The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Archive for the month “February, 2017”



Ambrose Johnson here with Mike behind him.


By; Will Johnson

I recently came across a photo of preparations in the Windward Side for Ronny Johnson’s newly built boat to be launched at the Fort Bay. It was taken by Father Bruno Boradori in the early nineteen sixties.

Among the photos of the launching of the boat there was one with Benjamin Ambrose Johnson (Gilly) with a black dog by his side. I realized that the dog had to be the famous dog called Mike. I went back in my old Saba Herald’s and in the edition of Monday October 28th 1968 I found what I was looking for.

The article was written by William Carl Anslyn. He was from Saba and had served on Aruba as a Senator for seven years and also as a Commissioner for five years as well. He returned to Saba when he was in his fifties. Here his brother John Arthur Anslyn had also served this island for sixteen years as a Commissioner and a Member of the Island Council.

Carl helped me for a while as the Editor of The Saba Herald but we fell out after a short while as his politics and mine, to say it mildly, were different. In the end after many battles and verbal abuse he somehow decided to support me and did so until he died. He returned to Aruba when he had passed eighty and died there and is buried there as well.



Carl Anslyn here feeding his chickens on the Scjotsenhoek plantation on Statia which he and his brother Arthur used to own.

He was a talented writer, especially of political pamphlets, of which I bore the brunt of the blows in his political pamphlet called ‘The Bull’s Eye’. He also wrote a small book of his years as a teenager growing up in the Windward Side.

To give you a sample of his skills to properly alarm people on Saba as to my ambitions in the 1969 elections, he would warn the people of Saba to beware of me and my intentions towards the hard working people of Saba. Although I was running with the U.R.A. party at the time he aligned me in his propaganda with the Frente Obrero the party of Wilson ‘Papa” Godet and Stanley Brown. The latter party was formed after the uprising on Curacao on May 30th 1969 which resulted in the burning of much of the city of Willemstad.

Carl would warn people that I did not have a house nor lived on Saba that my only intention was to burn the place down. With some 80% of the houses on the island being built from wood the threat of fire was one way to get voters’ attention. He even listed a number of young people who had built houses to fear the worst as I envied them and wanted to burn down their newly built homes. Even though these modern homes were built from cement there seemed to still be reason for fear. One of these young people even approached me and asked me what he had done to me to warrant me to want to burn down his newly built home. Carl was not easy believe me.

Then the rebel himself, ‘Arsonist in Chief’ Sanely Brown during the campaign showed up on Saba to support me. I was from another political party and living on St. Maarten. No matter. I was not a threat to Stanley’s ‘Frente Obrero’ on Curacao and so he thought it would be of some help to me to visit Saba and support me. Too bad in the night it was claimed that he was shouting out ‘Burn Baby Burn!’


Image (781)

Ambrose Johnson here with teacher Gladys Hassell.

Carl’s stencil machine went into overdrive the night of Stanley’s visit. A pamphlet came out giving instructions to people to purchase fire buckets, extra rope, ladders and so on once again informing people that I had gone into politics with the sole intention to burn the place down. That kind of writer he was. An alarmist of the first order and a political opponent to be reckoned with.

But in his story about Gilly’s dog Mike he shows a different kind of skill and is a pleasure to read.

I experienced Mike once on a visit to Saba with friends from St. Maarten. He had just come down from the Mountain with a group of tourists. He was lying in front of the Police Station where ‘Gilly’ worked as a telephone operator. When he heard us talking about going up the mountain he promptly revved up and accompanied us the way up to the top and back down.

And now to Carl’s interesting story of the remarkable dog Mike who once graced the streets of Windward Side giving visitors to the island a tour whether they wanted one or not.

“Mike is a part-breed Labrador Retriever which to the casual observer shows no more distinguishing features than those shown by any big and friendly dog. Looking at Mike one would hardly think that he’s an intellectual, a prince among dogs! For Mike, besides being a gentleman, is Saba’s unofficial tourist guide!

From the porch of the Post office building where his master works in the Telephone Exchange, Mike regards the passing world with seemingly sleepy eyes. Let a vehicle disgorge Saban passengers in front the building, Mike, as far as interest is concerned, could be blissfully asleep on Mars. Let a Jeep arrive with tourists, and Mike is in their midst before their feet touch the pavement. After properly introducing himself in a gentlemanly manner by quietly sniffing each of the arrivals, he will turn his attention to the business of the day, accompanying his guests around the town, and leading them to the main points of interest.

Image (465)

Algernon Hassell, Carl Hassell and Mr Harold Johnson here cooling out where Mike had his headquarters.

Once his job is done and the usual rounds have been made he will take off and attach himself to another group, and repeat the procedure. At the end of a busy day, and a job well done, he returns to his home and begins his wait for another day and another group of arrivals.

Often a solitary visitor to the island, drifting around and wondering where to go and what to do, will feel his leg nudged and will look down to see a black dog loping along at his side, and leading the way with occasional backward glances to assure himself that the visitor has got the point! One such visitor, a young Hungarian, decided on a fine morning that he was going to walk from the Windward Side to the airport. This is a walk which any Saban would hesitate before attempting, but our friend left the Guesthouse in fine spirits. By the Post Office he was joined by Mike, who duly inspected and accepted him, and proceeded him to the airport. In due time Mike delivered him back to the Guesthouse, nudged his leg as a farewell salute to a job well done, and returned to the Post Office porch. As the visitor afterwards remarked, ‘How is it possible? He went before me all the way. I didn’t show him where to go, and I couldn’t tell him. How does he do it, is what more than one person asked themselves, and the answer is still a big question mark.

On a bright and sunny day two elderly American ladies were walking around the Windward Side, accompanied by Mike. One of them, being a bit talkative, stopped several persons and asked questions about the island. In the beginning Mike was very tolerant but as time went by there were too many stops and too much talking. Mike who must have had a pretty tight work schedule that day, decided to put a stop to the dalliance once and for all. The lady was once more deep in talk when she felt her hand practically being swallowed by Mike, his face the picture of disgust, dragging her from the scene. As the lady remarked later;” It was an experience I wouldn’t have missed for anything.”

Mike’s exploits are legendary in Saba, and already some of our good citizens have suggested that he be given the official title “Ambassador of Goodwill and Unofficial Tourist Guide.”


The old Post Office, Police Station and Telephone Exchange where Mike used to hang out. This photo is from the collection of Dr. Julia Crane of young people picking up packages on a day which the mail boat was in. 1964

He is one of the simple things, the unique things, which makes Saba an interesting place to visit. He is only a dog, yet he has caused more pleasure, and done more to make Saba interesting to its visitors, than many a well-meaning citizen. We would not be surprised some day to see a statue of Mike in our town, adorned with the inscription: “He was only a dog, but he did his part.”

We must thank Mr. Anslyn for this wonderful story about Mike.  And we cannot end the story without mentioning how Anslyn’s pamphleteering was not as successful of that of Thomas Paine in the revolution of the North American colonies. Mr. Carl Hassell (‘Sheddy’) came to my rescue in the end. A bunch of people were drinking in his shop and crying shame on me for wanting to burn down the place. Mr. Carl asked them ‘Pray tell me where is Anslyn’s home?’ Fact is that he did not have one and was living with an old cousin of his. And so the constant reference to the fact that I did not have a house did not have much effect anymore and that was the end of the story. Good memories though and I have those pamphlets still on file somewhere. But you must admit that Carl did a good job on preserving the story of Mike the unusual dog which lived among us on Saba. Enjoy the story of Mike the dog!

The Church of England On Saba

Image (155)

Christ Church in The Bottom is the oldest building on Saba. It was built in 1780 and is also in need of repairs. When I get the chance I will go over this article and add more to it with some interesting photo’s as well.

The Church of England in Saba

By: Will Johnson

In June 2001, Ms. Ingeborg M. uit de Bos-van der Naaten, who was doing research on my ancestors in the National Archives in Holland, sent me a list of information which she had found. Among the list of documents she had consulted was one which stated that a meeting of “the English Church on Saba was held on July 23rd, 1763 to secure a salary to the Reverend Richard Davis for 3 years to be “Our Pastor”. A pledge was made to pay him 1250 pieces of 8 per annum.” In another note it states that “On October 5th of the same year, present at Vestry: Richard Davies.”

In 1777 the Rev. Kirkpatrick requested permission of Commander Johannes de Graaf to officially establish an Anglican Church on Saba. Permission was granted and thus the Anglican Church came into official existence, though from the aforementioned record, it was already in existence in 1763. Research indicates that the present Christ Church building in The Bottom was restored in 1777, after having been severely damaged by the great hurricane of 1772. Folklore has it that the doors of the Dutch Reformed Church on St. Eustatius were found close to my home in The Level on Saba in that ‘category five’ hurricane.

Helena Peterson (nee Every) COPY - had a bakery

My old friend Mrs. Helena Peterson-Every. Her father Peter Every known as ‘Peter War’ as he was always at war over the Pope was the one responsible to encourage the building of the Holy Trinity Church in Windward Side. I have a letter from Father David Hope to him from 1892. The Roman Catholics had built their church in Windward Side in 1860 which was enough reason for Peter ‘War’ to go into action and try and get an Anglican Church for the Windward Side.

Although Dutch historians claimed that Saba was settled by the Dutch from St. Eustatius in 1640, there is reason to believe that the villages of Palmetto Point and Middle Island were already settled soon after 1629 by refugees from similar named villages in St. Kitts, after a large Spanish fleet captured that island. The Irish indentured servants, being Catholic, and allied to the Spanish, were allowed to leave and settle on other nearby islands. In 1665 a pirate fleet from Jamaica led by Edward and Thomas Morgan (uncles of Sir Henry Morgan) captured St. Eustatius and Saba. They dispersed the 57 Dutch settlers and their families to plantations in the English islands and took the African slaves back to Jamaica as booty. There were over 200 Irish, Scots, English and French left, besides two Dutch families of ten people, who remained on Saba as well as 70 or 90 pirates who had mutinied. From 1672 to 1679 the English again occupied Saba. Already in 1659 in a petition to the Dutch West India Company, the inhabitants had requested a clergyman who had knowledge of the English language.

The few Dutch colonists who came from St. Eustatius around 1640 built themselves a small settlement on the South side of the island above Fort Bay. This settlement was destroyed by a landslide in 1651. After this the surviving colonists came to live in the area which they had previously farmed. This area known as “The Valley” later became known as the town of “The Bottom” as the English thought it was the bottom of the crater. At the entrance to The Bottom there was a small church, behind the present World War II monument. The hill we call “Paris Hill” is referred to in old property records as “Parish Hill”.


The Holy Trinity Church now under repairs and needs your financial help.

In a bill-of-sale of January 21st, 1829 in the property bounds reference is made “to East old church place and the High Road.” We have reason to believe that here was located the “Church of Christ” of the Presbyterians started by the renowned Reverend Hugh Knox. He was born in Northern Ireland of Scottish ancestry and migrated to the American colonies. Ordained in 1755 Knox decided to propagate the gospel and was sent to Saba. On Saba he married Mary Simmons daughter of Governor Peter Simmons and his wife Rebecca Correa. He moved to St. Croix in 1771 where he became the teacher of the great Alexander Hamilton and inspired him to go to the colonies in the North which later became the United States of America. On March 19th, 1765 Reverend Knox made a now famous eulogy at his mother-in-laws funeral, a copy of which I have in my collection, and is probably one of the few great sermons preserved from that period in our West Indian history. Remarkably in 1792 a eulogy conducted for his young successor John Elsworth who died on November 22, 1791 at the age of 29 also survives and I also have a copy in my collection. The latter eulogy conducted in East Windsor Connecticut was dedicated to the people of Saba. It states that ;” After his return to the continent, he frequently expressed a cordial regard for you, as a people whom he sincerely loved, and whose salvation he ardently desired; and with whom had his health permitted, he would have chosen to have spent his days; and a grateful sense of those respectful attentions shown to him, and kindnesses received from you, and particularly from his Honor Governor(Thomas) DINZEY, and his worthy family, in whose family he lived, during his residence in the island.”


This photo was taken in 1875 or so but before the Holy Trinity church was built as where the church is now was an open lot at the time.

I mention this as although the Presbyterian Church did not survive they left an impressive record for such a small island and their members flowed into the growing community of the Church of England.

In 1791 when Dr. Thomas Coke of Methodist church fame visited Saba he wrote that there was a church but no preacher. Indeed during the first century of the Church’s life on Saba, it was unable to provide a resident pastor for the island, but the population remained actively Anglican.

Image (2015)

Here as Administrator a.i. in 1977 I handed out a Royal Distinction to Mr. Thomas Frank Hassell. He ans his sisters Norma and Bertha were the upkeep and the pillars of the Holy Trinity Church for as long as I knew them. In the picture you can also see Norma and teacher Gladys Hassell.

When the Dutch historian M.D. Teenstra visited Saba on February 13th, 1829 he wrote that the only religious instructor on the island was John Toland a “Presbyterian”. In that Teenstra was mistaken. He states also that; “The Church building after the hurricane of 1772 has been completely rebuilt. In 1821 it was re-shingled. It is a square building, not very large, of which the solid walls are built of cut stone. The same building serves as Council Hall and school.”

John Toland was born in Ireland. Dr. Thomas Coke in his history of the Methodist Church in the West Indies refers to a Toland as a Methodist missionary preacher in Tortola around 1790 to 1800. That could have been the father of our John Toland, as the Methodists were briefly active on Saba around that time and the name Toland is only related to John and his family on Saba.  The Reverend John Toland was married to Ann Louisa Rodgers of Antigua. They had four daughters and a son James Osborne Toland. James died May 12th, 1870 on Saba.  One of the daughters, Susan Rebecca, married Richard Robinson Richardson of St. Martin on July 22nd, 1835 and another daughter Annie married Abraham Charleswell Simmons Vanterpool and died in childbirth in Virgin Gorda.

I have a record of passengers arriving in the United States at the port of Washington, North Carolina, on the schooner “Eli Hoyt” in 1837 stating that the Reverend John Toland and Mrs. Mary L. Toland both age 57 were passengers. He had been to North Carolina in 1836 and served for one year as pastor of the Episcopal Church in Bath. Their children (should be grandchildren) accompanying them in 1837 were, Master James Toland age 14, Miss Rachel L. Toland age 12 and Master Hugh Toland age 8 and travelling with them was Master Thomas C. Vanterpool, age 8 a son of their deceased daughter Annie. The Vanterpools had been resident in Tortola before Saba so that Dr. Coke’s Toland could have been Hugh Toland, father of the Rev. John Toland. The Reverend died on Saba on December 4th, 1863.  We don’t know much about the North Carolina connection but we do know that Rachel died there in 1838 and that Hugh remained in the United States and married there and ended up on Staten Island and has descendants in the United States.Since this article was first written I found a lot more information on John Toland and there is a seperate article about him and since then one of his descendants has visited Saba.

The church was served by a visiting Anglican priest from Anguilla from 1861 to 1878. As he kept good records much is known from him about his service to Saba. In 1867 he writes that the population of Saba was 1411. The attendance at the Anglican Church School was 30 boys and 25 girls. In a letter of 31 December 1867 he says: “I have also to express my great satisfaction at the Congregations in the Islands of St. Barths and Saba. I spent the last Sunday in the year on the latter island, on which occasion I had a full assembly at both Morning and Evening services. Indeed I may say I had a Congregation all Sunday night, far into Monday morning – for on that night at 9 we experienced a fearful shock of earthquake and in a few minutes the Governor’s House (Moses Leverock) was filled by a terrified crowd, for whom, after some order was restored, I prayed, and implored God’s merciful protection, and administered from time to time words of consolation to those ready to faint with fear, imploring them to put their trust in God. On Monday morning, I proceeded to the Windwardside, and held service as usual in Capt. John Hassell’s hospitable house, to a large assembly of attentive and fear-stricken people (for the Mountains still quake). I made my discourse applicable to the occasion and received 6 new communicants.”


Father John Rohim a Trinidad National but born in Guyana knows a bit about construction himself. If you hear what quotations he got to repair the building and what he and some volunteers like Percy Ten Holt and Eric Cornet and some others you will not believe how he has stretched the few dollars he had available. He will need more as all the pews in the church were destroyed by wood ants and those have to be replaced.

On February 25th, 1878 the Holy Trinity Church in Windwardside was consecrated by the Right Reverend. William Waldrond Jackson, Bishop of Antigua. According to cannon law the Anglican community here falls under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Antigua.

In course of time, five Sabans have become Anglican clergy. These are: John W. Leverock, nephew of Governor Moses Leverock, Alvin Edward Simmons, both of the Bottom, Frank Hassell of St. Johns, Aldric Steeling Hassell of Windwardside, and Ivan Heyliger of The Bottom.

Saban Anglicans were also active in spreading the faith to other islands. The Anglican Church on Curacao was for a large part financed and built by Sabans, and also the church on St. Eustatus. Sabans would go there on weekends to help with the building and the priest on Saba still serves the Anglican community on that island. In 1977 the church issued a booklet with interesting historical facts which was written by Mr. Frank Hassell  who along with his sisters Norma and Bertha are the pillars of Holy Trinity Church.

CIMG4781.JPGThe Church of England had 1500 members on Saba in 1874. However, with the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church on Saba in 1860 the numbers declined. In 1877 there were 1458 Anglicans on Saba out of a total population of 2072.The Anglican Church has lost its dominant position over the years since then, however the church still carries on and the remaining members of the church are as dedicated to their church as those who in 1763 got together to pay a salary to the Reverend Richard Davis, and may God continue to bless their work on Saba.

“We love the place O god

Wherein Thine Honour dwells

The joy of Thine abode


Capt. Ben Hassell who owned many schooners was from Windward Side. He and his family were ‘rank’ Anglicans as they would say and contributed financially to the maintenance of this church. We call on all to help the church in its hour of need.

All earthly joy excels.”

Will Johnson

Post Navigation