The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson




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The Court House and Scale House in front from around 1890.

There have been several times in the history of relations between French St. Martin and Dutch Sint Maarten that conflicts arose over the treaty between the two sides of the island. Even in 1963 the French government questioned the agreement of March 23rd, 1648 in relation to the stewardship of the Juliana Airport. Based on the treaty the French wanted joint control over the airport. Before that time there were several conflicts concerning the right to harvest salt. Based on the agreement of 1648 the French claimed the right to also harvest salt.

I have a lengthy correspondence from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from December 20th, 1972. At the time the Kingdom Committee was in place to prepare for the independence of the Dutch islands known as the Netherlands Antilles as well as Suriname. I was a Member of that committee. The islands were able to get away from independence at the time as Aruba wanted a separate status and those discussions dragged on until January 1st 1986. Suriname however did get its independence in November of 1975.

The original document of the treaty f which the history is well documented, was never found in The Netherlands or in the islands. All references to the agreement of Concordia go back to J.B. du Tetre who referred to it in his “Histoire generale de l’establisment des colonies francaises dans les Antilles de l’Amerique” (Paris 1668). In conflict situations between 1830 and 1840 over the use of the salt pond, in 1941 when the French occupied the Dutch part of the island, and in the years 1963 and following no official appeal was ever made to the agreement of 1648 even though it was referred to.


Senator Claude Wathey and others seeking for that elusive togetherness of the islands.

Already in 1839, no original copy could be found on St. Maarten. Cannegieter and Richardson, members of the Colonial Council in their report of December 10th, 1839 stated: “ That we have not been able to discover any other important document relative to the salt pond in this colony, nor the treaty of 1648, is not however the least astonishing, because in the year 1810 when the British captured this island , in consequence of no capitulation having been made with them, their military force marched into the town of Philipsburg, and occupied the Court House in this town as a barrack. In the Secretary’s Office, in that building was deposited all the archives of the colony, and the day after their occupation, it was discovered that the said Secretary’s Office had been broken open, the papers and books taken from the Desks and Shelves and thrown on the floor, a great many of the papers torn in pieces, and rendered useless, and the whole cast in utter confusion. At the time it was supposed, that the infamous act was perpetrated by some of the military, who had expected to have found money, and being disappointed, had thus wantonly destroyed the Books and Papers. The perpetrator or perpetrators were never found out, and in fact the British Authorities did not give themselves much concern about the matter.

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The Great Salt Pond a sometimes bone of contention between Dutch and French

The Secretary Adrianus Beckers was occupied for a considerable time, in assorting such of the papers which were not entirely torn up, and by his assiduity, and attention they were brought into some order, very many however were rendered entirely useless and it is more than probable, that if the treaty of 1648 had ever been among the archives, that it was then destroyed.”


On April 12th, 1838 at a reception of Lt. Governor D.J. van Romondt, at which were present the French Director of the Interior at Guadeloupe and the French Commander of St. Martin, Captain Forget. (I know the French pronunciation is different, but I could not help thinking when writing this article that perhaps Mr. Forget, forgot where he had put the old document.)

On that occasion Mr. Diederick Johannes van Romondt requested if he could locate and send him a copy of the agreement of 1648.

On April 14th 1838 a missive was received by Governor D.J. van Romondt from Guadeloupe containing the requested document. This document was used in 1839 by King William II as the basis for a new treaty with France.

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When the Great Salt Pond was in full production employing hundreds.

On October 29th 1964 a copy of this same document was submitted by the French State Secretary to the Dutch Government.

On December 10th 1839 a lengthy report was submitted to His Honour the Commander of the Netherlands part of the Island of Saint Martin from which we will now quote.

“ We the undersigned Abraham Cannegieter and Richard Robinson Richardson, Burghers and Inhabitants of the said part of Saint Martin having received Your Honour’s invitation “to elucidate or resolve the questions propounded by His Excellency the Governor General, in the best manner possible according to our knowledge, and to add thereto such other particulars, as we may deem necessary on the subject”, undertake the task, with that diffidence which arises from the consciousness of our feeble abilities to do full justice to the theme; as however we wish to comply with the request of our much esteemed Chief, and feel persuaded that he will make every allowance for the circumscribed means from which we can derive information, we do not hesitate to enter on the elucidation.

After going into the history of the first colonization of St. Martin and the stories relating to the treat of 1648 they continue with their report as follows:

“The undersigned have diligently searched for among the archives of this colony, the agreement before mentioned, but have not been able to find it. We found a treaty entered into, on the 14th of July 1734 between Charles Bochart, Seigneur de Champigny, Governor General of Martinique and its dependencies among which the French part of St. Martin was included, on the one part, and Nicholas Salomons, of St. Martin having full powers from John Heyliger, Governor General of the Island of St. Eustatius, St. Martin and Saba, and Jacobus Barry, Vice Governor of the Dutch part of St. Martin, by which treaty, the strictest friendship and good understanding was secured between the two colonies, either in war or peace, but nothing is mentioned therein about the salt pond.

The earliest document which we found among the archives of this colony relative to the salt pond in the Dutch part of Saint Martin, is a petition, dated 28 August 1778, signed by 162 of the principal inhabitants of the Dutch part of Saint Martin, to the West India Company in Holland, against an offer which it seems had been made by a Mr. Henricus Godet of this Island, to purchase, or lease the said salt pond from the said West India Company. In this petition, we discovered a clause that states “the, inhabitants of the French part of this island, have equal rights to pick salt as the Dutch, as has been always customary , and if they were to be deprived of this right, that no doubt that then the Dutch inhabitants would be deprived of fishing, hunting, trading, and all other privileges which they enjoyed in the French part, in the most friendly manner.

Image (348)We also found among the archives an act of harmony, and good understanding between Johannes Salomons Gibbes, Commander of the Dutch, and Chevalier de Durat, Commander of the French part of this island, dated the 13th of March 1785 whereby they ratified all former agreements between the two colonies, and a convention agreed upon between William Hendrik Rink, Commander of the Dutch part of this island and Laruyere agent of the French Republic, dated 12th Germinal, Year 3 which answers to the 5th April 1795.

The undersigned in bringing this circumstance to the knowledge of His Excellency I.C. Baud, are convinced that he will no longer be astonished that this document has vanished away from the colonial archives and we feel it to be our duty to vindicate the upright conduct, and honest intentions of our fellow citizens, who were members of the Court of Policy of this colony, in the year 1831, when petitions were made for grants in the salt pond, and which were conceded to some of the inhabitants as their grants specify. Every measure was then adopted to prevent the shadow of suspicion from being cast on the intention. The originators of the plan for grants in the salt pond, were alone actuated from the motive, that they beheld with regret, so valuable a source of wealth entirely unimproved, they saw the colony entirely deteriorating, and that so rapidly, that it bid fair to be very soon entirely ruined, they were well acquainted that the revenues of the colony so far from meeting the expenses the expenses were much behind hand, knowing this, they were necessarily convinced that the colonial Government could not give any assistance whatever to public improvements . They hoped that the inhabitants of the island, without distinguishing between Dutch or French, by joining together in a public company, and each one contributing his mite from the small remnant of property left to them from the ravages of misfortune, and untoward events, might derive some benefit from the salt pond in question.”

From this report another interesting article can be written as the report on the lost treaty is much too long for a single article.

The Old Brick Building under French occupation in World War 11.

In 1941 the French briefly took control of the Dutch side on behalf of the Vichy Government.

There is something I would like to mention from this report and this involves the Year 1825. “A remarkable occurrence took place, during the time of the pond making salt in this year. In the evening an uncommon stench was experienced in the town of Philipsburg, which was attributed to the mephitic air from the Pond, and on the morning after, all the houses in the town, which had been painted white, had become perfectly black, and the silver and plate in the town of the same colour. Such a circumstance had not been noticed in former salt crops and it was also remarkable, that so powerful a stench did not produce any disease in Philipsburg.”

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Photo from 1948 showing an unchanged scene of the quiet life on St. Martin going back centuries.

Worthwhile mentioning also is the fact that Richard Robinson Richardson was a lawyer also known as “Dicky Dick”. and that his house on Backstreet is still standing. It was later bought by Johannes van Romondt, then by Zilah Richardson to whose family if I am not mistaken the house still belongs.

And a number of people claim descent from Mr. Richardson including Mark Williams who can tell you more on his lineage and connection to Mr. Richardson.

The report covers interesting information of the attempts to revitalize the salt industry and which continues on through various other reports. They all considered the salt pond the most important resource for possible development and improvement of the economy of Sint Martin as salt was a much-needed commodity in the fishing industry in Nova Scotia and other places. And yes, the original copy of the treaty has still not been found.


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