The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Archive for the month “April, 2018”

Eulogy for Aileen Louise Johnson

Eulogy for Aileen Louise Johnson

Windward Side Roman Catholic Church April 28th, 2018

Will Johnson

 

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Aileen Louise Johnson on the left. Followed by Claudia Johnson, Velma Johnson, Gladys Hassell and Patsy Johnson. Photo by R.C. Priest Father Bruno Boradori.

We are gathered here today to lay to rest Miss Aileen Louise Johnson.

She was born on the island of Bermuda on February 2nd, 1935 and passed away on April 21st, 2018.

Her parents were Harry Looke Johnson and Doris Everista Every both born on Saba.

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In the door Esther Peterson who lived to just a few months short of 104, then Claire in yellow, her mother Doris, Harry and Aileen Johnson. Miss Hettie left her house to Harry who started his little museum there.

 

Aileen’s parents both had a hard life as times were difficult here on Saba. Her father especially had it hard. His father William was lost at sea like so many men from Saba at the time. Harry was only a baby when that took place. His father was on a schooner which was lost off Cape Hatteras. Harry’s mother, died when he was four years old and his old aunt who took care of him, died when he was eleven. At the age of 13 he took to sea on one of the old schooners as a cabin boy. Doris also did not have it easy and went to Bermuda to work. Harry ended up there as well and at the age of seventeen he married Doris and they started a family. Milton was the first born and then Aileen.

 

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Aileen with the banjo, ‘Bungie’ Hassell blind from birth whose father was lost in the eruption in Martinique in 1902, Aggie Peterson and Melanie Johnson. In the mirror standing is Heather Every and her cousin Jean Every.Good music and great family parties for Aileen brought her great joy in life.

When the children were small the family came back to Saba to try and make a life for themselves here. Harry was able to get a position on the Police force as a constable. This brought with it that the family moved around the islands. Before that Harry had worked for a while on the island of Aruba. While on the police force he lived on Curacao and on St. Maarten. Their home on Sint Maarten was in the house on Front Street in Philipsburg where the Escargot restaurant is located. So in her childhood Aileen did have the opportunity to see the islands.

Afterwards Harry moved to Saba and was here to stay and so Aileen spent nearly all of her adult life on Saba.

She loved her music and was a member of the church choir here in Windward Side for many years. She learned on her own to play a number of musical instruments. She could play the fiddle, the guitar and the banjo. There are a number of nice photographs with her playing either the guitar or the banjo at a friends and family get together.

She did not have it easy as jobs for women on Saba were scarce but the women kept the family going by doing their ‘Spanish Work’ to help out with the family income.

 

Dika Holm-Peterson and Aileen Johnson

Dika Holm-Peterson on the guitar and Aileen Johnson on the banjo. Her love of music kept her going in the hard times she went through. Never complaining and loving her sister Claire and her children and grandchildren.

She was like a mother figure for her much younger sister Claire who was a small baby at birth and Claire told me that it was a large part due to Aileen that she was kept alive. And for as long as she lived she would help out Claire and her children.

It was especially hard on Aileen after her father passed away and later on, her mother also passed away. She was an example of people who suffer silently in life and it takes others to recognize their pain. She was no close family to me but she never had to ask for help. Whenever I would pass her I would recognize her need and she never had to ask. She lived proud in the hard times inflicted on her. I know also that Willy Johnson and his wife Melanie were of great help to her. She never had to ask for anything. The need for help was recognized and came automatically from her friends. And of course her brother Milton who lived in the United States would help her and there would have been others as well. There has been and still is an unrecognized spirit of generosity towards others by a number of our native people here on Saba.

A friend told me that once, at night, when he was passing the cemetery he though he heard someone crying there. He said even though he was a bit upset he decided to take a look. It was Aileen sitting on her mother’s grave crying out in desperation. Something she would refrain from doing to a friend or family member. When I would visit her and ask her how things were, she would say; “It’s all right, yes things are all right.” I knew that it was not so.

 

When I entered a case against the Dutch Government to raise the old age pension it was mostly my experience with Aileen which motivated me, as through her I realized that there were many who live under hard circumstances on our island paradise. That case is now before the Human rights commission in Geneva and if it has the results I would like to see, I will always remember that it was primarily her situation which motivated me to carry on with that case even though strong arm tactics were used to dissuade me from doing so.

Aileen did not sit back and wait for others to help her though. She did whatever she could to carry on and not be dependent on the generosity of others. She carried on the Sherwin Williams agency for paint and could sell some paint from time to time as well as some clothing she would sell from time to time..

Claire, Milton, and the other members of the family wish to thank all those who cared for her in her last years at the Home for the Aged and to those who sent their sympathy in one way or the other, as well as those here today to say a final farewell.

She will be laid to rest in her mother’s grave. That same grave where she sent up her song of lamentation many years ago. Through all her troubles she maintained her dignity and went through life gracefully. And there were good times as well spent in the company of family and friends playing her music which she so loved.

May her family and friends look to her life as an example as to how to carry on in dignity in a life of despair.My sympathy goes out to all her family members who so loved their beloved sister and aunt .

Aileen you will be fondly remembered and may you rest in peace.

 

 

IN MEMORY OF HENRY EARL JOHNSON

IN MEMORY OF THE HONOURABLE HENRY EARL JOHNSON

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Henry Earl Johnson on the right.

By: Will Johnson

Before going into his full story, I want to start with a letter sent to then Lt. Governor Wycliffe Smith on October 11th, 1985 with a follow up letter to then Minister Leo Chance on August 18th, 1986.along the same lines.

Dear Mr. Smith,

In connection with proposals for decoration by H.M. the Queen, I am wondering if we have not overlooked Mr. Henry Earl Johnson. I cannot remember him ever receiving an award and I regret that he has been overlooked over the years.

Earl always had great confidence in Saba. While living on Aruba and trying to raise a family on a small income, he invested in Saba. He built a home, 2 theaters, and later started the guesthouse in Windward Side with some others.

Finally, he decided to retire at 40 or so to come to Saba so that he could get things going himself. He got involved in politics and served on the Island Council from 1964 to 1967. His greatest contribution though has been his confidence in an economic future for Saba. Everything he made on Aruba he invested on Saba years before he came to this island, and before anyone had the confidence that anything would work on Saba. His first theater was opened in 1954 I think and the second one in 1961. These were built at a time that Saba had no airport, pier or anything. The last few years Earl has been an active member of the Saba Lions Club.

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From right to left: Henry Earl Johnson, his wife Olga, daughter Linda, son Cornel and the lady I do not know.

He later started a bakery, a snack bar, he drove taxi through the time and supplied cooking gas to the island. In former times his theatres before the advent of youth centers etc. were the only places where plays could be performed. Magicians, calypsonians etc. came to the island and performed there, and thus he provided the means for Saba to be exposed to some outside culture.

I would like to suggest to you that you nominate him for a decoration by Her Majesty the Queen. Sincerely Yours, W.S.Johson.

In a similar vein  was my correspondence with Minister Leo Chance: ‘Dear Mr. Chance. As we discussed on the phone here is the curriculum vitae of Henry Earl Johnson born Saba March 5th, 1919, his present address is The Bottom #107. Among the things I said in this letter were:’ From a young man on Aruba, Earl was always interested in the progress of his native island of Saba. With savings from his small salary at LAGO he built Saba’s first movie theater in The Bottom in 1953 and a second one in 1961 in Windward Side.

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These are some of the Cohone’s. From left Earl with his brothers Chester and  Jacob Cohone, and in back Rupert Hassell and Austin Johnson.

In those days a movie theater served as a community center as well as was the only source of cultural entertainment on Saba. Various calypso singers were able to perform on Saba as well as magicians, and there were also local plays as well as plays from other islands put on. Earl was also instrumental in setting up the Saba Development Corporation which leased the Windward Side Guesthouse from the government and added on some rooms. He retired at an early age from LAGO and returned to Saba at a time when most people were moving on to the USA. He worked on Saba as a taxi-driver, he started a bakery, he was the supplier of household cooking gas, and also became involved in the local politics and served as a council member from 1964 to 1967. He is married and has two children. Earl has served his community well and is still very active and I strongly feel that in view of his faith in the future of Saba that he should be nominated for a decoration from Her Majesty the Queen.

Sincerely,

Will

 

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Photo from 1962 when three helicopters landed at the airport then under construction. Earl and his wife Olga on the right in the front.

I saw Earl’s son Cornel in the Bank the other day and I told him: ‘Boy, your father laughing at me.”

I have done over 75 eulogies which I can remember. Many of them on Saba but also on St. Martin, and St. Eustatius.

I usually do not throw away anything and have tried to keep copies of all the eulogies I have done. Including the one I did for Earl who died on February 6th, 2000.

For years I have been searching for the first page of the eulogy and the little booklet which was distributed at the funeral with his photo on the cover with a nice smile on his face. No matter what I tried I could not find it.

My filing system consists of plastic files which you can read like a book and not have to constantly be handling the paper. Nothing filed in any sort of order. Some weeks ago, I filed the last two pages of the eulogy. Something told me not to do that. I remember thinking long and hard before closing the file and putting it somewhere in between the over one hundred files of that type.

 

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Cornel holding the pumpkin with Howard Johnson his uncle in law standing next to him.

Guess what. It must have been some days later that I found what I was looking for. I spent so much time trying to find file and location, where I had ‘filed’ the other two pages that I felt like giving up and I did. That is when I noticed that Earl was laughing at me (and still is as I write this) and when I met Cornel and told him of the dilemma I was confronted with.

I also found the two letters I wrote to support his nomination for a significant recognition. I still feel upset about how it went. On the same occasion I was Knighted there were others and he was given the lowest of the low recognition in the form of a medal in bronze. I was young then and in the middle of what was to turn out to be a long career and I truly felt that he should have been the one to be Knighted.

I could feel he was upset but he took it graciously and continued working on and he never lost his faith that there would be brighter economic times for Saba.

He and my mother were first cousins. We shared many stories about things which had happened to us. I remember once him telling me that when it comes to making economic decisions that you should follow your own feeling and not even let your wife discourage you.

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Left to right Olga Johnson then Barbara Kassab-Every, Linda Johnson, and Shirley Heyliger at Olga and Earl,s home in The Bottom.

While on Aruba he heard that the estate which had belonged to John Philips on St. Martin, then owned by Mrs. Nora Rodenhuis-Van Romondt was for sale for eight thousand guilders. He was in the process of negotiating the purchase of the estate. However, his wife Olga had serious doubts about spending such a large sum of money for a plantation on St. Martin. She told him: “Look how all the St. Martin people are coming to Aruba to look for work. St. Martin will never amount to anything and your hard-earned money will be lost.” Earl chickened out. The estate is now known as ‘Emilio’s Estate’.

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First ever movie theater on Saba built by Henry Earl Johnson

But he was an investor at heart and started looking for the possibility to build up his native Saba and make a living there.

On his father’s side Earl is descended from the Colquhoun clan of Scotland. Pronounced ‘Cohone’ and I have had the pleasure to visit the castle in Scotland belonging to the Campbell clan whose wife is a ‘Cohone’. I have written about my visit there and posted it in The Saba Islander.

I do not want to repeat what I have written before but I will quote from the first page of the eulogy which was lost since his death.

“The late Henry Earl Johnson was born on Saba on March 5th, 1919 and passed away on February 6th, 2000.

Like many others at the time, in the month of July 1937, he went to Aruba where for the next 24 years he was employed by the Standard Oil Company.

On October 16th, 1946 he was married to Olga Johnson, on Saba, and they had two

Henry Earl Johnson and his wife Olga Johnson on their wedding day. The Bottom church.

Earl and Olga getting married in The Bottom, Saba, October 16th, 1946.

children Linda and Cornel both of whom were born on Aruba. “

At the time of his death in the year 2000 his brother Chester was still alive and living in Texas and his sister Glady’s was living on Saba. At the time he also had five grandchildren.

 

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Opening of the Windward Side Guesthouse. Earl Johnson started the Saba Development Corporation while living on Aruba and together with Carl Anslyn, Cessie Granger and others they obtained the lease on the then Government Guest House and expanded it with a number of rooms.

Coming back to the theater business. Before he built his first theater in The Bottom in 1953 the late Guy Hodge, my good friend from St. Martin, would come to Saba and show a movie in a tent but only now and then. A few weeks ago, Allen Busby and I were in a restaurant in Marigot and he was telling me of the first movie held in Windward Side above the house of the priest by Mr. Guy Hodge. Most people had never seen a movie before as many people still had never been off island in their lifetime.

The movie was an MGM movie. The one where the Lion comes out with a roar. Allen said that Lorenzo Hassell was sitting right under the screen with Norman Hassell not too far off. Who had ever seen a Lion on Saba and had ever heard the roar of that mighty King of the Serengeti in Africa?

Allen was in doubt as to who took off running first whether it was Norman or Lorenzo and followed by the whole of Hell’s Gate (according to Allen that is). He said that for months after the people on Hell’s Gate were talking about how fortunate Lorenzo was to have run. If he had stayed according to the version of the story presented by Allen, that animal they call a Lion would have been the end of Lorenzo.’

When he built his theater in Windward Side my brother Freddie was in charge. Before that he had a theater on rented land on the main road in Windward Side. For the new building Rudolph Johnson and I got the contract to do all the trenches. The contract was worth one hundred guilders to be shared equally. And boy did we work for that one hundred guilders. Dolphie later married Earl’s daughter Linda. My fifty guilders I used to buy a ticket on the ‘Antilia’ via Statia and St. Kitts to St. Maarten where I found a job in the government. That was in the year 1960 and I started a long career in government so I did not do bad.

Earl told me that when he was building the theater in The Bottom he lived on Aruba and sent eight inch blocks to build it with by boat from Aruba. His father-in-law Leonaidis  and the others building the theater had never worked with blocks before. So they decided to put the block two in a row and poured cement in between so that the walls are nearly two feet thick, and Earl was left to wonder where all those blocks had gone.

I don’t think Earl would mind that I interjected that piece of movie folklore in this tribute to Earl’s Memory.

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Everywhere Saba people are they have to build and own a boat. Earl here on Aruba as a young man.

 

One of the first articles which I wrote for the Windward Islands Opinion in the early sixties was to defend Earl. The then Administrator of Saba who apparently wanted to see movies for free, decided that there should be a censoring committee, with he as the head and that the movies had to be censored before they were shown to the public. Both Earl and I thought it was ridiculous and brought extra costs to him. But it went through anyway.

Earl was a Member in good standing of the Lions Club of Saba from 1977 to 1998. This Club also took care of the Saba Carnival for many years and Earl was also involved in that. He and his family were faithful members of the Roman Catholic Church as well. Cornel boy, your father is still laughing at me. And as I write this I am told that his grandson Stuart Johnson of St. Martin has a good chance of becoming the Minister of Tourism. Earl would be happy to hear that!

Recordar es Vivir.

 

 

 

 

Captain Athelstan Peterson

Captain Athelstan Peterson

By Will Johnson.

 

Capt. Athleston Peterson

Captain Athelstan Peterson in uniform in New York.

I used to wonder why Miss Elsie as we called her gave her son this name. As you might know all the countries ending with Stan, like Pakistan, Afghanistan and so on, the name means Land of.

However I found out when researching this name that there had been a King Athelstan. I now wonder how come I did not know that. The Saba people most of whom had their ancestry in Britain, Scotland and Ireland, in former times, would look to their ancient Kings for names to give their children.

King Atgelstan

The original. In former times Sabans looked to the Kings of their ancestors to name their sons by in order to give them ambition.

King Athelstan was King of the Anglo Saxons from 924 to 927 and the first King of all England from 927 to 939. He was the son of King Edward the Elder and his first wife Ecgwynn. He was the grandson of King Alfred the Great. A distinguished and courageous soldier he pushed the boundaries of the Kingdom to the furthest extent they had reached in 927 AD. He died childless on October 27th 939.

While our own Athelstan did not make it to be King, he was a King in his own way as he made it to the position of Captain a much wished for position of the young men of Saba in former times.

994314_10151748393618686_157081644_n He was born on Saba on Monday February 22nd, 1909. His parents were Allan Hassell Peterson and Elsie Peterson born Hassell. Elsie’s was born On November 4th, 1886. Her father was Captain William James Hassell and her mother was Eliza Jane Hassell. Allan was born on September 1oth, 1878 and his father was Captain Josiah Peterson and his mother Albertina Hassell.

So as you can see Athelstan had that captain business in his blood from both sides of the family. And not only from the men in the family but when you read an interview with Miss Elsie from Saba Silhouettes you will see that she loved the sea herself and her sister Oceana [Miss Ocie] got that name because she was born at sea.

“[Father was] sailing out in a big ship. The name of the ship was the R.L.T. No more name. R.L.T. flied the American flag. A square rig like they calls the ships, you know. She was made different to a schooner, yeah. He was captain, captain of the ship.

And we went to America in that said ship [R.L.T.]. I was a girl only twelve years old, [Doce] must’ve been nineteen or so. I can’t really remember her age. My brother Johnny Ben was with us, but not the others. They was out in other places working. Some was too small to go, a couple was out to work. Our mother wasn’t there then.

 

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On the left the baby the lady is holding is Atlestan. Family portrait of the home of Captain Josiah Peterson Sr. on the right. This home is now the Museum.

We came out, we went straight to America, and it took us eight days to go. Not seasick. My sister threw up for three days. I was just as a sailor. I used to eat plenty, too, on board that ship, and I would just eat and eat. My father was a big husky man, you know, and he sat and watched me. My sister would say, “oh, if I could only eat like you!’ I said, “Well, you get up and eat.”

In America [New York] we went all about, all over the place, you know to look at different places and see different things.

“We remained on the ship; fifteen days in New York and then he came out. You see, we wanted to go. Me and my sister wanted to go, to go to the Brazils. And we was foolish too cause we had a long passage going there on the ship, and he didn’t go there. He came back to Suriname. And it was mangoes we ate there too. My sister then had broke seasickness, and she ate her share too.

 

S.S. Ponca City, Capt. Athlestan Peterson of Saba.

S.S. Ponca City one of the many ships [mostly oil tankers] of which Athlestan was the captain.

And we went then to an island called Connetable Island. That’s somewhere by Cayenne. It was a small island. It was a little small island. And an old man Miss Elaine [Hassell’s] great grandfather sailed in a li’l schooner up around there; and this day my father was on the ship. He went there – I’m forgot what he went there to take in for cargo. That I can’t really remember. And he went, and the old man, Miss Elaine’s great grandfather, called to tell him the rats had eaten up all his food. Yes. And he asked my father if he had anything to give him to eat. “Oh, yes.’ He said, ‘I have lots!’ And he got down in his li’l boat, and he come to where my father’s ship was; and he filled up a big basket of foodstuffs and gave him and he went. “Now,” he says, I’.  All right till tomorrow. I won’t put this where the rats can get at It.!”

In 1967 I met Captain Athelstan in Tom’s Bar in Richmond Hill, Queens New York. Tom’s bar was a hole in the wall sort of place with a pool room in the back. The Sabans used to hang out there. My cousins who worked on the dredges all over the place and others like my good friend Norman Hassell a very successful contractor would frequent the bar to see and converse with other men from Saba. I was there on vacation from St. Maarten and was introduced to Tom’s bar by my cousins. It was a short walk from where I was staying with my aunt Alice Simmons and her husband Stanley Johnson. At the time I was not much into writing or researching the history of Saba and its people and I regret that I did not interview him about his career at sea and his early days on Saba.

 

S.S. Swiftsure.

S.S. ‘Swiftsure’ on which he sailed as Chief Mate along the United States coastline

However I came across a letter to me from Gail Peterson- McManamy and she gave me more details on her father which I will share with you.

Over the years of correspondence with people living in different countries with roots from these islands I have accumulated quite an archive. And when I look back on my many letters I now appreciate the fact that I did that.

To Will Johnson. “I am Gail Peterson McManamy. My father, Athelstan, so on Elsie and ‘Petey’ Peterson was born (1909) and raised on Saba. His childhood home, in Windward Side, is now, I believe, the Museum dedicated to the lore of this island. He too was a sea captain. He was schooled to approximately the 7th grade on Saba then was sent to Puerto Rico to continue.

A story I recall is that he was an able bodied seaman at the time that the ‘Morro Castle’ burned. He was studying for his next test to change his position and move up the ladder of seamen.

 

S.S. Carbide Seadrift

S.S. Carbide Seadrift

My dad sailed (Merchant Marine) during World War II, his ship having been converted to a troop carrier. He then returned stateside and sailed from Providence Rhode Island while I was a child. The runs I do remember were for Marine Transport, some of his ships names: The Ponca City, the R.E. Wilson, (for Union Carbide) and Carbide ‘Texas City’. He sailed between Carteret New Jersey and Texas City, Texas.

My dad died in November 1971. He was one of nine children, 5 brothers, and 4 sisters. His sisters married family names such as Leverock and other Petersons. My mother’s maiden name was Hassell. Her father was Johannes Hassell also of Saba. He was one of the men who moved to Providence, Rhode Island, where he was introduced to his bride Lettitia Barnett from Ireland. They had a son also whose name was James Mervin Hassell. I noted the name James Hassell in the list of early settlers.

When I visited Saba for the first time in 1964 I stayed in my grandmother’s house. There was the Frigidaire you write of, a huge cistern of water with a paint bucket to draw it out. There was no electricity during the day but for about 5 to 6 hours in the evening, run off generators. My family and I went to the movies one night. The film, ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ was being shown. It cost a quarter to get in and the screen was a white sheet hanging on the wall. At 11.00PM the projector stopped running as the electricity had gone off for the night. We all trooped back the second night to conclude the film. Perhaps that is why the families numbered 5 to 10 children easily! There were 3 telephones on the entire island that connected to each other. To call off the island you had to make the arrangements a day or so ahead of time.

 

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On the right Mrs. Elsie Peterson-Hassell  the navigator,with her cousin Violet Johnson-Hassell. Photo by Dr. Julia Crane 1964.

My uncle Kenneth built the first large scaled refrigeration near his home. We had flown onto the island via a small Piper Cub (after having flown first to St. Thomas, then to St. Martin) piloted by Monsieur Le Pipe [Jose Dormoi] featured at one time in Life Magazine. The plane crashed in Statia during hurricane Faith. To leave, we were pushed off the rocky beach area of Fort Bay and rowed out to a 100 year old boat captained by a man known only to me as Randolph [Dunkin]. We were crossing to St. Martin, a 15 minute air ride, as opposed to the day long journey in high seas. I was too seasick and covered by a tarp, to really note or care. I do remember ‘coming to’ in the calm pretty waters of St. Martin. I have not been back to Saba but have promised myself and my son to do so. He is the one who found your book and now we are anxious to buy it and learn more about our heritage.”

As recently as 2013 there was a correspondence between ‘Of Saban Descent’ and Mr. Scott Thompson, son of Gail. He mentions some of the ships of which his grandfather was Captain. They were: S.S.’Malabar’, the S.S.’Ardmore’, the S.S. ‘Muskogee’ the S.S. ‘Swiftsure’ [ made numerous voyages on this ship-all as Chief Mate, all were coastline voyages.]

S.S. ‘Carbide Texas City’.

And so we salute Captain Athelstan Peterson another Saban of the past who did us proud.

 

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