The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Archive for the month “January, 2018”

An Interview with Edmond Johnson

An interview with Edmond Johnson (known as Edwin).

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Edmond here with his wife Julia and daughters Angela (left) and Lucille (right).

Saba Herald of November 24th, 1984.

Edmond Johnson was born on September 16th, 1901, one of eleven children. His father was Henry Richard Johnson who died at the age of 88 in March of 1922 and he was the son of old Dora of Booby Hill. Old Dora was an uncle of Wilson Johnson.

Edwin’s mother was Helen (pronounced Helin) Johnson born Simmons. She was a daughter of Daniel Simmons and she also died at the age of 88 in 1945.

Edwin was married in February 1922 to Julia Every.

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Edmond here with his wife Julia in their grocery in Windward Side.

When he was 6 years old he got shot with pigeon shot from a muzzle-loader which was fired by Ralph Hassell and Udalrick Hassell. Also his brothers Jim and Lubin were shot but not as bad as Edwin. He was shot in the head. He was taken to the old hospital in The Bottom (where the Artisans Foundation is located) and was there three or four months. As a result of the accident he lost his sight in his left eye. Ralph was only 15 at the time and did not shoot intentionally. He was playing around with the gun and it was an accident.



The ‘Caraquet’ which Edmond went to Bermuda on from St. Kitts.

Edwin left home when he was twelve years old to go into the world to make a living. He sailed from Saba to St. Kitts with the ‘Ethel’ on which Willie Witts [Hassell] was captain. From St. Kitts he took a tramp steamer named the “Caraquet” to Bermuda. There he worked on a dairy farm with his brother Percy. This farm was owned by a Bermuda Lady. At the age of 16 he returned to Saba and worked with his father on the land until the end of World War I.

After the war he returned to his same job in Bermuda and then in 1919 he went on to the United States. In Bermuda his job was to take care of and milk ten cows, take care of a horse and do all kinds of odd jobs around the place. He started working for 15 shillings a month. He says that the people there treated him good.


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Edmond here with his friend Alvin Caines next to his garage and shop.

According to Edmond there were at the time, before World War I, several hundred Sabans, white and black, women and all working in Bermuda. The first people to go to Bermuda from Saba went on the ‘Annie Seymour’ a Saban owned schooner. Edwin’s father went along on that same trip. Edmond returned to Saba in 1922 in order to get married to Miss Julia Every and then went on again, this time to the United States. There he worked on dredges in Providence, Rhode Island. He remembers that Lowell Peterson’s brother stepped on the hatch of a ship, fell in the hold and got killed.

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The dredge ‘Nachuant’ Portland Maine 1920. Working on this dredge were Edmond Johnson, Philip Johnson and ‘old’ Norman Hassell.

In 1932 he returned to Saba for a while. Then he was off to Bermuda again for five years and there he cut stones in quarries. This stone is used as the traditional building material in Bermuda. In 1938 he returned to Saba and started to farm. He used to keep up to six head of cattle at one time (three milk cows, one bull and two heifers). In those days you got $7.—or $8.—for a calf. Meat was sold at fls. 0.35 cents a pound of stew, fls.0.40 for a pound of steak and fls.0.30 for a pound of soup bones. When you butchered a cow it was sold in shares of 10 pounds and was $1.—a share (fls.2.50). Now if I am not mistaken it is $50.—a share for 8lbs of meat. Milk was 6 cents a pint. In my mind’s eye I can still see Edwin coming through Windward side with his animals trailing behind him bringing them home from wherever he had them tied out.


Harry Johnson and Edwin Johnson

Harry Johnson who was married to Doris sister of Julia who was married to Edmond who is sitting on the rock.

He mostly farmed, but in between he used to fish with his neighbor Cyrillis Leverock who owned a boat. Due to having to cut grass to feed the cattle he did not go fishing that often. When they farmed back in Edwin’s day they worked together in gangs, and would take turns working out each man’s land. In those days Tania’s were 35 good cents (fls.0.77’5) a tin. Sweet potatoes were the same. A “tin” was a five gallon can which was used to transport kerosene between the islands. Cous-Cous were fls. 1.50 a tin. Then, as now, they used to send up to Statia and buy their cattle. As far back as Edwin can remember they have been buying cattle from Statia, but during his father’s time they raised the calves here so there was no import or very little import of cattle into Saba.


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Edmond’s son Ambrose who was a very successful businessman on Aruba sent some Land-rovers for his father to use. Because they were different from the Willy’s Jeeps we were familiar with people on Saba did not think too much of them.

Later on Edwin started a grocery store and also he went into the hardware business selling lumber, galvanize, cement and other building materials.

As for schooldays Edwin can remember that Daisy’s mother Gertrude Johnson [b.Hassell] gave lessons in Captain Tommy Hassell’s  house. He also remembers Sister Bertranda and Sister Winfred when they used to give lessons.

Getrude’s husband was named Ben Johnson also known as “Ben Shunta”. He had a breed of goat called after him but the meat was ‘blue’ and unfit for consumption. He died before Edwin’s father, sometime after Edwin went to Bermuda.

Edwin went to Bermuda with “Mucka’s”[Edmund Hassell] father who was also going there to look for work, also Joe Ben (John Woods’ father), also Tina Johnson [Simmons’] brother John. Most of the Sabans then living in Bermuda farmed for a living. When Edwin was a boy the people still went back and forth to Barbados as well. According to him St. Kitts was the main island for trade and commerce. There was very little communication with St. Maarten in those days.

Edwin who is 83 hardly looks his age and he still works in the ground planting all sorts of things around his house and other properties. Mo matter who you ask will tell you that all his life he has been a hard worker. We wish him well.

When he passed away on January 3rd 1992, I was asked to do the eulogy for him which appeared in the Saba Herald.

In the eulogy I mentioned how far sighted Edmond’s parents were in giving him that Old Saxon name which means ‘Keeper of the Land’. You did not mess with ‘Grubs’ as his nickname was when it came to land and boundaries. Since land is so scarce on Saba boundaries are a source of contention which led to many differences of opinion and quarrels over the centuries. Edwin was the great defender of old pathways and boundary lines.

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Edmond in the back carrying the statue on a parade. He was a very religious man. I am the altar boy up front with my head turned from the camera.

At his passing he left to mourn three children and their spouses, Ambrose and Esmey, Lucille and Ronny, and Angela and Samuel Guy. He also left to mourn 12 grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.

If one was to ask to name the hard working people of the island Edwin would certainly have been listed in the top five. He left behind a memory of life on Saba, being part of a large family and having to leave at an early age to work and return to Saba from time to time. May the memory of his life be held in esteem by the people of this island and his descendants!

Edwin Johnson 2.

His official name was Edmond but everyone called him Edwin.





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Police constables from left to right: Harry Johnson, Arthur Harold Johnson, and Richard Austin Johnson.

Arthur Harold Johnson who lives at Hell’s-Gate [1986] was born on Saba on April 12th, 1906. He has a brother Stanley, who is 96 and who lives in Richmond Hill, New York. His brother though crippled from a fall, at 96, still has an excellent memory and can recall events of the turn of the century as if they happened yesterday.

Harold (it is an old Saban custom to call people by their second name!)., worked  here on Saba as a boy helping his parents and doing what he could to carve out an existence from the soil as was customary in those days.


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Having a chat on the old Police Station in Windward Side. Left to right Algernon Hassell, Carl Hassell and Police Constable Harold Johnson.

In 1927 he went to the United States for the first time and stayed there for eighteen months and then came back to Saba because of the depression. While in the United States he worked on the ‘Georgia’. This was a riverboat which sailed from New York to Providence Rhode Island. It belonged to the New Haven Railroad Company. Many Sabans sailed on this riverboat from way back. Among them John Peter Hassell, McDonalds father Hazel Johnson, Stanley Johnson, Ainslee Peterson, Camille Johnson and others. The ‘Georgia’ could carry over 200 passengers and was longer than 300 feet. Another riverboat called the ‘Tennessee” belonged to the same company. They liked Saba people according to Harold. The riverboats used to run in the Long Island Sound. They sailed from pier 19 in the East river to Providence Rhode Island. The other riverboat the ‘Middletown’ used to go to Hayward Connecticut.

Harold’s brother Stanley (or Stanliss) used to sail out on schooners when he went to the United States. He worked on a 4 master schooner the ‘Albert F. Paul’ for a certain Captain


The ‘Albert F. Paul’ on which Stanley Johnson sailed.

Suthers, mostly along the U.S. coast as the home port of the ship was San Francisco.

Once Stanley saved the ship and crew in a 4 day hurricane when the captain took in with gangrene in his leg. They were bound for San Francisco. The Coast Guard managed to get him off, but Stanley stayed aboard the ship with a listed cargo of lumber and brought her safely to San Francisco a week later. He lived to make many trips to places like Argentina, Murmansk Russia during the Second World War, and at 96 he can still talk about it.

Harold’s other brother John Lawrence was a boatswain’s mate on the ‘Leviathan’, the cruise ship captured from the Germans in the First World War. Another brother James Lambert, was a well-known carpenter and builder on Saba and died in 1973.

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Capt. Edward Anslyn who was also Captain of the yacht the ‘Neara’ which belonged to the Sea Island Cotton Company. This is the ferry which he was captain of for many years and which ran between St. Kitts and Nevis.

In 1929, Harold came back to Saba via St. Kitts on the yacht ‘Neara’ captained by Capt. Edward Anslyn. Edwin Johnson and Reuben Simmons were both with them. Harold says he stayed at a boarding house in St. Kitts which was owned by a Mrs. Aggie Seaton.

After spending some months on Saba, Harold then went to St. Thomas in 1929 with the schooner the ‘Diamond M. Ruby” of Capt. Richard Austin Barnes. He said there was a whole set of Saba people on board. He waited for some time in St. Thomas and stayed at the home of Capt. Will Simmons, who hailed from Saba and who was harbormaster at the time there.


Hyman Kaliski Original

Hyman Kaliski, benefactor of Saban sailors.

Harold went on to New York. In those days all Saban seamen went to Mr. Hyman Kaliski at 27 South Street. He had a boarding house and clothing store there. Harold says he was an English Jew who lived in Germany before coming to the United States. Others have told me that Mr. Kaliski was a Russian Jew. He liked Saba people and for more than 40 years he made a room at the back of his st ore available to them. He carried items in his store which sailors needed. The Sabans used his store as a mailing address and a gathering place. He belonged to the ‘Macabees’, a masonic lodge, according to Harold.

In 1934, Harold came back to Saba via Puerto Rico. He started working for the Post office when Mr. Kruger was Vice Lt. Governor. Later during the Second World Ear, he entered the Police Force as a constable. This was the old military police. He remained in the force for 5 years and months and when the new style Police Force was introduced he left the force and worked for the department of Public Works until he retired.

Harold can remember a lot about the old days. He says that people today should not forget that as little as forty years ago anyone who had $100.—(one hundred dollars) was considered a rich person. People lived off the land and the sea and were happy.

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Police constable Harold Johnson of ‘Above-the-Bush’ at ‘Upper Hell’s Gate’.

Harold can also tell a lot of stories about how life was during the Great Depression in New York. As a matter of fact as bad as things seemed on Saba back then, according to Harold, life on Saba was a whole lot better than life in New York during the Great Depression and that is why he came back to Saba and stayed. We wish him many more years on Saba.

Taken from the ‘Saba Herald’ -1986.


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