The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Archive for the month “January, 2017”

Will Johnson’s contribution!

_q7c0413_fpo

Here giving an interview for researchers on Saba’s History.

Will Johnson’s contribution to History and Culture in the Eastern Caribbean.

Sir Winston Churchill said: “History will be kind to me. I intend to write my own.” Another great figure of the 20th century Fidel Castro also advised:’ you have to write your own History.”

I have witnessed already that there are some who want to deny my history and others who would not want to give me any credit for what I have done in either the political field or in the field of letters and in the preservation of our past history in these our beloved islands of the Eastern Caribbean.

00519

My column in this paper was entitled ‘News and Views’. I did not get in trouble with the ‘News’ part, but definitely my ‘Views’ were not acceptable to the political establishment of the day.

I was asked to submit a document to an organization which wants to honour me. In complying with this request I thought it was time and important to give a summary of what I have done and what I think important for my children and grandchildren to know and if need be to defend my legacy.

Not that I have been ignored. My name is so well known in the Eastern Caribbean and beyond first and foremost because of my political career.

I will give just a few examples. I remember once Mrs. Dinda Hassell-Dunlock telling me that she had been listening to the Saturday morning radio program of Mrs. Josianne Fleming-Artsen for children. When she asked the class who was the President of the United States one little boy said he knew the answer and before anyone else he shouted out: “The President is Will Johnson. I hear him every day on the radio.”

image-211

Menno and Corine Hofman here on my verandah discussing artifacts which were found at The Plum piece by Mr. Carl Zagers. It turned out to be a settlement from the days of the Arawaks and Kalingo.

On Saturdays we usually have a West Indian meat or fish soup for lunch. Just as we sat down to eat the phone rang. I advised my wife not to answer the phone. But having children abroad going to school you always answer every phone call which my wife did. The call was from Mr. Erasmus William on St. Kitts. He was the former Editor of The Chronicle newspaper on St. Martin, and after that assistant to the then Prime Minister of St. Kitts/Nevis the Hon Denzill Douglas.

After exchanging greetings he said to me. “I am calling on behalf of our Prime Minister. We have some people here at his office and they have a question. I told the Prime Minister that the one person in the Eastern Caribbean who would know the answer to their question is our friend Will Johnson.’

saba-herald  I told him ‘Man you have a lot of confidence in me. I hope I do not disappoint.’

The folks in the Prime Minister’s Office were looking for the Somers Islands where their ancestors once lived. Erasmus said we cannot find them anywhere on the map.

I told him;” The Somers islands are the old English name for Governor Somers who was shipwrecked there and went on to colonize Bermuda.’

I heard the Prime Minister in the background asking; ‘What did he say? ‘And then:’ But I was there just last week and nobody told me that.’ When ending the phone conversation I said to Erasmus:’ Man you nearly put me on the spot! Suppose I did not know?’ Erasmus said: ‘Will I had every confidence that you would know the answer.”

Image (273)

My first book on St. Maarten.

Daniella Jeffrey, teacher/writer of French St. Martin also had high praise for my approach to history in a lecture which she gave when my book ‘Tales from My Grandmother’s Pipe’ first came out. She thought it great that I had approached history from the perspective of the contributions made by the native population, rather than highlighting the role played by colonial officials.

Because of my knowledge of history I have been asked a number of times to contribute to speeches to be made by officials.

I remember getting a call to prepare a speech for then Prime Minister Maria Liberia Peters when she was invited to speak at a convention of the People’s Action Movement (P.A.M.) on St. Kitts. She called afterwards from Curacao to thank me and to tell me how enthusiastically it had been received. Many young people had come forward to tell her that they had no idea how important a role St. Kitts had played in the Eastern Caribbean in former times.

image0018

I am the third from the left and Ray Hassell was the first Chairman of the Harry L. Johnson Memorial Foundation. Opening of the Museum.

I was asked to contribute articles to the ‘Libre Amicorum’ for three former Prime Ministers:’Juancho Evertsz, Don Martina, and Maria Liberia-Peters, and contributed in the research of the book on the life of Prime Minister Minguel Pourier. Many people young and old have been to my home for help in their research on any number of topics relating to these islands and I have always willing gave my time freely for their projects, from simple home work to a University thesis.

12674591_10208939215865564_786728736_n

Comments on my blog.

One of the many services to the community has been doing eulogies for prominent as well as ordinary citizens of the three Dutch Windward Islands. I may have done at least seventy five eulogies. Well appreciated. I remember once after having given a eulogy at the St. Martin of Tours Church in Philipsburg upon leaving the church a friend twenty years younger than me shouted out saying;” Will Johnson, when I dead I want you to do the talk for me.”

I thought this would be a good opportunity to publish a small history of my work and contributions to the Literature and culture of Saba, and the islands of the Eastern Caribbean. Since I am at it I will illustrate it with some appropriate photos as well because photos tell their own story.

Image (2059)

Presenting the Saba Flag for the first time on Saba Day 1985 to the people of Saba. I was the Chairman of the Committee given the task in May 1985 and succeeded in a matter of months even though there was a very heated election in between.

While working in the Old Courthouse on St. Maarten I had a column in the ‘Windward Island’s Opinion’ at the insistence of its founder Mr. Joseph H. Lake Sr. This was in the early nineteen sixties already. From 1966 through 1968 I used to prepare and broadcast the Local News on the Voice of St. Maarten Radio station. I used to walk down to Fort Amsterdam under all kinds of weather conditions. Later Alcile Lake used to pick me up and bring me back to town after the newscast was over. I became well-known through that local news program and these many years later I  still have the files from that period with Saba Day Awardthe news items.

In 1968 at the request of Mr. Alrett Peters I started the newspaper ‘The Labour Spokesman’ for the General Workers Union. At the same time James Maduro and I started the ‘Emporium Review of St. Eustatius’ and I was its first Editor.

Image (709)

In the left corner. I was Commissioner of Culture and started Saba Day. Mr. Ray Hassell functioned as Chairman and was assisted by people like Mr. Eugenius  Johnson.

I also started the ‘Saba Herald’ which lasted for the next twenty five years. In the beginning I had Mr. Eddy Peterson and Mr. Alan Busby as Editors as I was already under pressure and stood to lose my job. However when pressure was applied to them I said everyone knows it is my newspaper anyhow so I took on the responsibility of being the Editor. These newspapers were all stenciled at the Union Headquarters in Cole Bay. I remember Alrett’s old father coming sometimes and sitting with me and I would read him articles which I had written. He would look at me in disbelief and say;” Johnson boy you put that in the paper in truth? “It was that kind of newspaper. Not one to please the

Annual report WIB 2015 7.jpg

Annual account Windward Islands Bank Ltd. 2015

establishment but to oppose it.

In 1971 I started a column: ‘The Exile Speaks’ in the St. Maarten newspaper ‘The New Age’ of Mervin F. Scot. The column was hard hitting and became such a hit that the circulation of the paper increased by tenfold.

Emporium Review 2

The first edition of the Emporium Review of which I was the Editor after which I passed it over to my friend James E. Maduro one of my friends from the Boys Town on Curacao.

In one of the first editions of the Saba Herald in 1968 I advocated for Saba to have a National Day of its own. One of the first decisions I made as Commissioner in 1975 was to make a Government resolution to have the National Day organized for December 6th, 1975. As Commissioner of Culture I had a Committee put in place headed by Mr. Ray Hassell (later Senator Etc.), Mr. Frank Hassell and others. The first Saba Day was carried out as scheduled and very much appreciated by the people of Saba. The Government of Saba assisted by Committees were responsible for carrying on Saba Day and they still are. It is still enthusiastically received and appreciated by the people of Saba.

Saba Herald, December 2nd, 1968: “Did you know that December 6th is San Saba Day? We hope that if not this year that December next year, December 6th will be celebrated as a National Holiday.

Image (203)

A tapestry in the Hall of Knights in The Hague of a speech which I made as Chairman of the Island Council in 1999.

In an article in 1970 I emphasized on how important it was for Saba to have its own National Day as was the case with the surrounding islands. A day in which to remember our hard working ancestors of the past. A day in which to showcase our culture and our handicrafts and so on. A day in which to encourage sports and in general to let the world know that we did exist as a people though small yet proud of what we had achieved and were still capable of achieving.

In 1971 in a thirteen page memo to my W.I.P.M. party colleagues, among the many suggestions one was: ‘December 6th, is San Saba Day. Provisions should be made for this to be a day of festivities and could be developed into something nice with folkloric plays

will-johnson-2

Homework of Nikita Johnson.

etc.

In the month of May 1985 I was asked to be Chairman of a Committee for Saba to have its own flag, coat of arms and national song. This had to be done on short notice and I personally prepared all the legislation for the flag, coat-of-arms and national song. This was not an easy task and as Chairman I had to do a lot of arm twisting to get the final design of the flag and coat-of arms approved by the Island Council of which I was a Member. The Lt. Governor Mr. Wycliffe Smith, the Commissioners Vernon Hassell and Peter Granger helped to push the initiative and even though politically we were not on good terms and in the middle of an election they were full of praise for the end results. It was a glorious moment on December 5th, 1985 when the people of Saba witnessed for the first time the unfurling of the Saba Flag. I appreciate very much to see how young people especially going abroad to school appreciate their flag.

scan0004

Here I am running behind the food truck in the Boystown on Curacao where I spent some of my boyhood years.

In 1977 I was able to purchase the house and property in Windward Side and to start the Harry L. Johnson Memorial Foundation and Museum as a tribute to the work which he had done before he died to preserve the Maritime History of Saba.

In those years I would also prepare and give out the Local News on the Voice of Saba when Miss Pauline Paul was off island.

As a result of my research I decided to publish a book of my own. Not only of oral history. But backed up by research in the archives of Willemstad, Curacao and The Hague Holland.

Image (291)

This one is a political history of the island.

My first book was.

  1. Tales From My Grandmothers Pipe, followed by
  2. For the Love of St. Maarten
  3. The Diary of a St. Maarten Salt Checker
  4. Dreaming Big
  5. Co-author of Caribbean Interlude.
  6. I was also one of the contributing editors of ‘De Encyclopedie van de Nederlandse Antillen.’
Image (8)

One of the many times I have been invited to give speeches on the history of our islands.

Even before 2007 I used to contribute articles of historical interest to The Daily Herald newspaper. At the suggestion of Wim Hart in 2007 I started a regular column for which he suggested the title: ‘Under The Sea Grape Tree’. I have now enough material to publish five books based on that column alone. I would even say that more than my political career this column has made me well-known in the Eastern Caribbean islands.

BookcoverWEB

This is the fifth edition of my first book.

2013 I started a blog ‘The Saba Islander’ which in the first two years had more than one hundred thousand visitors from countries from all over the world. I include in my blog articles from all the islands, and not only of Saba. A little bit of politics but I try to resist that as much as possible as I have an International audience who would not be interested in local politics.

Over the years I have encouraged and assisted others with their books. I encouraged Dr. Johan Hartog to translate his book ‘De Bovenwindse Eilanden’ into English and Mr. Frank Hassell did the translation. We also pointed out to him that several claims he had made in his Dutch version were not based on fact. Saba has always been an English speaking island.

15326589_1258060094217400_634584648068049075_n

Dr. Julia Crane is one of many who were grateful for my assistance with their research.

Also I have letters from Dr. Julia Crane thanking me for my help with her books ‘Saba Silhouettes” and ‘Statia Silhouettes’.

As I write this I am about to review a book for a University in the United States at their request. It is about Saba and I am flattered that I a poor island self-educated boy get regular requests like this one.

photoscan-404

Technically Mr. Alrett Peters was the Editor but everyone knew that the newspaper was mine.

With my interest in history and genealogy for many years I did research on the history of the Sulphur mines and located a possible claimant to the lands. After getting an agreement from her that she would transfer the lands to the people of Saba I passed over my dossier to the Saba Conservation Foundation for completion.

In 1999 as Acting Lt. Governor and Chairman of the Island Council I included in the ordinance a clause that no buildings were allowed in the Mountain above the five hundred meter line. It is my hope that government will not be tempted under any circumstances to change that and deface our mountain.

Image (1717)

What the article does not say is that my advisory capacity to government has been ‘pro-bono’ and still is.

aba Lace. I have written a number of articles on Saba Lace which were carried in newspapers and Magazines in the USA and for a period of time I was a correspondent for the New York Times when they would produce articles on the Caribbean.

Raymond Simmons asked me to be a board member of the Facebook site ‘Of Saban Descent’ which has become very popular and a source of preservation of histories and old photos of Saban families of yore.

My own Facebook page is very popular because of the old photo’s I post of the Islands.

Image (1255)

Photo by Roger Snow. Someone said once that I had a dark and brooding personality.

Most of my activities are self-financed. The Prins Bernhard Fonds has helped me with donations to help with the publishing of my various books and the Saba Government has purchased some copies for distribution to dignitaries coming to the island.

At my age I still spend several hours each day on the computer doing research, and also reading books of interest to Saba’s history and I always seem to find things which I believe would be of interest to the people of these islands. I continue to be involved with researchers and students in answering questions pertaining to their field of interest. Over the years I have also been helping people with their family research and with property title research. This takes up lots of my time.

In 1999 a speech which I made to the Island Council of Saba as Chairman at the time to celebrate fifty years of Universal suffrage, was later used on a tapestry in the Hall of Knights in The Hague.

In 2014 I received an award from the St. Martin book week group organized by Mr. Lasana Sekou and Mr. Suga Reiph in recognition of my contribution to the literature of the Windward Islands.

12805663_10207556207918747_6600685854416334104_n

Part of the interior of the Harry L. Johnson memorial musueum.

In ending this first draft I would like to give a small story from my brother Walter Frederick Martinus Johnson, a lifelong teacher and in his spare time agent for Windward Island’s Airways. He said something in a public setting which I thought he should not have said and I told him so. His answer was ‘At my age if I cannot say what’s on my mind and what I want to say, when will I ever say it?’ A few months later he was no longer in the land of the living. The very least I can do for my descendants is to defend my legacy.

And finally my great-great-great- grandfather Governor Richard Johnson stepped down at the age of seventy in 1831 with the reason: At my advanced age and disability I want to respectfully tender my resignation.’ I later discovered that at the age of ninety one he was still signing old documents for later Governors as to what he knew about property

PhotoScan 366.jpg

I was asked to be one of the Editors of this encyclopedia of the Netherlands Antilles.

transactions all the way back to the West India Company lands.

Whatever time is left to me I only wish for good health so that I can continue doing those things I love most and I wish to thank the many thousands of people who still give me

Old Lamp Lighter

Sometimes I flatter myself by comparing my message as bringing light to those in need of it like the lamplighters of old.

encouragement to continue writing and speaking out!

Will Johnson

The Saga of Captain Richard Hassell

Image (595)

Schooner ‘Margareth Truph’ of Capt. Wallce Simmons. Capt. Richard Hassell in his lifetime was Captain of many schooners.

The Saga of Captain Richard Hassell

Introduced by Will Johnson

This story was written by Richard Stuart Hassell on May 26th, 2000 when he was 87 years of age and living in Santa Monica California. He did this at the urging of Brian Mark a friend. Brian had heard Richard telling so many stories about when he grew up on Saba as a boy that he felt these stories should be written down and sent to the island for people here to enjoy. After Richard’s death Brian sent the stories to Sea Saba whose site he found on the internet. Lynn Costenaro passed them on to me. I first introduced Richard’s (Dick) own life story which was very interesting and now what he informs us of his grandfather the captain. He lived in the house in Windwardside which was torn down to make way for the new Kindergarten and he was related among others to Captain Eddie Hassell of “Swinging Doors” restaurant.

In the foreword the writer tells us:”This story has been written with the knowledge that it is a true story as related to me by my mother who experienced a great deal of it herself and as a youngster and teenager had a lot of it related to her by her mother. There are many seamen who may have had similar experiences, but since I can only write about those of my grandfather, it then becomes a partial history of my family, and is written with a humble pride. Therefore, this story is dedicated to my grandfather for being a man of great courage and that he had the determination to do what he thought was best for him and his family when the odds were against him.”

My grandfather Captain Richard Hassell was born on the tiny Dutch island of Saba (only 5 miles square in size) in the year 1856 and whose forbearers settled on Saba in the year 1640.

Since seafaring was the way of life in those days, and the island being so small, the male population by necessity had to go to sea in order to earn a living and support their families. The very young teenagers had to start out going to sea at 13 years of age to follow in their father’s footsteps, and were always signed on the ship as the “cabin boy.” It was standard practice that the captain had the responsibility of teaching the cabin boy all the rest of the schooling he would be missing by starting out at sea at such an early age. In addition he had to teach him all the rudiments of navigation and seamanship, along with the aid of books on the subject.

As it turned out, my grandfather was a very ambitious man, and so at 16 years of age he decided that he wanted to get married and so he married a Saban girl who happened also to be 16, after receiving the blessings of her parents. One year later my mother was born. Being a father gave my grandfather the impetus to learn more about navigation and seamanship. He studied so hard that at age 21 he had taken the examination for a Captain’s license and passed it, whereupon the shipping company for whom he was sailing gave him command of a ship, and so he kept going to sea. It was a customary thing for a shipping company not to allow the prospective captain to take command of a ship without being a part owner which was 25% of what the ship was worth. The shipping company’s idea was that the captain of the vessel would be more interested in keeping it in good shape and would look out more for the company’s interest if he was a part owner. My grandfather turned out to b a man of good judgment and thrifty with his money because he had built his own home on the island of Saba by the time my mother was three years old. After having sailed to New York many times my grandfather decided to take his family to live there in the year 1877. After his first son Richard was born my grandmother started to get a little more apprehensive about my grandfather going to sea, particularly after having weathered three hurricanes at sea. He finally relented and found a grocery store in New York City that was for sale and bought it almost immediately. But being a born seaman at heart he put the grocery store up for sale after only two years and eventually sold it to another merchant. He found a small schooner of 46 tons in size and bought it, putting it in seaworthy shape. He began trading up and down the East Coast of the United States and

Image (556)

The schooner ‘Priscilla ‘ of Capt. T. C. Vanterpool anchored in Fort Bay at Saba. Transported mail and passengers between the Dutch Windward and Leeward Islands.

the Caribbean area. He called the vessel the R.H.

My mother having been born in 1872 was about 8 years of age and interested in whatever my grandfather did because my grandmother had gotten in the habit of keeping her informed even at such a young age, particularly about the dangers of going to sea. Although Captain Hassell had some dangerous adventures, one where he was the only survivor, he always returned successfully. But my grandmother was more convinced than ever that she would try to persuade him to give it up. Finally in about 1886 on a particular trip to Jacksonville, Florida, he was approached by a representative of a local shipping company who was interested in buying the R.H. at a price satisfactory to my grandfather. By the following day he found out that an orange grove was for sale located on the St. John’s River, not too far from Jacksonville. The price of the orange grove was much less than what he had been offered for the R.H. and so he made up his mind to sell his beloved ship and buy the orange grove.

 

IMG_2036-225x300

Schooner ‘Mona Marie’ of Capt. Ben Hassell of Saba.

So he put down a down payment on the orange grove and signed an agreement to sell the R.H. to the shipping company, advising them that he would have to go back to New York City and conclude all business there before returning to Jacksonville and finalizing the sale of the R.H. and purchasing the orange grove. Captain Hassell finally got all the business taken care of in New York and took enough supplies including food and water for 26 days to take him and his family to Jacksonville. After about 3 days at sea, when he was approximately off the coast of Cape Hatteras, the vessel’s barometer started to fall rapidly. From his experience with other hurricanes he knew that the telltale signs pointed to trouble – running headlong into another hurricane. He immediately called the crew together and told them that from his past experience with hurricanes he felt it imperative that they prepare. He decided to ride it out. He then ordered the crew to take in all sails except for the jib which he needed to help keep the vessel’s bow into the wind. He battened down the hatches. He further asked several crew members to lash him to the helm so that he would not get washed overboard and since his family was on board, he wanted to make sure he and he alone was responsible for bringing the vessel through the hurricane. Many of the crew had asked him to let them spell him at the helm but he would not hear of it. The ship’s cook, knowing that he would have to at least have some hot coffee, did manage to hold the coffee pot on the stove long enough to boil the water for the coffee. That was all Captain Hassell had for three days and three nights while the hurricane lasted. But he did bring the R.H. successfully through. After the hurricane was over they found themselves becalmed which lasted for 25 days and my grandfather had supplies for only that period of time. On the 26th day he was down to one tin of salmon and some “hard tack,” which he chose to give to the crew and sugar water and crackers which he gave to his family. That afternoon, around 3 P.M., a United States warship was seen approaching within a close distance and Captain Hassell put up a distress signal. The warship gave them enough supplies to get to Jacksonville, which they reached after six days. He then proceeded in finalizing the sale of the R.H. and the purchase of the orange grove, and immediately started to put the orange grove home in better shape, after which he started the trimming of the orange trees. Blossoms sprouted in a month or so, and soon tiny oranges began to appear. My mother said she had never seen him in a better frame of mind. As the oranges started to reach maturity my grandfather envisioned a bumper crop and had by this time decided that being a “landlubber” was not so bad after all. However, his luck was about to run out because the area was hit with one of the heaviest frosts in years and the whole crop was lost. He went bankrupt. Wasting no time, he checked in Jacksonville about possible other jobs and as luck would have it; he found out that the Jacksonville lumber company had a three master schooner that needed a captain. He applied for the job and got it. The lumber company gave him all the information that was necessary including the fact that he would have to run the vessel on shares of the profits, which he readily agreed to. After taking command of the vessel his first trip was to Trinidad with a load of lumber. He took his family and dropped them off at the island of Saba where he still owned his own home, and he continued on to Trinidad. My mother, now having reached the age of 17, had started to teach a small kindergarten class of children to help out as much as she could until her father had received his first share of the profit. Soon my Uncle Richard had reached the age of 13 and immediately went to sea as a cabin boy with an uncle of his who was captain of a 4 master square rigged ship. In the meantime, my grandfather continued to carry lumber to Trinidad and on one particular trip, after he had taken his first sight of shooting the sun, in the morning around 10 o’clock he laid down to rest. In the afternoon, just before he shot the sun again (around 3 o’clock) he called the mate and told him he was not feeling well and that he felt like he was going to die. He said if he did, he did not want his body buried at sea, but to take tar and tar his body, wrap it in canvas, folding it over and over, and put it in the ship’s hold. He gave the mate the course to steer after having taken his second shot of the sun, and found his position according to his calculation of the latitude and longitude, and that if they stayed on course as he told them they would come to Barbados where he wished to be buried, and so he was.

 

Image (195)

Saba island as it looked from the air in the nineteen thirties.

The crew then sailed the vessel to the island of Saba where they related all the details of what had occurred. When my grandmother, Rebecca, heard it, she told my mother that six months from that date she would not be alive and let herself grieve to death. My mother then had to take over the responsibility for her younger brother Camille who was only five years of age at the time (+_1892). After my mother reached 20 years of age (1896) she felt that she could better provide for her brother and herself by going back to New York City and with her uncle being captain of a sailing ship he stopped at the island of Saba, packed them up, and sailed for New York. Since she knew no one in New York City, she decided after a year to go to Providence, Rhode Island, where she had relatives.

 

10892004_852038924819521_8856132872288109428_n

The lady in black Victoria Hassell was I think a daughter in law of Capt. Richard Hassell.

My father had fallen in love with my mother after her mother died, but she did not get to see him too often because of his going to sea. When his ship stopped at Providence, he heard from other relatives that my mother was now living there and he went to see her. They decided to marry and did so in January of the year 1902. My brother was born in December 1902. Soon after, my mother decided to go back to Saba for a short time but that never happened, as she stayed much longer. My sister Caroline (Carry) and I were born on Saba which is a place I can never forget, as small as it was.

As this story has been written primarily about my grandfather I deem it to be my duty that it is centered on him. I wish to add that nothing has given me greater pleasure than to try to recall all of the information that comprises the Saga of Captain Richard Hassell.” END.

As I was typing out this article I thought of the hundreds of Saban captains and other men of the sea who would have had similar stories which went unrecorded and that Saba can truly be called “Isle of a thousand sea tales.”

Will Johnson

Two Tales of One HASSELL FAMILY

Two Tales of One Hassell Family

By: Will Johnson

Sometime back Ms.Lynn Costenaro of Sea Saba called me and said that she had two interesting stories for me. They had been sent to her by a Mr. Brian Mark of Mar Vista, California. He must have found her website on the internet and sent the following letter: To whom it concerns. “I was a friend of Richard Hassell (who passed away some years ago) and I heard many of his stories about growing up on Saba. I encouraged him to write about Saba and the stories he knew, and before he passed he was able to write two pieces. I’ve included them here, as I think they may interest Saban Islanders, as well as visitors interested in your island.”

cimg4673

A painting of the schooner ‘The Three Sisters’ by Richard Hassell who wrote this story.

As there were so many Richard Hassell’s on Saba it was not easy to figure out his background. One of the stories which he wrote was about his grandfather Capt. Richard Hassell. I contacted several “old timers”, but it was teacher Frank Hassell who helped me to put the puzzle together. His grandfather was also Richard Hassell married to Ann Rebecca Hassell. They owned the house in Windwardside which belonged to the R.C. nuns and which was torn down to build the Kindergarten there. His aunt Lilly May was the organist in the Anglican Church both in Windwardside and The Bottom. The family bought a home at The Gap which they sold later on to Mr. Ignatius Zagers. He had a sister named Carrie who spent her last years on St.Maarten and who has a surviving daughter Leonora Hassell who is in the “Sweet Repose” at the St. John’s Ranch. I put that name to it as my fond memories go back to the “Sweet Repose” on the Backstreet. These folks are related to Captain Eddie Hassell of the “Swinging Doors “restaurant in the Windwardside.

I will first give the story of Richard Hassell (Dick) the friend of Mr. Brian Mark (and  we also thank Ms. Lynn of Sea Saba) whom we thank for bringing  these stories to our attention so that we can share them with a larger audience to once again show how people from this little island moved around in former times.

He starts his own story with a Foreword.

“The story entitled “The Saga of Captain Richard Hassell”, has been written by me his (Grandson) Richard S. Hassell, mainly because of it’s being unique by nature of it’s contents and is somewhat abrupt in some circumstances, but is nevertheless a true story as told to me by my mother and she in turn was told by her mother, which is really considered to be a part of my family’s history.”

“Since I am the grandson of Captain Richard Hassell I am now compelled to write something about my own life with a view that it will be construed as a story of some interest to anyone who may read it.

Image (151)

In the past Saban schooners traded regularly with New York carrying salt, sugar and passengers from the Eastern Caribbean and bringing back passengers, lumber, and dry goods from New York to the island. This schooner the ‘Esther Anita’  belonged to Capt. Ben Hassell of Saba.

Like all my forbears I too, was born on Saba even though my brother who was the eldest of three children was born in Providence Rhode Island and lived there until he was two years of age when my mother took him back to Saba to see the family, planning to come back to Providence in the near future, but she never did return and chose to live in Saba where the weather was like summer year round. In the meantime my father kept on going to sea and would come home for a vacation every two years or so, but worked doing painting or other needed repairs on our home if required, and would even put in a vegetable garden if the weather was good.

“According to the records that were located in the archives in Holland, there were 3 families of Hassells that were found to be residing on Saba and who had settled therein 1640 and in 1695 one of them was listed as a Richard Hassell and so the name Richard has come down through the ages from family to family all having the name Richard in each family till my Grandfather who had 4 children, 2 girls and 2 boys, had the notion that he too should name one of his sons Richard who also went to sea, and was a Naval Officer in World War 1, but finally became a landlubber after getting married to a girl in Providence, and my mother in turn named me Richard. In 1695 there were only around 500 people living on Saba and so that is the reason practically everyone had to go to sea in order to earn a livelihood, while all the women were home makers.

I was born on December 13th 1913 on Saba and enjoyed a very happy and peaceful life there until I was 21 years of age. Since there were no cars there everyone had to walk wherever they went because the only mode of transportation were horses which numbered about 6 or so and were owned by the Doctor, the Governor and the others by merchants on the island. We had no movies or telephones or any ice cream stores, but I would not change one day of it. Now that our little island boasts over 100 cars and 2 movie houses, everyone now possesses flush toilets and showers, T.V. sets and Telephones including supermarkets with ice cream available. However I would not change life as it was while growing up there, and I will always cherish the memories of my childhood.

I had a loving kind and gentle mother who was the epitome of a first class lady who never smoked or drank alcoholic beverages of any kind and the word “damn” was not in her vocabulary. My father was also a good man who never cursed or used profane or foul language of any kind but he did like his little schnapps now and again to which my mother found it hard to accept the idea that he did, but he never overdid it.

He came home on vacation December 1920 and upon returning to the United States brought my brother with him and found my brother a job with a manufacturing concern in Brooklyn New York. He then went back to sea, sailing around the East Coast of Canada and the United States. In November 1922 he came down with chronic bronchitis and asthma and his doctor in Providence, Rhode Island suggested that he should retire back to Saba where the tropical weather would at least give him better health there. So he made up his mind that he would do just that and came back to Brooklyn, New York to make sure that my brother was doing O.K. and being satisfied that he was took passage on a steamboat that sailed between New York and the Caribbean, with St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands being the first stop. While on the way he came down with double pneumonia and bronchitis and when the ship reached St. Thomas he had to be placed in the hospital there and passed away a couple of days later. This was a great sorrow and shock for the family but my mother was a very religious person and although suffering great sorrow, she nevertheless accepted my father’s death as God’s will. She was highly concerned about how well we would be able to live and fortunately found a job as a school teacher in one of the schools where we lived and along with dress making jobs we were able to live fairly comfortably.

11357084_583151068454245_6642009180407514818_o

The entrance to the LAGO oil refinery on Aruba where Richard worked.

I was only 9 years of age when my father passed away and found it hard to cope with, but my mother would sit me down and tell me that this was God’s will and that we had to accept it as such. As time went on I finally reached age 17 when I graduated from the local school that I attended with the equivalent of a High School education in the United States. On many occasions I would talk to my mother about coming to the United States after I graduated, but soon thereafter, the great depression came about and that scuttled everything that my mother and I had planned. As luck would have it I found out that the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey had built an oil refinery on the Dutch island of Aruba and that the possibility existed that I might find a job there. So I talked it over with my mother and she agreed that it was worth a try and so off I went to Aruba and as luck would have it I was hired as an apprentice in the electrical department. However electricity at the time was all Greek to me and it was suggested by the electrician with whom I worked, that I should take a course in electricity from the International Correspondence Schools in the United States, and so I did and after 4 years with on the job training and the course in electricity the company promoted me to a first class electrician. This was the terminology used by the company, but I can assure you that it did not hurt my feelings any, because it was not a fallacy. During my four years tenure I had switched to the electrical shop, where I worked on repairing electrical motors and also rebuilding them. After spending 10 years in Aruba I wanted to come to the United States, and so I did in May 1944 but I had to be released from the oil company because they were considered to be a highly essential industry who was supplying two thirds of all the aviation gas for the allies in England and North Africa and because of that 7 oil tankers were torpedoed by German while waiting to be docked and loaded with aviation gas. It occurred in 1943 and the refinery had been in a state of total blackout, but some of the submarines had surfaced and was shelling the refinery and in doing so were first firing tracer bullets of all colors and some of them were going over my head and hitting the bachelor quarters where I lived.

LAGO_REFINERY

The LAGO oil refinery as seen from a distance.

Some passed only 10 feet over my head where I was standing watching the whole scenario and as in the rest of the health turmoil of mine the Good Lord was with me. We were shelled twice more after that but luckily I was a mile or so from where the shells hit. After arriving in the United States in May 1944 I went immediately to the draft board in Brooklyn, New York and at that time they were not accepting anyone over age 30 and they suggested that I go to the Naval supply depot and they would employ me as a maintenance electrician and so I was hired immediately and worked there until the war was over. To all intents and purposes the war ended in 1945 and although the naval supply officer wanted to find me a job in the naval shipyard in Brooklyn, I chose to resign and seek a job in private industry which I did by taking a job as an electrician with a marine electrical contractor. Soon after I met a girl who eventually became my wife and we had 3 children, and the first born who was a boy, “yep you guessed it”, I named him Richard and that is where the name Richard ended because eventually my son Richard who did have 4 sons chose not to name either one of them “Richard.” And so that is a history that ended after several hundred years, and is the sign of the modern times we live in, but I accepted it with some degree of reticence. I had 3 children of my own, Richard the eldest, then my daughter Patricia, and finally a son David. Richard lives in a little town called Bennet about 40 miles from Denver, Colorado. My eldest daughter Patricia lives in St. Louis, Missouri, and my youngest son David is working in Northern New Guinea as a business administrator along with his wife and they have no children. Back to my own private life, I got divorced after 17 years of marriage and have lived alone since 1969, but I have some good friends with whom I come in contact fairly often, and apart from that I manage to keep my mind occupied with taking care of myself health wise. I thoroughly enjoyed working for the Marine electrical industry because anything to do with shipping was something that I grew up with and the fact that it was never dull, considering that overtime was always a possibility and very often a fact, when I had to work 7 days a week for as long as 6 months with going 12 hours a day Monday to Friday, 10 hours on Saturday and 8 hours on Sunday, and very often worked 24 hours around the clock and twice that I worked 2 days and 2 nights without stopping except for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. So you can see that working on ships was never dull, and very often in fact humorous because of things occurring that invariably had spontaneous humor in them.

A view of Windwarside nineteen seventies

Village of Windward Side where Richard was born

I lived in Brooklyn and Long Island for close to 20 years, and then I got the bright idea to move to Tampa Florida, because of the cold winters in New York but soon changed my mind because the wage scale was about half of what it was in New York. So back I came to New York and settled down in Wantagh, Long Island and remained there for 10 years when my doctor advised me to move to a warmer climate and so I came to California and have lived there for 35 years in Santa Monica which is large enough in size to equal the 5 square miles of Saba Island, and the only difference between the two is the geographical location and mode of living, but are the two places where I have spent the most of my life, and have enjoyed living in both immensely. Just about 18 years ago I was lucky enough to get an apartment in Santa Monica and when I went there the board of Directors asked me if I would be the entertainment chairman which I accepted and once every month would hold a “dinner dance” for all the seniors in the building who were observing their birthdays for the particular month and we would have special entertainment for them with a little band for dancing, which was enjoyed by all.

Dorothy Palmer

An ordinary day at sea in the life of Sabans in the past. Lest we forget!

After doing that for 10 years with my age creeping up on me I retired and a good thing that I did because of my having serious setbacks with my health. I enjoy living in Santa Monica because of my being in close proximity to the beach and the ocean and will always be happy here, but nothing will EVER, EVER surpass that little island of Saba where I was born and grew up having two of the best loving parents in the world in a very happy and peaceful environment, all of which could persuade me to call it “fantasy island”, and for all that I offer my praise and thanks to our everlasting Almighty God for his love and care of me. END.

If you have enjoyed this just wait till I bring you the story of his grandfather Captain Richard Hassell.

Post Navigation