The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Archive for the month “March, 2021”

Commissioner/Act.Administrator John Godfrey Woods

Commissioner/Act. Administrator John Godfrey Woods
By: Will Johnson

Mr. John Godfrey Woods here sitting at the gate leading into his Caribe Guesthouse in The Bottom.
The large property next to the school is the property on which Mr. John Woods built his Guesthouse
Photo of Saba coming up to the bow of the boat.
Commissiner/Act. Lt. Governor John Godfred Woods here with Father Aldrick Hassell priest of the Anglican Church. The Woods family on the whole were devout Anglicans.
In 1967 there were no Island Council elections and a compromise was reached between parties not to have an electin. Mr. Woods is pictured here on July 2nd, 1967 between Lt. Governor J.J. Beaujon and Mr. A.C. Wathey (Claude).
The Anglican Church, the oldest building on Saba built around1770 and then rebuilt after the great hurricane of 1772. Miss Cresilda Melrose Woods, sister of John was the organist of the Anglican church for over fifty years.
Mr. Garnet Hughes here with his sister Ura Dunkin on her wedding day to Mr. John G. Woods
The WIPM list which took part in the Island Council elections of 1971. Minister Leo Chance second from left was visiting fom Curacao. Mr. John Woods second from right was a canidate on the list.
Mr. John Woods bought this large propertty from the heirs of one of the old Heyliger families. He is building his Caribe Guesthouse as you can see and showing some friends the old cistern. Early 1960’s.
Ms. Ura Dunkin, spouse of John Godfrey Woods/

Commissioner/Act. Administrator John Godfrey Woods
By: Will Johnson

He was born on December 8th, 1909 son of Joseph Benjamin Woods (born
30.05.1877) and Anna Minta Warner (born 1879). He was a grandson of Christian
Woods, Susanna Gordon, Peter James Warner and Elizabeth Horton. The latter was a
daughter of David Horton and Nancy Horton. Susanna Gordon’s parents were John
Gordon and Catherine Hassell.
The family headed by Joseph Benjamin Woods (“Joe Ben”) was an exceptional one.
Besides John the other children in the family were: Cresilda Melrose born 18.08.1907,
Eric Milburn born 14.12.1921 Alton Watty Woods born 08.02.1919 and Henry Swinton
Woods born 17.01.1912. The latter was married to Doris Rebecca Woods. Henry lost his
life on Aruba the night that German submarines attacked the LAGO oil refinery there. He
died at the age of 32 on September 18th, 1944.
Cresilda Melrose the only daughter of Joe Ben’s was the organist in the Anglican
Christ Church for over fifty years.
Joe Ben was a skilled mason and did many jobs which can still be admired on Saba.
Among them are the public cisterns on Hell’s Gate next to the Roman Catholic Church. I
remember my mother thanking God for JoeBen as he had provided work on occasion to
my grandfather James Horton Simmons. An irony indeed. Joe Ben’s wife was a daughter
of David Horton (died 12.09.1896 aged 95) and his wife Jane Linzey (born 1801). David
in turn was a son of James Horton and Margaret (Nancy) Horton of Middle Island.
In Dr. Julia Cranes book: “Educated to Emigrate” she refers to a James Horton a “free
black man”. Here are notes which she took from the Central Archives in The Hague in
The Netherlands:
” March 2nd, 1825, a bill-of-sale covering transfer of a piece of land in the area called
Middle Island to James Horton a “free black man.”
” November 16th, 1829 a bill-of-sale covering transfer of a girl named Maria to “James
Horton free black man” her reputed father for the sum of Sixteen Joes or One hundred
and Seventy six pieces of eight.’ The former owner stated in the document that the sale
was made for the girl ‘with all her future progeny and increase for their freedom, in
gratitude for her ‘good and faithful services.”
Obviously James Horton was buying freedom for his daughter Maria. Free black people
were property owners long before slavery was abolished as can be seen in his acquisition
of land in Middle Island. Also James Horton had legally acquired his name from James
Horton Esq. who had come to Saba from the island of St. Eustatius. In those days it was
forbidden by law for a former slave to take the name of a white inhabitant of the colony.
There must have been a strong relationship between those two Hortons for James Horton
Esq. to give permission for the use of his name by a former slave while the country had
many years to go before slavery was officially ended on July 1st. 1863.
My impoverished grandfather was a great-grandson of James Horton Esq. Obviously
there had been a master/slave connection between those two James Horton’s of the early
eighteen hundreds. However if those memories remained they did not apply in any
negative way in the relationship between Joe Ben himself a descendant of slaves who
provided work to the impoverished descendant of the master. I can still hear my mother
saying “God Bless Joe Ben for giving my father work through the time or else we would
have had it much harder than it already was.”
Of all of Joe Ben’s children only Henry had two children. The well known Ronnie
Simmons of The Bottom is a grandson of Henry Woods and his wife Doris. She was also
a Woods but from the family known as the “Red Woods” family.
Joe Ben’s brother was Peter Woods ( lost while fishing on the Saba Bank)who was the father of Ms. Edna Woods who
helped me to gather some of this information so that I could write this article. Edna is in
her eighties but has a wonderful memory. She has a relationship with my brother Guy and
his family which is much closer than some families have among themselves.
John Godfrey Woods was married to URA Margaret Dunkin born 29.09.1909 whose
mother was Mary Magdeline Dunkin and her father was Captain Ernest Hugh Toland
Vanterpool. John and Ura did not have any children.
John used to tell me stories about growing up on Saba, working with his father and so
on. From early in life he worked hard and he learned to appreciate how to hold on to a
I remember him telling me on more than one occasion that he was raising a cow and
calf with the hope of getting enough money to go to Aruba in search of work with the oil
refinery. In those days everyone on Saba was headed to Aruba in search of work.
One day when he thought that he had sale for the cow and calf he went down to the
Ladder Road and the cow was standing at the edge of the cliff. He said he thought
everything was lost and he called out to the cow:” Now mind yourself cow, don’t go do
anything stupid.” I am sure he must have heard from Joe Ben of my grandfather James
Horton Simmons’ cow on Hell’s Gate. She reached for an inviting tuff of guinea grass at
the edge of the cliff. The rope to which she was tied broke and she fell to her death
hundreds of feet below. He is credited with saying that he would have rather lost his wife
than the cow because he could have gotten another wife but where was he to get another
cow. You can see thus how important a cow was back then.
As luck would have it for our friend John his cow moved away from the edge of the
cliff. He was able to sell mother and calf for the grand sum of thirty guilders and he
headed off to Aruba.
He worked on Aruba for perhaps thirty years. He and his wife URA worked hard and
saved their money. He had a house of his own on Aruba and his wife ran her own
business. His wife also won the National Lottery while on Aruba.
He returned to Saba in the mid nineteen sixties. In 1967 when the three Windward
Islands submitted combined lists of candidates there were no elections. He was asked to
join the combined list as a candidate for the Democratic Party on behalf of then former
Commissioner Matthew Levenstone.
In the 1969 election when I ran against Claude Wathey for Senator of the Windward
Islands, people told me that John Woods was quiet and did not divulge too much about
where he would vote. In November 1970 to the surprise of Mr. Wathey and the entire
Antilles I released a document signed by John Woods, Peter Granger, Calvin Holm and
others announcing that they had joined the recently established WIPM party. In 1971
months before the elections Eugenius Johnson became Administrator and Calvin Holm
moved up and became a member of the Island Council. The WIPM party had a majority
on the Island Council before the elections. We did not oust the DP Commissioners. The
DP was not that generous to me after the elections. As party leader I was informed that I
could not assume office as the Lt. Governor of St.Maarten had been married to my sister.
Even though she was deceased and he was remarried I was kept out of office as island
Council Member and Commissioner for four years and had to run my party and the
Government of Saba from the bleachers. Mr. Woods who was my number two candidate
became Commissioner and Acting Administrator and remained faithful to me through
those years of darkness when I was exiled from the council, arrested, jailed and so on.
My father went to an early grave not knowing what was to become of me. But thanks to
people like Mr. Woods and others who kept the faith we overcame without bitterness.
I used to help Mr. Woods to fill in his income tax documents. I remember sitting with
him on the verandah of his Caribe Guesthouse in The Bottom. I decided to ask him to tell
me the truth as to where he had voted in 1969. He laughed and replied:” Johnson, boy
you hambug me. Why did you go and name your party URA?”
And then he went on to tell me the story of the love of his life. His wife was named
She was a “high mulatto woman” as they would say in those days and was a good
looking young woman. She had many suitors. He didn’t say who but he told me that
“Some of your family had tried to get her you know.” But John won the day as she chose
him over the rest of the young men. He told me that he had built Caribe Guesthouse
exactly the way URA had planned it. Not that he needed such a big house as he was alone
and could have lived by his sister Crissie or repaired the original house which was still on
the property. He had purchased the lovely property from one of the old white
Heyliger/Simmons’ families.
He went ahead and built it anyway as a tribute to her. He told me that when she took ill
on Aruba, so many ants suddenly congregated in his yard that he looked on it as a bad
omen as he had never had a problem with ants. After her death he said the ants
disappeared as suddenly as they had shown up. Nothing was the same after his wifes
death and he decided to return to Saba. So he told me that when he saw the name of my
party that in good conscience he could not betray his wife’s memory by voting anywhere
else but for URA. (You see how you does get vote sometime, eh?)
When we won the election in 1971 he and I as mentioned before were elected
Commissioners. The late Calvin Holm entered the Island and Executive Council in my
place. I returned to work at the airport post office on St.Maarten and led my party from
there. We had seven of the fifteen seats on the Windward Islands Council and then Mr.
Sdney Lejuez crossed the floor and joined the WIPM giving us a majority in the Island
Council. You see how God does his work at times. Despite having to work from the
bleachers we were able to accomplish a lot during the period from 1971 to 1975.
As leader of the party I worked closely with Mr. Woods who was the same age as my
mother. Besides being Commissioner and Member of the Island Council he also served as
Act. Administrator for those four years. In the latter capacity he depended on my advice,
but moreso on that of my brother Eric who was head of the Finance Department and who
worked on a daily basis with him. When doubts arose about signing something
controversial he had that much respect for my brother Eric and I that he would say: “If
you boys say it is O.K. to sign it then I’ll do it.” Happily the advice we gave him did not
get him in the least of trouble.
The Public School was forced to be closed down during his term of office. This hurt his
heart as he and his family were the pillars of the Anglican Church and some people
associated the public school with the Anglican Church. However local pressure on the
Central Government to do something to stop the WIPM march,forced the then Minister of
Education Ricardo Elhage to come to Saba. He threatened that an already scarecrow
budget of Saba would be cut by the same amount it cost to keep the Public School open.
My old friend Carl Anslyn organized a large demonstration but to no avail. The Central
Government in its quest to make the WIPM look bad forced the closure of the school. I
only bring this up as I know that Mr. Woods would never have closed the school if it had
been left to him.
In 1975 he decided not to run and to make room for Peter Granger. He was 66 at the
time and he decided to return to driving his taxi, running the airport bar, and managing
his Caribe Guesthouse.
Mr. Woods was a hard worker all his life. One of the sad things to happen to him in his
last years was the sudden loss of his brother Eric who had just retired and had joined him
in the Guesthouse.
For some time before he died he was in The Henry Every Home for the Aged. A hard
working man all his life he was confused. One day when I was passing by, he had jumped
the wall and was trying to go home. I jumped out of my car and helped the nurse to
convince him to go back to his room. He was not the John Woods I had known. However
he gave me a look of recognition and told me” Johnson boy if you say so…” and with that
he willingly went back to his room. I was very sad when I left him and shortly after that
he passed away after suffering from loss of memory for awhile. He passed away on
December 29th, 1990 at the age of 81. I went to the service but I did not do a eulogy
which is surprising even to me.
He was buried in the Anglican cemetery in The Bottom. In paying tribute to him now I
want to make up for the fact that I did not do the eulogy for him as I have done for so
many friends and prominent people in the Windward Islands. He was not only a great
Saban, great also in stature, but also great in ambition, in integrity, respect and loyalty. In
short great in everything worth remembering him for. And may he continue to rest in strength and remain in our memories as the great man he was.

Under the Sea Grape Tree

Under The Sea Grape Tree
by: Will Johnson

Under The Sea Grape Tree
by: Will Johnson

It seems like yesterday when I would be sitting under the sea grape tree reflecting on
my future.
A young teenager just finished with high school on Curacao and holding down a job in
the Postoffice.
It was not quiet meditation mind you. The future looked bleak and it required a lot of
imagination to think positive.
How the world has changed since then. Just like Jean Rhys on her only return to her
native Dominica in “I lived here once”, I too have the same feeling when I try to retrieve
that once secluded and quiet spot on the Great Bay.
The Daily Herald seems to think that I am back under the sea grape tree and that I now
have enough time for a column.
When I sat under the sea grape tree I used to write a column “News & Views” for the
Windwards Islands Opinion of my friend the late Joseph H.Lake Sr.
My calling card which proclaimed that I was a columnist was ridiculed by all as a
misspelling. Of course being always dressed like Fidel one had to wonder indeed if I had
misspelled the word. The wording of this card was used against me by the Democrat
Party in the l969 elections when I was opposing them for the Senators seat of the
Windward Islands. Various speakers on the Democrat party podium got very emotional
about the various services offered on my card. Among them “uprisings quelled,
governments overthrown, governments run, revolutions organized and even orgies
organized. And me! Well I did not even know what an orgy was. And still don’t.
Anyway the Democrat Party obviously felt that I was offering services which had led to
the May 30th, l969 uprising on Curacao which was cause for the election in the first
Some people still question whether or not I have strayed from my orginal beliefs and
especially get upset when I give a list of my third world heroes.Ayatollah Khomeni and
Fidel are not easy to digest for some folks.
Anyway The Herald has asked me ( at least Wim Hart has done so) to contribute a
column to people I have known in my long political career.
I have been considering it. I am sure there are people who would like to read about the
time I crashed the Lt. Governor’s car into a wall on St.John’s while serving as a host for
Jackie Kennedy Onassis and her two children, or how I introduced Forbes Burnham to Le
Pirate, or when Benny Goodman gave Busby the wrong tip and so on.
Coming from a small island like Saba and growing up in a time which seems world’s
away, I have been privileged to meet many celebrities as well as many “small people”
who also deserve to be highlighted.
I have always felt the need for a literary magazine for these islands. Not a BIM of
course. There are only so many Frank Collymore’s to go around. But I appluad the effort
of the Daily Herald’s Weekender to try and combine journalism with literature. Charles
Borromeo Hodge told me once that he had a lively correspondence with Frank from New
York. To his dismay he found out as he said to me “That Frank turned out to be a
Caucasian”.Anyway since he liked me too he must have had a soft spot for Caucasians.
The Nicaraguan writer Sergio Ramirez was Vice President under the Sandanistas. He
claimed that a revolution had crossed his path and that politics had interupted his career
as a writer.
Ramirez had the following to say about literature and journalism. To the question by the
OAS Magazine, AMERICAS, “You’re a political scientist and analyst who writes for
many publications. What do you think is the connection between journalism and
literature?’, he
“The kind of journalism that I prefer and that I like to see practiced – the journalism that
I teach my students in the journalism workshops at the Ibero American Foundation for
new journalism in Cartagena – is what is called literary journalism. It’s journalism with
the gripping style of literary writing, the kind of writing where you reel in the reader little
by little – where you set out the bait, create suspense, and keep the reader connected to
the story. Literary journalism is storytelling, stories written with literary language. It’s a
big challenge, especially when the written newspapers no longer have the capacity to
inform, to really give the news.
These days before you open the newspaper you already know everything that has
occurred, so for newspapers to be able to compete, they are going to have to get into
descriptive articles, a more in-depth recounting of the event. And they should go back to
the kind of old journalism practiced in the early twentieth century, when LA NACION in
Buenos Aires used to devote an entire article to Reuben Dario that started on the front
page. That’s the journalism I aspire to.”
I will refrain from my old style journalism though. A New York newspaper after
reading the Saba Herald questioned the authorities as to how I could be walking around
free. That sort of style is reserved for other papers, not for literary journalism which I
now advocate and aspire to. That syle of journalism will be dealt with in Saba News
Agency TWO.
People I would like to inform readers about vary from Stella SloterdijkRichardson, who wrote the most wonderful poem ever written about Saba,to the famous
and infamous people I have met. From Fidel Castro to David Frederick, and from the
fisherman on his lonely craft to the preacher on his high pulpit.
I will try from time to time to educate our people to look out so they can move up. I
want to share the joys of reading and pass on information to our young people and hope
that something I write can serve to educate them to look at life from a different
perspective. To be realistic and as Sergio Ramirez says: “Societies don’t change because
of a single administration during a period of five or six years. They change little by little
in a process of accumulation. Change happens when society decides to take ownership of
a single project and move it forward with various nuances until it’s consolidated.”
The single most important project of our times is that the youth, the custodians of our
future, need real life examples of local pioneers who did what seemed the impossible. I
want to highlight some of those native peoples so that our young people can look to their
lives for guidance.
Life has changed. I am no longer under the sea grape tree looking out to the future.
High on the hill looking back on the past is where I am at now. Pablo Neruda, (whose
former home, now a museum, I have visited in Valparaiso, Chile) in ” A Dream of
Trains”, best describes where I am at now, in my final stage of reflection and
“I was alone in the solitary train,
but not only was I alone –
a host of solitudes were gathered
around the hope of the journey,
like peasants on the platforms.
And I, in the train, like stale smoke,
with so many shiftless souls,
burdened by so many deaths,
felt myself on a journey
in which nothing was moving
but my exhausted heart.”

Will Johnson

Will Johnson

The Heyligers in the Windwards

The Heyligers in the Windwards

By Will Johnson

    Many of you will remember the Roman Catholic Priest Father Alphie Heyliger. But most people do not know the history of the Heyliger family in these islands.

   Henry B. Hoff in his introduction to his article on the “American Connections of The Heyliger Family of the West Indies has the following to say: “The purpose of this article is to outline known American connections of the Heyliger family. This is not intended to be a full genealogy of the Heyligers, one of the few West Indian families to be the subject of a recent well-documented genealogy. The family lived primarily on six of the Leeward Islands: the Dutch islands of St. Eustatius, St. Martin and Saba and the Danish (now U.S.) Virgin Islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John. This article also provides a genealogical bibliography for the six islands.

    “An indication of the close relationship between the six islands and the United States is the fact that 75% of the Heyliger males in the third generation either came to the United States or apparently had descendants who did. Not surprisingly, trade (especially sugar) was the basis of this relationship. West Indian merchants in New York and Boston married American women while New York merchants on St. Eustatius and St. Croix married West Indian women. Moreover, the economic decline of the six islands in the 19th century caused many West Indians to immigrate to the United States. Another reason for the relationship was education. Impressed by the missionary work of the Moravians in the Danish Virgin Islands, many local planters sent their children to the Moravian schools in Bethlehem, Pa. In addition a few sons were sent to American colleges.

      “ The founder of the Heyliger family in the West Indies was Guilliam Heyliger (died circa 1734) who evidently was on St. Eustatius by about 1670 when he married Anna Ryckwaert. From her surname it appears that she was the granddaughter of Mathieu Ryckwaert who was among the first settlers on the island in 1636. As St. Eustatius was colonized by the Zeeland Chamber of their Dutch West India Company, it is likely that both Guilliam Heyliger and Mathieu Ryckwaert came from Zeeland or Flanders. Guilliam and Anna (Ryckwaert) Heyliger had six sons and five daughters, and their descendants subsequently formed one of the largest families on the six islands.”

   Mr. R.H. Calmeyer did an extensive study on the Heyliger and other related families from which he is descended. It is in Dutch and entitled “The Heyliger Generation” Planters, Ship Owners and Regents in the Windward Antilles.

Mr. Theodore Sidgismund Heyliger and his wife Olive Henrietta Simmons

    By order of Jan Snouck from Vlissingen who as “patron” had obtained  a charter from the West India Company, came Pieter van Courcelles on 25 April 1636 on board of an armed cruiser accompanied by a herring boat in the roadstead of the uninhabited  Caribbean island St. Eustatius (originally called by him New Zealand) and took possession of the island. His troop debarked, consisting of the lieutenant Abraham Adriaensen (one my (WJ)’s ancestors), the flag bearer Matieu Rijckewaert, Jan Haet, supposedly the secretary, Hans Musen, commies on behalf of the Chamber of Zeeland of the West India Company, the surgeon Louis Thomas, and further 1 sergeant, 3 corporals, 25 armed citizens, and 6 boys. Van Courcelles became Commander; the four first mentioned formed the Judiciary. This body later became the Council, consisting of five of the inhabitants of St. Eustatius (and from 1721 -1733 also of Saba) to be appointed by the Commander from ten nominated persons by the citizens, as well as the captain or lieutenant-captain of the citizens, who” qualitate qua” was a member. The latter replaced the Commander in his absence. Even though the members of council were appointed for life, it became customary, that they made their seats available on the arrival of a new Commander. The citizens then presented a double amount, from which – expecting in special circumstances – usually the same people were reappointed. The Council assisted the Commander in an advisory role and was then also known as the Council of Policy and Criminal Justice, charged with the administration of justice which took place in accordance with the laws of Zeeland. The Commander had an official at his disposal with the title of Secretary.

1897. Saba dignitaries. Back row left to right: Edward James Simmons, Dr. Christian Pfanstiehl, Capt. Sammy Simmons harbour master, Lovelace Hasssell, teacher, Engle Heyliger Simmons, Kings Councilor.

Front row. Rev. John William Leverock (Anglican priest), Theodore Godet Heyliger, Merchant, Governor Johannes de Veer, Lt. Governor Thomas Holm, Father Laurens Mulder Roman Catholic Priest.

   In contrast to the situation on Curacao where they had a regime of civil servants, a situation developed especially on St. Eustatius completely modeled after the situation in Holland, whereby an oligarchy of the elite developed that helped each other in the saddle and kept them there. From the original simple colonists in the 18th century when St. Eustatius became the “Golden Rock” powerful regents held the reins, among whom the Heyliger’s played the first violin. As “primus inter pares” they occupied along with the three other families the de Windt’s, Doncker’s and Lindesay’s, with their extended families, all seats on the Council and most public functions, as well as the positions of Commanders and Vice Commanders. Aforementioned island was also, because of the prime location for sailing vessels, in the first place a commercial center, whereby in 1779, with the transit trade with the British colonies, the top figure of 3551 vessels were given clearance from the harbor. The Heyliger’s took part herein, in family companies, an important part and even had their own large sailing fleets which carried on trade even unto the Mediterranean Sea. Besides that they were the family which owned the most plantations. In 1775 they owned 15 of the 75 plantations on St.Eustatius. On St. Maarten the government developed along the same lines whereby from 1748 onwards three generations of Heyliger’s played a leading role, but here the prosperity remained more moderate, though more stable, based on sugar cultivation, livestock raising, and gathering of salt.

  When at St. Eustatius on September 30th, 1779 Adriana Heyliger, daughter of Johannes Heyliger and Elizabeth Molineux, married to William Moore, the teacher J. Hall made a document which was decorated with the coat-of-arms of the bridal couple of Heyliger and “Moore, descended from the earls of Drogheda.” It contains a legendary tale concerning the forebears of the family Heyliger (according to the document in former times also spelled as Highlegger, Highlager, Hylager or Hilygar) descended from three brothers who had been knighted by Charles the Great and presented with the following coat-of arms.

    “On a shield argent quarterly. In the first grand quarter three human hearts flamboyant-guies. In the second a cross potent-azure. In the first inferior quarter three passion naies azure. In the second inferior quarter a demi Catharine wheel pierced in point by a sword proper guies. The crest is a demi Catherine wheel pierced in point by a sword proper also guies. The motto is “Cor magnum timit nihil.” In the Sands papers in The New York Historical Society a female descendant of Catharina Heyliger (1721-1799) and her husband Bertram Pierre de Nully there is a history of the Heyliger family.

    One of the family members Johannes Heyliger was Governor of Berbice (1764-1767). The Heyligers intermarried with other prominent families such as the French Hugenot Godet family. And so for example we had at the same time a Theodore Godet Heyliger living on Saba while at the same time there was one living on St. Eustatius. The one on Saba died on October 16th, 1907 at the age of 73. He was born on July 2nd, 1834. His father was Engel Heyliger and his mother was Rebecca Beaks Dinzey. His wife was Ann Louisa Simmons. Her mother Ann Fantose Taylor was from Scotland. I have their family bible at home. The one on St. Eustatius Theodore Godet Heyliger was born on Statia on October 3rd, 1854 and died on April 18th, 1935 at the age of 80. His parents were Gideon Godet Heyliger and Ann Rebecca Holm. His wife was Isabella Cornelia Hodge who at the time of his death was living in the United States. The name Gideon Godet Heyliger also existed on Saba. He married Mary Every. The Heyligo name was also given to former slaves. However the name eventually became Heyliger. Gideon’s son was William James Heyliger a famous boatman. The Heyliger family was also prominent on Saba. Theodore Godet Heyliger was the Kings Attorney and Engel Heyliger was also prominent here.They intermarried with the Simmons, the Dinzeys and so on.

The last of the old white Heyligers on Saba was Mr. “Dory” or Theodore Sidgismund Heyliger who in 1900 married to Leila Winfield and when she died he married Olive Simmons, but he had no children. Mr. Dory’s parents were John Joseph Dinzey Heyliger (brother of Theodore Godet Heyliger) and his mother was Mary Ann Simmons. Where the Windward Islands Bank is now located in The Bottom was the former location of Mr. Dory’s Rum shop and Grocery Store. The name Engel also frequently appears in the Heyliger family both on Saba and on St. Eustatius.

    The Heyligers had their good times as well as their bad ones. The following letter resembles one of those face book episodes and is worthy of presenting to our readers.

At the age of 15 Adriana Heyliger was asked to marry the sixty year old rich merchant Charles Haggart, to which request her mother Elisabeth Molineux widow of Johannes Heyliger was in favour. The daughter had made up her own mind and her choice fell on William Moore. They eloped and were married on September 30th, 1769. The rejected lover and the aggrieved mother sought consolation with each other and they in turn married each other and had a son. This led to a break in relations between mother and daughter. Years later Adriana Moore (born Heyliger) now being in not the best of financial circumstances decided to write the following letter to her mother who was now living in Scotland.

Fort Oranje, Sint Eustatius where the Heyliger family settled and became powerful.

    The letter is dated St. Eustatius, November 24th, 1815 and reads as follows:

“Dear Mother,

     For the last time does your unfortunate daughter takes up the pen to address you urged by no mercenary motive, but by feelings deeply wounded by injustice and unmerited neglect. Has my conduct ever brought a blush in your cheek for an unworthy daughter? Have I ever offended you except in the single instance of preferring the man I loved to one more wealthy? No, with truth I can say I never have. Why then have I been treated as if I was a disgrace to you? Why then has the only surviving child of the man who sacrificed his fortune and his health for you and yours been so cruelly forgotten and overlooked. Mother I now no longer look for anything from you, but I think I have a right to remind you of a few facts which you seem to have entirely forgotten. When my Father married you he was independent and had good expectations from his Parents. Hat independence the portion of which came to him on the death of his mother and a great deal of what he had a right to on the demise of his Father went to extricate your family in Montserrat out of their difficulties. The consequence was that he left his children thousands poorer. Of all his fortune you never gave me a single piece, for even a few chairs, the use of which you gave me, my husband had to pay the value of on your being about to quit the island – you disposed of many fine Tradesmen, the property of my different brothers and I was not one dollar the better for it. May I justly ask you if Mr. Thomas Haggart is more your child than I am that you have made over all that you are worth to him. I wish not for a farthing that he can justly call his, but the property which you possessed when you married his father I have a just and right title to, the more so as he does not stand in need of it. What I have written will probably displease, but I owe it to myself and children to recall those circumstances to your recollection. If you act justly to me and to them I shall be grateful, if not, my poor children will I trust have enough to prevent their being a burden upon their generous friends and at all events they will never ask any favors from my selfish and ungenerous brother .

Back in the day the Heyligers controlled much of the land and also owned the Spring Bay plantation on Saba.

Farewell Mother, my children I am convinced will ever show you the respect that is due to you. For myself I shall never cease to remember that I have a Mother, though that Mother has forgot that she has a daughter. May you enjoy much health and happiness and may that son for whom I have been so unkindly neglected be as attentive and affectionate as I would have been is the fervent wish of your still attached daughter.

Signed:Adriana Moore.

No shaking Mamma. In the Scottish Record Office in Edinburgh in her last testament of Jualy 5th, 1817 Mrs. Elisabeth Hagart born Molineux leaves to her son Thomas Haggart the complete inheritance of 21.413.6 pounds. That was a considerable sum of money for those days. Not a word in the will mentions Adriana.

   There is much more information on the Heyliger family and the interrelated families. There was also a Peter Heyliger born on St. Eustatius in 1707. He was a plantation owner on St. Maarten in 1728 and also managed there a plantation for his father. In a rebellion against John Phillips on June 17th, 1736, the Vice Commander of St. Maarten, in which the rebels chased him to Scotland, Peter was chosen to captain-lieutenant by the citizens. After he heard from his brother Johannes Heyliger, then Secretary on St. Eustatius that the Council of that island had asked for the help of a Man-o-War from Curacao to come and put down the rebellion, Peter together with two other councilors from St. Eustatius offered his surrender. The aftermath of this rebellion went on until March 20th, 1744 when Johannes Heyliger, who in the meantime had become Commander (Governor) of the three Windward Islands, pardoned all who had taken part in the rebellion. (These documents are in the Bancroft Library in Berkley, California.)

    And oh yeah!  I nearly forgot this one. And then you have that fellow on St. Maarten known as “The Golden Boy” namely Commissioner Theodore Heyliger carrying on in the tradition of his illustrious ancestors. Not so much the Wathey’s who are of more recent vintage, but now that you know something about the Heyliger’s you will say to yourself; “No Wonder.” If he does well I will tell him more about the Heyligers, if not I will keep the rest to myself.” This is written in 2010. Much has happened since then. The debate as to what is considered a bribe or money laundering is ongoing. Political parties in these islands do not get financing for their costly campaigns. In the Netherlands political parties are highly subsidized by government. They also have paying members and collect monies from private companies and so on. One of those politicians with a lot of strength does not even have a political party and collects large donations from foreign countries. The issue before the people now is if a referendum will be called for independence and who will be allowed to vote in such a referendum. Large numbers of people have been granted Dutch citizenship in the last fifty years with no control over who should get such citizenship by the governments of the islands. It is left to be seen if the United Nations will allow everyone to vote in such a referendum. Anyway, the Heyligers are still very much in the news and will remain so for the next 400 years, I guess.

  • * * * * * * * * *
In the glory days of the “Golden Rock”.

The Portland Sail Maker

By: Will Johnson

   The following story is taken from a newspaper in Portland Maine from the year 1952. It is followed with a short history of Thomas Hassell the sail maker and his family who were originally from the village of St. John’s on Saba.

    “Her father, Capt. Edward H. Crocker, who then lived on Waterville Street, was Master of the “Randall”, largest schooner of her time. The “John F. Randall” had been built in Bath Maine in 1891. The schooner had a length of 228.9 feet and a gross tonnage of 1.643.5 tons. She foundered off Fire Island on February 3rd, 1902. Captain Crocker’s son Harley was also on board along with ten other crewmen from Portland and Machiasport. Harley had only two more trips to qualify for an engineer’s license. He was in charge of the schooner’s power plant used in hoisting sail, anchor etc. They were last seen the night of February 1st, 1902 off Fire Island, New York, en route from Norfolk Virginia to Portland with a cargo of hard coal for Randall & McAllister. No trace of crew or ship was ever found. And among the last to see them was Thomas Hassell, 82, of Fallbrook Street, who still recollects the episode with anguish. He was Mate on the schooner “Alice E. Clark” of the Winslow Fleet. The “Alice E. Clark”, also a four master schooner, had been built in 1898 in Bath Maine by Percy & Small. Gross Tonnage was 1.621 and a length of 227.4 feet. She was lost on July 1st, 1909 off Coombs Point, Isleboro, Maine. The vessels had left Virginia together. Mr. Hassells craft was behind. He was on watch at the time. Occasionally, he could catch a glimpse of the lights of the Randall. But gradually the lights “just faded out.” “That storm,” he declared ‘It was terrible.”

 Could it be that Sabans were frustrated with life on our little island? So many of them took to the sea that one is reminded of a passage from Herman Melville’s book “Moby Dick” quoted after this.

   “Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, it requires a strong moral principal to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship.”

I recently received a letter from Thomas Hassells grandson Mr. Clifford James Hassell, who lives in Michigan.

He wrote: “Dear Sir.” Could you put me in touch with someone who might help me find out more of my family history? My grandfather Thomas Hassell was born to John and Mary Hassell in 1874. They had at least two other children, John and William. My grandmother was Alantina Kelly. I think that she must have been born on the island also. I think she had a brother Moses. I am not sure of that. All that I ever heard him referred to is “Uncle Modie”. My uncle, son of Thomas and Alantina, Thomas McDol Hassell was also born on Saba. The family left for Portland, Maine USA around 1900. Grandfather left the sea and became a very successful sail and awning maker in Portland. They had four more children, Frank, Leslie, James and Alice. James was my father. My mother and father were on Saba on vacation in the nineteen sixties. I wish they had done more research on the family beginnings. I don’t have any picture of my grandfather and I only have one of my grandmothers. My Uncle Tom had some but they were destroyed in a fire.”

   The information I found for him was that on April 17th, 1895 were married Thomas Hassell (24) and

Allantine Kelly (19). His parents were; Thomas Simmons Hassell and Elizabeth William Simmons, both of whom were already deceased at the time of the marriage of their son. The parents of the bride were John Thomas Kelly (deceased) and Robertina Simmons. The young couple had a son Thomas Macdol Hassell born September 9th, 1895. They had been working a little ahead of schedule if my count is correct for a nine month baby. John Thomas Kelly and Robertina Simmons had other children. A daughter, Rosilla Kelly (22), who on December 21st, 1892 married Amadis Lubencio Barnes (28), and Mozes Kelly born May 1st 1879, and also a son Richard Thomas Kelly born January 7th, 1877. Robertina Simmons died January 28th, 1938 on Saba aged 89. Her parents were Richard Simmons and Ann Rebecca Beaks. Thomas Simmons Hassell and Elizabeth William Simmons also had another son Benajamin Hassell (21) who on March 28th, 1906 married to Rebecca Johnson (21) born on January 8th, 1886. Her mother only is listed and her name was Robertina Johnson.

I regularly get requests for this sort of research and it is interesting to discover who is related to whom and where our Saban people ended up in the world.

Thomas Hassell sailed for the Winslow Lines until he came ashore and worked for Leavitt and Paris Company as a sail maker. When he was refused a raise in pay he left and with credit from the Singer Sewing Machine Company he started his own sail making and awning company.

The Winslow Company had a fleet of 34 schooners, 12 of the Palmer fleet none of which were less than 1200 tons. Winslow already had 22 schooners including 5 six master schooners, several five master and a number of 3 masters. A number of other Sabans sailed for this company. In one of the photo’s accompanying this article the schooner to the right in Thomas Hassells sail loft is the “ALICE E. CLARK” of the Winslow Line on which Thomas sailed before string his sail making business. His sons Thomas McDol Hassell and Frank Oliver Hassell went into business with him and formed Thomas Hassell and Sons at 39 Portland Pier, Portland , Maine. Thomas Hassell never learned to read or write much more than his own name but with the help of the boys ran a very successful business. Common sense and hard work were the reasons behind his success. In 1942 the boys left and went to work for the South Portland Shipbuilding Company building Liberty ships for the war effort. Thomas Hassell decided to retire at that time. His son Leslie Clark Hassell contracted infantile paralysis as a child and was handicapped the rest of his life. That did not stop him from becoming a successful jeweler and watchmaker. He owned his own store. He also had the first car in Maine equipped with hand controls. It was a 1936 Packard with standard shift. He was born in Portland in 1904 and died in 1970. James Clifford Hassell (born Portland 1915 died 1980) was a grocer, married and had two children Clifford James and William John. After the shipyard closed Thomas McDol (born Saba 1895 died Portland 1972) and Frank, went to work in the printing business. Thomas McDol was a compositor and Frank was a bindery man. They also made and installed awnings as a part-time business. Thomas McDol, Frank, and Leslie married but had no children. Their sister Alice married Albert Hanson whose parents came from Norway. They had one child, Ronald Leroy Hanson.

When Thomas Hassell died in 1953 the Portland Press Herald carried the following obituary.

“Thomas Hassell, 79, widely known along the local waterfront, died yesterday afternoon at his residence, 48 Fallbrook Street, after a short illness. Hassell was a sail maker here from the start of World War 1 until 1928, when he opened his own sail making business. He retired in 1942. He was born at Saba, Dutch West Indies, January 20th, 1874, son of John Robert and Mary Hassell and was educated in schools there. He came to this country as a small boy and as a young man worked with the J.S.Winslow schooner fleet. He was a member of the English Church of the Dutch West Indies. Surviving are four sons. Thomas M, Leslie C. and James C. all of this city and Frank O. Hassell of North Windham; a daughter Mrs. Alice C. Hanson, of this city; a sister, Mrs. Constance Robinson of Hamilton Bermuda; three grandchildren, Ronald Hanson, and Clifford and William Hassell, and several nieces and nephews. Funeral services will be at 2pm Friday at 749 Congress Street with interment in Forest City Cemetery. The Reverend Edward Nelson will officiate.”

  There are a couple of mistakes in the death announcement as he was born in 1871 and was 82 when he died. Also he did not go to the United States as a little boy. He was already married with a son. But those are minor details. Point is that as his grandson wrote to me is that even though he could not read and write that he became a successful businessman after doing his time at sea as so many Sabans did at the time.

    “Great are the folk of the land; Greater still are the folk of the sea.”


A Dream of Return

A Dream of Return

By: Will Johnson

Beatrice Pfhausser from “The Gap” when she was in her fifties in the United States. I was friends with her niece Gladys Whittemore who shared with me the photograps and stories of Beatrice.

     I am now busy reading “A History of English Literature” by William Allan Nielson and at the same time as a compliment to it I am also reading Plutarch’s Lives. It is interesting to see that in the Anglo-Saxon period (426 – 1066) as well as from the Norman Conquest to Chaucer (1066 -1350) that England seemed to have forgotten the Roman Empire. The Romans had ruled over the British Isles for nearly four hundred years. They were the inheritors of the Greek civilization which had produced outstanding literature.

    As men develop they become interested in a wider and wider range of things, and their feelings and thoughts become more varied and more individual. The expression in words of these thoughts and feelings grows accordingly; and much of this in each generation is preserved and added to the store of what men deem most worthy of remembering. Thus literature becomes an ever growing record of human life, joining the past to the present, and enabling us to share with sympathy in the best that men have thought and imagined.

   William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616) by being exposed to Plutarchs Lives based his play on the life of Julius Caesar on that history of Julius Caesar written some fifteen hundred years earlier by Plutarch. Much later Goethe wrote:”The observation that all greatness is transitory should not make us despair; on the contrary the realization that the past was great should stimulate us to create something of consequence ourselves.”

   Besides Beowulf and Caedmon’s hymn during the whole Anglo Saxon and Norman period very little other than Christian poems written in monasteries was written in the English language. Very little was known about the civilizations which had existed before the Christian era.

Beatrice made this sketch of her grandfather’s house to “The Gap”. He was a ship carpenter named Phoenix Simmons and a brother of my great grandfather Charles Simmons (husband of Alice Eliza Horton) first living at Palmetto Point and then moved to Hell’s Gate. I am sure of this as in the death records when Charles died Phoenix gave in the death to the government office and is listed as the brother of the deceased.

   The story of how Caedmon became a poet has an interest beyond the national one. It is the English version of a legend found in many lands which seeks to explain the source of the poet’s inspiration. There has always seemed to men to be something supernatural in this. Caedmon who could not sing was requested in a dream to “sing of created things.” And so even in small island societies one is always in search of some form of poetry which we can call our own. One such poetess from Saba was Beatrice Pfaffhauser from “The Gap”. Regrettably all of her work was lost except one poem which Charles Borromeo Hodge was very excited about and begged me to do more research on this lady and try and find more of what she had written. He wrote: “Will, I was extremely impressed by the very beautiful and heart-rending poem by Beatrice Pfaffhauser which appeared on page 24 of “FOR THE LOVE OF ST.MAARTEN”. It is a deep, soul-stirring poem that brought haunting memories of St.Maarten washing across my consciousness like the waves on the shores of Great Bay. I felt as if the poetess was speaking directly to me: sensing every desperate, pent-up emotion. That poem is a very powerful piece of writing. I only wish I could know more about her and see more of her poetry.”

   I was assisted in this search by her niece Mrs. Gladys Whittemore of Pinellas Park Florida. She lived well into her nineties and is now long deceased.

I am sure that Beatrice would have longed to walk up those steps once more but it was not to be.

   Beatrice Pfaffhauser was born on Saba on September 1st, 1880 and died August 2nd, 1962.

Her father was Albert Pfaffhauser born in Zurich Switzerland on July 10th, 1839 and who at the age of 46 died on Saba on December 12th, 1885. His parents were Christopher Pfaffhauser and Ann Elizabeth Huber.

  Beatrice’s mother was Rose Elvina Simmons, daughter of Phoenix Simmons (my great- great uncle) and Martha Johnson of Barbados. This branch of the Johnson family moved back and forth between Barbados and Saba for at least two centuries and lived in The Bottom.

   They lived in a large two storey house at “The Gap” where the home of Eric and Patsy Linzey is now located. In former times many of the famous captains lived on that street. Their schooners would be anchored at The Ladder Bay and it is easy to run down the path when weather was coming and take off for a safer haven to weather the storm.

    Aunt Glad in a letter of October 19th, 1987 informed me as follows:” Answer to yours, so welcome, is delayed. I had to wait for an answer from Elisa at Satellite Beach first. She found another little poem, which Bea called a “blurb,” about her Northern garden. She always had a garden.

    When our mother died in 1905, we children had no one to question about Saba or relatives. Did not know Aunt Bea’s married name. I was about 18 when I began to question my father (in stolen moments!).”

The house was rented out to various people after the demise of the Pfaffhauser family. The home of Eric and Patsy Linzey is located on this spot for some years already.

   Aunt Glad’s father was a Captain from Prince Edward Island and had met her mother on Barbados when the family lived there. He did not know Saba. Aunt Glad continues: “He had kept in touch with Rosalvina (his mother-in-law) but the correspondence stopped when she re-married, and when I wrote to Mrs. Rosa Cecil my letter was returned, marked deceased. She died in 1914.

    “Aunt Bea’s father Albert Pfaffhauser was sent by the Swiss doctors to the West Indies for his health. He and his brother Hans Theodore came to St.Thomas. Their retail store carried silks from their factory in Zurich.

    The little Saba lady Rosalina Simmons was visiting there and took refuge in their store from a rain storm. The romance that followed ended in marriage.

On the right hand side of the road the last house you see would have been that of Phoenix Simmons and the Pfafhauser family.

    Albert took Rosalvina to Switzerland. Their first child Martha was born there in 1868. When Albert’s health deteriorated again the Swiss doctors recommended the climate of the West Indies. Rosalina longing for Saba readily agreed. Her people the Simmons family furnished land and the young couple built a home and raised quite a family. The father Albert died in 1885 at the age of 46. He was well educated and spoke several languages. Aunt Bea remembers him in white suit and pith helmet, sitting on balcony, with preacher and governor discussing news of the day. The people in Zurich were to take care of this family group and assure their education providing Rosalvina did not remarry. But Rosalvina did. Her second husband was from Grenada and was a veteran of the civil war in the United States. The family began to scatter. Two sons went to New York City, one daughter to Canada and another to Curacao and Beatrice to the United States. She graduated from Frats Hospital in Chelsea, Mass. around 1902 or 1903. My father told us she visited her sister Elizabeth, (my mother) in Prince Edward Island, Canada. There were no cars there then, so Dad hired a double seated carriage and off they all went for a picnic at a beach on the Gulf of St.Lawrence. They thought it was great fun then, but Dad thinks a fifteen miles ride now would be punishment (he lived to be 103).

Beatrice here as a young woman. Antigua was one of the places where people of the wealthier class from The Bottom would send their girl children to school.

    When her step-father Cecil died it was Beatrice who got the U.S. government to send his Civil War pension to her mother on Saba. At one time I remember all claims to the property were signed away legally in favour of the Curacao branch of the family. But neglect finally caused the place to be torn down as I understood it.

    After graduation she became nurse to an invalid gentleman. The daughter of this family was educated at the Sorbonne, Paris and later in Hollywood became a writer for the Cecil de Mille studios. She also has books in the public libraries. Beulah Marie Dix and Beatrice were close friends for many years, no matter how separated by circumstances, Bea felt quite at home in this literary environment.

    She married Laring Weed a reporter for a Boston newspaper. When his studies were completed and he became Dr. Laring Weed, Osteopath, they lived in Newburyport, Mass. The Dr. was also a member of the Library board.

   So began a new and always heedful life for Beatrice, but always she kept in touch with her beloved West Indies.

    The house they lived in was three storied and an older one. Later, when it was demolished, the beautiful marble mantle and fireplace were taken to a museum in New York, so I am told.

   In the thirties, my husband and I were involved in the courts over his father’s will. A step-mother was involved. Before it was heard by the Supreme Court – she (and others) had run the business into bankruptcy. When we decided to go to Florida we gave up our home in Wellesley, loaded all household possessions and sent them to Aunt Bea.

   It was about 1934 when her plans matured to go see Saba again. My eight year old niece went with her. They sailed from New York City for St.Thomas. It was in the fall and some rough weather kept her in her stateroom a lot.

The family lived in this house when Rosalvina was married to Cecil. I stayed there when it was a hotel in the nineteen seventies with my brothers Guy and Freddie as well as Elmer Linzey, Clinton Cranston, Otto de Vries and some others when they were attending a Lions Club Convention. Regretably this building the “infamous” Sam Lords castle,burned down some years ago and I have not checked yet to see if it has been rebuilt or replaced.

   At St.Thomas the harbor-master was a Simmons (a cousin) and they were well taken care of, while waiting for a steamer to Saba. While waiting this was when Pams comb caught fire near a candle. Panicking she threw it on a bed. Smoke soon brought Beatrice and the damaged bed things were thrown from the balcony to the garden below. Then came disappointing news. Husband Laring sent a telegram saying he had fallen, broken his right wrist and “do come home.”

   Saba and Curacao had been alerted about her coming. So now there was disappointment all around. No wonder her poem was so nostalgic.

    I regret we saw so little of her, busy working people as we were. She was a quiet person, with a special dignity and a great sense of service to others.

   She had one son – married and with a family. Lost track of him. She died of a heart attack at Wheelwright House in Newburyport, Mass.They wrote me a letter, Quote: “Mrs.Weed was greatly liked at Wheelwright House and all were saddened by her sudden death of heart failure. I personally feel we have lost a good friend and a real lady. She fitted into the life so well and was always so gentle, kind and thoughtful of others. We miss her very much. Her service was conducted by the son of former Bishop Sherrill of Mass. The letter was from Margaret B. Little, President of the Board.”

The following poem reflects her longing for the islands. She had lived on Saba but also on the other islands as well. The family lived for awhile in Sam Lords Castle in Barbados. Another curiosity in the Pfaffhauser family is that with the exception of the poetess most of the children died at the age of 27 including Elizabeth the mother of Aunt Gladys Whittemore. After a long search for Saba relatives, she contacted me in the nineteen sixties. We became great friends and she gave me the gold medal which she received when she graduated with honours from her high school on Prince Edward Island in Canada.

    The skies are gray, my spirits low.

    I sit within the firelight glow.

    My thoughts go back to other days,

    To coral sands and sunlit bays.

    Again I see tropic trees

    As delight the eye and scent the breeze.

    Poinciana, oleander, frangipani, these

    And many others my mind’s eye sees.

    A banyan is home to a bright macaw,

    A monkey sits eating some fruit from his paw,

    A land crab scuttles on his way to the cove,

    A coconut falls with a thud in the grove.

    Ah me! Ah me! That I could go

    Where palm fronds clash and trade winds blow,

    For these are the things I used to know

    So far away and so long ago.

    The red-roofed house, by the tall palm tree,

    In the long ago, was sweet home to me.

    I think of it now as a haven of rest

    Where I wish I could go as a bird to its nest.

    But the years that are flown have made the wish vain,

    I could only return to sorrow and pain.

       The letter from Charles Borromeo was written from New York in 1987. He returned to St.Maarten and it is ironic that he suffered the fate as predicted in the poem he admired. He returned only to sorrow and pain.

    In ending this tribute to Beatrice Pfaffhauser I quote from H.W.Longfellow’s: THE DAY IS DONE.

    “Come, read to me some poem,

       Some simple and heartfelt lay,

    That shall soothe this restless feeling,

       And banish the thoughts of day.

    Read from some humbler poet,

       Whose songs gushed from his heart,

    As showers from the clouds of summer,

       Or tears from the eyelids start;

    And the night shall be filled with music,

       And the cares that infest the day

    Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,

       And as silently steal away.”

I end the story with this photograph as Beatrice would have been happy to see this scene of the porters bringing up her luggage to her home at The Gap. She also lived in Barbados as a young lady.

* * *

Lunch with Vice Commander Richard Johnson of Saba.

Account of a visit to Saba from February 13th to February 16th 1829

The Mountain

The fourth and final part of the book by M.D. Teenstra of his visit to the Island of Saba in 1829.

Martin Duwes Teenstra Visited Saba from Friday February 13th to Monday February 16th 1829.

The Fourth Chapter of his book “De Nederlandsch West Indische Eilanden” Curacao, St. Maarten, Sint Eustatius; Saba.

In 1837 the publishing house of C.G. Sulpke published “The Dutch West Indian Islands in their present day state.” Written by M.D. Teenstra.

About the Author.

From the Encyclopedia of the Dutch West Indies, and reprinted by S. Emmering, Amsterdam (1981).

Teenstra (Marrten Douwers) born in Ruige Zand on 17th Septemer 1795, deid 29th October 1864 at Ulrum, practised arable farming in the Netherlands in his young days but not successfully.

In order to retrieve his fortune he went to the East Indies around 1825 where he would not be successful either. Shortly after his return to Holland the Dutch Government sent him to Surinam as an agronomist in 1828, when Van Den Bosch commissioned him to explore the riches of the forests. He became a president of agricultural society “Prodsse Conamur” founded May 16th 1829. Shortly after his arrival he was appointed superintendent of Bridges. Roads and Hydraulics in Paramaribo, and state cultivator.

He visited the Dutch West Indian islands in 1828/29 and 1833/34 returning to Holland in 1834 after holding a post as a senior clerk at the registry of the Court in Surinam for a short time. He was well known when alive as he wrote quite a number of books including one on South Africa where he stayed for some time after getting ill on his way to the East Indies.

Teenstra ( Marten Douwes) born 17th September 1795 and died October 29th 1864.

The Fourth Chapter of his book covers the history and his visit to Saba.


Saba lies 5.5 geographic miles N. of St. Eustatius, 8.5 miles S.W. of St. Barth’s, and 7 miles S.W. to South of St. Martin. The village in the middle of the island lies at 17-29 Latitude and 63.19 Longitude.

Chapter 2

Size and Shape

Saba is only 15 miles (*) in circumference and 18000 acres in area (+)

  1. Miles of 1760 Igards, the Igard of 36 Rhineland inches.
  2. (+) An acre is 4860 Tjard or 302.5 Rhineland rods.It rises as a barren rock very steep out of the sea, and presents itself from some distance as a single mountain, and can be seen from a distance of 15 geographical miles. To the North West side, there rises at a distance of a gunshot from shore, a high and very steep, needle shaped rock, called the Diamond.
The Diamond. Teenstra describes the point of land opposite the “Diamond Rock” as Mary’s Point whereas a British Naval chart of 1816 has the point named “Torrence Point”.

S. and S.S.W. of the island there extends five and three quarter miles from shore, a reef or bank, on which there are 12 to 17 fathoms of water.

At four English miles distance in a Southerly direction from Saba there is a small embankment of shallows, which is covered with water 3 or 4 fathoms and where the sea breaks with tremendous force, when there are strong winds. People believe, that in 1794 an English vessel , going from Jamaica to Martinique, was shipwrecked on these shallows. The exact location of the vessel in question is not known.

Waves breaking on the shallows of the Saba Bank. This photo was taken by me from my verandah in The Level Saba.

In the late afternoon watch of February 6th, 1834 we sailed with the “Echo” over that same area, measured on same, 7.5 fathoms of water, then 9, 10, 11, 20, 25, 30 and after that with 40 fathoms there was no bottom. When we had the highest point of the middle of Saba, N1/2W. and the N.W. corner of St. Eustatius N.E. of E., behind us, we were on the rim of the reef, and the water became a darker colour. This bank which is 100 to 120 Rhineland rods wide, consists of irregular coral stone, of a white and black colour and grey rocky grit. One finds the same noted on the chart, of Noiri, but at larger depths.

Mountains and Valleys

Chapter 3.

The mountains are unusually steep, and only here and there some pasture for the livestock. One can consider the entire island as a single mountain, with some valleys. The highest top is called The Peak and it has an elevation of 3330 feet above sea level. The houses of Chrispeen are 2430 feet, and the church in The Valley rises 1680 feet above the same sea level. The most important valley is called The Bottom, and has besides the mentioned Church some houses which together are called The Village.

Rivers, brooks, bays or harbours are not found on the island. There are three fresh water springs, and five hot water springs. Drinking water here must also be collected in cisterns, which, when they are dry, also serve as prisons.

The Mountain Throughout Saba’s history everyone referred to it as The Mountain. Someone in the mid twentieth century must have given it the name “Mount Scenery”.

There are here only two landing places to be found, Fort Road Stead to the South, and the other, which is the most important one, named The Ladder, lies N.W. to N. of the village. It was here that the pirate ship, the swift sailing schooner “Governor Dorego”, under the Command of Alexander Beriteau, being a vessel of Buenos Aires, together with the Brazilian prize ship “Lebre” , were anchored, when both were captured in April 1829 by his Majesty’s Man-o-War “De Valk”,Commander Van Es, and taken to Surinam. *

(* The pirate Captain Bariteau was condemned by the Court of Civil and Criminal Justice, of the 29th of September 1830, to twenty years of forced labour. The second person Stevan Donay to 15 years; Manuel Echanis and Charles Stuart both for three years, while Eugene Gouvernon as besides the rest of the crew were absolved and set free.)

The roads or rather the paths, which lead from the said landing places to the valley are extraordinarily steep and difficult, and each almost an hour long going, thereby so narrow going up between frightening chasms, that no two persons can go side by side. Everything which one wants to carry up or bring down must be carried in small quantities from or to The Valley, and borne with difficulty.

The blacks however bring with great skill, on their heads, down the hillsides, the frames of boats, which are then built on the coast, which the stranger, had he not seen it, would have considered it impossible to do.

Vice Commander Richard Johnson’s coffee pot regretably damaged but still a worthwhile souvenir.

Chapter 4.


The island is divided in six districts whaich are named Palmetto Point, The Valley, Chrispeen, St. John’s, Hell’s Gate and The Peak. Also here from the middle of July until the middle of October one has to deal with the frighhtening hurricane months. Normally they come from the North, and follow the compass in a Westerly direction, back again in the North. Very seldom however they last for more than 24 hours without a pause. Not withstanding that the Peak, except in the month of February is without clouds, there is less rain than the inhabitants would like to have.

Epedemic diseases are satisfactorily not known here, which is attributed to the refreshing sea breezes. On the entire island there is no medical doctor, why it is to be wondered,how the people become old, and the population is increasing. Only very few lepers are to be found here, and the Jaws and Elephantiasis are not known here at all.

Chapter 5

Village and Fort

The houses are spread out in The Valley, named The Bottom, are, considering there is a church in their midst, called The Village not withstanding that the area called Windward Side has the most houses.

The only religious leader, who lives here is a Prebyterian. Methodists are not tolerated here. The church building after the hurricane of 1772, has been completely rebuilt, for which a collection was taken up in the neighbouring islands. In 1821 it was repaired and noticeably improved. It is not large, an oblong square building, of which the massive walls are built of stone. The same also serves as Council Hall and school.

Anglican Christ Church in The Bottom

The houses in general are not large, but are maintained in a clean and well mintained condition, and not to be exempted, the straw huts standing in between, with their gardens and front yards. There are nowehere piles of rubbish, and houses in disrepair, by which Paramaribo, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten are so poluted,

Chapter 6


The Southern part of the island is called the Fort Bay, one can only find there nothing else but four useless canons. There are no military forces here, but the citizens are good marksmen, and the reverse, the same insignificance would be besides the least bad weather, sufficiently inacessible’

Chapter 7

Means of Existence

Elizabeth Hassell with Adelina Hassell here pounding the Guinea corn.

One finds here only a few small sugar plantations, which are located at The Bottom, which belong to a cetain Dinzey [Thomas]. They have between 20 to 25 acres under cultivation, and a slave workfroce of 60 people, but of which half of them are children. The yield is completely dependent on the more or less extent of rain or drought. The harvest of 1828 amounted to 150 barrels. That of 1829 is anticipated to be not more than 30 barrels.*

(*American flour barrels, containing sugar of between 230 and 240 pounds Troy).

Each home, people calculated, that there are, besides some straw huts, 150 which have its own garden planted with sugarcane and cotton, besides some bananas (Bacova’s) . In the mountain ravines, one can find some very luxuriant and fine quality coffee trees,and on the slopes of the mountains, some corn and a larger quantity of Guinea corn.

Administrator Max Huith on the left inspecting the canon at Fort Bay.

Every home of some importance has a sugar cane handmill, consisting of two horizontal cyclinders, which are turned around against each other by two blacks. The women who plant the cotton, make their own spinning wheels, and knit very fine socks and gloves, which are lovely and strong. For the first I paid six, and for the latter, eight guilders for a dozen.

According to a report of the Governor Cantz’laar, the livestock in 1816 consisted of 1 horse, 8 mules, 191 head of cattle, and many sheep and goats. In 1829 there were here 3 horses, 5 mules, 150 head of cattle, 300 sheep, 800 goats and 600 pigs, among which there were found some weighng more than 300 pounds.

Making cane liquor even in modern times. Fron left to right Police officer Harry L. Johnson, the brothers Cecil and Alvin “Bobby” Every and Al Hassell.

Poultry and “pulputanen” are plentiful, but no ducks or “doksies”. Garden vegetables are here also plentiful such as tubers, potatoes, and other ground vegetables, as well as cabbage and other greens. Bread is baked from cassava meal, which is more

dry and healthy than tasty and is nutritious. If the agriculture and raising of cattle are not profitable any more, than is necessary for local consumption, there is some export to St. Thomas, also trade is very small. The men, a great deal of them fishermen catch a great quantity of turtles and other kind of fish,which they take to other islands for sale, while also on this island excellent and very much sought after rowing boats are built. The women spin and knit different pieces of cotton clothing, while further export exists in the export of some cattle and garden vegetables. The entire export of the mentioned articles is restricted to barter trade with St. Thomas from, of which pieces of clothing, shoes, hats, (on Saba there are neither tailors or shoemakers), salt pork and meat, cotton, coffee, wine and distilled, which in trade are received back in return.

Import duties are very small, and as well as a reult of this, as to the limited import, is the levying thereof of particular little importance and can amount over a whole year period to hardly f.80.–

Chapter 9

Thomas Eric Johnson here milking his cow. Families survived by farming, fishing, and livestocking raising.


The Commander of Saba carries the title of Vice Commander who is assisted by three or four civil servants, and he is responsible to the Commander of St.Eustatius. The present (1829) Vice Commander of Saba, Edward Beaks Jr. , a native of the island was recently dismissed from his position and replaced by Mr. Richard Johnson, an old man age 72, who never went on a boat, much less any foreign region, and even had not set foot on any of the neighbouring islands.

The Council of Policy, consisted of:Messrs. Richard Johnson, President

John Dinzey Winfield, teacher and merchant

Henry Johnson Hassell , member

Henry Hassell, member

Charles Simmons, Secretary

John Davis, Marshall and Postman,

Moses Leverock, Vendu Master.

The only tax levied on the island is for the income of the Vice Commander which amounts to f. 800.– per year, It can be provided from the incoming duties, from the income from the tax on sales and from some scarce emoulements. If all of this amounts to the aformentioned sum, then it is to the benefit of the Vice Commander; if however it is less, then the shortfall is charged to the inhabitants. The Secretary has no other compensation than the benefit of some emoulements, which can yield around 100 guilder per year.

These were the roads between the villages. This one used to be the road between Hell’s Gate and English Quarter and beyond. This was the road which was used until the mid to late nineteen fifties when the motor vehicle road was designed above the old one by Engineer Josephus Lambert Hasssell

Chapter 10

Language, Morals and Customs

The language used here is a dialect English, and not one resident understand a word of Dutch. Although in general poor, the inhabitants of Saba live among each other very peaceful and harmonius, for which is proof when the take over of the island in 1816, not one case was brought before the Judge. For such much is contributed by the common marriages, whereby nearly the entire white population are related to one another. The natives are so attached to their place of birth, that when they go else where even if it settling on one of the neighbouring islands, they die from homesickness. The emigration to St. Eustatius has been done succesfully sometimes by some with good results

The road leading from the Ladder Bay to The Bottom and beyond. It run up through the gut on the left side of the stairs built in 1934 which are on the ridge. This photo is from 1909.

One claims that the women of Saba are the prettiest of all of our West Indian possessions, considering that they are well shaped, white and with blushing colour, have a healthy European appearance. The abbot Raynal, ( and who dares to doubt the witness of an abbot in such matters.*) “Throughout America there is no blood so pure as that of Saba; the women there preserve a freshness of complexion, which is not to be found in any other of the Caribee islands. “

  • A philosophical and political History,of the settlements and trade of Europeans in the East and West Indies X Vol. by the Abbe Raynal. Vol. V page 423
    • For myself, I find the women of Saba more amicable than handsome; in general they are more gentle in nature, and domestic.
    • The slaves are treated here with special humane care. and hardly feel their enslavement. Also with regards to foreigners, the inhabitants, the natives, practice an extraordinary amount of hospitality,and although their language as has already been said is a bastard English, they are however far from prejudiced against the Hollanders, as are the inhabitants of St. Eustatius. In general as well as their simple lifestyle, as their morals and customs are all praiseworthy
A document signed by Richard Johnson still alive at 93.

Chapter 11


Saba was discovered by Colombus in 1492 on a Sunday or Sabbath known by the Spanish Domingo or Saba, which island was unihabited at the time. People claim that the first population consisted of emigrants from Sint Eustatius and St. Kitts (* Hollanders, Scots and Irish, who settled here in 1665) and in the beginning cultivated a bit of cotton and coffee, and later on also sugar, while some things were shipped via St. Eustatius to Holland.

When I said before that the island is strenghtened by nature, by the same narrow, steep and difficult to climb mountain paths, the French who sought to capture the island by surprise, experienced this to their loss. The islanders defended themselves by rolling down boulders, whereby the enterprise failed completely. The terrible hurricane of 1772 nearly destroyed Saba. Besides the church 100 houses were destroyed, coffee and cotton trees were carried into the sea and the land was made barren by the salt spray falling over the island. This led to bitter poverty and to the moving of some of the inhabitants elsewhere as a reult. Since then the coffee and cotton which was cultivated here was not sufficient for their own consumption, and that which is lacking is imported from St. Thomas. Also the hurricane of 1819 did extensive damage here, although in less measure than to St. Martin. Of less importance was the hurricane of 1821.

Chapter 12.

These types of huts were still around even into the late nineteen forties. After the Great Hurricane of 1772 some people even had to live in caves. One of my ancestors Jacob Vlaun lived in a cave below the cliff on Hell’s Gate which cave is still called Vlaun’s cave.

Animals, Plants and Minerals

The animal world has nothing noteworthy on this island. Only in the hurricane months, one can find some wild doves. Vermin and insects are here just as abundant and of the same sort as at St. Eustatius.

Besdes the plants mentioned by us in our report on agriculture, one can find in the mountain gullies, in the fertile ground which is difficult to plant in, some cocao and coconut trees and some quantity of Vienca’s cactusses and Aloe plants.

To the Eastern side of the mountain there is a well of perhaps more than 3000 feet depth, or to the surface of the sea. A stone thrown in there cannot be heard falling. Formerly arsenicum (rat poison) was found here, but the fear that the blacks would misuse this, kept the location from being disclosed, and now it has been completely lost.

In the mountain of Chrispeen, there is a cave, in which there is white chalk, sulphur and plume alum. Also on top of the mountain one can find two such mines, which the trouble and costs which would accompany the exploitation, would not compensate for the slight income it would generate.

My grandmother Marie Elizabeth Johnson pictured here with two of her daughters Cora (standing, mother of Bernard, Ethel and Elmer) and seated May, and with her husband Daniel Johnson. Marie was a granddaughter of Vice Commander Richard Johnson and a daughter of his son Thomas who had a number of children by his first wife Eleanor Markoe and after her death he Thomas married at age 65 Ann Louisa Hassell age 29.

Chapter 13

Excursion to Saba

Finally some notes follow which were made by me, in my Journal about a small outing to the island of Saba. I hired for that purpose the same Captain Flaun (Vlaun) and the same sloop, with which before I had sailed to St. Eustatius. We agreed that he would take me to Saba and wait there for two days, after which he would take me back to St. Martin for which I had to pay him twenty guilders, while I would provide myself with food and drinks.

On Friday morning on the 13th of February 1829 I left St. Martin for this trip, and I was accompanied as a travel companion by Mr. A. D. du Cloux, commander of the detachment of riflemen in garrison there.

At 8 am we sailed with a stiff North Easterly cool wind out of Great Bay

and arrived at 1 pm on the South West side of Saba, at the Ladder, at anchor, a miserable landing place. Very wild and barren, the island presents. When sailing around the West side of same, we saw outside of Mary’s Point, the naked rock called the Diamond, rising out of the sea. At 15 fathoms deep it stands completely by itself like a tower 90 feet above water. The breaking of the sea is terrible, as well as on this rock, as on Mary’s Point itself, which amazing steep coast is surrounded by blue and read rocks. Above these rocks one can see on the steep incline of the mountain some humble huts and small houses located there, which neighbourhood bears the name of this point.

***( This needs closer inspection.. Teenstra is referring here to what is called Torrence or Torens Point as “Mary’s Point with the village above on the slope being called by the same name. However the area is being referred to in his story as Palmetto Point, which would include Middle Island and Cow Pasture assumingly. Perhaps this was because the village of Palmetto Point was the most important of the three. Teenstra would have been unaware of the first known map with few details made by Captain E.H. Colombie of the Royal Navu dated 15 April 1816, the year Saba was transferred to the Dutch from the British. The cartographic story of Saba is even shorter. The first map of the island was made by the British Naval Officer E.H. Colombine and printed by the British Hydrographic Office in 1816. No new printed map of Saba was published until well into the twentieth century. The island did appear as an insert on several British maps and on a Dutch nautical chart from 1903. Around 1883, another printed map of Saba must have been published, but this one is known only to us through later copies. Close to the end of the nineteenth century, a manuscript map was made of the village known as The Bottom. In a census of 1861 made by Governor Edward Beaks Jr. the village is clearly referred to by its original name “Palmetto Point” and I have bills-of-sale even in the early twentieth century referring to the seller of the property as residing in Palmetto Point. Could the point have been known then as “Mary’s Point? And if so where did the Naval Officer have got the name “Torrence Point” from. This map of 1816 set the trend for all future maps to refer to it as “Torrence Point” but someone in 1829 must have told Teenstra that the Point of Land opposite the “Diamond” was called “Mary’s Point:” Also in the census of 1823 just six years before Teenstra visited Saba among the names mentioned are those of the heads of households of Palmetto Quarter among them my great-great grandfather and my great-great- greatgrandfather who lived between St. Eustatius and Saba. The list of heads of households for Palmetto Point Quarter was James Horton Sr. and his son James Horton Jr. , John Beal, Peter Simmons, Peter Hassell, John Zeagors, Thomas Zeagors, Peter Collins and James Hassell.

The Census of 1861 made up as required by law at the time.
Landing at the “Fort Bay” in former times posed many problems and the road leading up to The Bottom, while better than that leading up from The Ladder Bay was still a formidable task for those not from Saba.
The road leading up to The Bottom. This was built much later on and Teenstra as described in the story of his visit to Saba landed at The Ladder and took that more tortuous path up to The Bottom.
Landing in calm waters at the Ladder Bay formerly

Sighing I looked up against the steep landing place, and wished from the depth of my heart, that we could already be on the top. If before this time.I was of the opinion that the landing on St. Eustatius was difficult, there is no comparison to be made with the landing at this island. There is no Bay, and the small flat embankment, at the foot of the steep mountain consists of some “vlenten” , or rather round washed up balls and rolling stones, on which there was a high surf present. And after this dangerous landing, the most difficult part of the voyage first begins. With every right the mountain path bears the name of The Ladder because along an irregular formed path of steps, one has to climb to the top. nearly 1700 feet to “The Bottom”, ( Icannot understand. because one must actually, with every effort of force climb for a whole hour before one has actually reached The Bottom). Added to that the late afternoon sun, shined so terrible, and I do not need to say this, that in the sweat of our faces we reached the object of our trip.

At last we were at the top and entered into the large and fertile valley, of which the glorious green, provided a most surprising contrast, with the surrounding naked mountain top. It has two exits, one which leads to the Southern shore, the other to the Western shore. That Saba was a burning mountain, is so evident that such leaves no room for discussion, and it is probably, that this so called Bottom at the time was the crater.

Hardly had we arrived in between the 40 to 50 houses, and looked forward to seeing one of Saba’s so highly f amous beauties, then as if to restrain our desire, the first woman who came limping was so hideously misfigured that she could be an example of all that is ugly, and that immediately when seeing her face, I thought on, that which our Father Cats so accurately described witch came to mind.

W hen we arrived at the Church we were welcomed by the most important inhabitants, who were of the opinion, that we were charged with a most important mission; while they with anxious curiosity tried to uncover the reason for our arrival.

Entering the church we met Mr. James Dinzey Winfield, Member of the Council of Policy,busy in his capacity of teacher, giving lessons in English to some fifteen students, because Dutch is so strange here, that no one even understands it.

We proceeded after that with Mr. Edward Beaks, the former Vice Commander, to his residency next to the church, where we were received exceptionally friendly and with generosity.

I, who had imagined that Saba only had an impoverished population, in civilization half a century behind, experienced, and discovered here that I was deceived in my expectations and for the good.

The house was clean, and expensively furnished, and the food which was served to us and drinks in abundance, and extremely delicious.

After we had consumed a grog od delicious old rum, our wih was to go to bed early, so as the following day with the pleasur of the cool morning to climb the mountains and to see Saba up close;but going to bed was postponed with one cigar after the other, followed by more substantial drinks.

View of Winwardside from 1900. On the right side of the photograph is the home of Vice Commander and he is buried behind the house. The little house in the back belonged to one of his daughters . In this humble little house three young girls made Antillean History. One of them was the mother of the Posner family, one was the mother of Antoine Maduro the famous Papiamento specialist, and the other one was married to a Wever and she was the grandmother of Maggie Wever of Aruba who had some welllknown stores with beauty products.

Because of that a late awakening and some discomfort, I decided to remain another day, which increased the costs of the voyage considerably, as my good friend Flaun (Vlaun), kept himself to the quote; Everyone fishes to his own tide.”

It was already 9 am, when we started out to the East towards the mountains, to climb the 750 feet higher than The Bottom situated Chrispeen; the path leading there follows a winding and rocky mountain path.

The view from there down on the village is picturesque, while because of the strong echo of the noise from below you can call out to anyone. From this height, where it was rather cold, you can see St. Eustatius lying, which from that location seems very close. The living colour of the pastures, which are found here, and on which very good grass grows provides for a very charming view. We wander now from this green slope, downhill, along a veryt narrow and dangerous rocky path, to Windward Side, the residence of Vice Commander Richard Johnson.

This narrow and curvy path which winds halfway up the mountaiin, around deep ravines and steep chasms, is everywhere horrifying. Looking jp to black split cliffs and crumbling huge rocks, which because of the passing clouds appear as falling down, while the wide gaping ravines, the deep chasms, and the broken off mass of rocks, already below, cause the hiker to shudder.

We now heard the call, HELLO, AWOOI, the sign that our approach was already being announced, and shortly after that the Vice Commander and the members of the Council, Hasssell and Winfield, welcomed us on the outskirts of the village, after which we went together to the residence of Mr. Hassell. Here to our shame of getting up late, the gentleman, former Commander Beaks Jr. father of the gentleman of the same name who was accompanying us, a man of 75 years (born 1754) and Matthew Winfield 64 years old (born 1765), who both lived in The Bottom , and who had arrived two hours before us, whereas they to please us had come on foot, on this difficult mountain path, which they had not done in three years.

The devil’s heater and the Devil’ s Hand. Teenstra claims that this was the reason for naming the village Hell’s Gate as only the Prince of Hell could have placed his handprint there as a sign that you were approaching his residence. A pity that this historic rock was dynamited in the nineteen fifties so that the road could be widened.

The inhabitants of Windward Side, live so to speak , in the clouds, yet enjoy in this their seclusion strong and healthy bodies, and domestic pleasures, such as are scarcely found in the world below.

After resting here for a while, we walked to the Spring Bay on the North East side of the island, where there is a Srping of boiling water. From here we arrived in the vicinity of Hell’s Gate or the gate to Hell, a barren steep corner, where 107 people live, who tried to do their utmost, and to help ur research. They showed us strange fish and sea plants, which flower when planted, and some ore and other minerals. They also told us the origin of the name Hell’s Gate, where there exists a rock, in which there are some holes, which together form what looks like a print resembling a very large hand, and because there is no human gifted with such a hand it can only be that of the Prince of Hell.

On the return trip we went to the home of Vice Commander Richard Johnson. His wife was dressed like a Frisian farm wife, and equally strange although less comparable, was the attire and clothing of two of their daughters, who with a graceful face, in which virtue and innocence were expressed, complimented by a lovely figure.

Not one person of the entire household had ever even visited one of the neighbouring islands, and receiving strangers was a novelty for them.

Even though their home was smaller and less luxurious than that of Mr. Beaks, the reception was just as cordial, and everyone exerted themselves to receive us to the best. The table comprised twelve covers which would have been sufficient for three times that amount of people. And not only the meat and fish dishes were more than delicious, but also the vegetables and ground provisions, are better here in smell and taste, more similar to European produce, than those of our lower and warmer colonies, such as the flat and watery Surinam and the Nickerie.

It was already getting dark when we returned to The Bottom, accompanied by our hospitable people.

Sunday morning announced itself with clear skies and so invited us to climb the Peak, on which exhausting climb, Mr. Henry Johnson Hasssell was friendly enough to accompany us. Just as from the Diana peak, we saw from the same Mountain top through the clouds on the expansive sea below, where the frigates and brigs appeared as if they were childrens toys.

Monday morning, February 16th 1829 accompanied by the dignitaries of the island who repeatedly expressed their well wishes and concerns to us, we descended once again to The Ladder, and after we had descended this dreadfull steepness, we arrived through the strong breakers completely soaked back on board. Soon the anchor was raised, we left at 8 o.clock in the morning with a South East, and thus not unfavourable, wind under sail and were back at St. Maarten at three o’clock in the afternoon.

So far my notes are recorded which for the most part can be of some general intereest, and with this end my description of the Dutch West Indian islands.

A map from Dr. Boeke’s book about fishing on the Saba Bank from 1907 showing where the copper banks are supposed to be which cause fish poisoning. When I get a chance I will translate that part of his report which deals with Saba ao that people will know how it was with fishing more than one hundred years ago.

The End

Translated from the Dutch Original by me William Stanley “Will” Johnson

The Level, Windward Side, Wall Street #53

Saba March 5th, 2021

Announcement by The Daily Herald

The “Daily Herald” for which I also write the column “Under The Sea Grape Tree” sent me a message to which I responded about the purpose behind the Saba Islander and on Friday last they carried an article on my blog as they call it. I prefer to look at it as a Saba newspaper and once the road to The Level where I live has been resurfaced and I get some expertise up here we will see how to improve the site. I am getting quite a lot of positive responses and people say they like the historical touches I give to the news of the day.
Saba people have a proud history behind us. I see some of our young people are having children and that is a good thing. What use would it be if all our generation and that of our ancestors would be lost if no one on the island took on the responsibility of having children. What greater love can there be than that between a man and a woman producing children and living on to enjoy your grandchildren. Stay focused on the future and your off spring will inherit the earth.
And by the way today April 7th, 2013 we are having some of the best rains we have had in months and I put out seed the other day in anticipation of the rain we are having today. I also receive Antigua television here by my house with only a rabbit ear antenna. I like to see the West Indian programming they offer and also the weather report. Last night they were giving hope that we would be getting some good rain today, and the rains came.

M.D. Teenstra’s Visit to Saba

Vice Commander Richard Johnson (1828 – 1830)

    By; Will Johnson

I have noticed that Mr. Walter Hillenbrand admires the historian M.D. Teenstra. And so do I. Perhaps for different reasons though, than I do. The thing that I admire most about his book “De Nederlandsch West Indische Eilanden” is that he actually visited the islands which he wrote about.

    Several Dutch historians of the twentieth century, while doing good work, based their research on documents either found in the archives in The Hague or in Willemstad. Some of them even brought forward theories which are not based on any fact whatsoever. And yet we look at them as the experts.

Dr. J. Hartog especially tried to square us out in a nice Dutch way as if all the people had descended from Dutch burghers. He also believed that all the place names had originally been Dutch.

    In the nineteen sixties Mr. Sydney Lejuez and I used to write for the Windward Islands Opinion. Not much news back then, so we had to make news. In a foolish moment I said to Sydney once, “Man I could write a book just like anyone else.” The next weeks headline in The Opinion was “Will Johnson to write book.” No such intention, mind you. A few weeks later I received a registered letter from a Dr. Hartog on Aruba. Scared me to death. He wrote to tell me that he had copyright on his books and that if I quoted from his books that he would take me to court. Never mind that he had copied from everybody and his sister, and that his use of the Doctor title had been widely questioned. One of the things which I am sorry about is that I did not keep that letter, but believe me this is not a story which I made up. And on top of that treath he sent a letter telling the Governor to keep an eye on me as perhaps I was doing all this wirting during office hours. Since this was first written in the meantime I found the letter.

    Anyway Mr. M.D. Teenstra visited Saba on Friday the 13th, 1829 with a chartered sloop from St.Maarten owned by Captain Vlaun. All the way back then Friday fell on the 13th. You just can’t get rid of those Fridays the 13th can you?

Figure 2 The Anglican church was the only church on Saba when M.D. Teenstra visited in February 1829. It served as a Government meeting hall as well as a school.

  Teenstra wrote that the person in authority on Saba had the title of Vice Commander and was responsible to the Commander on Sint Eustatius. (Locally though, the person was referred to as the Governor). The present (1829) Vice Commander of Saba, Edward Beaks Jr., a native of the island, was recently suspended from his post. Mr. Beaks had been suspended on suspicion that he had owned and had put on a “war footing” a schooner involved in acts of piracy. He was an uncle of the notorious pirate Hiram Beaks who is credited with coining the phrase:”Dead men tell no tales.”Mr. Beaks was replaced by Mr. Richard Johnson, an old man of 72 years, who had never stepped on a boat, much less visited a foreign place, and had not even visited one of the neighboring islands.

   The Court of Policy (Raad van Policie) at that time consisted of: Mr. Richard Johnson, President, Mr. Thomas Dinzey Winfield, Schoolteacher, and Merchant Henry Johnson Hassell, Member, Henry Hassell, Member, Charles Simmons, Secretary, John Davis Marshall and Mozes Leverock vendue master.

    The language of Saba was English and not one inhabitant could be found who could speak a word of Dutch. Teenstra also confirms that the first settlers consisted of emigrants from St.Eustatius and St.Kitts. Dutch, Scots and Irish some of who settled here in 1665. The latter would have been the ninety pirates who remained back in 1665. They had been part of the expedition by Edward and Thomas Morgan out of Port Royal Jamaica. They captured Saba and Sint Eustatius. On his visit to Saba Teenstra was accompanied by Mr. A.D. Du Cloux, Commander of a detachment of soldiers stationed on Sint Maarten.

Figure 3 Teenstra  praises the nicely built and well maintained houses on Saba with in between some thatched roofed houses.

The old tatched roofed houses were located on different parts of the island even up to the nineteen fifties I remember one or two in “The Alley” in the Mountain above the Windward Side.

    Teenstra describes his arrival at the Ladder Bay, the torturous climb up to The Bottom and the warm reception he received at the home of former Commander Edward Beaks. The home was located next to the Anglican Church.

    After a night of heavy drinking and cigar smoking, the next morning he had to make the long climb up to the Windward Side to visit Vice Commander Richard Johnson. The party was welcomed outside the village by the Vice Commander and members of the Council Hassell and Winfield, and they first proceeded to the home of Mr. Hassell. Here they met the old Commander Edward Beaks Jr. father of the one by the same name accompanying them. Although he was 75 years of age and Matthew Winfield 64, both of them had left The Bottom on foot three hours ahead of Teenstra. They had not visited Windward Side in three years.

Figure 4 Some folks here on a picnic at the Well’s Bay. The original well on this spot had been built a couple of centuries before Teenstra visited Saba. The Well served both Middle Island and Palmetto Point villages which had been established after 1629 when the Irish and Scots settled in these villages and name them after villages, they had left behind on St. Kitts.

The Well at Well’s Bay, photo Steve Kruythoff

 After visiting Hell’s Gate, they went to the home of Vice Commander Johnson whose wife was dressed like a Frisian farm wife, but two of their daughter’s present were dressed more plainly. Not one person in the entire household had ever visited any of the neighboring islands, and receiving strangers was a novelty for them. The house is the one now owned by Mr. Peter Granger and Richard Johnson is buried in a private cemetery above the house now owned by Dennis Dowling.

    Even though their residence was smaller and less luxurious than that of Mr. Beaks, the reception was most generous and Teenstra wrote that everyone tried to treat his party to the best. The table comprised twelve places but the food would have been sufficient for three times that amount of people. Teenstra describes the meat and fish dishes as well as the vegetables better tasting than anything similar in Europe. In the evening Teenstra writes that he left the generous and hospitable family and headed to The Bottom.

    On Sunday Teenstra went to the top of the mountain with Henry Johnson Hassell. On Monday February the 16th accompanied by the prominent people of the island he went to the Ladder Bay where Vlaun’s sloop was waiting to take him back to St.Maarten.

   Teenstra was generous to us with his measurements. He described the island as having a circumference of fifteen English miles with 18.000 acres of land, while the mountain was 3330 feet high. Crispeen was 2480 feet and The Valley (The Bottom) 1680 feet. In1829 there were 1200 people living on Saba; and the livestock consisted of 3 horses, five mules, 150 head of cattle, 300 sheep, 800 goats and 600 pigs (of which some of the pigs weighed more than 300 pounds each.)

The new steproad on the ridge built around 1934 and repaired in 1977 replaced the old road which led up through the gut on the left side of the new road, which is just as hard to clim UP to The Bottom.

Figure 5This is part of the original road leading from the Ladder Bay to The Bottom and the rest of the island. It was on the left side of the ridge on which in 1934 the step road was built.

   In 1828 Richard Johnson then aged 71 was the oldest member of the Council. He was appointed as Vice Commander on December 20th, 1828 and started functioning on January 20th, 1829. He stepped down on May 5th, 1830. In his letter of resignation, he stated that “due to advanced age and consequent debility and being far removed from his place of office, he was forced to resign. Henry Johnson Hassell was the second oldest member of the council and briefly succeeded Mr. Richard Johnson. On May 5th 1830 news was received on Saba that Mr. Thomas Dinzey Winfield, Member of the Council, had been appointed to the post of Vice Commander. The title was changed after November 20th 1833 to Commander. Mr. Winfield died on June 10th 1836 and Mr. Edward Beaks was reappointed. I guess he had sold his pirate schooner in the meantime.

    My ancestor Richard Johnson had obviously not read the poem by Locksley Hall, as I did, or else he might have at least ventured on a boat to Statia.

Although Vice Commander Richard Johnson resigned his post at the age of 72 using as argument that he was too old to carry on, here he is still signing documents in the year 1850 when he would have been 92.

……To wander far away,

On from island unto island, to the gateways of the day.

Larger constellations burning, mellow moons and happy skies,

Breadth of tropic shade and palms to cluster, knots of paradise.

‘Droops the heavy blossomed bower, hangs the heavy fruited tree,

Summer isles of Eden lying in dark purple spheres of sea.’

Oh my. “Yes, to wander far away on from island unto island, to the gateways of the day.”

Figure 6 In his report of his sojourn on Saba in1829 Teenstra mentions that cassava bread was the principal staple as bread as flour was hard to obtain back then.

Cassava bread drying out on the roof. This was the case all over the island in the past.

    In doing research on my great-great-grandfather to my surprise I found a document signed on January 1st 1850 by the very same Richard Johnson who in 1830 had declared himself “of advanced age and consequent debility.” He would have been 93 years old in 1850. Who knows when he actually died? He may be still around somewhere signing documents.

The document reads as follows: “We the undersigned natives and residents, Burghers of this island Saba. Do hereby certify and declare that the land situated in Gallops Quarter called the Company’s Land was left by the proprietors 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 and Henry J. Hassell former Commander and present Senior Member of the Court. Signed in the presence of me Hercules Hassell, provisional secretary. Saba, 31 January 1850.

Figure 7 The writer also mentions that a number of homes had a sugar mill like this one pictured here and press the sugar cane between the two rollers and produced what we call cane liquor which is still considered a special treat.

   Richard Johnson’s son Thomas, my great grandfather at the age of 64(on April 27th, 1868), married Ann Louisa Hassell aged 28 and fathered my grandmother Marie Elizabeth born May 1869, when he was 65 years old. His first wife Elenanor Markoe died in 1858. Thomas died on August 12th 1879 leaving three small children behind.

Because of that he laid out a shortened path of descent for me from Richard Johnson who was born on Saba in 1747. Richard is also the great-great-great-grandfather of the present Lt. Governor Jonathan Johnson and Commissioner Chris Johnson.

   Though Saba has changed, if Richard could come back, the family could entertain him in similar fashion as he did for Teenstra back on February 14th, 1829. The more things change the more they remain the same. And by the way, nowadays I quoting Dr.J.Hartog straight without fear that he will take me to Court.

Thomas Johnson son of Vice Commander Richard Johnson lost his first wife Eleanor Markoe, when he was around 67 he then married Ann Louis Hassell who was 29 years of age and had three additional children to those he had by his first wife. One of those children was my grandmother Marie Elizabeth Johnson who married Daniel Johnson from Behind-The-Ridge something looked down on as The Quarter people did not care much for Hell’s Gate people. Additional in the picture are two of their ten children. Standing Cora Johnson, mother of Ethel, Bernard and Elmer and seated is May Johnson. Photo from around 1925 or so.


The coffee Jar belonging to Vice Commander Richard Johnson who served from 1828 to 1830. He was born in 1757 and never left Saba not even on a fishing trip. When John William Johnson “Willy” passed away , his son Cletus brought this to me and told me that Willy had wanted me, as a member of the family, to have this coffee mug which had belonged to our common ancestor Richard. Omar was with Cletus when he delivered it to me at my home. Sometime after that I saw Omar coming up the hill. He was a lil rolly polly fellow and told me from the Road “Mr. Will I need to talk to you.” So I told him to come in to the house. He asked me: “Mr. Will, are you from here? ” I told him “Of course,we are all family”, and then I went on to tell him how the family relationship was. He said: “No wonder. You had me puzzled as I wondered why would my grandfather give you that wonderful item which my father brought for you.” Willy was diappoined that he had loaned it out and that the handle had been broken off and the top was lost as this would have had some value. Willy was like me as a boy, he hanged around with our great aun Ann Elizabeth Johnson “Miss Shishi” and others and would question them about life as it was when they were young. And so did I as a boy and Willy passed on lots of valuable information to me about the Saba of the past and I geatly appreciate him leaving this unique family souvenir to me.

Saba’s Permanent need for the use of cisterns

Saba was first settled by Europeans starting with the first settlements of Middle Island and Palmetto Point in 1629. This took place after Nevis and St. Kitts were captured by the Spanish and the English and French citizens were chased from there. The Irish indentured servants and Scottish prisoners of war were allowed to leave. The Iris because of sharing the same faith as the Spaniards were always given special treatment by the Spaniards. The new settlements on Saba were named after two villages on St. Kitts namely where they had lived before. Middle Island and Palmetto Point still exist on St. Kitts.

The village of Palmetto Point in 1909. Named after a village on St. Kitts where the original Irish settlers lived before arriving here on Saba in 1629.

Almost immediately the need for fresh drinking water was felt. A well was dug at what afterwards became known as The Well’s Bay.  Around 1640 settlers were sent by the Dutch West India company out of St. Eustatius and they settled on a small plateau above what would later become the Fort Bay. Several years later a landslide destroyed the settlement which was located above a spring with drinkable water. This spring has been used for hundreds of years and is still being used.

Colorized photo of a group having a picnic at the Well’s Bay in the nineteen twenties. This well was built sometime after the first Irish and Scottish from Palmetto Point and Middle island settled in the cliffs above the bay and named their new villages after those they had left behind on St. Kitts.

On the Eastern side of the island in the area known as “Hells Gate” which was far above sea level a legend was passed down about the settlers having to fight the native Kalinago for the use of the Spring at what became known as “Spring Bay”. According to this legend recorded in the book “Tales from My Grandmother’s Pipe” there was a “Great Injun” guarding the Spring and the settlers could not get past him. So they recruited a strong man named “Johnny Frauw” to engage the Great Injun in battle in order to get access to the Spring. The two men fought each other on “Fair Play Ridge” all day and ended up into the sea where both were drowned. If you look at the area on the back of Flat Point known as “Johnny Frauw’s Pond and see a blue light moving about it is his ghost looking to find the Great Injun. Later on, the Europeans secured the well and built it up for easier access. In the Alice flood of January 2nd, 1955, the Spring was filled up and never repaired. A well was dug later on and in the 1950’s Daniel Thomas Johnson and others renewed it and though not in use it still remains there. It would make sense to relocate the Spring and bring it back into use by also building a cistern next to it. This cistern could be used together with the necessary infrastructure to accommodate locals as well as visitors to the Island to camp out there.

Former Island Council Member Dudley Johnson of Hell’s Gate her checking the hot Springs in Great Hole located below the cliffs and the old Sulphur Mines. The other person is Al Hassell of Windward Side.
The young historian M. Dantes Fortunat ho visited Saba at the age of 19 in the year 1870 when he was writing his history of Haiti and the geography of the West Indies. He was most impressed with Governor Moses Leverock whose lithograph is the only person not from Haiti who appears in the book.

When the young Haitian historian Dantes Fortunat visited Saba in 1870 when Governor Moses Leverock was in function in the report on his visit to Saba, he described five springs along the island of which some were hot. We know for sure that there are two hot springs one below the cliffs between Tent Bay and the Ladder which may have been filled in by a large landslide some years ago. The other one is opposite the Green Island and the cliffs under the former Sulphur Mine. Two other Springs which were already mentioned are at the Fort Bay and the Spring Bay.

 In the nineteen eighties a Venezuelan expert was asked by the Saba Government to check out the Springs and the possibility of finding more around Saba. According to him at the time he said that one could detect water flow from the mountain by the difference in colour of the water along the coast. And so, springs could be located.

Stand alone cistern at St. John’s with a cistern plane and not attached to any house. A cistern like this in former times would have been considered to belong to a well-t-do family.

In 1951-52 Drs.J.S. Veenebos published a study he had made which is entitled “A Soil and Land Capability Survey of St. Maarten, St. Eustatius, and Saba with several very useful maps included. He gives some data for Saba from 1949 which is as follows.


Spring            Location Spring Bay sampling July 1949 Cl’mg/l 1410 Total hardness D039 pH8(?).

Spring Bay well. 7 meters deep Cl’mg/l 160 Total Hardness 19 and pH 7.5 (?).

Upper Mountain Water Hole Location: West of Hell’s Gate. Cl’mg/l – 35 Total Hardness Do7 and pH 7 and ¼.

Spring Fort Bay Cl’ mg/l 2000-3000 (estimate) and pH 8’

Warm Water Spring at beach North of Ladder Point. Date of sampling 15 March 1950. Cl’ mg/l 2084 – 2180 Total hardness 102-115 and pH 6.9 – 7.1.

He does not mention the Spring below the Sulphur Mine however that one also has been studied over the years.

Veenebos states the following on the use of cisterns as a solution to water shortages experienced from time to time. He states: “It is felt that underground cisterns could be constructed in St. Maarten, Saba and St. Eustatius, at no undue cost. It would be necessary, however to use cement or concrete, in order to provide good water-holding reservoirs. Each cistern would require its own special-lay out governed by the local situation, so as to insure maximum intake of water. In this way, water supplies could be made available to isolated settlement and plots. The water could be made available to isolated settlements and plots. The water could be pumped up with the help of small wind-mills or brought up with buckets.”

    In the early nineteen fifties the Government built a cistern in Windward Side with a pipeline leading to the English Quarter with two places where you could get water by bucket. It served a very useful purpose for people living there back then. In the Bottom one was also built in the hillside above where the future Medical School is now situated. That one also had pipe lines to the town below. In recent years both have been restored with especially in The Bottom pipelines running to the hospital and the Government Administration Building.

Over the centuries there have been many times of water crisis because of droughts and hurricanes. In Kenneth Bolles book “Caribbean Interlude” on a visit to Saba, he mentions an old timer stressing the importance of The Mountain to the people of Saba. He states that “The Mountain she takes care o’ we.” Bobby Every in an interview said that his father had told him that if it was not for the mountain many people would have died in times of drought. Drought and its consequences were an ever-present concern on the minds of the people living on Saba throughout the centuries. Cisterns were built by those who had means to do so but not everyone could afford such.  Water usage was limited to drinking, cooking and bathing. Every house nearly had a privy built away from the house which also saved on water supply.

Lt. Governor Max Huith with stick, Police Chief Bernard Halley in uniform, Edmund Hassell with Saba tire hat. Photo from 1948 with them checking on the hot spring below the cliffs between the Tent and the Ladder Bay.
To the right of the lady pictured here at the Spring Bay, between her and the cliff more or less in the middle is the Spring which should be located and restored.

In the past fifty years newly, built houses have relatively large cisterns. In some areas like The Level several homes have cisterns with capacity of over thirty thousand gallons of water.

   And the need is still there to build cisterns. Writer of this document members when he was Lt. Governor a.i. giving a lift to a Medical Student on St. John’s. When he got in the car the first advice he gave was: “Never stop building cisterns.” He gave as argument seeing so many people in flooded areas like New Orleans and they were desperate for water as it was too polluted to drink even though you saw water all around. He said such a thing is unlikely to happen on Saba with individual cisterns to each house. Even with the most devastating hurricanes and removal of downspouts before the arrival of the hurricanes, nearly all water in cisterns on the island is fit to use.

     Saba should always be aware of the need for cistern water and should not issue building permits for houses without cisterns and large ones at that.

The Alice flood of January 22nd, took out the road or most of it leading from The Bottom to the Fort Bay.

Floods have also been a continuing occurrence causing costly damage. This could have been avoided by building large cisterns along the road, especially leading to the harbor at the Fort Bay. Cisterns would be able to take up a lot of the flood water going to the harbour before the water could reach there.

Damage done by a flood in 1977 if not mistaken which brought down loads of debris from the Mountain.

Cisterns could be built in front of the home of the Island Governor by temporarily removing the small parking lot and building over into the gut and a very large cistern at that. In the event of a hurricane and the cistern is full the water could be distributed or slowly drained out so the reservoir would be empty. The same could be done at the Back of the S-curve. Build another large cistern there, and another one on the left side of the road under the cliff. The large boulders could be taken out first from there and there would be enough room to build a large reservoir there as well.

 The Yellow Fever mosquito campaign used to have a survey of all cisterns on Saba. This was in the nineteen seventies of all the cisterns on Saba. This could be looked into and updated by checking on abandoned cisterns all over the island, from Behind the Ridge to Below the Gap. A plan could be made in cooperation with the owners to have these cisterns repaired so they can be used again for use in agriculture and in case of fire.

   The Government needs to spearhead a project which would include a survey of water catchments on the island as well as cisterns which are no longer in use and can be repaired.

   Also check on the potential of the “Water Rock” close to “Santa Cruz”. There is/was a sort of Spring there. Perhaps this could be drilled somehow and have a pipeline underground leading to the water catchments along the road at Hell’s Gate.

 In the past year (2020) Saba has been taught a hard lesson. We are grateful for all the help The Netherlands have been giving us then, now and before but we must strive as much as possible to be on our own with food production. Holland too and the rest of the world are going through troubling times which are negatively influencing their economies. Therefore Saba, with the help of The Netherlands, must do everything possible to have a good decentralized water supply in the form of cisterns at every home, and to have a secure food supply by encouraging agriculture as much as possible with a hope that enough can be produced even for export.

    This report on my part has been prepared at the request of Commissioner Rolando Wilson for preparing the necessary technical research and plans for execution of these and other ideas which will come forward in this regard.

Just to give an idea of the difficulty to get from one village to the next here is a photo from around 1948 of the road from Hell’s Gate leading through the guts to English Quarter and beyond.

Done on this the 30th of January in the Year of Our Lord two thousand and twenty-one.

     In duty bound shall forever pray:

William S. “Will” Johnson

Mr. Carl Hassell

Mr. Carl Hassell and his wife Maude

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