Man of the Sea – James Anthony Simmons
By Will Johnson
The following was an article I wrote about Mr. Simmons before he died. I also did the eulogy for him in the Roman Catholic Church in The Bottom when he died and used much of the same article in the eulogy. I want to post it with appropriate photo’s on The Saba Islander and on Facebook so that his family , friends and general readers can enjoy the story of his life.
In 1984 I interviewed James Anthony Simmons. He is still alive and active(early 2009) and will be 95 years of age this year.
He was born on Saba on August 9th, 1914. His mother was Caroline Maria Simmons born Every who died around 1956. Her parents were Mamselle Every called “Zellie” whose people originally came to Saba from St. Thomas, and her husband was named Peter Every.
James Anthony’s father was named James Arthur Simmons and he died around 1943 in Barbados at the age of 55. His parents were Sally Jones and Alexander Simmons. They were all dead before James Anthony was born.
His father James Arthur Simmons had left Saba and went to live in Barbados to work for “Redhead” Joe Simmons who had moved from Saba as many Sabans had done at the time. Red Head Joe used to own Walmar Lodge which was a plantation at the time.
James Anthony had not known his father and as so many young boys at the time he decided to go to sea and the usual age in those days was 14. And so at that young age James Anthony went to work as a mess boy on the schooner the “Ina Vanterpool”.It was a large schooner measuring 105 feet long, 26 feet wide and 218.90 tons. This three master schooner belonged to Captain Tommy Vanterpool. The Captain was Herman Simmons. They sailed between Curacao and the Windward Islands with the mail. The schooner had no motor and a trip, depending on weather conditions going and coming would take as much as ten days each way. Going down to Curacao would be faster and would usually take three to four days, but coming back could be from ten to twelve days. He also sailed on the “Georgetown” a schooner which was 81 feet long, 26 feet wide and 118.72 tons.
This schooner would carry as many as 75 passengers who had to rough it on deck mostly. They made a monthly trip to Curacao and in between would sail usually between Saba and St.Kitts. Around 1929 or 1930 the “Georgetown” went ashore on the island of Nevis and got destroyed there. James Anthony was not on board at the time, though I had an Uncle Herbert Simmons who was just a young boy himself who went ashore with her. In those days it took several weeks before my grandparents knew that he was safe and sound. James Anthony also worked on the “Three Sisters” with Capt. Will Leverock.
After that James Anthony sailed on the “Rhode Island” a two master which sailed to Curacao and which took the place of the “Three Sisters.” She also belonged to Captain William Benjamin Hassell. Her captain at the time was Aldrick Dowling. She was destroyed in a hurricane in Frederiksted, St.Croix around 1929. James Anthony and the crew had come to St.Thomas from Curacao. They went south to run from the hurricane and struck a reef just off the harbour of Frederiksted. No lives were lost. When daylight cleared the pilot boat came out and took the passengers and crew ashore. They were unable to save the boat but most of the supplies were saved. Mr. Labega (a son of Freddie Labega of St.Maarten) who was married to a red haired girl from Saba and who lived there put them all up at his home. There were about twenty passengers on board when the accident happened. The two master schooner “Mary C. Santos” also belonging to Capt. Ben Hassell then came up from Barbados to St.Croix to pick them up. The passengers were all from the surrounding islands.
After that he went to work on the two master schooner the “Francis W.Smith” a salt fish runner from Canada which belonged to Captain Johnny Vanterpool and them.
The Captain was Aldrick Dowling. These schooners were all built in Canada. They would bring in codfish and lumber to Barbados and the Sabans would buy them there. On the “Francis W.Smith” he was an ordinary seaman and sailed to Trinidad, Demerara, Martinique and Guadeloupe carrying gasoline in drums from Trinidad. He did this for three years. The schooner was sold and then the captain went fishing off the coast of Guyana.
Around 1935 he went to Curacao where he worked for “Pletterij Nederhorst,” and then on to Aruba where he joined the “Mosquito” fleet. This was a fleet of tankers which belonged to ESSO on which a number of Sabans lost their lives in World War II. They brought the crude oil from Lake Maracaibo which was processed in the refinery on Aruba.
Many of the survivors who worked 15, 20 and more years and who then still lived on Saba got a big fat pension of fls.20.- and less per month (Yes, That much) for having risked their lives before during and after the war for ESSO on Aruba. James Anthony worked for about twenty years on the fleet. He mostly sailed between Aruba and Lake Maracaibo, but sometimes to Barbados, Brazil and to Mobile Alabama and Norfolk Virginia and to Cristobal Colon in Panama.
In 1945 he married Aline Hughes from which marriage three children were born. After he came back to Saba he sailed with Capt. Randolph Duncin on the sloop the “Eden Rock.”, mostly between Saba and St.Kitts. All the trade was with St.Kitts back then. The last time he sailed on a regular basis was on the sloop “Santa Lou” also belonging to Capt. Dunkin and which carried the mails between Saba and Sint Maarten in the sixties when Saba had an empty airport and they said no plane could land here.
James Anthony was also active in the politics since the sixties and was on the WIPM list each election since 1971 with Peter Granger and myself.
He was a joiner. When Miss Carmen and they started the Women’s Organization he joined. When asked why he had joined he said “Them poor women need help.” If the Women’s Organization still exists I am sure that he is still a member in good standing. It reminds me of the time the WIPM had to send a delegate to St.Lucia for a Youth Conference. None of the younger ones could attend. Mr. Carl Anslyn then seventy five years of age volunteered to attend. The average age attending the conference was 18. You can imagine the St.Lucia press had a field day with Saba’s delegate. When he got back Mr. Anslyn was full of praise for the way he had been received by the young people. He said to me “And I told them a thing or two.” I am sure he did.
James Anthony has been one of the main servers in the Roman Catholic Church in The Bottom. He has been a pillar of his church and was a member of the Parish council and is also a Member of the Living Water Community.
For many years he was also a house painter by profession. I remember once when he was painting my roof that my son Teddy who was a little boy back then used to think that he was “Santa Claus” because it was around Christmas time and he had learned that Santa always landed on the roof. And since old James Anthony was on the roof for a couple of days, Teddy thought that he was Santa.
When he could get around he was always to be found to help out with all kinds of social activities and was a real asset to the people of The Bottom in particular and the people of Saba in general. He retired from the sea when he was in his eighties but he still used to go fishing with his friend Elmer Linzey especially, and he has fond memories of a life spent at sea. Especially the years he spent on the old Saban owned schooners trading throughout the West Indies.
And as is often the case in small island communities such as ours we also have a family relationship. As a boy I remember a big tall brown man stopping me and asking me if I was Johnson’s boy and I said;” Yes.” He said to me “You know me and you are family.”
You bet I thought to myself. How can you be family to me? Anyway when I went home I asked my mother and described the man to her. She laughed and said;” That must be Long Charlie. Yes he and your father are first cousins.” Turns out my great uncle Henry Johnson was his father. “Long Charlie” was Charles Simmons and a brother of our friend James Anthony.
James Anthony attends every event he can make it to and is fully alert as to what is going on around him. He will be 95 this year. I made a speech for him at his 90th birthday and it seems like yesterday. He still lives at home and is surrounded by his grandchildren and great grandchildren and it is always a pleasure to see how they appreciate having him around.
We salute James Anthony Simmons and wish him many more happy years here with us
on Saba and thank him for being an inspiration for us all.
Shortly after this article was written he passed away on May 4th, 2009 leaving behind a legacy much to be appreciated and admired by his children and his other descendants. May he rest softly!