The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Archive for the month “October, 2018”

The Mentor 1927


The photo with the boys taking sights at the Fort Bay. At the end is Hilton Whitfield. The teacher was  Captain Frederick Augustus Simmons who in 1909 got permission from the Dutch Government to start a Navigation School on Saba. He was assisted by old retired Captains. He died in 1922 but many young men passed through his school and went on to the United States and became Captains there of large ships.

The last photo you can see there two of my aunts. Alice Eliza Simmons holding my other aunt Loura Simmons.


Men of the sea.


The “Wyoming” being launched. Ralph worked on her as a ‘donkey man’.

Ralph Hassell “Ouw Cutty”.

Ralph was born on the island of Saba on January 17th, 1894. His father was John Benjamin Hassell and his mother was Henrietta Hassell.

Ralph grew up here on Saba and went to school in Windward Side.

Most boys in those days went to sea as cabin boys on the large Saban owned schooners. In Ralph’s case he lingered on here until the age of 16. He went sailing throughout the West Indies on a two-master schooner which belonged to Captain William Benjamin Hassell. The schooner had been a former New York pilot boat and was named the “John Hazel”. Ralph told me that he recalled visiting nearly all of the West Indian Islands with the exception of Guadeloupe where he had never been.

At the age of 18 he went to the United States which people even from here called “America”. There he obtained his chief mates license in New York which is in the Harry L. Johnson museum in the Windward Side.


Ralph and others from Saba used to work on this four master schooner.

He then shipped out on the four master 1400 tons schooner the “Perry Setzer”. This schooner was 216 feet long. Ralph’s brother John Benjamin Hassell was Chief Mate on the same schooner. Ralph learned to drive the engine, then shipped out as engineer on the four-master schooner the “Henry J. Smith”, which was 199 feet long.

A big help to me with statistic on these large schooners is the book: “Four master schooners of the East Coast” by Paul C. Morris.  This book was given to me By Richard Winfield Jr. His father Richard Winfield was born and raised on Saba and learned to play tennis here on the island. He went to New York and became the tennis champion of the state of New York. He married Stanley Johnson’s sister and became a banker.  Thanks to this wonderful book I can look up the schooners on which many of our Sabans sailed in the past.

Ralph also served as a donkey man on the large six master schooner the “Wyoming” one of the largest wooden ships ever built.

He also shipped out on the “Governor Powers” with a length of 237 feet. She carried 3200 feet of sail and Ralph sailed with her around Brazil. The ship was from Portland, Maine and she ran from Norfolk Virginia out to Brazil and on. “Cattoo” Whitfield who was Hilton Whitfield’s oldest brother, and in his nineties when I did this interview in 1994. was also a sailor on board of the “Governor Powers” at the same time with Ralph. He told me that “Cattoo” could lift any amount of weight. He was a nice and easy going fellow. Although he was a giant of a man, he did not look for trouble. I remember “Cattoo” visiting his brother Hilton once and indeed he was a rally big man. After that he obtained his second mate’s license, and then he went to work on the “New York and Cable Mail” on the so-called Lake boats. They were steam boats built on the lakes and they could only be built a certain length and width in order to pass through the locks.

In 1932 he returned to Saba and started working for the government as a foreman and handy man.

Children with Ralph Hassell

Ralph Here with some of his off-spring.

While he had been working abroad, he returned to Saba to get married. On September 21st, 1915 at the age of 21 he married Joanna Viva Dowling aged 20. Her parents were Peter John Hassell Dowling and Joanna Lovelace Hassell. He and his wife Viva had eight children. Being a true West Indian, he had some children outside of the marriage as well. Ralph’s mother was named Henrietta Hassell born Johnson from Booby Hill, a daughter of Henry Johnson. She died at the age of 62. His father was John Benjamin Hassell who died at the age of 84.

According to Ralph his grandfather Henry Johnson had a two-master schooner called the “Spring bird”. He went on a drunk in Curacao, took in with pneumonia and died there. Ralph’s father “Old Claw” was a mate on board and brought up the schooner from Curacao after which she was sold. A whole year later his grandfather’s remains were brought to Saba on the schooner the “Gouverneur van den Brandhof” which schooner ran the mail at the turn of the century and he was buried here in the family cemetery.

Elmer Hassell, his father Ralph and his wife Edith Lejuez.

Ralph with his son Elmer Hassell and Elmer’s wife “Miss” Edith Lejuez who lived to be 102 years of age.

Ralph said that he heard from the family that his great grandfather was a Swede and that he came to Saba during the pirate days. He lived on Booby Hill when he was young. He, the grandfather, is also buried in the family burial ground in Windward Side.

The idea that ancestors came from the Nordic lands is because the surnames originated there. However, one must not forget that the Vikings conquered large parts of Scotland, England and Ireland and held them for several hundred years in some cases. So many of the Nordic surnames became part of the regular English and Anglo/Saxon names. The pirate legacy came from the fact that in 1665 the uncles of Henry Morgan of Jamaica, namely Thomas and Edward led a pirate expedition from Port Royal and captured St. Eustatius and Saba and removed the Dutch settlers while leaving behind 226 people of English, Scottish, and Irish descent and some Indians and two Dutch families who swore allegiance to the pirates. Also, ninety of the pirates after a brawl remained back and formed the bulk of the future European component of the population.

Ralph’s mates license is now on display in the museum. He claims to have the distinction of putting in his home the first flush toilet on Saba.

During his career at sea he says he never lost a boat and not even a rope yearn. He mostly sailed by himself. He remembers that the “Henry J. Smith” leaked like a basket. His brother-in-law John Peter Hassell was 2nd mate with him, James Leverock was cook, and John Blyden from “Under-The-Ladder”, was a sailor.

Ralph also hanged out by Kaliski’s place. This gentleman’s store and guesthouse was located at 27 South Street and was the headquarters of all Sabans for nearly forty years.


Schooner “Henry J. Smith” was 199 feet long and met a watery grave when rammed by a  steamship.Ralph and other Sabans sailed on her.

When not at sea Ralph was a house painter in the large Saban community in Richmond Hill, Queens. Many Sabans sailors would find employment with other Saban painting contractors like Merrill Hassell. My uncle Leonard who sailed the oceans of the world for more than forty years, when taking a break from the sea, would work with Merrill. The stories Merrill would tell about incidents while painting people’s homes all over Long Island would kill you with the laugh.

Ralph remembered “Willy Wits” Hassell who was captain of a barkentine, a 3 master called the “St. Peter”. A barkentine has square sails on two masts and the aft mast has sails like a schooner. He used to come to Saba often with the ship when Ralph was a boy. He used to trade with lumber and codfish selling to the West Indies from Nova Scotia and so on. It belonged to the Endicott people who were ship chandlers in New York. They had their offices in Broadway. They also owned a four master called the “Charles G. Endicott.”  Augustine Johnson of Saba was her captain for many years. She also visited Saba often. He had a son. Ralph could remember both Captains Agustine and Willie Witts. Augustine mostly had a crew from Saba. Wilson Johnson used to be the cook on board the Endicott. Ralph’s brother Henry who was married to “Effie” sailed with Captain Agustine as well.

Garnet Hughes, George Hassell and Ralph Hasssell

Ralph Hassell on the right, with George Hassell in the middle and Garnet Hughes on the left. Ralph although he was ninety years old did not stay long in the Home for the Aged. He came back home to Windward Side and told everyone that he had no idea that the place was for old people or else he would not have gone there in the first place.

In life Ralph had his share of set – backs as well. His son Walter was the first traffic fatality on Saba in 1954

I believe. Motor vehicles had only been introduced to the island in 1947 and the novelty of picking up a speed on the stretch of even road between St. John’s and Windward Side was where the accident with the Jeep happened. Ralph and several of his sons was in the Jeep but Walter the one who was driving was the only fatality. Carlyle Granger used to tell me that the Anglican Priest Father A. L. Cromie (1954-1960) in his sermon reminded those present at the funeral that you cannot blame God for everything. He gives you choices. When you choose to live on Saba you have to take into account that it is a volcano in the heart of the hurricane belt. And so, it is with a motor vehicle. If you increase the speed you are also increasing your chances of having an accident.

When I did this interview, Ralph had recently made ninety.  He had moved to the Home for the Aged, but he did not like it there and returned to his home in the Windward Side. He told me that he did not realize that it was a place for old people.

He remained young at heart until he passed away at the age of 93. May he rest in peace.

Ralph Hassell Nov. 1980

Hoog Bezoek as they would say in Dutch. When  Ralph was ill in the hospital in 1980 no less a person than Her Majesty Queen Beatrix came to see him and wish him well.






Henry Every.

By Will Johnson


Glass decanters claimed to have been handed down by the pirate Henry Every who used his alias of John Avery on Saba.

Many years ago, Mr. Carl Anslyn gave me two cut glass decanters when he was moving back to Aruba to be with family in his old age. He told me that they had been given to him by his aunt Mrs. Helena Peterson born Every. According to Miss Helena they had been handed down to her by her famous pirate ancestor Henry Every.

I had never heard of him at the time. I thought it had been a story which was made up, though we did have well known pirates like Hiram Beakes who coined the phrase “Dead men tell no tales.”

I took the decanters with thanks and the story of the pirate with a grain of salt.  I never thought about it again until some years later in Old San Juan. There used to be a famous bookstore which I would always stop at when visiting the lovely city of Old San Juan.

Leafing through a book I came across a story about the pirate Henry Every. By that time both Carl and Miss Helena were deceased and there was no one around who I could ask about the connection between the Saba Every’s and the famous pirate. I must confess that I had a personal interest in finding out as one of my great-great- grandmothers was Adriana Every. Already claiming descent from Daniel Johnson popularly known to the Spanish as “Johnson The Terror” I was anxious to add one more pirate to my family tree.

Remarkable though is that in Miss Helena’s family there were a number of Henry Every’s. The last of which was the Judge Henry Every who was her nephew. He was probably named after his uncle who died tragically in Windward Side on January 2nd, 1934.

15337377_1197162167018558_7388221557867779764_nA lot of interesting facts and speculation by pirate enthusiasts have taken place over the years. I will quote from a few of these articles.

The following is taken from “The pirates Realm” of 2003.

Henry “Long Ben” Every.

Interesting facts.

Every supposedly offered to pay off the English National debt in exchange for a pardon.

He once paid for provisions with a Bill of Exchange drawn on a fictitious bank… a pirate’s rubber check!

There was even a play written about him called. The successful pirate.



Fanciful  painting of Henry Ever the pirate

Henry Every was born about 1653 (or perhaps as late as 1665) near Plymouth England. (I will come back to these dates to prove a point later on in this article.) He was so successful at piracy that in his day he was known as the ‘Arch Pirate’, and the legendary plunder of men like him and Thomas Tew caused a “Red Sea Fever” to spread through America, the Caribbean, and England.

After an early period of unlicensed slave trading out of the Bahamas, Every was by June 1694 a first mate on the 46-gun Spanish privateer the Charles II, which was assigned to attack French smugglers on Martinique. The crew became increasingly irritated after many months of no pay, and Every led a mutiny while near the Spanish town of La Coruna.

He was promptly elected captain of the new “Fancy”, which was sailed north of Madagascar only to capture one French and three English ships, adding many to his crew. Near Guinea, Every would lure out locals under pretense of trade and then take them as slaves. He was well established in a career that would prove so successful, he would later be declared outside of the Acts of Grace (beyond pardon).


Lithograph of Saba Island a former pirate stronghold and possible retirement home of the pirate Henry Every.

In early 1695 while in the Red Sea, Every forged a pirate flotilla of 5 ships commanded by pirates such as Thomas Tew, William Want, Thomas Wake, and William May. With these he soon attacked the Grand Mogul’s Fatah and the larger 40-gun Gang-I-Sawai, which were busy accompanying a pilgrim fleet from Mecca. The Gang-I- Sawai lost its mainmast, and a cannon exploded on deck, shortening the fight and resistance. The passengers and crew were brutalized in hope that the locations of any secret stash would be revealed: some jumped ship, and some of the women committed suicide. The search yielded 600.000 Pounds in gold, silver and jewels in one of the largest hauls ever, and each man got over 1000 pounds and the younger pirates 500.

Soon after this, the flotilla split up. Even some of Every’s crew left, but he got slave replacements before heading back to St. Thomas and finally New Providence. After buying protection from the Bahamian Governor Nicolas Trott and having a big party, Every and Company sailed to Jamaican June 1695 and tried to buy a pardon from Governor William Beaston for 24,000 pounds. Boston refused and they returned from the Bahamas and split up. Some went to the American colonies and a few went to parts unknown.

Image (395)

Mrs. Helena Peterson born Every who gave the two decanters to her nephew Senator/Commissioner William Carl Anslyn.

Every had a number of aliases among them John Avery which was the one most often used, also Long Ben, and Benjamin Bridgeman.

Henry Every reportedly changed his name to Benjamin Bridgeman and grouped some sloops to sail with the remaining crew to the British isles.

Lying low and acting inconspicuous was not their strong suit, and several of them were quickly caught by October 1696. Those who were not hanged were deported to the American colonies. Every however, disappeared after arriving in Ireland and was never heard from again. There were various reports of his being seen in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and even on a tropical island.

And here we come to that tropical island. When Every was on St. Thomas there were any number of Saban pirates active in the trade as Ryan Espersen refers to as “Fifty shades of Trade.” Every would surely have passed the isolated pirates nest of Saba on his travels to and from St. Thomas and destinations beyond. He would have heard that it was a pretty secure pirates’ nest and seldom if at all visited by the European powers who claimed the island from time to time.

In 1728 on the population list of Saba there is a John Avery listed as living on Saba with a wife and children (3 sons, 1 daughter). In all my research I have never found any other Avery listed. But any number of Every’s and there are a number of people on Saba who still carry that surname.

If as some claim that he was born in 1665 he would have only been 63 in 1728. Even as some others claim that he was born in 1659 he would have been only 69 when listed under the name of John Avery on Saba.

There are many records of people with names of Henry Every over the centuries. One such person is Henry Every who was born in 1817. His parents were Thomas and Ann Every. He married a Mary Peterson on February 8th, 1849 and died on June 8th, 1861.

On September 3rd 1931 a Henry Every (47) was witness to the wedding of his brother Peter Every, son of Peter Every and Eleanor Elizabeth Hassell,


Oral history cannot be discounted. I lived just above the home of “Miss Helena Peterson-Every”. I was her eyeball as we would say. I remember once when she went to St. Kitts on a business trip that she brought me a small penknife and the handle was full of flowers. If she had brought me back the whole of St. Kitts it would not have been a better present. It is a great pity that only a number of years after her death when Carl Anslyn gave me the two glass decanters that he told me about Henry Every. I would have surely questioned Miss Helena about that pirate story and those two glass decanters which I have. Carl was living on Statia and Aruba when I was a boy and he would not have known the close relationship I had with Miss Helena. Perhaps via him Miss Helena meant for me to have the decanters.

I remember once when a man living on St. Thomas came to my house and he claimed expertise in every possible thing, from making an atomic bomb to planting sweet potatoes. I told him the story about the decanters and he took a look at them and said they were recently made. But then he offered me one hundred dollars to “take them off my hands” as he claimed. I knew that Miss Helena was born around 1880 and if she had inherited them they were of no recent vintage, so I thanked the gentleman and told him to look around and he would come to the conclusion that I am not a person desperate for anyone to take things off my hands as if they were a liability instead of the treasure which I have them to be.

So since here were so many reports that Henry Every had disappeared from his pursuers in the British Isles, I will go with the premise that he moved to a tropical isle and that tropical isle was Saba and that he still has descendants walking around.

My speculation in this is as good or better than all of those who have been trying over the centuries to locate his ultimate hideout. With a large degree of certainty, I can argue that Henry Every spent his last years on Saba with a family and he has descendants here


Another fanciful speculation as to what the pirate Henry Every would have looked like.



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