The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Archive for the month “August, 2019”


“THE  MOUNTAIN”15219397_10210981178468325_5130581529231497499_n

By: Will Johnson

In the book ‘Caribbean Interlude’ by Kenneth Bolles he describes a visit to the Rendez Vous. There most of the planting was done for those living in the villages of Windward Side and St. John’s.

In talking to one of the old retired sea captains who would return to Saba in their old age and return to the land for their survival they discussed the farming on the sides of The Mountain. In referring to the mountain the old farmer declared to Mr. Bolles “She takes care o’ we.”

Many of the old timers would voice that same opinion throughout the ages of European settlement. In an interview Bobby Every said that his father used to tell him that if it was not for the Mountain, in times of severe droughts “we would have all been dead”. Some years ago, when a relatively small number of locusts reached the Eastern Caribbean from Africa memories were brought up about The Mountain. Oliver Zagers “Olley” said that his father Solomon had told him that when he was a boy a plague of locusts had descended on Saba and within days had eaten their way to the top of The Mountain.


Pretty Impressive Mountain for such a small island, and this  is half way up from the sea.

George Seaman visited Saba in 1934 and spent some time here. He kept a Journal of his visit which he gave to me. In the Journal he refers to The Mountain as having no name other than that. God too has only one name for those who believe that there is a God, so why should The Mountain so revered by our ancestors in former times have a name?

People regularly ask me as to who gave it the name Mount Scenery. I truly do not know and don’t want to speculate on that. I assume that it could have been one of the Roman Catholic Nuns or a Priest thought it needed a name and gave it that name.

Earlier this year while on Aruba I remembered that there was a street in Lago Heights called ‘Mount Scenery Street’. I asked a couple of people if they could remember what year those streets were given names. They did not know, and I will continue to check on it. That would give an indication as to when that name was used and perhaps point to the person who gave it the name.  I do not recall as a boy growing up anyone referring to it other than The Mountain.



The Mountain 4pm Tuesday August 27th, 2019

Nothing against the new name mind you. People look at me as a critic on many things. I look at my role as a story teller and preserver of things like historic names of places dear to the heart of every true Saban. I do not believe that folks coming into an old island culture should be creating new names solely for commercial purposes. Cui Buena fruit? That is why the island needs a Saba National Trust like those in places like Bermuda. The National flag, coat of arms and National song were approved by a Committee consisting of Sabans, who then presented their research and laws to the Executive Council and then approved by the Island Council. All in a matter of months. There are laws regulating respect for the flag and it cannot be used for commercial purposes without permission from the authorities. I have strayed a bit, and will go back to The Mountain, but not before mentioning Names. The Committee established in May of 1985, by the Executive Council consisted of Frank Hassell, Shirley Smith, Patsy Johnson and me as Chairman/Secretary. The results were presented to the Executive Council in the beginning of September. The Council consisted of Lt. Governor Wycliffe Smith, Commissioners Vernon Hassell and Peter Granger. On Saba Day December 1985 the Island Council, consisting of Vernon Hassell, Peter Granger, Ramon Hassell, Hugo Levenstone and myself approved everything and on that same day presented the results to the people of Saba. They were enthusiastically received and have become proud symbols of our struggle for survival on this small rock with a Mountain without a name.

20157732_10155500574313686_8396555311789398587_o.jpgFrom my research Saba was first settled above the Well’s Bay after 1629 by people from St. Kitts who were chased by the Spanish Admiral Don Francisco de Toledo. The two villages they established were given the names of Middle Island and Palmetto Point after towns on St. Kitts from which they had fled.

The history of these islands was mainly written in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by Dutch people. They had limited resources available to them at the time. The one who made ‘history’ a source for personal income was Dr. J. Hartog. I recall my brother Eric telling me that when Hartog visited he went through old historic files, tore out the items he wanted and told him that the rest of the files could be thrown away as they were not of any interest to him. He and others never believed in oral history and came to many assumptions about our history without any kind of proof to back it all up. They also conveniently forgot to remind us that Holland and Belgium were one country and a number of the first settlers on St. Eustatius were Hugenots from Wallonia and people of Flanders from places like Antwerpen who were in business with other people from Zeeland which was a part of what is now The Netherlands.


Johnny Simmons The Mountain Man

Johnny Simmons also known as ‘The Mountain Man.’

The one who visited these islands, including Saba, was M.D. Teenstra in the 1820’s and who gave an accurate description of the people and resources of these islands. He was an engineer sent out to study the possibilities for the extension of the Salt Ponds on St. Maarten, but his book has more historic value to me than all of that written by people who had never visited here. He was here and did not need to speculate while on a schooner passing by the island.

As early as the year 1701 when the Roman Catholic Priest Father Pierre Labat visited Saba on a pirate ship he described the island as being prosperous. The so-called prosperity stemmed from the fact that the young volcanic soil on Saba was very fertile. Because of the altitude of The Mountain (over 2900 feet) a variety of crops could be grown between sea level and mountain top. Enough was produced to support the small five hundred strong local population as well as have a limited export to the mother colony of St. Eustatius and later on to St. Thomas. The settlers who came into the island some years after the settlers at Palmetto Point and Middle Island, were particularly interested in fishing the Saba Bank. They settled above the Fort Bay where there is a spring which runs all year round. None of those who wrote before my time never mentioned an exact year. They said approximately 1640. Around 1659 this settlement was destroyed by a landslide. In 1665 the island was captured by Edward and Thomas Morgan uncles of Governor Henry Morgan of Jamaica. The pirates who left sent the Dutch settlers to St. Maarten and also to other islands where they became indentured servants.

056 - Saba-August 2007 - Mount Scenery-15.jpg

The Mountain somehow finds a way to restore itself even after  category five hurricanes.

The remaining 226 people left behind were nearly all of English, Irish, and Scottish descent with the exception of 10 Dutch people who swore allegiance to the British. Also, some ninety of the pirates remained behind as they saw the possibility of using Saba as a pirate’s nest while carrying out their pirate activities from the Virgin Islands.

A description of Saba in the 18th century is described by some historians of that period as follows: “Saba remained Dutch from 1679 until 1781. Whatever happened on the larger islands, Saba maintained its insular isolation undisturbed. The population was spread out over the island, and persons in authority on St. Eustatius seldom visited. And so, a sort of patriarchal society developed, where the peace was only disturbed through occasional family feuds. The people fished, caught sea turtles, and there was some agriculture so that the island was economically independent.”

1950s - Rendez-Vous

Big Rendez-Vous was the area farmed by men from the Windward Side and beyond that ‘Little Rendez-Vous’ was farmed by men from St. Johns,

In 1780 the population had already reached 1300. Because of the huge growth in the commerce and population of St. Eustatius there was a market for selling agricultural produce to St. Eustatius. Saba remained for the most part dependent on what the Mountain could produce and the fishing opportunities on the Saba Bank and Bird Island. There were also coffee and cotton plantations because it is recorded that the great hurricane of 1772 destroyed these plantations. Coffee can still be grown as I have three coffee trees in my garden. One from the Blue Mountains in Jamaica (bearing now) and two from a coffee plantation I visited on the island of Gran Canarias.

In 1816, Saba became Dutch again on paper, and most people in the know described the period between 1816 and 1923 as very bleak and depressing years. It is worth noting that exactly during the periods in which Saba was Dutch that the economy was in a very sad state. When left to its own resources or when under foreign flags, Saba was always described as being prosperous, in the sense that the colony was not a liability to the ‘mother country’.

1898 - The Bottom - from - Cuba and Porto Rico, with the other islands of the West Indies.jpg

This photo from around 1870 shows how much of the face of The Mountain was farmed out.

We remained and the many animals we had then dependent on The Mountain mostly.

For the year 1900 the statistics are as follows for Saba. Population 2177, Donkeys 16, Cattle 197, Goats 786, Sheep 390, Pigs 381.

A job description of 1908 shows that there were 240 farmers on Saba. The population from about 1860 grew steadily to over 2000 people and peaked in the year 2488. All were dependent for the most part on farming The Mountain and fishing, while the majority of the men were listed as Mariners, over 700 (seven hundred) in all. They sailed all over the West Indies and the world on Saban owned schooners as well as many owned by people from New England. The “Spanish Work” which was introduced Mrs. Gertrude Johnson born Hassell (a first cousin of my father Daniel Johnson). Through export to friends in the United States this lace work provided a means for a cash economy on the island. In the nineteen twenties with the establishments of the oil refineries on Curacao and Aruba as well as the new immigration rules in the United States the population went into a decline. From around 2500 in the nineteen twenties to only around 900 in 1971. But one thing which was proven between 1860 and 1930, is that the island could produce enough to sustain a population of more than 2000 people, with at times enough surplus to be able to export potatoes, onions, hides, cotton, fish and other produce to St. Thomas.


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My cousin James Bernard Johnson here showing his Irish potatoes planted in The Level.

In recent times things have changed. While others take credit for much of my work I when in government in 1998 added a clause to the building ordinance that you could not build above the 500 meter level and it was I who did all the research for the ownership of the Sulphur Mine lands and which became a bit of a controversy as I was told that it would be a gift to the island. Anyway, I will not dwell on that issue. This is about The Mountain and indeed she still ‘takes care o’ we’.






Paths of Origin

The Horton’s and the Hamilton’s

By: Will Johnson


Checking out family history.

For a number of years I have been intrigued by a story told to me by a cousin (Carl L. Johnson) who lives in New York and who is nearly twenty years my senior.

According to him our great uncle Peter George Simmons nicknamed “Unc” used to tell him that we were related through the Horton’s to Alexander Hamilton of Nevis. “Unc” is also the great- grandfather of Commissioner Bruce Zagers.

My search thus far has been directed to the Hamilton’s with no firm results. The relationship could have been via the Simmons’ to the Fawcett’s, his mother’s side of the family and I am still looking at that.

You must take oral history seriously and many times I have solved questions of local history through listening to old timers telling stories they had heard from grandparents. Peter George Simmons was born on October 1st 1858 and died April 30th 1946. His mother Alice Eliza Simmons born Horton was born in 1831. He would have known his great-grandfather James Horton Sr. who died in 1869 at the age of 94 (born on St.Eustatius 1775). He would have also known his grandfather James Horton Esq. born 1801. He was the “Kings Attorney” and died February 6th 1877 and his wife Catharine Hassell died on March 3rd, 1873.

Thus growing up between 1858 and 1877 he would have heard stories around the old coal pot or oil lamp about his mother’s people. She (Alice Eliza Horton) born 1831 would in turn have heard stories from her mother, grandparents and other family members about their people on St.Eustatius and why they had moved to Saba.

They are descended from Mark Horton and Martha Adriaansen (see population list 1728). Sometime before 1750 the family moved to St.Eustatius and was prominent there in the old English church and as business people. They were married into some of the prominent families there, the Hills, Clarancieux, Mussendens and so on. There is still a building on the Bay in Statia known as the” Horton Building” (See Steve Kruythoff’s history of the Windward Islands.) This building used to belong to Mark Horton.

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Two native St. Eustatius historians Mr. Arthur Valk and Mr. Irvie Mussenden.

The Horton family being a small one is well documented through my research. I have not yet been able to verify with any degree of certainty the relationship between the Horton’s and Alexander Hamilton. However I have found a lot of interesting things along the way.

Alexander Hamilton did have an important connection to Saba via his mentor the Reverend Hugh Knox.

In Ron Chernow’s book,” Alexander Hamilton”, he has the following to say about the Reverend Hugh Knox and Alexander Hamilton.

“ The next year, Hamilton published two more poems in the paper, now recreating himself as a somber religious poet. The change in heart can almost certainly be attributed to the advent in St. Croix of a Presbyterian minister named Hugh Knox. Born in Northern Ireland of Scottish ancestry, the handsome young Knox migrated to America and became a schoolteacher in Delaware. As a raffish young man, he exhibited a lukewarm piety until a strange incident transformed his life. One Saturday at a local tavern where he was a regular, Knox amused his tipsy companions with a mocking imitation of a sermon delivered by his patron, the Reverend John Rodgers. Afterward, Knox sat down, shaken by his own impiety but also moved by the sermon that still reverberated in his mind. He decided to study divinity at the College of New Jersey (later Princeton) under its president, Aaron Burr, an eminent divine and father of the man who became Hamilton’s nemesis. It was almost certainly from Knox’s lips that Alexander Hamilton first heard the name of Aaron Burr.

Alexander Hamilton.jpg

1996. MY SON Peter Charles Albert Johnson and me at the tomb of Alexander Hamilton in Manhattan.

Ordained by Burr in 1755, Knox decided to propagate the gospel and was sent to Saba in the Dutch West Indies. This tiny island near Nevis measured five square miles, had no beaches, and was solitary enough to try the fortitude of the most determined missionary. Rough seas girded Saba’s rocky shores, making it hazardous for ships to land there. As the sole clergyman, Knox resided in a settlement known as the Bottom, sunk in the elevated crater of an extinct volcano; it could be reached only by climbing up a stony path. Knox left a bleak picture of the heedless sinners he was assigned to save. “Young fellows and married men, without any symptoms of serious religion…but keepers of negro wenches…rakes, night rioters, drunkards, gamesters, Sabbath breakers, church neglecters, common swearers, unjust dealers etc.”

An erudite man with a classical education, Knox was starved for both intellectual companionship and money. In 1771, he visited St.Croix and was received warmly by the local Presbyterians, who enticed him to move there. In May 1772, he became pastor at the Scotch Presbyterian church at a salary considerably beyond what he had earned inside his old crater,

After the lonely years in Saba, the forty-five-year-old Knox felt rejuvenated in St. Croix. It is there that Alexander Hamilton became his student and protégé.

Much has been written about the Reverend Hugh Knox and his stay on Saba. Dr.Johan Hartog mentions that after 16 years on Saba he moved to St. Croix, due to some accusation by some inhabitants of Saba, probably of a moral nature.

However Governor Peter Simmons and prominent Burghers as well as members of the congregation, provided him with a letter of introduction, which expressed their confidence in him.

There is also confusion as to who was his wife. One historian claimed that he was married to Christina Love daughter of the Governor of St.Lucia. Another claimed that he was married to the daughter of the Governor of St.Croix. However the author Henry B. Hoff in and article in National Genealogical Society Quarterly (March 1986:31) entitled “Some Americans in the Danish West Indies” confirms that he was married to Mary Simmons, daughter of Governor Simmons of Saba. He had a daughter Rebecca who died on December 29th, 1773. She would have been named after Rebecca Correa, her grandmother who was the wife of Governor Peter Simmons. Even if he had taken up the lifestyle of the Sabans and taken on a wench as a result of a mid- life crisis, his father-in-law would have given him a letter of recommendation.

Mary his wife died on St.Croix on January 24th, 1778. Hugh died on St.Croix at the age of 63 on October 9th, 1790. After his wife Mary died he may have taken on a new wife.

Whereas Nicholas Cruger exposed Alexander Hamilton to material realities, the Reverend Hugh Knox provided him with a strong spiritual and intellectual grounding. Knox… who took Hamilton under his wing shortly after Rachel’s death…. Was a Scottish Presbyterian Minister at odds with the mainstream of his faith because of his firm belief in free will over the Calvinist doctrine of  predestination. For someone like Hamilton who was otherwise predestined to a life of obscurity, we can see how Knox’s philosophy would have appealed to him.

The Reverend’s encouragement and influence undoubtedly led Hamilton to dream big dreams. Knox a brilliant sermon-writer and occasional doctor, took the young orphan under his wing and tutored him in the humanities and sciences.

When he was able to get away from the office, Hamilton further expanded his intellect in Knox’s library, where he read voluminously in the classics, literature, and history. Hamilton, who had early fancied himself a writer, published an occasional poem in the local paper, and impressed the residents of the island with a particularly vivid and florid account of the great hurricane of 1772.

On August 5th, 1779 Governor Thomas Dinzey of Saba in a letter to His Excellency General Clausen of St.Croix concerning runaway slaves refers to the reverend Hugh Knox as attorney to himself and Isaac Simmons, so that the reverend remained in contact with Saba even after he had moved to St.Croix.

In 1790 when the Reverend Dr. Thomas Coke of Methodist fame visited Saba he wrote that there was a church but no preacher. The last preacher Dr. Hugh Knox had left the island in 1771 (Knappert p.115)

Mention is also made of the English Presbyterian Church on Saba and the Rev .Hugh Knox in 1755 and 1758. In a letter from G.van Essen dated 26 February 1756 and 18 January 1758, which is to be found in the old classical archives in Amsterdam section St.Eustatius p.20 -2l, he refers to Rev. Hugh Knox on Saba.

Hamilton’s grandmother, Mary Fawcett was already married in 1718 and had a daughter Ann. In all she had seven children including Rachel(born 1729). Only Ann and Rachel survived. In 1740 Mary divorced and moved first to St.Kitts and then to St.Eustatius. Her husband John died in 1745. In Ron Chernow’s book page 17 he states: “ In 1756, one year after Hamilton was born, his grandmother, Mary Faucette, now residing on the Dutch island of St.Eustatius, made out her final will and left “my three dear slaves, Rebecca, Flora and Esther”, to her daughter Rachel.” The Horton’s and the Faucette’s would have been on St.Eustatius at the same time and would certainly have known each other.

I was helping two young archaeologists recently. They found in the archives of the Roman Catholic Church a printed sermon from 1792 dedicated to the people of Saba. It was a eulogy for the 29 year old Reverend John Elsworth delivered at Ellington, Connecticut, parts of which I will quote from.

Not long after he finished his studies at Yale College and commenced a preacher, he was invited to the Church of Christ in the Island of Saba, formerly the charge of the great and good Doctor Hugh Knox.

Warmed with love to Christ and zeal to promote the salvation of men, he received solemn ordination to the work of the gospel ministry, as the pastor of the church of Christ, in that distant region.*

*The island of  Saba, contains about 120 European families – is in the vicinity of St. Eustatius and belongs to the United States of Holland. It enjoys a salubrious air, and is esteemed the healthiest of the islands.

That eminent divine, the Rev. Doctor Knox, member of the Presbytery of New York, was minister of the church there many years. He removed from thence to the island St.Croix, where, lately by death, he finished the labors of a long and useful life.

Alexander Hamilton #2.jpgIn consequence of application from the church in Saba, for one to succeed him, Mr. Ellsworth was ordained in September 1789, at East-Windsor, by the Ministers of the Church in the Vicinity. Letters from respectable characters on the island, with which the writer has been honored, express the highest and most affectionate esteem of him, during his ministry there.

To the Church and Congregation in the Island of SABA

Honorable and Christian Friends

When, at your request the late Mr. Elsworth received ordination, with a view to his settlement with you as your spiritual pastor, it was the hope of the friends of religion that his life and usefulness would be prolonged, and that you might long rejoice in his light. But the sovereign arbiter of life, is sometimes pleased to call from their labors, those who appear to be best qualified, by natural and gracious endowments for extensive usefulness; perhaps to teach us that he is not confined to means, to us apparently best fitted to carry on the purposes of his grace, and also, to raise them to sublimer scenes, and more exalted employments in heaven.

The church of Christ sustains a loss by the death of so good and promising a Minister of Jesus. We sincerely sympathize with you in this bereaving providence. May a double portion of the spirit of this ascended servant of Christ, rest on his successor, who is now with you; and may his faithful labours for your spiritual interests, be crowned with abundant success.

After his return to the continent, he frequently expressed a cordial regard for you, as a people whom he sincerely loved, and whose salvation he ardently desired; and with whom had his health permitted, he would have chosen to have spent his days; and a grateful sense of those respectful attentions shewn to him, and kindnesses received from you, and particularly from His Honor Governor Dinzey, and his worthy family, in whose family he lived, during his residence in the island.

Accept, honorable and Christian brethren, the following discourse, as a tribute of respectful remembrance from the afflicted parents of the deceased, and from your sincere friend and servant, in our common Lord,

David M’Clure



Nov. 30, 1791

The sermon of 31 pages I will not serve up for your benefit, however it is interesting to read of the great interest in the salvation of  the group of night rioters as described by Doctor Knox in 1772. By the way I passed this along to some of the younger folks and they had a good laugh and one said ;”My God, it is true, the more things change the more they remain the same.”

A sermon made at the funeral of Governor Peter Simmons by the Rev. Dr. Hugh Knox is supposed to be in the Library of Congress. To any of you computer experts who can find that sermon for me I would be deeply grateful.

And the search for the relationship with Alexander Hamilton goes on. To those who do not know him I will end with the following quotation:

“ I consider Napoleon, Fox and Hamilton the three greatest of men of our epoch, and if I were forced to decide between the three, I would give without hesitation – the first place to Hamilton. He divined Europe.”

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand.

So far for now this bit on information on Dr.Hugh Knox and John Elsworth.

This article was published in 2008 in The Weekender of The Daily Herald. Since then I was able to obtain a copy of the sermon made by the Rev. Hugh Knox for his mother-in-law. Hugh Knox was married to Mary the daughter of Lt. Governor (Commander) Peter Simmons. When I find everything I will update this article.

Since this was written a book has been published suggesting that Alexander Hamilton did spend some time on St. Eustatius as a child before going on to St. Croix.

I also received a note from  Barry L. Gibson which reads as follows: ” I am searching for the Van der Voort family of Phelp, Ontario Company, New York. When Ellen (Horton) Van der Voort died in the late 1800’s her obit states that her father Israel Horton was a first cousin to Alexander Hamilton. I noticed in one of your articles that you have a Horton-Hamilton connection which you are working on. Have you ever come across this Israel Horton? I have been unable to confirm that claim.”

I would think that the obituary would have to be from the late 1700’s for Israel Horton to be Hamilton’s first cousin. But we are getting closer.

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