St. Maarten. In former days ships arrived more frequently from the U.S., having unloaded some cargo in a nearby harbor and then taking salt back home as a return cargo.

However the higher operating expenses of the more modern ships made more efficient operation mandatory, not wishing to spend any more on the risk of a futile voyage. The quantity of salt taken away by a few schooners from the French Antilles did not amount to very much at that time.

Apart from salt, St. Maarten was a supplier of cotton and mules. In years gone by there had existed sugar cultivation in the ‘Grand Plaine’ but it was no longer remunerative. The cotton of these islands, known by the tradename of ‘Sea Island Cotton’, nevertheless was of excellent quality.

Well, so much for the economy. I do not want to be reproached for being far from complete in this coverage, so from now on I shall give you an idea of our stay in a remote island.

I dare say that we observed little direct poverty, for all the population’s subsistence being none too luxurious. People made some money out of working in the saltpans or on the estates of the whites. They grew food in the garden and eventually when displeased, they went out into the wide world for some time. Actually people in the tropics just have a few needs: fire, shelter in a casual way, and eating fish along with their own corn, yams or sweet potatoes to their satisfaction.

As a rule, whites and a happy few of the colored lived by business and the proceeds of their plantations, although one could not be too proud of its volume, which was usually confined to some downhill pastures and farmland – that is all. You found some cows, horses, donkeys and mules grazing on the land, each cow draped with opuntia leaves. Goats and sheep would be fooling about everywhere. Larger herds of cattle pastured in former cotton fields.

Image (477)

Another nice view of Philipsburg from the mid 1960’s.

In the estates (a row of them were situated in the “Cul-de-Sac’ Valley) you usually found a country house: a one-story, low brick structure accessible via a wide outside staircase. Its furnishing was very simple: a couple of round or oval tables, some chairs – so-called rockers, most of them cane-bottomed – and a cupboard in some places. Guests were always given a genial welcome and served cocktails and pastry both homemade.”

‘Cul de Sac’, strewn with fine trees, made a pleasant impression despite houses and gardens not having been looked after properly.

Country estates were occupied only occasionally. People did not live there because all European families owned a house with business in the township.

One of the Van Romondt ladies ran a small bakery, though bread really would be food for whites. In the old days everybody took care of their own b read, but then we obtained it from the bakery. When she sometimes left for St. Kitts on a holiday, we had to do the baking ourselves, which became the so-called ‘journey-cakes.’ Butter, marmalade, tea or coffee could be had in one of the stores, but things like refined pastry were home-made items.



Post Navigation