The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Archive for the month “September, 2018”





Portrait of Commander John Philips in the National Museum in Holland

Commander John Philips (1733-1746) had done a great job in advancing the economy of St. Maarten. He was also able to accomplish that the island was removed from under the administration of St. Eustatius and became self-governing. He revitalized the salt industry and brought in new settlers and convinced the plantation owners to move away from a subsistence economy to an export economy. The island back then was under the supervision of the Dutch West India company.

All was not well however and he created a number of enemies among them the cantankerous Peter Hassell, born on Saba, and a sugar cane plantation owner in the valley of Cul-de- Sac. The information on Hassell is largely taken from the book by Prof Dr. L. Knappert (Geschiedenis van de Nederlandsche Bovenwindse Eilanden in de 18de eeuw) . This book dates from 1932. I intend to do a separate story on the Dutch historians at some point. Furthermore, from an article by Ph.F.W. van Romondt in the (West Indische Gids of 1941). He was a descendant of Hassell and gave a detailed account of the life and turbulent times of his Saba ancestor.

The name Hassell was spread throughout the Dutch Windwards from early on in the history of European settlement of the islands.


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The empty land as it would have looked like in the days of Phillips looking from the valley of Cul-de-Sac to the town in the distance which would be named in his honor.

The islands changed hands frequently between the colonizing European nations in those early years of settlement and people moved around the islands on their own or were forced to move from one island to the next by the various European occupiers. Already in the 17th century the name Hassell can be found on St. Eustatius, St. Maarten and Saba. The first named island (St. Eustatius) was the head island and governed by a Commander while St. Maarten and Saba had to make do with a Vice Commander.

Who are interested in the history of the islands can find much of this from the books in the Dutch language by Hamelberg (De Nederlanders op de West Indische Eilanden), Knappert (Geschiedenis van de Nederlandsche Bovenwiindse Eilanden in de 18de eeuw), and Dr. Johan Hartog who leaned largely on information from both of the previous authors to write his “De Bovenwindse Eilanden).

What follows here is also borrowed from the old archives of Sint Eustatius, Sint Maarten and Saba which are to be found in the Public Records Office in The Hague.


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Philips burg from the air in 1955.

Around 1677 Peter Hassell must have been born ,presumably on Saba, and there between 1705 and 1706 he married Susanna Haley, also from Saba. Although Knappert admits that Hassell could not speak a word of Dutch as Saba was an English-speaking island, he still spells the name as Pieter in the Dutch form. From the beginning of our history we English Scottish and Irish descendants have been subjected to Administrators, preachers (Kowan) and other officials who when they could not understand the accent and pronunciation of our ancestral names just took the easy way out and wrote down the name in Dutch as it would have sounded to them. This has been a great source of irritation to those when doing genealogical research.

From the Hassell-Haley marriage five children are known. Jacob born May 14th 1716, Daniel and Helena both born on Saba successively on October 21st, 1718 and July 10th, 1721. The last two Richard and Johannes were born on St. Maarten on January 1st 1724 and May 27th, 1727 (Baptismal book St. Eustatius). The birth place of the first child is unknown. And there should have been other children born between 1706 and 1716 when we find the birth of the first child mentioned here. One can conclude from this information that Peter Hassell and his family moved to Sint Maarten between 1721 and 1723. He can be found there in 1728 when he together with Jan Lespier, citizen and resident of Sint Eustatius, came to an agreement on September 16th, 1728 concerning a sugar plantation in Cul-de-Sac which Hassell would take under his supervision. Seven years later on June 18th 1735, this estate agreement was dissolved. Jan Lespier gave up his share against compensation of 650 pieces of eight. On Hassell’s plantation he

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One of the many fine plantations in the valley of Cul=de=Sac

cultivated principally cotton and sugar cane.

On May 7th, 1735 he appears as signatory of a petition for windmills to be used in the salt pans. In a declaration of July 5th, 1729, Peter Hassell is referred to as a ships carpenter. In 1732 (April 16th), the year in which an earthquake struck St. Martin, he is listed as buying a piece of land from William Mussenden.

According to a list of inhabitants of the island of February 28th. 1733 the household of Peter Hassell consisted of the married couple and three sons. From that year on he was a member of council and lieutenant of the civil militia.

When Commander John Philips returned from The Netherlands on February 16th, 1735 to take charge of the island Peter Hassell had just been reelected as a member of council. Philips had convinced the directors of the West India company to give Sint Maarten full autonomy from St. Eustatius. With all of his accomplishment for the island Philips from all accounts was no easy man to deal with. Peter Hassell on the other hand was known as a cantankerous man and was constantly in conflict with others.


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Until the late nineteen sixties the town of Philipsburg was still relatively unspoiled.

On Philips return Barry was dismissed but was allowed to stay on island which turned out to be a mistake. Philips’ recorded sins is also not small, and Peter Hassell who shortly after Philips return was elected as a member of council, was one of the many who could not get along with him. Hassell himself was no easy person. There is a report of a complaint made against him for insulting the island secretary of St. Maarten, J.P. Schenk, in which last mentioned expressed his regrets.

In that same year, 1736, the conflict began between Hassell and Philips. This is what happened. Philips had received a letter from the Gentlemen X of October 29th 1735 insisting to collect the head tax. The execution thereof created turmoil among the civilian population and captain Hassell called them to arms, ‘which Philips denied on grounds of rebellion.


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The grave of Commander John Philips on the foundation of the first church on St. Maarten located in the Little Bay cemetery. It is supposedly a national monument but I wonder if anyone looks after it or even knows where it is located.

A few months later it got worse. From a declaration by a certain Jan Ryan it appears that he was at the home of the court usher Jan Weyth on June 15th; Philips was also there. Ryan overheard Philips asking Hassell how many governors there were on the island. Hassel answered “one”, but added that he was the captain and could call out the civilian population on their request. Philips then started to curse and confront Hassell. The civilians had restrained them when it threatened to come to blows between the two. Cursing, Philips threatened to banish Hassell from the island, if he had not been banned from Saba. The accusation is not probable as because in the lawsuit against Schenck the magistrate had consulted the court on Saba and was informed that Hassell was known there as an honest man.

Two days later on a Sunday, (June 17th, 1736), because there is talk about leaving the church, Philips was once again by Wyeth. The citizens with Hassell in the lead stormed in the direction of Philips. The captain read off a decree of accusations. Philips denied everything but the citizens shouted “Put him on board” and they took his sword and he was seized and forcefully put on a schooner and brought to St. Thomas. From there he went via St. Eustatius to Holland. The people then proceeded to destroy his house and office, they stole his money, books and papers. Later they arrested his servants and placed them on a diet of bread and water and in the night, they slaughtered his slaves and animals in the fields. In the thirteen months that he was off-island his plantations and warehouses were reduced to ruins, his merchandise was stolen or they spoiled due to lack of air in these warm climates so that his commercial activities came to a halt. His wife Sarah Hartman died from grief. Later Philips described all of this as enough to move even a Turk to sympathy.

Johannes Markoe the Commander of St. Eustatius sent a letter to Holland explaining what had happened with Philips on the 16th and that two days later the citizens had elected Hassell as the new Commander.

Peter Hassell who could not understand Dutch, wrote to the directors to inform them that Philips, of whom the population was very bitter, had been dismissed on June 16th, 1736, and that the citizens had elected him as Commander, which he had accepted against his wishes. Others made complaints as well. Philips treated the civilians with caning and abusive language and conducted himself as a Nero. William Richardson one of the wealthiest planters declared that Philips had cursed him out and threatened him. Even the Commander of St. Kitts, Gilbert Fleming, got involved and considered Philips a victim of his duties in a letter to the Council of St. Maarten dated July 13th, 1736.

After laying his case before the directors of the West India Company Philips was sent back to St. Maarten as Commander. He arrived back there on July 22nd, 1737 after an eventful trip. Together with Isaac Faesch he left Holland on the “Oostwaart” with Captain Roelf Alders. A Spanish coast guard ship boarded the “Oostwaart” close to St. Eustatius. The captain robbed both commanders and kept them for two days on his ship. After that he forced them to transfer to the frigate “Triumphant” with Captain Don Lopes D’Aviles. Who after two weeks left them on shore at Hispaniola, thirty miles from Santo Domingo with no other provisions than a bottle of wine and three biscuits, even letting them without a clean shirt, while at the same time the Spanish sailors were walking around with the stolen linen clothing. Faesch landed there in shirt and linen pants but without shoes and Philips in an old jacket. The Governor Don Alfonso  de Castro y Maza did not treat them very well. But after the States General heard about it and they complained to Spain the two were allowed to leave and via St. Kitts they arrived on Statia on June 24th, 1737.

In the meantime, St. Maarten had lost its direct rule. Hassell and his rebels were commanded three times to come to Statia but they refused. Only when they heard that a Man-of War was coming from Curacao they went and surrendered to the authorities on Statia.

John Philips had been given instructions that he should not impose corporal punishment on the rebels. He appointed a new council and started a civil case which dragged on until a decision was made on February 24th, 1744 which gave some compensation to Philips for his losses but not very much.

John Philips must have had friends on the island as when he died in 1746 he was buried on the ruins of the old church in the Little Bay cemetery in a regular but still impressive tomb which still stands there even today. His antagonist Peter Hassell struggled from one crisis into the other. His bad temper was blamed on his “old age”. On March 27th, 1752 he ran into a problem with Commander Abraham Heyliger who condemned Hassell to be imprisoned and to be brought to the place where Justice was usually carried out and for him to be given lashes and branded with the branding iron, banished from the jurisdiction for 99 years with confiscation of all his goods and property and by provision that he would have to stay in prison until God (or the devil) called him home. After a petition from his wife and children and an apology from his part his sentence was reduced to a fine of 400 pesos. He died before November 8th, 1757 as on that date there is a conflict between his heirs.

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A nice view of part of the lovely town of Philipsburg in its former glory days.

Commander John Philips had brought St. Maarten to an autonomous island and a large measure of prosperity. There is much more which can be said but space does not allow all for this article. However, from the trials and tribulations he went through for St. Maarten and the alternatives he had for a quiet life on his estate in Scotland you must admit that this Scotsman loved his new home ,  the island of St. Maarten.

Will Johnson


Postcard by Guy Hodge with Michel Deher overlooking the beautiful town named after Commander John Philips (1733-1746).






Commander John Philips

Often, I go back in dreams to that beautiful town locked between the shores of Great Bay and the once Great salt pond. Looking back, it is now like a tale that has been told.

I have written many times on my first experience of coming into that beautiful blue sunlight bay with its white sandy beach after leaving the turbulent dark waters of the island on which I grew up on. No flight of imagination could have prepared me for the sight in front of me when I crawled out of the hold of that old sloop. Many hours of sailing in turbulent waters and not knowing what to expect left me totally unprepared for the scene in front of me. Something which I still carry with me in my dreams after all these years. I have this recurring dream of wandering through the streets of old, lost among the wooden buildings trying in vain to find another soul. Then I wake up all aglow with memories of beautiful days spent with friends enjoying life as it was thrown at us.


What the town looked like in 1955 when I first saw it.

In my book “For the Love of St. Maarten” I did a good deal of research on that lovely town in which I considered myself privileged to live and to share with friends.

The town was named for Commander John Philips part of whose life story I recently wrote, and to which I will return in this article.

It is claimed that when Columbus arrived at St. Martin, the sandbank on which the town is built did not exist. At least it was still partially under water and would have been filled in later. The great explorer, it is said, sailed with his ships all the way in against the hills on the Western side of the bay. Later on, perhaps in a hurricane the sandbank was fully formed, closing off a part of the bay thereby creating the Great Salt Pond. This does not hold true completely as the native Amerindians called the island Soualigua the place for gathering salt.

Although Commander John Philips, for whom the town is named, is generally credited with founding the town, this is actually not the case. (M.D. Teenstra).  He is responsible for having built the first house, however. His house was located North of the East end of the Front Street and was destroyed in the great hurricane of 1819.


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The “Oranje School” when it was first built.

The name appears for the first time in a letter of Philips himself directed to the board of the Dutch West India Company dated June 3rd 1738. It is now generally accepted that Philip’s predecessor, Martin Meyers, together with the council, decided to build a new town on the sandbank in the Great Bay on May 15th 1733. The new village was cut up in parcels of 125 x 125 feet (38 by 38 meters). The town has a length of several kilometers. The original sandbank on which it was built had a width of only 60 or 70 meters. The town was divided into Front Street and Back Street.

A town in those days consisted of private homes and one or more churches, When Philipsburg was founded the great majority of the population were Protestants and adhered to the Dutch Reformed Church. The church building was located in what is now known as the Little Bay cemetery.  The tomb of Commander John Philips is situated on the floor of the ruins of that old church.

Since the church location involved quite a walk from the new town, it was decided in 1738 to tear down the church and rebuild it in Philipsburg. It was built on the grounds of what is now part of the “Oranje” school. In 1851, after the Dutch Reformed Church had disappeared from St. Maarten, it was turned into a government school. In 1919 the cemetery was removed to Little Bay (J.C.Waymouth) and the building was temporarily converted to a Pasangrahan (Indonesian word for ‘guest house’.)


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Front Street as it looked in the nineteen twenties.

Commander Martin Meyers and the council decided to name the new town after Philips even though they had a very turbulent relationship. Philips is credited with having got St. Maarten from under the authority of St. Eustatius and coming into its own. He restored the salt industry and built new windmills. He also convinced the plantation owners to move away from subsistence farming and to go over to sugar cane, cotton and tobacco and coffee for exports. He brought in 200 new settlers to manage the land and the island prospered. He also lobbied hard with the West India Company to buy up the French part of the island as he saw that a united St. Martin would make much more sense economically. He was a tough man described by some as vain and stingy. He owned the “Industry plantation” now known as ‘Emilio’s’. Although he was a Scotsman he enjoyed the confidence of the Dutch West India Company. He was overturned in a rebellion led by Peter Hassell of Saba who shipped him out on a schooner to St. Thomas and destroyed his plantation, slaves and cattle which caused his wife Rachel Hartman to die of grief. Philips was able to return and put the chaos behind him. The full story of that is the subject of another article, I am already working on.

In 1755 with the great earthquake which destroyed the city of Lisbon this also cause a tidal wave in the Great Bay harbour and people had to flee to the hills.

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Parade in 1951 celebrating 100 years of Methodism. St. Maarten used to have a lot of parades formerly.

In the year 1816 St. Maarten had a total of 3559 inhabitants and there were 178 houses in Philipsburg proper.

The great hurricane of 1819 devastated the island and the village of Simpsons bay was isolated until1933 when a channel was carved out between The Corner and the village.

The hurricane started at 3pm on September 21st 1819 and was accompanied by large amounts of rain, thunder and lightning and even an earthquake. Philipsburg was severely damaged. The Government building constructed of stone was demolished right down to the cellars as well as the Reformed Church.

The Courthouse and structures at Fort Willem lost their roofs. Most of the flourishing plantations were destroyed and the sugar cane crops all lost. A report signed by the general accountant A.Th. Kruythoff informs us that more than 200 people had died, 384 dwellings of wood and stone with inventories were lost and 76 houses damaged. Livestock losses were great, 17 horses, 145 head of cattle, 23 mules, 30 donkeys and 353 sheep, goats and pigs succumbed to the elements.  The total damage was estimated at f. 1.122.190 which was an enormous sum for those days. M.D. Teenstra visiting the town in 1829 was told by people that only 26 houses were somewhat livable. The streets were sandy and loose as roads in the dunes and only small low wooden houses had been rebuilt.



The Methodist  Chapel built in 1851

A petition from the Methodist Community on St. Maarten to His Majesty King William III of Holland asking for a vacant piece of land known as “The Old English Church Lot” was approved and forwarded by Lt. Governor J.D. Crol on March 20th 1850 to His Majesty. This had been the site of an old English church which was blown down in the hurricane of 1819. Slow as the means of communication were in those days the news that His Majesty had reacted favourably to the petition was received and the foundation stones laid on the same date in the following year, March 20th, 1851. The work also proceeded at great speed, and the church was completed and opened on October 19th of the same year (R. Colley Hutchinson ‘A Hundred Years of Methodism in Dutch Sint Maarten). In 1978 it was torn down and replaced with a new one built more or less in the same style. The old Methodist Manse, which was situated in back of the church facing the Back Street was torn down in 1931 and replaced by the much larger one facing a central court yard. The contractor was the then young Lionel Bernard Scot.



The Brick building.To my great pleasure recently restored to former glory. Built before 1800 and home of Susanna Illidge-Warner great grandmother of J.C. Waymouth

In 1835 Prince William Henry was the guest of Governor Diederick. The building where he lodged was torn down some years ago.

Governor Diedrick van Romondt was born in Amsterdam in 1791 and when he came to St. Marten he married Ann Hassell. They had eight children and many grandchildren who went on to own a large part of the entire island of St. Martin and many properties and fine houses in Philipsburg.



The Roman Catholic church as it looked until 1952 when it was replaced by the present church.

The old Roman Catholic church was built in 1844, and in 1921 it was referred to as one of the few churches in the colony of Curacao built before 1870 which had remained basically unchanged (Gouden Jubileum Der Dominikaner Missie op Curacao 1870-1920).

The government school which was started in 1851 was accommodated in the former Dutch Reformed Church next to the present ‘Oranje’ school. A wooden school, forerunner to the present concrete structure, was started on July 2ist 1919 and inaugurated by Lt. Governor J.van der Zee on October 31st, 1921.

On May 3rd 1890 four Roman Catholic Nuns of the Dominican Order arrived in St. Maarten. On June 2nd that same years they started a school and soon had 133 pupils. A school building was erected in 1893.

Ever since the Nuns arrived they had a great wish to establish a hospital. Medical conditions on the island were deplorable with no central place where sick people could be taken care of adequately. In 1908 a Catholic inhabitant willed to the church a plot of land on the Back Street with two dwelling houses which were later connected. A Roman Catholic nun named Sister Agatha, assisted by some lady volunteers started taking care of the sick in this building that same year. The hospital continued to grow with a new St. Rose Hospital being opened on the Front Street in 1935.

In 1781 Dr. Willem Hendrik Rink, a Dutch lawyer born in Tiel in the year 1756 settled in Sint Maarten. Appointed Commander he was responsible for the building of the first Courthouse for the daily operation of the government. It was not until 1886 that a new government administration building was built on the Front Street. The upstairs served as the home of the Lt. Governor and his family. This building was torched by arsonists in1974.

1876 saw the construction of a pier to the South of the “De Ruyter Square”. Before that time cargo had been landed on the beach in that same area.

By 1919 one hundred years after the Great Hurricane Philipsburg was fully functioning as a town with public buildings, schools, churches, a hospital and pier and many fine private dwellings. Situated as it was on a sandbar, with the Great Bay on one side and the salt pans on the other, it was by far one of the most beautiful capital towns of the West Indies.

And the people? In His book of 1938 S.J. Kruythoff writes: The St. Maarteners are a serious and ‘mind your own business set’, the majority at least- and as there is very little connection with the outside world, they, generally speaking, busy themselves with some occupation for their existence.


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The Philipsburg I first knew as a boy

The people are also of an independent nature, and consequently carry along with them, a cheerful and independent spirit. The island is more replete with natural resources than the other islands of the colony, which along with their simple mode of living, accounts for the independence of the people.

Each rustic, whether farmer, laborer or mechanic (with few exceptions) owns a home on a small plot of land which enables him to keep a horse, a cow or a few sheep; or on which he plants his favorite crop. Government mountain lands provide free grazing to his flocks of goats; these run wild but are marked for identification. In short, these conditions avert the chance of starvation in St. Maarten. “

Indeed, that is the way I experienced it as a boy.

Will Johnson




1691  – 1746













With so many of St. Martin’s historic monuments and memories of the past having been lost I feel that old information needs to be recycled for the generations of our time. You cannot erase the historic fact that European people came to St. Martin built settlements, forts and the salt works were started, as well as sugar plantations, trade with the surrounding island and much more. The inhabitants of today need to know that the island has an interesting history.

One such person who comes foremost to mind is John Philips. You will wonder, who is this man and what was his role in a new town being built and named in his honour. And the curious thing is that he was a Scotsman and became the Commander of the Island belonging at the time to the Dutch West India Company.


What ships of the Dutch West India Company would have looked like.

Around 1560 one can find recorded a Henry Philipe registered in Arbroath (Aberbrothock) in Scotland a preacher in the Scottish Church. Parson Philipe had a son (James I) and two daughters. James came into the possession of a rural estate named Almryclose or Almerieclose with a house in Arbroath.

James (I) Philipe, had a son. James (II) and a daughter; he died in 1634. James (II) married in 1653 to Margaret Grahame a granddaughter of Sir William Grahame, a cousin of the Marques of Montrose.

James (II) had three sons of which the oldest was also named James, thus the third such name, furthermore Walter and Peter. James (III) was born in 1654 and studied law at Edinburgh. He married Jean Corbit in 1684 and was the builder of a large manor house, with gardens, orchards on the mentioned estate. The name was after that known as Philip without the s.

James (III) had two sons; James 1V and John the latter born in 1691. When James (III) died around 1725, James (1V) succeeded him as owner or Lord of Almryclose and John went into business. He visited the Caribbean perhaps already in 1718, because in that year he married Rachel Hartman born in Amsterdam, but living in the then Danish Island of St. Thomas. John remained however stationed at Arbroath.

When he decided in 1721 to definitely move to the West Indies, he transferred a factory (of what is not known) to his brother James (1V) and purchased a vessel called the “Providence”. James (1V) died however childless in 1734, and John thus inherited the estate Almeryclose. He became what is a Scottish word, Laird which means Lord or owner of Almryclose.


What the Great House of the estate “Industry” would have looked like.


The definition “Lord of” does not indicate nobility. John hardly bothered with his possessions in Scotland. After his death in 1746 the estate came into possession of John’s only child, Susanna.  This girl who was born in 1720 in Scotland, wanted to marry on St. Martin to the Scottish merchant Alexander Wilson, against which her father John, then already Commander, made such objections, that he imprisoned his expected son-in-law, because Wilson had made a promise of marriage and was accused of kidnapping Susanna after that. However, the two lovers managed to escape St. Martin and got married elsewhere, presumably on the island of St. Kitts by parson Devens. The married couple Wilson-Philips after that went to Scotland; Alexander Wilson established himself as a merchant in Glasgow. After the death of Commander John Philips, it was some time before Susanna could claim the inheritance of her father, but in 1752 she became the owner of Almryclose. The following year she sold the estate to Robert Barclay.

In the documents consulted in Arbroath (Hartog) the name appears without an s at the end. In the documents in The Hague it appears with an S. So, it is easier to maintain the version of the spelling in the archives in The Hague because of the role he played on St. Martin.

On St. Martin John Philips was the owner of the plantation ‘Industry’. It was sold to Mrs. Kolff and later to Mr. L.C.L. Huntington.

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The grave of Commander John Philips located in Cul-de-Sac on the foundation of the old church which was moved to the new town of Philipsburg when that town was established.

According to Commander Abraham Heyliger who as is known belonged to the anti-Philips group, some people accused Philips of evil conduct (quade conduites) , as written to the Gentleman Ten in 1733, who were the Directors of the West India Company in Amsterdam. And M.D. Teenstra writing on this subject one hundred years later brought forward a document in which Philips was mentioned as very proud and stingy. (He was from Scotland, wasn’t he?)

There was a very confused situation in the islands after the death of Commander Jacob Stevens in 1727. The provisional Secretary John Lindesay became provisional Commander and had already been accused of embezzlement on Curacao. Lindesay together with Doncker Jr., and the deceased Commander Stevens (by their marriages were brothers-in-law to each other). They governed the head island St. Eustatius as a sort of triumvirate. The tax Inspector John Meyer in a remonstrance to the Gentlemen Ten stated that they, just like Caesar, Antonius and Lepedius characteristic of their reign in the Rome of Old, also would right away talk of hanging and burning.

In July 1728 a new Commander Everard Raex, stationed in Curacao was appointed Commander to put Statia’s house in order (sound familiar?).

Lindesay and Donker as well as parson Anthony Kowan made a complot against Raex. They called themselves the ‘black ties. Lindesay was arrested and put in a cistern but managed to escape to St. Kitts.

His assets on St. Eustatius were sold and here is where our John Philips enters the picture. The triumvirate on St. Eustatius had depleted the assets of the company and Raex in order to collect moneys due to the West India Company from the French islands delegated John Philips, Commander of the Regiment on St. Martin, a Scot, who had been residing on St. Martin for some time already as a merchant, to collect the debt.


John Philips’ estate “Industry”. If he came back he would still recognize it. 

John Philips left on March 4th, 1729, to Martinique and after that visited Guadeloupe where Isnard, one of the culprits who had depleted the Company’s funds on St. Eustatius, had fled on arrival of Raex as Commander. On May 21st 1729 Philips returned. He had not been able to get the money released which was due. His travel expenses, daily allowance guesthouse allowance and transportation were comparable to your average civil servant of today and were cause for complaint by the company.

Even though they complained about the expenses the directors thought to show their appreciation by promising to appoint Philips as Commander of St. Maarten. Raex gave him a guarantee in writing to this effect. In 1722 the question of Commander was solved. De Windt, who was being searched for by the Company for theft and all kinds of irregularities, just walked away from the job in April. Old Meyer had the West India’s Company possession of St. Maarten all to himself. But not for too long. Philips back from his trip to the French islands encountered opposition from St. Maarten when he proposed building several fortifications with a head tax. Hereby he lost the confidence with the citizens who shortly before that had elected him to civilian military commander. Those who were not satisfied chose Jacob Barry (or Berry) as Captain Lieutenant. Philips who felt humiliated blamed his dismissal on the work of Vice Commander Meyers. The relationship between Meyers and Philips, already not too good, did not improve. Because Philips knew that upon Meyers’ death, that he Philips would be Meyers successor Philips made it difficult for Meyers in every respect, often by doing petty things, such as making loud noise during the night.

With the death of Meyers in June 1733 the difficulties took a turn for the worse. Raecx of St. Eustatius in the month of February had also passed away as well and was succeeded by Johannes Heyliger. Whether he knew of the promise made to Philips from the Company or that he did not consider Philips capable enough is not known. But he appointed as Vice Commander of Sint Maarten Jacob Barry, the man thus who had replaced Philip as civic captain. Philips and his supporters tested the possibility to unleash a popular movement on the motive that Sint Maarten was ripe for self-government and should break away from St. Eustatius. (Saba had already tried this in 1699).

When the plan did not work Philips took it upon himself to go to Holland to try and find justice there. The Directors could do little else but give Philips the position they had promised him; but by way of compromise, they maintained Barry as Vice Commander. It was therefore clear, that, when Philips, who by this decision suddenly had been placed over his rival, once he returned, that this would lead to greater problems.

During Philips’ absence Barry proved to be a good administrator. He did his best to put the government affairs in order, and paid attention to the defense works, and did not do that which had cost Philips his job, namely to have the citizens pay for it, but turned to the directors, who indeed sent him some means to carry out the task.

On February 16th, 1735 John Philips returned to St. Maarten via Scotland where for some time he had been indisposed due to illness. Immediately the expected and sometimes deep personal related problems started up. Indeed, the directors eventually dismissed Barry, but they allowed him to remain on the island which became a new source of conflict.

Philips was now Commander of Sint Maarten. Before that time the administrator of Sint Maarten was Vice Commander. In the new situation the independence from St. Eustatius became a fact, and Philips and his supporters through this decision of the Company had gotten their wish after all.

According to Dr. J. Hartog during Philips’ term as Commander (1735-1746) Dutch Sint Maarten experienced a period of prosperity. The population rose sharply between 1715  and 1750. The population quadrupled (to some 400 whites and over 1500 slaves). There were 35 plantations. The French side was going through a depression. There were no more than 40 whites living there.

There being nearly 2000 inhabitants on the Dutch side, the question of overpopulation became an issue even back then.  Because Philips’ started out from the premise that St. Martin as a whole would prosper by it, if the island was under one flag, he suggested to the Company to buy the French part of the island. He believed, he wrote, that the Company would be able to obtain it for 150.000 guilders. His letter was never answered. In the 18th century the Company did not think anymore of expansion. Philips however persisted. In 1743 and again in 1745 he sent reminders drawing attention to the fine plantations which might be obtained for a bargain. Just before his death in 1746 he succeeded in convincing his colleague at St. Eustatius to go along with his idea.

Philips did a lot for the economy of Sint Maarten. He revived the neglected salt making industry and saw to it that more mills were installed. The island was sparsely populated back then and the plantations were only cultivating sweet potatoes, yams and cassava (subsistence farming), whereas sugar, cotton, and coffee were a promise of products which could be exported. Philips succeeded in persuading the estate owners to plant these crops and encouraged foreigners to settle in St. Maarten. Some 200 colonists from elsewhere responded to his call. He also had an examination of soil conditions carried out. It was not his fault that the results were disappointing.

Philips name lives on in the name of the capital of Sint Maarten. A separate article from my book ‘For the Love of St. Martin’ will deal with the history of the town. Another article will deal with the rebellion by Peter Hassell against Philips.

“……Philipsburg, all aglow with the ruddy hues from the setting sun, lies placidly between two waters. On her Southern flank the deep blue waters of the Great Bay, streaked with the lighter hues from hidden sand bank shallows – ripple gently to the shore; on her opposite side a fringe of hills are mirrored hundreds of fathoms down beneath down beneath the unbroken surface of a lake.” From Sunny Isle on a Sunny Sea.” by Helen C. Crossley, later on Mrs. S.J. Kruythoff.


Doing something a bit different for once. I do all this writing as a labor of love. It takes a lot of time and research to put such articles together. Here I am on my veranda doing the research for this article.

September 12th, 2018 Will Johnson






Saba Day 2002

Saba Day speech by then Lt. Governor a.i. Will Johnson



Around 1850 Mr. Engle Heyliger was in a dispute with Saba’s Lt. Governor (and former pirate) Edward Beaks over the legality of having transferred what he termed ‘Kings Land’ via an auction to the people of Saba. In connection therewith, Mr. Heyliger made a complaint to the Governor of Curacao who requested Lt. Governor Beaks to give an account. Beaks not only wrote a letter but accompanied it with a large number of signatures by local residents to back up his legitimate transfer of the Kings Land to the people of Saba.

Saba, 9th July 1850

To His Excellency

J.J. Rammelman Elsevier Esq.

Governor of Curacao and dependencies



I have the honor to inform Your Excellency that on the 12th ulto., I received from His Excellency Major John de Veer Lieutenant Governor of St. Eustatius, a letter dated the 8th ulto: accompanied with a copy of one from Mr. Engle Heyliger of this island dated St. Eustatius the 7th ulto: in which Mr. Heyliger informed His Excellency “ that I had sold a tract of land situated in the Southern part of this island, called The Company’s  land, and which had been considered by all former Governors  as belonging to the Crown, the sale of which he states, had caused much dissatisfaction among  the generality of the inhabitants and prayed that His Excellency would investigate the business  for the welfare of the inhabitants and the Island.

1950s - Rendez-Vous

Former Agricultural lands in Rendez-Vous

Therefore, now most such I positively beg leave to make Your Excellency acquainted with the following facts related to the sale of the said land by me. In the month of June 1939, I sold at Public Auction in lots for the benefit of whom it may concern after it had been duly advertised a tract of land called The Company’s land situated in Jallops Quarter at the Southern part of this island for the sum of f.1059.50 an amount much beyond its real value, and much more, than I calculated it could sell for, and which land was purchased by six different individuals of this Island. In making this sale I beg to assure Your Excellency that I was under the impression and belief, that the land had originally been the property of some private individuals and had remained unclaimed by the proprietors for a period of fifty years and upwards and Your Excellency will perceive by the certificates I have the honor to send herewith, that the same opinion was entertained by many others and that consequently I had the right to dispose of it at any time and appropriate the proceeds thereof for the benefit of the Island, and being at that time in want of means to pay a debt I had contracted from 1837 to 1839 for an extra expense which this island had been subjected to of f169.87 appropriation of cost of building a prison for the levitation of the criminal John Every and of f.240.- for the serviced of Abraham James Vlaughn attending the prisoner during the time that the said John Every was confined therein. I appropriated the sum of f.409.87 to pay these amounts, having no other means to work with, and reserved the balance of f.649.62 for the use of the Island.  I beg to assure Your Excellency that I was not aware at the time I sold the land that then existed any extra prohibitions ti the sale on any lands belonging to the country never having received any instructions on the subject, a copy of the general instructions for the Government of Curacao & its dependencies furnished me in 1848 being the first one received. I was therefore entirely ignorant of such prohibition and  should Your Excellency consider  I have acted wrong in selling this land, I beg respectfully to inform Your Excellency, that the land can be immediately restored to its former state, the purchasers being quite ready and willing to return it to me for that purpose.

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Payment receipt for building the jail.

How the state of this land could in any way affect the welfare of the Island and its inhabitants I respectfully assure Your Excellency I am at a loss to understand, for the revenues derived from its previous to its being sold which never exceeded f.24.– per annum in as or could be in any way injured by the sale.

At the period I sold the land June 1839 this island was immediately  under St. Eustatius,and formed a part of the Government of His Excellency Lieutenant Governor John de Veer.

I sold it publicly, the circumstances was known throughout this island and generally at St. Eustatius. How is it be supposed that had there been any dissatisfaction on the occasion that some as some represent as would have been the case to his Excellency the Lieutenant Governor of Saba de Veer previous to Mr.  Heyliger’s of the 7th January last which occurred  after a lapse of 10 years, nor would Mr. Heyliger’s  anxiety for the interests of the inhabitants and the Island have now this late been drawn out, had not a quarrel of a private matter between this individual and myself at a dinner party the night of the 31st December which induced him to address me a letter dated the 2nd. January last a copy of which I have also the honor herewith to hand  Your Excellency from a perusal of which, Your Excellency will readily perceive that Mr. Heyliger is acting from no patriotic  fuss  and disinterested natives, but that he is solely actuated by  spirit of revenge emanating  from the occurrences of the 31 st December last.


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Governor Jamie Saleh on a Saba Day visit with  Lt. Governor a.i. Will Johnson in 1998, great-great grandson of Richard Johnson Commander i 1828. Accompanied by Senator James Ray Hassell and Commissioner Steve Hasell.

While I have the honor to submit the foregoing to Your Excellency and at the same time most respectfully

Solicit Your Excellency’s favourable consideration of the case.

And I have the honor to be, Your Excellencies most obedient and very humble

Servant, The Lt. Governor of the island Saba

Edward Beaks.

Our Lt. Governor backed up his letter with signatures of the most prominent white men on the island. Saba was still in a state of slavery at the time and only men could sign. The Woods family being the exception as they had bought their freedom from the Thomas Dinzey heirs in the early eighteen hundred’s.

Saba, January 1850

We the undersigned natives, residents and Burghers of the island Saba.

Do hereby declare that we are fully aware when the sale  at auction took place of a certain tract of land by order of His Excellency Edward Beaks Governor, and to which we were and are perfectly content and satisfied and that we have never expressed any dissatisfaction ever relative to the sale of said land and we further declare we have always understood it was land to which the inhabitants had the rights.

Henry J. Hassell, Former Commander of the Island and at present Senior Member of the Court.

Josiah Peterson, Member of the Court. Abraham Simmons, Moses Leverock and Peter Simmons, Assessors.

James B. Hassell and Jacob E. Hassell, Members of the Advising Council.

Hercules Hasssell, Provisional Secretary

John Peterson, Marshall

Other signatories.

Abraham Davis, John Toland, William Simmons, Richard Simmons, Edward B. Darsey, John Simmons, James Heyligo, Hercules Hassell Jr., William Simmons, George Hassell, Thomas C. Vanterpool, John Simmons 2x, Thomas Darsey, Peter Hassell, Henry Every, Peter J. Johnson, John Hassell 2x, Abraham Mardenborough, Josiah Peterson Jr., George Holm, Henry Hassell, John Leverock, Mark Horton, Abraham J. Peterson, Thomas P. Mardenborough, John H. Every, John H. Hassell, John H. Every, James Hassell, Abraham H. Hassell, Daniel Peterson, James B. Hassell, Abraham Every, Richard J. Hassell, Richard Woods*, Peter Hassell, John R. Barnes, Thomas W. Beaks, John G. Hassell, William Simmons, Thomas D. Horton, Edward Simmons, Thomas Johnson (my great grandfather).

The following persons who cannot write have fixed their crosses as their signature:

Abraham J. Vlaughn (Scout)., Thomas Dinzey, Daniel Simmons, James Baker, John H. Winfield, Henry H. Hassell, Samuel Green, John R. Hassell, Thomas Every, James Every, James Johnson, John Hassell, Josiah Hassell, Thomas Mardenborough, Christopher Mardenborough, Abraham J. Every, Peter H. Every, John Every, Daniel Simmons, Henry Hassell, Peter Woods*, Peter Hassell,

Wenter Peterson, Fida Leverock, Richard Hassell, Charles Peterson, Peter J. Every, Charles Hassell, Edward Hassell, Daniel Woods*, Peter Collins, Edward Barnes, James Hassell, Peter Carter Hassell, Richard Johnson, John Johnson, Cohone (Colgohoun) Johnson, Jacob Johnson, John Every, William Keeve, Henry Hassell, John Hassell, Peter J. Every, Abraham Every, Scipio Every, Richard Simmons, Richard Every, Peter Woods*, James Hassell, Phoenix Simmons, Henry T. Zeagers, Thomas Hassell, Thomas Beal, David Horton, Phoenix Hassell, John Molner, Abraham Richardson, James Hassell, James Horton, Thomas J. Every, John H. Hassell.


Commander Richard Johnson was still alive in 1850. He lived well into his nineties.

30th January 1850

A true copy of the original exhibited to me.

The Provisional Secretary

Hercules Hassell.

Another supporting letter was from one of my great grandfathers Richard Johnson.

“We the undersigned residents and Burghers of the Island Saba.

Do hereby certify and declare that we have always understood from our Fathers that the land situated in Jallops Quarter called the Company’s Land was left by the proprietor for the benefit of the Inhabitants of this island and that we have never known it to be Kings Land or called as such, and the said land was sold at auction by order of His Excellency 7th June 1839.

Signed Richard Johnson, former Commander of the Island.

Henry J. Hassell, former Commander and at present Senior Member of the Court.

Signed in presence of me.

Saba, 31st January 1850.

Hercules Hassell, Provisional Secretary.


P1020098 (2)And this was the letter which caused the whole commotion.

To His Excellency Edward Beaks Lieut. Governor

In consequence of my having recently applied to the Court here in a case similar to this for satisfaction and receiving none, it is positively my intention to lay before the Honorable Court of St. Eustatius the treatment received on the 31st. Ulto. I therefore notify the same to you.

And further state we shall then know whether the sale of the track of Company’s land was considered a legal sale or not, and which has been a continual dissatisfaction to the rest of the inhabitants as well as myself.

And I am of opinion that those who rejoice at the slaps I received will have a right to regret.

Yours Respectfully

(signed) Engle Heyliger

Saba 2d. January 1850.

A true copy of this original exhibited to me this 1st day of February 1850. The Provisional Secretary

Hercules Hassell.

Lt. Governor Edward Beaks was constantly complaining about the fact that he was not receiving a salary.  He had been dismissed in 1828 for being involved in piracy and later reinstated.

In Ryan Espersen’s latest work with the intriguing title: “Fifty shades of Trade: Privateering, Piracy, and Illegal Slave Trading in St. Thomas, Early nineteenth century he has the following interesting information which involved Governor Edward Beaks.

“ Destroying captured ships was a common occurrence as a means to hide evidence of piracy. The sheer number of ships being brought into St. Eustatius would be difficult to launder and re-sell regionally without drawing unwanted attention. In the case that prize ships themselves were to be re-sold for profit, they were brought over to Saba and left abandoned at anchor, most often at Well’s Bay (DNAVIH# 143). The ship was repaired as necessary by Saban carpenters, with evidence made to remove evidence of the ship’s origins, such as its name and place of manufacture. This could include painting the ship to make it look different than its former self. Usually, the ship would then be claimed by a merchant in St. Eustatius, who would claim that his ships papers were lost or destroyed by the pirates who captured it. A new set would be furnished by the Lt. Governor of Saba, the ship would sail for St. Eustatius, and it would be resold most often in St. Thomas or St. Barts.


Marion_Belle_Wolfe_headed to Guyana 1952

One of the many old Saban owned schooners. The “Marion Belle Wolfe” here on her way from Barbados to Guyana 1949.


Merchant houses in St. Thomas that sponsored the cruises also managed payments of commissions to parties involved in the laundering process. In the case of the Admiral Pacheco, another prize from Las Damas Argentinas, Cabot & Co. Paid a 12% commission to St. Eustatius governor van Spengler and John Martins for receiving and transshipping its prized goods at St. Eustatius. Charles Mussenden, and Island Council Member of St. Eustatius and chief of police, took the prize ship to Saba where it was repaired and had its identity concealed by Saba shipwrights. (New York Gazette 12/9/1828; Baltimore Gazette 1/15/1829). Cabot and Co. Then paid van Spengler 150 pieces of eight to provide a new Dutch register for the Admiral Pacecho, which was renamed the Elizabeth (ibid). The Lt. Governor of Saba received 500 dollars in undisclosed currency, along with coffee and sugar, for these acts.”

There you have it.







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