St. Eustatius in 1819
Sint Eustatius in 1819
By; Will Johnson
On August 27th, 1819 the Governor-General of St. Eustatius, St. Martin and Saba made a report over the general situation on St. Eustatius which was sent to the Ministry of Colonies. It affords the efforts to look back which differences the St. Eustatius of 130 years ago shows with that of today.
The small Statia is situated nearly one thousand kilometers to the North-East of Curacao. The report describes it as elongated round, with a circumference of five hours, extending from: North to South 9000 feet and from the East to the West 15.000 feet. According to recent information the surface area is about 21 square kilometers.
The description goes on to read: “The South-East and North-West points of this island are formed by two high mountains, which because of their very steep descent to the sea at some places cannot be circumvented. The South-East point consists of only one round mountain, which in former centuries must have had fiery eruptions. Its crown and crater as well as the deep valley within it gives this impression. Also the name of the Quill which the inhabitants have given to it, is derived from this. The North-Westerly point has many tops, of which some are inaccessible ravines.
The high plain which lies between these two mountains on the South Westerly side of it, the Upper Town Village or the Upper Town and the principal fort are situated. It is the only one on the island and slopes gently on the North-East and East sides to the sea where on some locations some boats and canoes can land. On the South-West side of the aforementioned plain, as far as the coast extends, artificially cut out perpendicular to the sea, the height there is in excess of one hundred feet above sea level.
The small strip which because of this has been formed between the aforementioned high plain and the sea and is called The Bay. Being that the widest part is around one hundred steps and a length of around one quarter going is occupied with a double row of houses and warehouses, comprising the Lower village of Lower town. From there one can climb up on three separate wide paths which have been carved out in perpendicular style and partially paved over. The middle or oldest path which leads to the Fort Hollandia or ‘Oranje” , and the new path of about eight hundred steps situated on the South-East side are very steep and tiresome to climb up; less steep and easier to climb up is the North-Westerly path which leads to the battery ‘Amsterdam’.
This descriptive peace contained in the last alinea, would today [1949)] sound a little bit otherwise. The long road formerly leading through the Lower village is now only partially existing and difficult to recognize. The long row of houses and warehouses has disappeared. However not without a trace, because he who stands on the edge of the plus-minus 40 meters high plain above the Bay path, can see clearly (when it is calm and there is clear weather at any rate) the foundations of the once enormous mansions and warehouses which were once the pride and wealth of St. Eustatius.
Houses which fetched a crazy high rent. Houses of which the lower floor were so full with merchandise , that through a trap door in the top floor bales and crates were pushed up to the ceilings. Sometimes the merchandise had to be heaped up in the streets, with no other cover than a gigantic piece of canvas. The former Lower Town of St. Eustatius in the second half of the eighteenth century experienced sometimes two thousand (2000) to three thousand (3000) merchant ships per year anchored in the roadstead.
The former ‘Fort Hollandia’ or ‘Oranje’ is presently called ‘Fort Oranje’, although it is no longer a fort. The walls since a long time have been demolished, and the canons only have meaning as historical curiosities. . (*Translator, I do not know what the author means by this. Was the Fort much larger and extended further into the town in past times? The walls of the fort are still in place).
The middle section has a small public garden with a Memorial to Admiral de Ruyter; besides that one side has several small public buildings.
The three paths leading to the Upper Town still exist. In 1930 on the middle one or the Old Bay Path was still in use, because then there were no motor vehicles on the island. These do appear at the present time to be there and then the North-Westerly light sloping path will again be used.
That the foundations of the former Lower Town, about one and a half kilometers, at present lie in the water, has absolutely nothing to do with the digging of the Panama canal, as a Statian with all necessary force wanted me to believe, but is more a result of the sinking of the middle section of St. Eustatius . This consists of a more loose material, volcanic sand and small stones. One heavy rainfall of grinding a gully in the ground of a meter and a half. According to my personal conviction this island in long gone days must have consisted of two small islands with a narrow and shallow sea strait in between them. This small strait throughout the ages was filled in because of the volcanic ash and other materials from the explosions of the crater. On the West side of the island, where the town lies, exactly half way between the Quill and the Little Mountains, along the coast the sinking of the land is more pronounced. It appears to me that in the last 150 years the land has been sinking at a rate of around one decimeter per year and that is very much
Concerning the water supply of the island [in 1819] the report notes;
“There are no springs and the water is obtained by catching the rain in cement cisterns of which each home is provided with one. On some plantations there are also wells of 120 to 140 feet depth, but the water of these wells is mostly brackish and only suitable for the cattle to drink. “
The cisterns of St. Eustatius have for a good part gone the way of the rest of the island which means that most of them are in an extremely bad condition. There are however still many good and useful cisterns. These are mostly very elongated, carved out of the ground [and not cemented on top of the ground as most of them are on Curacao] and provided with a roof in the form of a barrel. They catch the water off the gutters of the roof, but because they are dug in the ground, a stand-alone cistern can also catch water from a piece of land cemented over on an incline towards the cistern where the water flows into the cistern via a hole at the end of the cistern plain.
The population of St. Eustatius according to a census taken in 1817 consisted of:
336 Free colored’s
This makes for a total residents of 2591 people.
For the year 1818 these figures amounted to;
302 Free Colored’s
Which gives a total of 2668 souls.
What concerns religion, there are 218 Protestants of which the greater part consists of Calvinists and Episcopalians 5 Lutherans, 6 Methodists, 30 Roman Catholics, one Quaker and 5 Jews.
In earlier years there must have been a lot more Jews on St. Eustatius. They had a Synagogue of which the walls are still standing to this day.
Thirty Catholics on St. Eustatius was by far not the lowest figure. In later years it would fall to under ten, only to increase after the arrival of Missionaries. In 1930 the amount of Catholics was around 250. In 1935 it was still the same.
In 1819 St. Eustatius had two medical doctors of which one was appointed as officer of health at the garrison and served there. We know an island with a population twice the size of that which St. Eustatius had in 1819, and which has a much larger garrison and which has to make do with only one doctor. [* Translator: I don’t know which island the good priest is referring to here. It could not be Sint Eustatius as in 1935 the population had dropped to 1198 inhabitants, in 1948 this was 921 inhabitants and in 1960 the population rose to 1014 inhabitants and there was no garrison on the island in those years].This chapter of the book was written in 1949 and the book was published in 1951.
From the book: “Onze Bovenwindse Eilanden” by Father M.D. Latour O.P. (Curacao 1951). Translated from the Dutch by Will Johnson.