The Johnson’s of St. Eustatius
By Will Johnson
Every now and then, someone living on St.Eustatius, will call to buy my property there. They are usually not familiar with the islands history.
The one they want to buy is not the property which I own on The Bay. They want to buy that large open lot leading from the main street to the old Synagogue.
Each time I have to relate to them, that even though distantly related to those Johnson’s. I am not descended from them, and therefore not an heir to the property. Some of the Peterson’s on Saba together with family in the U.S.A. are the heirs to this property. My Statia ancestors were the Horton’s, who were related to the Hill’s and the Hamilton’s.
Former Lt. Governor Max Pandt, ever since we were in Boys town Brakkeput on Curacao has been bragging to me that he is descended from Sir John Of The Hill, in England who lived in the time of William The Conqueror. So be it.
There were Johnson’s on St.Eustatius from early on, but not in the same numbers as on Saba. In a document of September 21st 1805 in the settlement of the estate of Venancio Fabio, among the properties listed is one on The Bay. It is described as follows; “Premises with house of wood, two stories, consisting of a cellar, a warehouse and 3 top rooms, a cistern, outhouse, furnace, kitchen at the Bay (Op de Baai), to the North a piece of land belonging to the widow Johnson.”
I remember at Captain Hodge’s Guesthouse in the nineteen sixties meeting a beautiful lady from the USA, who with her son, were on their way to bury her husband on St.Eustatius. He was a Johnson from that island. Besides his accomplishments in life, the lady was testimony to his good taste. As we would say in the West Indies; “What a sweet thing.” That is the equivalent of the more politically correct way of describing her as a beautiful lady.
She told me how she had met her husband. He was a banker in New York, high up in the ranks of the bank. She was a secretary. Each time she had to meet with him it was difficult to understand him. He retained his Statia accent all his life.
And so one day he informed her that since she could not understand him that he would be better off marrying her. And since he was a handsome man, she decided to accept his offer and they lived happily after. Years later I met with her children and told them that story and one of the sons said: “Yes mom was a knockout .”
One thing Johnson did not forget was his beloved St.Eustatius where he had grown up as a boy. He had instructed her to bring his ashes back home to be buried on native soil.
He was one of the many children of Henry Hassell Johnson who was a businessman on St.Eustatius. He also owned Golden Rock estate and other properties in town and on The Bay.
My old friend Charles Arnold knew him well. In Julia Crane’s book Statia Silhouettes, he had the following to say: ” And the Every’s, they came from Saba. One fellow came from Saba a small boy and he became the biggest merchant in the island. That’s Henry H. Johnson. The property across here, he owned that. And he raised his family here. But the boys, soon as they get big enough that they might want to be friendly with girls and everything he send them to the States, everyone, send them to the States to school. So all the boys went away, and then the girls come up. One schoolmaster from Holland, Schotborgh, he’s still living. He married to one o’ his daughters. And some o’ the others hardly they didn’t marry to them. And after he sent away, the girls went to the States also. The three boys they died, but I guess the most o’ the girls are still living.
And they come back occasionally, want to do business here, but they can’t get the property divided to suit themselves. About nineteen heirs to the property now, and they can’t get it settled. They won’t agree, you know, that they could use it.”
As Mr. Charlie said, Henry Johnson went to Statia as a young boy. His parents were James Johnson and Sarah Hassell. On February 27th, 1888 when he was 23 years old, he married Jane Elizabeth Schmidt (25). Her mother was Maria Elizabeth Schmidt and was descended from a Schmidt who had been the harbormaster.
Johnson’s first wife died at an early age. She was only 31 when she died on May 8th, 1894. As was the case many times back then she died , shortly after delivering her fourth child ,James Clarence Austin Johnson who was born on May 7th, 1894 and died on June 2nd, 1894.
They had three children who survived: Henry Stanley Johnson born September 18th, 1888. Florence Amelia Johnson born December 22nd 1892 and died October 12th 1895, and Helen Lucille Johnson, born August 3rd, 1890. Helen later married Captain Ralph Holm, another Statia/Saba family. Helen did not have any children so that the descendants of Henry Stanley Johnson are the only ones who are descended from Jane Elizabeth Schmidt.
Henry Stanley was the only one who remained on St.Eustatius and carried on the business of his father. He also owned a grocery store on Saba and was a Local Councillor here.
Henry H. Johnson’s second wife was Amy Hassell of Saba. She was a daughter of Henry Johnson Hassell and Joanna Beaks Hassell and she was born on May 10th, 187l.
The custom on Saba at the time was to have your mother’s maiden name inserted as a middle name. My grandfather James Horton Simmons was named so because his mother was a Horton. That is why you have a situation that Henry Hassell Johnson took as his second wife the daughter of Henry Johnson Hassell. Get it!
They had the following children: George Clarence Johnson born 17-September -1899.John de Veer Johnson born December 10th, 1903, Mabel Louise Johnson born October 3rd, 1903, and Ida Leolin Johnson born 1897 who married Johannes Wilhelm Theodoris Schotborgh (aged 22) on December 17th, 1914.
After his second wife died as Shakespeare would have put it; “Johnson was visited in his gray hairs by a young mulatto woman named Olive Woods by whom he had three lovely little people, two girls and one boy before going on to the Walhalla of old West Indian men.” Old soldiers and all of that you know.
Charlie Arnold in “Statia Silhouettes” goes on to say:” At the time the white people – we had quite a lot o’ white people that owned the estates but they didn’t work on them. All
the work was done by the Negroes, the Negroes.
But they (the whites) never marry each other. The funniest thing – not a white man in Statia would marry a white girl. Never! I could never understand that. They didn’t marry but they would get children by the black girls.They always wanted the black girls. They kept them and they get children but they never do much marrying. Occasionally a couple o’ them get married to the girl. But the girl, the white girl that got married, is from some ministers came in, some people from England or something, Holland or something. But not one o’ the white men that born in Statia would marry one o’ the white girls. It’s very unusual, and I could never find out from a kid. I noticed it from a kid and when I grow – when I grew up then I could understand better. But not one couple that you can say, well a white man from here married to a white girl. The Pandts and the different one, all o’ them never got married. And we had quite a lot o’ white men in the island then, quite a few. Funniest thing, never married. If they didn’t get married to somebody off the island, they never got married. None o’ them that you can say, see.” Mr. Charlie has certainly made his
Some years ago at the airport on Sint Maarten, I introduced a Johnson cousin of mine to Miss Elrine Leslie of St. Eustatius. I told her that his grandfather was Woolseley Pandt of St.Eustatius. She gave him a good looking over and whispered to me:” Lord, Gena would have been happy to see he. She had like the colour you know.” She was referring to Eugenia Houtman (Ankar) who had 12 children by the white man Peter John MacDonald Pandt and so she would have been the great grandmother of my Johnson cousin who was unaware that his great grandmother was, as Charlie would have said, “one o’ them black Statia girls.”
The Mussenden family was also intermarried with the Johnson’s. However I have much interesting information on the Mussenden family and that will be the subject of another article in the future. As Mr. Charlie said; ” And then the Mussenden’s. They owned the most o’ the land on the South part o’ the island.” Senator Kenneth van Putten told me they owned all the land from Oranjestad to White Wall at one time.
The last Johnson to have lived on St.Eustatius was Miss Lillian Johnson( “Miss Lil”). She was an in-law of Mr. Irvie Mussenden. The Johnson’s must have left a good name behind though. In 1969 when I ran for Senator I pulled 232 votes on St.Eustatius out of a total of 503 votes cast on that island equivalent to 46% of the votes cast. You read me good Clyde.? 46%. Now if you think you bad, try and beat that percentage Clyde if you can.46%. All o’
them Statia politicians going to get out their calculator now to see how they compare.
I have more photo’s in my archive of the Johnson family which I will add to this article when i get time to try and find them.
I wrote this some years ago and I will be going to Statia tomorrow for meetings and will be there for the celebration of Statia Day and looking forward to seeing friends there. God bless Statia and its people!