The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

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.

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

 

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