The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

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.

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