The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Archive for the category “Uncategorized”



Image (256)

Henry Ear Johnson on the right.

By: Will Johnson

Before going into his full story, I want to start with a letter sent to then Lt. Governor Wycliffe Smith on October 11th, 1985 with a follow up letter to then Minister Leo Chance on August 18th, 1986.along the same lines.

Dear Mr. Smith,

In connection with proposals for decoration by H.M. the Queen, I am wondering if we have not overlooked Mr. Henry Earl Johnson. I cannot remember him ever receiving an award and I regret that he has been overlooked over the years.

Earl always had great confidence in Saba. While living on Aruba and trying to raise a family on a small income, he invested in Saba. He built a home, 2 theaters, and later started the guesthouse in Windward Side with some others.

Finally, he decided to retire at 40 or so to come to Saba so that he could get things going himself. He got involved in politics and served on the Island Council from 1964 to 1967. His greatest contribution though has been his confidence in an economic future for Saba. Everything he made on Aruba he invested on Saba years before he came to this island, and before anyone had the confidence that anything would work on Saba. His first theater was opened in 1954 I think and the second one in 1961. These were built at a time that Saba had no airport, pier or anything. The last few years Earl has been an active member of the Saba Lions Club.

He later started a bakery, a snack bar, he drove taxi through the time and supplied cooking gas to the island. In former times his theatres before the advent of youth centers etc. were the only places where plays could be performed. Magicians, calypsonians etc. came to the island and performed there, and thus he provided the means for Saba to be exposed to some outside culture.

I would like to suggest to you that you nominate him for a decoration by Her Majesty the Queen. Sincerely Yours, W.S.Johson.

In a similar vein  was my correspondence with Minister Leo Chance: ‘Dear Mr. Chance. As we discussed on the phone here is the curriculum vitae of Henry Earl Johnson born Saba March 5th, 1919, his present address is The Bottom #107. Among the things I said in this letter were:’ From a young man on Aruba, Earl was always interested in the progress of his native island of Saba. With savings from his small salary at LAGO he built Saba’s first movie theater in The Bottom in 1953 and a second one in 1961 in Windward Side.

In those days a movie theater served as a community center as well as was the only source of cultural entertainment on Saba. Various calypso singers were able to perform on Saba as well as magicians, and there were also local plays as well as plays from other islands put on. Earl was also instrumental in setting up the Saba Development Corporation which leased the Windward Side Guesthouse from the government and added on some rooms. He retired at an early age from LAGO and returned to Saba at a time when most people were moving on to the USA. He worked on Saba as a taxi-driver, he started a bakery, he was the supplier of household cooking gas, and also became involved in the local politics and served as a council member from 1964 to 1967. He is married and has two children. Earl has served his community well and is still very active and I strongly feel that in view of his faith in the future of Saba that he should be nominated for a decoration from Her Majesty the Queen.




Image (1834)

Photo from 1962 when three helicopters landed at the airport then under construction. Earl and his wife Olga on the right in the front.

I saw Earl’s son Cornel in the Bank the other day and I told him: ‘Boy, your father laughing at me.”

I have done over 75 eulogies which I can remember. Many of them on Saba but also on St. Martin, and St. Eustatius.

I usually do not throw away anything and have tried to keep copies of all the eulogies I have done. Including the one I did for Earl who died on February 6th, 2000.

For years I have been searching for the first page of the eulogy and the little booklet which was distributed at the funeral with his photo on the cover with a nice smile on his face. No matter what I tried I could not find it.

My filing system consists of plastic files which you can read like a book and not have to constantly be handling the paper. Nothing filed in any sort of order. Some weeks ago, I filed the last two pages of the eulogy. Something told me not to do that. I remember thinking long and hard before closing the file and putting it somewhere in between the over one hundred files of that type.


Image (707)

Cornel holding the pumpkin with Howard Johnson his uncle in law standing next to him.

Guess what. It must have been some days later that I found what I was looking for. I spent so much time trying to find file and location, where I had ‘filed’ the other two pages that I felt like giving up and I did. That is when I noticed that Earl was laughing at me (and still is as I write this) and when I met Cornel and told him of the dilemma I was confronted with.

I also found the two letters I wrote to support his nomination for a significant recognition. I still feel upset about how it went. On the same occasion I was Knighted there were others and he was given the lowest of the low recognition in the form of a medal in bronze. I was young then and in the middle of what was to turn out to be a long career and I truly felt that he should have been the one to be Knighted.

I could feel he was upset but he took it graciously and continued working on and he never lost his faith that there would be brighter economic times for Saba.

He and my mother were first cousins. We shared many stories about things which had happened to us. I remember once him telling me that when it comes to making economic decisions that you should follow your own feeling and not even let your wife discourage you.

Image (181)

Left to right Olga Johnson then Barbara Kassab-Every, Linda Johnson, and Shirley Heyliger at Olga and Earl,s home in The Bottom.

While on Aruba he heard that the estate which had belonged to John Philips on St. Martin, then owned by Mrs. Nora Rodenhuis-Van Romondt was for sale for eight thousand guilders. He was in the process of negotiating the purchase of the estate. However, his wife Olga had serious doubts about spending such a large sum of money for a plantation on St. Martin. She told him: “Look how all the St. Martin people are coming to Aruba to look for work. St. Martin will never amount to anything and your hard-earned money will be lost.” Earl chickened out. The estate is now known as ‘Emilio’s Estate’.

But he was an investor at heart and started looking for the possibility to build up his native Saba and make a living there.

On his father’s side Earl is descended from the Colquhoun clan of Scotland. Pronounced ‘Cohone’ and I have had the pleasure to visit the castle in Scotland belonging to the Campbell clan whose wife is a ‘Cohone’. I have written about my visit there and posted it in The Saba Islander.

I do not want to repeat what I have written before but I will quote from the first page of the eulogy which was lost since his death.

“The late Henry Earl Johnson was born on Saba on March 5th, 1919 and passed away on February 6th, 2000.

Like many others at the time, in the month of July 1937, he went to Aruba where for the next 24 years he was employed by the Standard Oil Company.

On October 16th, 1946 he was married to Olga Johnson, on Saba, and they had two children Linda and Cornel both of whom were born on Aruba. “

At the time of his death in the year 2000 his brother Chester was still alive and living in Texas and his sister Glady’s was living on Saba. At the time he also had five grandchildren.


Image (1273)

Opening of the Windward Side Guesthouse. Earl Johnson started the Saba Development Corporation while living on Aruba and together with Carl Anslyn, Cessie Granger and others they obtained the lease on the then Government Guest House and expanded it with a number of rooms.

Coming back to the theater business. Before he built his first theater in The Bottom in 1953 the late Guy Hodge, my good friend from St. Martin, would come to Saba and show a movie in a tent but only now and then. A few weeks ago, Allen Busby and I were in a restaurant in Marigot and he was telling me of the first movie held in Windward Side above the house of the priest by Mr. Guy Hodge. Most people had never seen a movie before as many people still had never been off island in their lifetime.

The movie was an MGM movie. The one where the Lion comes out with a roar. Allen said that Lorenzo Hassell was sitting right under the screen with Norman Hassell not too far off. Who had ever seen a Lion on Saba and had ever heard the roar of that mighty King of the Serengeti in Africa?

Allen was in doubt as to who took off running first whether it was Norman or Lorenzo and followed by the whole of Hell’s Gate (according to Allen that is). He said that for months after the people on Hell’s Gate were talking about how fortunate Lorenzo was to have run. If he had stayed according to the version of the story presented by Allen, that animal they call a Lion would have been the end of Lorenzo.’

I don’t think Earl would mind that I interjected that piece of movie folklore in this tribute to Earl’s Memory.

One of the first articles which I wrote for the Windward Islands Opinion in the early sixties was to defend Earl. The then Administrator of Saba who apparently wanted to see movies for free, decided that there should be a censoring committee, with he as the head and that the movies had to be censored before they were shown to the public. Both Earl and I thought it was ridiculous and brought extra costs to him. But it went through anyway.

Earl was a Member in good standing of the Lions Club of Saba from 1977 to 1998. This Club also took care of the Saba Carnival for many years and Earl was also involved in that. He and his family were faithful members of the Roman Catholic Church as well. Cornel boy, your father is still laughing at me. And as I write this I am told that his grandson Stuart Johnson of St. Martin has a good chance of becoming the Minister of Tourism. Earl would be happy to hear that!

Recordar es Vivir.





Captain Athelstan Peterson

Captain Athelstan Peterson

By Will Johnson.


Capt. Athleston Peterson

Captain Athelstan Peterson in uniform in New York.

I used to wonder why Miss Elsie as we called her gave her son this name. As you might know all the countries ending with Stan, like Pakistan, Afghanistan and so on, the name means Land of.

However I found out when researching this name that there had been a King Athelstan. I now wonder how come I did not know that. The Saba people most of whom had their ancestry in Britain, Scotland and Ireland, in former times, would look to their ancient Kings for names to give their children.

King Atgelstan

The original. In former times Sabans looked to the Kings of their ancestors to name their sons by in order to give them ambition.

King Athelstan was King of the Anglo Saxons from 924 to 927 and the first King of all England from 927 to 939. He was the son of King Edward the Elder and his first wife Ecgwynn. He was the grandson of King Alfred the Great. A distinguished and courageous soldier he pushed the boundaries of the Kingdom to the furthest extent they had reached in 927 AD. He died childless on October 27th 939.

While our own Athelstan did not make it to be King, he was a King in his own way as he made it to the position of Captain a much wished for position of the young men of Saba in former times.

994314_10151748393618686_157081644_n He was born on Saba on Monday February 22nd, 1909. His parents were Allan Hassell Peterson and Elsie Peterson born Hassell. Elsie’s was born On November 4th, 1886. Her father was Captain William James Hassell and her mother was Eliza Jane Hassell. Allan was born on September 1oth, 1878 and his father was Captain Josiah Peterson and his mother Albertina Hassell.

So as you can see Athelstan had that captain business in his blood from both sides of the family. And not only from the men in the family but when you read an interview with Miss Elsie from Saba Silhouettes you will see that she loved the sea herself and her sister Oceana [Miss Ocie] got that name because she was born at sea.

“[Father was] sailing out in a big ship. The name of the ship was the R.L.T. No more name. R.L.T. flied the American flag. A square rig like they calls the ships, you know. She was made different to a schooner, yeah. He was captain, captain of the ship.

And we went to America in that said ship [R.L.T.]. I was a girl only twelve years old, [Doce] must’ve been nineteen or so. I can’t really remember her age. My brother Johnny Ben was with us, but not the others. They was out in other places working. Some was too small to go, a couple was out to work. Our mother wasn’t there then.



On the left the baby the lady is holding is Atlestan. Family portrait of the home of Captain Josiah Peterson Sr. on the right. This home is now the Museum.

We came out, we went straight to America, and it took us eight days to go. Not seasick. My sister threw up for three days. I was just as a sailor. I used to eat plenty, too, on board that ship, and I would just eat and eat. My father was a big husky man, you know, and he sat and watched me. My sister would say, “oh, if I could only eat like you!’ I said, “Well, you get up and eat.”

In America [New York] we went all about, all over the place, you know to look at different places and see different things.

“We remained on the ship; fifteen days in New York and then he came out. You see, we wanted to go. Me and my sister wanted to go, to go to the Brazils. And we was foolish too cause we had a long passage going there on the ship, and he didn’t go there. He came back to Suriname. And it was mangoes we ate there too. My sister then had broke seasickness, and she ate her share too.


S.S. Ponca City, Capt. Athlestan Peterson of Saba.

S.S. Ponca City one of the many ships [mostly oil tankers] of which Athlestan was the captain.

And we went then to an island called Connetable Island. That’s somewhere by Cayenne. It was a small island. It was a little small island. And an old man Miss Elaine [Hassell’s] great grandfather sailed in a li’l schooner up around there; and this day my father was on the ship. He went there – I’m forgot what he went there to take in for cargo. That I can’t really remember. And he went, and the old man, Miss Elaine’s great grandfather, called to tell him the rats had eaten up all his food. Yes. And he asked my father if he had anything to give him to eat. “Oh, yes.’ He said, ‘I have lots!’ And he got down in his li’l boat, and he come to where my father’s ship was; and he filled up a big basket of foodstuffs and gave him and he went. “Now,” he says, I’.  All right till tomorrow. I won’t put this where the rats can get at It.!”

In 1967 I met Captain Athelstan in Tom’s Bar in Richmond Hill, Queens New York. Tom’s bar was a hole in the wall sort of place with a pool room in the back. The Sabans used to hang out there. My cousins who worked on the dredges all over the place and others like my good friend Norman Hassell a very successful contractor would frequent the bar to see and converse with other men from Saba. I was there on vacation from St. Maarten and was introduced to Tom’s bar by my cousins. It was a short walk from where I was staying with my aunt Alice Simmons and her husband Stanley Johnson. At the time I was not much into writing or researching the history of Saba and its people and I regret that I did not interview him about his career at sea and his early days on Saba.


S.S. Swiftsure.

S.S. ‘Swiftsure’ on which he sailed as Chief Mate along the United States coastline

However I came across a letter to me from Gail Peterson- McManamy and she gave me more details on her father which I will share with you.

Over the years of correspondence with people living in different countries with roots from these islands I have accumulated quite an archive. And when I look back on my many letters I now appreciate the fact that I did that.

To Will Johnson. “I am Gail Peterson McManamy. My father, Athelstan, so on Elsie and ‘Petey’ Peterson was born (1909) and raised on Saba. His childhood home, in Windward Side, is now, I believe, the Museum dedicated to the lore of this island. He too was a sea captain. He was schooled to approximately the 7th grade on Saba then was sent to Puerto Rico to continue.

A story I recall is that he was an able bodied seaman at the time that the ‘Morro Castle’ burned. He was studying for his next test to change his position and move up the ladder of seamen.


S.S. Carbide Seadrift

S.S. Carbide Seadrift

My dad sailed (Merchant Marine) during World War II, his ship having been converted to a troop carrier. He then returned stateside and sailed from Providence Rhode Island while I was a child. The runs I do remember were for Marine Transport, some of his ships names: The Ponca City, the R.E. Wilson, (for Union Carbide) and Carbide ‘Texas City’. He sailed between Carteret New Jersey and Texas City, Texas.

My dad died in November 1971. He was one of nine children, 5 brothers, and 4 sisters. His sisters married family names such as Leverock and other Petersons. My mother’s maiden name was Hassell. Her father was Johannes Hassell also of Saba. He was one of the men who moved to Providence, Rhode Island, where he was introduced to his bride Lettitia Barnett from Ireland. They had a son also whose name was James Mervin Hassell. I noted the name James Hassell in the list of early settlers.

When I visited Saba for the first time in 1964 I stayed in my grandmother’s house. There was the Frigidaire you write of, a huge cistern of water with a paint bucket to draw it out. There was no electricity during the day but for about 5 to 6 hours in the evening, run off generators. My family and I went to the movies one night. The film, ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ was being shown. It cost a quarter to get in and the screen was a white sheet hanging on the wall. At 11.00PM the projector stopped running as the electricity had gone off for the night. We all trooped back the second night to conclude the film. Perhaps that is why the families numbered 5 to 10 children easily! There were 3 telephones on the entire island that connected to each other. To call off the island you had to make the arrangements a day or so ahead of time.


Image (37)

On the right Mrs. Elsie Peterson-Hassell  the navigator,with her cousin Violet Johnson-Hassell. Photo by Dr. Julia Crane 1964.

My uncle Kenneth built the first large scaled refrigeration near his home. We had flown onto the island via a small Piper Cub (after having flown first to St. Thomas, then to St. Martin) piloted by Monsieur Le Pipe [Jose Dormoi] featured at one time in Life Magazine. The plane crashed in Statia during hurricane Faith. To leave, we were pushed off the rocky beach area of Fort Bay and rowed out to a 100 year old boat captained by a man known only to me as Randolph [Dunkin]. We were crossing to St. Martin, a 15 minute air ride, as opposed to the day long journey in high seas. I was too seasick and covered by a tarp, to really note or care. I do remember ‘coming to’ in the calm pretty waters of St. Martin. I have not been back to Saba but have promised myself and my son to do so. He is the one who found your book and now we are anxious to buy it and learn more about our heritage.”

As recently as 2013 there was a correspondence between ‘Of Saban Descent’ and Mr. Scott Thompson, son of Gail. He mentions some of the ships of which his grandfather was Captain. They were: S.S.’Malabar’, the S.S.’Ardmore’, the S.S. ‘Muskogee’ the S.S. ‘Swiftsure’ [ made numerous voyages on this ship-all as Chief Mate, all were coastline voyages.]

S.S. ‘Carbide Texas City’.

And so we salute Captain Athelstan Peterson another Saban of the past who did us proud.


Memories of the Sea-4

Image (595)

The ‘Margareth Truph’. The Captain was Arthur Wallace Simmons from Saba and most of his crew was from Saba and they would put in with probably Peter Every’s fat, fat uncles who he admired so much. This is a photo of a painting which I have.

… I went to school when I was seven and I left when I was twelve.

So when I was thirteen I was thinking about going to sea. You see, I had two uncles used to sail onto those big American schooners; and every couple of months they would pass in here, see; Every couple of months they would pass in here and remain here sometimes for two days.

And I would see these big heavy, portly-looking fellas, you know, and I always used to tell my mother that I’d like to go on a vessel to get big and fat like my uncles and they.

Yeah that always attract my nerves, you know, to see these sailors comin’ up in these big vessels, and big and fat and heavy lookin’ men.’

Capt. Lockland Heyliger's schooner

Captain Lockland Heyliger was captain of this schooner the ‘East Star Jones’ and would transport asphalt from Trinidad to New York. His crew was from Saba and he would put in here going and coming so that he and his crew could visit their families.

Peter Every

Memories of the Sea -3.

Peter Every

Peter Every had so many stories of a life at sea which when I have time I will be posting. He was one of a kind. He spent his last years as a house painter, a profession which many retired seamen which pick up.

” Well you know when I was a boy growing up, I used to be with those people there Under the Hill. Mr. Carl Hassell and their family lived Under The Hill. We used to be around there with them, making messages and doing from one thing to the other for them.

And Mr. Carl’s brother was Captain of a schooner, he was Captain of a schooner. In fact he had must’ve been two or three of his own sailing vessels, you know. And every couple of weeks he’d be in here, and any of the young boys who want to go to sea would go down, and ask him to take them away.

So I says to him one day, he was in, I said, ‘Captain Ben, I’d like to go aboard the vessel. He said, ‘Go aboard the vessel for what? I said,” Well I don’t know. Everybody got to go to learn.’ He said, ‘Well if you wants to go to learn, ‘he says, ‘I’ll carry you’. And he says, ‘Well, we’s going away Thursday, so go up and tell your mother to get your clothes ready and go aboard.’



The schooner Esther Anita one of the many fine schooners owned by Captain Ben Hassell here in New York harbour in 1915. Back then Saba schooners would be going regularly to New York.

So I went home, and I told my old lady. I said “Well I’m asked Captain Ben to carry me with him on the vessel, and he’s told me to get ready. He’s going back a Thursday. ‘ She said, ‘My boy, you’s too small.’ ‘Oh I said, ‘ Why that ain’t nothing you got to grow.

Well, anyhow, I decided to go. And I went aboard, and there was two other young boys there besides myself, and they said ‘Peter, you think you’s goin’ to make it?” ‘Well, I,m going to try. I’m agoin to try.’

Image (1115)

The ‘Three Sisters’ in Curacao harbour. Named after three daughters of Captain Abram Hassell brother of Captain Ben. Abram lived in Rhode Island and would buy schooners and bring them out to the West Indies and sell them. This one was owned by Capt. Ben and his brothers Carl, Capt. Tommy and Abram.

‘He Captain Ben [Hassell] turned to the mate one day and he says,’Well, Tom, you know what’s happened? We’s going to Demarara tomorrow for a load of shingles and when we comes back to Barbados the vessel is going to Cuba to carry emigrants.’

My first trip on the sailin’ vessels from here, I was fourteen years old. I was fourteen years old. And I been sailin’ from then up to 1950, I quit.’

Peter Every


Memories of the Sea.2

Untitled-51” My father was the Captain of a li’l boat, and he got catched in a hurricane in St. Kitts. And he went to jump outside, and he jumped between the wharf and the small boat. He get squeezed. He didn’t live long after.

‘I went away when I only had twelve, was a young boy when I went away. I was a young li’l boy tryin’ to make a living. Anyway I grew up to twelve years and then I went away in a sailing boat.

Well you see the Captain of that boat, he asked me if I want to go with him for to sail as a cabin boy. My mother was agree with it. She say, “Well I can’t help you, so you got to help yourself,’ yeah.

John Jeyliger on his way to work his fields in Troy February 1965

John Heyliger on his way to work his fields in Troy February 1965

The Captain give you a couple of dollars in the month, two dollars or a dollar and a half, that was all; but well you’d get your feed and your clothes always on the ship.

Oh I had to clean out the Captain’s  room and give him his coffee and his meals and all like that so.

We used to go sometimes to Santo Domingo, Canada, yeah St. Thomas, and St. Croix, sometimes we go Martinique , sometimes we go Guadeloupe, all these places so. B.G. (British Guiana) is a nice island you know, big place, there’s very nice. Sometimes we’d make it two days, sometimes three. Barbados too. I spent two days, sometimes three. That’s all. That’s a nice li’l country to live; the people is very friendly and nice.


Saba schooner Marion Belle Wolfe in Nova Scotia, here securing a house after it was swept into the sea by a tidal wave.


Nova Scotia is very nice but cold. Oh yeah, a long distance to Canada, fourteen days going and fourteen days coming back. We’d spend four days there unloading a cargo of sugar, and it was winter and cold.

John Heyliger

Memories of the Sea .


Enter a caption

Dr. Julia Crane did a tremendous job for those native people of Saba who should want to remember the hardships their ancestors went through in order to survive with their families on this little Caribbean Rock .

From time to I will post memories of some of those who were interviewed in the nineteen sixties for her book; “Saba Silhouettes”.

I would like to highlight Carl Hassell today.

Image (748)

Mr. Carl Hassell pictured here with two of his nephews from Barbados. They were visiting here with their father’s (Capt. Ben Hassell) three masted schooner the “Juliana”.

….” I was just past eleven when I started out, cabin boy on a schooner. There was no money, you know, so that all we lived from was the products of the land; and soon as a boy came up twelve, fourteen years or something like that, why he tries to get away to be able to do something. All the young boys used to go at early ages.


Image (91)

Two of Carl Hassell’s brothers. Behind the wheel Captain Tommy and in the dark jacket Capt. William Benjamin’Ben’ (grandfather of Richard Goddard of Barbados)

The schooner I went on was from Saba. My brother’s owned it. The schooner came out from America in 1898 and she cruised around from St. Martin, St. Barth’s, all the Windward Islands, and as far as Turks island for straw they made those hats from you know. We used to bring that from Turks island and up to St. Martin, and at the latter part of the year we made a trip from here to Trinidad and Barbados.

Carl Hassell

P.S. I will post a number of these extracts from time to time.


A short History of the St. Joseph Convent

Image (78)

Front part of the Convent was the home of Dr. George Illidge van Romondt. The  chapel and other rooms were added in 1891.

In the year 1888 the Roman Catholic Priest Father Stephanus J.J. Nieuwenhuis passed away and in his last will and testament he left two houses, a plot of land and Ten thousand guilders to the Dominican Nuns in The Netherlands. The money and buildings were intended to lure the Dominican Nuns to St. Maarten to start a school there. He had been a priest on St. Martin for 35 years and saw where there was a great need for a school.

One of the buildings was the stately mansion which had belonged to Dr. George Illidge van Romondt who died in 1854 and which building was acquired after his death by Father Nieuwenhuis.

On a Saturday morning May 3rd 1890 at 8am the first Nuns of the Dominican Order arrived on St. Maarten.

After a Mass of Thanksgiving for their safe arrival in the afternoon they went to the future convent where everything was nicely prepared by Father Jordanus Onderwater O.P. and Miss Catherine Mildrum the former house keeper of the late Father Niewenhuys. The convent was dedicated to St. Joseph. The Reverend Sister Egelie was the first principal of the new school and the first prioress of the St. Joseph Convent.


Sister Regina Egelie was the first head of the school and Prioress of the St. Joseph Convent

On June 2nd 1890 the doors of the convent were opened to children to attend school there. 132 children came to go to the new school, Catholics and non-Catholics and 62 toddlers. The latter posed the biggest problem. Losing their freedom and not accustomed to the Nuns and the strange way they were dressed there was a screaming and crying and a number of children jumped through the windows and ran out the doors. The lessons were given in the English language. A couple of the Nuns had a problem with the language, but in time as locals were trained to become teachers the language problem was solved.

Teachers at St. Joseph School..jpg

Some of the local teachers who helped to make the St. Joseph School a success. Left to right. Cynthia Lake, Sister Agatha, Agnes Houtman, Hilda Conner, Sister Magda, Julian Conner, Marie Greaux, Clare Conner, Sister Modeste and Edna Peterson. 1952

In 1891 Miss Catharina Mildrum died and left her possessions to the convent. With this money a Gothic Chapel and a classroom were added to the existing building. It was designed by Mr. R. Terlaag while Mr. G. Stephens was the builder.

A few years later in the night of February 17th and 18th 1893 the Convent was threatened by fire when the house of Mrs. A van Romondt on the opposite side of the street was consumed by fire. Because of the high winds and in order to prevent the Convent from burning down the roof had to be kept wet and thus saved.


St. Joseph School teachers 1937: Seated left to right. Miss Agnes de Weever, Sister Dorothea, Miss Marie Greaux. Standing Sister Modeste, Miss Mary Conner, Sister Everdina, Sister Magdala  and Miss Hilda Conner.

Over the years many locals served as teachers in the convent.

Many well-known people in the community also went to school there. I myself got my typing degree from lessons which I attended there.

For some years in the nineteen twenties there was also a boarding school in the Convent for young ladies from St. Barth’s but there were also some from St. Martin as well.

Maria Institute

This building housed the St. Mary Institute where girls from St. Barth’s, St. Martin and a few from other islands were housed. It later became the St. Joseph School. It was severely damaged in hurricane Irma on September 6th, 2017 and in the process of being restored.

On March 12th, 1954 the official opening of the new Convent took place and was presided over by Mgr. A. van der Veen Zeppenfeldt assisted by Father Barbanson and Father Maessen.

After 1990 the Convent went over into private hands. Hurricane Irma a category five hurricane which devastated St. Maarten on September 6th,   2017 destroyed the roof of the former Convent. A new cement roof replaced the old roof while the owners the Goia family taking into consideration the historic nature of the building  will replace the former roof so that the building will look the same as before the hurricane.

Convent in Philipsburg.

The new St. Joseph Convent was dedicated on March 12th, 1954. It was severely damaged in hurricane Irma. A concrete roof has been added and in keeping with the important history of the Dominican Nuns and the St. Joseph Convent the present owners the Goia family have decided to put by the original roof as it was before the hurricane. A word of praise is in place to the Goia family for this gesture.

The office of the Dutch representative is located upstairs and downstairs there are a number of stores. Other improvement are being carried out to the former St. Joseph School and the property in general. This property will now be upgraded and better secured and will continue to enjoy its historic place in Philipsburg.

Will Johnson.

Much thanks to Mr. Mathis S. Voges for allowing me to use text and photos of his history of the Dominican Nuns which will soon be published in the English Language.

An Interview with Edmond Johnson

An interview with Edmond Johnson (known as Edwin).

Image (1209)

Edmond here with his wife Julia and daughters Angela (left) and Lucille (right).

Saba Herald of November 24th, 1984.

Edmond Johnson was born on September 16th, 1901, one of eleven children. His father was Henry Richard Johnson who died at the age of 88 in March of 1922 and he was the son of old Dora of Booby Hill. Old Dora was an uncle of Wilson Johnson.

Edwin’s mother was Helen (pronounced Helin) Johnson born Simmons. She was a daughter of Daniel Simmons and she also died at the age of 88 in 1945.

Edwin was married in February 1922 to Julia Every.

Image (1203)

Edmond here with his wife Julia in their grocery in Windward Side.

When he was 6 years old he got shot with pigeon shot from a muzzle-loader which was fired by Ralph Hassell and Udalrick Hassell. Also his brothers Jim and Lubin were shot but not as bad as Edwin. He was shot in the head. He was taken to the old hospital in The Bottom (where the Artisans Foundation is located) and was there three or four months. As a result of the accident he lost his sight in his left eye. Ralph was only 15 at the time and did not shoot intentionally. He was playing around with the gun and it was an accident.



The ‘Caraquet’ which Edmond went to Bermuda on from St. Kitts.

Edwin left home when he was twelve years old to go into the world to make a living. He sailed from Saba to St. Kitts with the ‘Ethel’ on which Willie Witts [Hassell] was captain. From St. Kitts he took a tramp steamer named the “Caraquet” to Bermuda. There he worked on a dairy farm with his brother Percy. This farm was owned by a Bermuda Lady. At the age of 16 he returned to Saba and worked with his father on the land until the end of World War I.

After the war he returned to his same job in Bermuda and then in 1919 he went on to the United States. In Bermuda his job was to take care of and milk ten cows, take care of a horse and do all kinds of odd jobs around the place. He started working for 15 shillings a month. He says that the people there treated him good.


Image (527)

Edmond here with his friend Alvin Caines next to his garage and shop.

According to Edmond there were at the time, before World War I, several hundred Sabans, white and black, women and all working in Bermuda. The first people to go to Bermuda from Saba went on the ‘Annie Seymour’ a Saban owned schooner. Edwin’s father went along on that same trip. Edmond returned to Saba in 1922 in order to get married to Miss Julia Every and then went on again, this time to the United States. There he worked on dredges in Providence, Rhode Island. He remembers that Lowell Peterson’s brother stepped on the hatch of a ship, fell in the hold and got killed.

download (17)

The dredge ‘Nachuant’ Portland Maine 1920. Working on this dredge were Edmond Johnson, Philip Johnson and ‘old’ Norman Hassell.

In 1932 he returned to Saba for a while. Then he was off to Bermuda again for five years and there he cut stones in quarries. This stone is used as the traditional building material in Bermuda. In 1938 he returned to Saba and started to farm. He used to keep up to six head of cattle at one time (three milk cows, one bull and two heifers). In those days you got $7.—or $8.—for a calf. Meat was sold at fls. 0.35 cents a pound of stew, fls.0.40 for a pound of steak and fls.0.30 for a pound of soup bones. When you butchered a cow it was sold in shares of 10 pounds and was $1.—a share (fls.2.50). Now if I am not mistaken it is $50.—a share for 8lbs of meat. Milk was 6 cents a pint. In my mind’s eye I can still see Edwin coming through Windward side with his animals trailing behind him bringing them home from wherever he had them tied out.


Harry Johnson and Edwin Johnson

Harry Johnson who was married to Doris sister of Julia who was married to Edmond who is sitting on the rock.

He mostly farmed, but in between he used to fish with his neighbor Cyrillis Leverock who owned a boat. Due to having to cut grass to feed the cattle he did not go fishing that often. When they farmed back in Edwin’s day they worked together in gangs, and would take turns working out each man’s land. In those days Tania’s were 35 good cents (fls.0.77’5) a tin. Sweet potatoes were the same. A “tin” was a five gallon can which was used to transport kerosene between the islands. Cous-Cous were fls. 1.50 a tin. Then, as now, they used to send up to Statia and buy their cattle. As far back as Edwin can remember they have been buying cattle from Statia, but during his father’s time they raised the calves here so there was no import or very little import of cattle into Saba.


Image (1211)

Edmond’s son Ambrose who was a very successful businessman on Aruba sent some Land-rovers for his father to use. Because they were different from the Willy’s Jeeps we were familiar with people on Saba did not think too much of them.

Later on Edwin started a grocery store and also he went into the hardware business selling lumber, galvanize, cement and other building materials.

As for schooldays Edwin can remember that Daisy’s mother Gertrude Johnson [b.Hassell] gave lessons in Captain Tommy Hassell’s  house. He also remembers Sister Bertranda and Sister Winfred when they used to give lessons.

Getrude’s husband was named Ben Johnson also known as “Ben Shunta”. He had a breed of goat called after him but the meat was ‘blue’ and unfit for consumption. He died before Edwin’s father, sometime after Edwin went to Bermuda.

Edwin went to Bermuda with “Mucka’s”[Edmund Hassell] father who was also going there to look for work, also Joe Ben (John Woods’ father), also Tina Johnson [Simmons’] brother John. Most of the Sabans then living in Bermuda farmed for a living. When Edwin was a boy the people still went back and forth to Barbados as well. According to him St. Kitts was the main island for trade and commerce. There was very little communication with St. Maarten in those days.

Edwin who is 83 hardly looks his age and he still works in the ground planting all sorts of things around his house and other properties. Mo matter who you ask will tell you that all his life he has been a hard worker. We wish him well.

When he passed away on January 3rd 1992, I was asked to do the eulogy for him which appeared in the Saba Herald.

In the eulogy I mentioned how far sighted Edmond’s parents were in giving him that Old Saxon name which means ‘Keeper of the Land’. You did not mess with ‘Grubs’ as his nickname was when it came to land and boundaries. Since land is so scarce on Saba boundaries are a source of contention which led to many differences of opinion and quarrels over the centuries. Edwin was the great defender of old pathways and boundary lines.

Image (575)

Edmond in the back carrying the statue on a parade. He was a very religious man. I am the altar boy up front with my head turned from the camera.

At his passing he left to mourn three children and their spouses, Ambrose and Esmey, Lucille and Ronny, and Angela and Samuel Guy. He also left to mourn 12 grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.

If one was to ask to name the hard working people of the island Edwin would certainly have been listed in the top five. He left behind a memory of life on Saba, being part of a large family and having to leave at an early age to work and return to Saba from time to time. May the memory of his life be held in esteem by the people of this island and his descendants!





Image (355)

Police constables from left to right: Harry Johnson, Arthur Harold Johnson, and Richard Austin Johnson.

Arthur Harold Johnson who lives at Hell’s-Gate [1986] was born on Saba on April 12th, 1906. He has a brother Stanley, who is 96 and who lives in Richmond Hill, New York. His brother though crippled from a fall, at 96, still has an excellent memory and can recall events of the turn of the century as if they happened yesterday.

Harold (it is an old Saban custom to call people by their second name!)., worked  here on Saba as a boy helping his parents and doing what he could to carve out an existence from the soil as was customary in those days.


Image (465)

Having a chat on the old Police Station in Windward Side. Left to right Algernon Hassell, Carl Hassell and Police Constable Harold Johnson.

In 1927 he went to the United States for the first time and stayed there for eighteen months and then came back to Saba because of the depression. While in the United States he worked on the ‘Georgia’. This was a riverboat which sailed from New York to Providence Rhode Island. It belonged to the New Haven Railroad Company. Many Sabans sailed on this riverboat from way back. Among them John Peter Hassell, McDonalds father Hazel Johnson, Stanley Johnson, Ainslee Peterson, Camille Johnson and others. The ‘Georgia’ could carry over 200 passengers and was longer than 300 feet. Another riverboat called the ‘Tennessee” belonged to the same company. They liked Saba people according to Harold. The riverboats used to run in the Long Island Sound. They sailed from pier 19 in the East river to Providence Rhode Island. The other riverboat the ‘Middletown’ used to go to Hayward Connecticut.

Harold’s brother Stanley (or Stanliss) used to sail out on schooners when he went to the United States. He worked on a 4 master schooner the ‘Albert F. Paul’ for a certain Captain


The ‘Albert F. Paul’ on which Stanley Johnson sailed.

Suthers, mostly along the U.S. coast as the home port of the ship was San Francisco.

Once Stanley saved the ship and crew in a 4 day hurricane when the captain took in with gangrene in his leg. They were bound for San Francisco. The Coast Guard managed to get him off, but Stanley stayed aboard the ship with a listed cargo of lumber and brought her safely to San Francisco a week later. He lived to make many trips to places like Argentina, Murmansk Russia during the Second World War, and at 96 he can still talk about it.

Harold’s other brother John Lawrence was a boatswain’s mate on the ‘Leviathan’, the cruise ship captured from the Germans in the First World War. Another brother James Lambert, was a well-known carpenter and builder on Saba and died in 1973.

Image (150)

Capt. Edward Anslyn who was also Captain of the yacht the ‘Neara’ which belonged to the Sea Island Cotton Company. This is the ferry which he was captain of for many years and which ran between St. Kitts and Nevis.

In 1929, Harold came back to Saba via St. Kitts on the yacht ‘Neara’ captained by Capt. Edward Anslyn. Edwin Johnson and Reuben Simmons were both with them. Harold says he stayed at a boarding house in St. Kitts which was owned by a Mrs. Aggie Seaton.

After spending some months on Saba, Harold then went to St. Thomas in 1929 with the schooner the ‘Diamond M. Ruby” of Capt. Richard Austin Barnes. He said there was a whole set of Saba people on board. He waited for some time in St. Thomas and stayed at the home of Capt. Will Simmons, who hailed from Saba and who was harbormaster at the time there.


Hyman Kaliski Original

Hyman Kaliski, benefactor of Saban sailors.

Harold went on to New York. In those days all Saban seamen went to Mr. Hyman Kaliski at 27 South Street. He had a boarding house and clothing store there. Harold says he was an English Jew who lived in Germany before coming to the United States. Others have told me that Mr. Kaliski was a Russian Jew. He liked Saba people and for more than 40 years he made a room at the back of his st ore available to them. He carried items in his store which sailors needed. The Sabans used his store as a mailing address and a gathering place. He belonged to the ‘Macabees’, a masonic lodge, according to Harold.

In 1934, Harold came back to Saba via Puerto Rico. He started working for the Post office when Mr. Kruger was Vice Lt. Governor. Later during the Second World Ear, he entered the Police Force as a constable. This was the old military police. He remained in the force for 5 years and months and when the new style Police Force was introduced he left the force and worked for the department of Public Works until he retired.

Harold can remember a lot about the old days. He says that people today should not forget that as little as forty years ago anyone who had $100.—(one hundred dollars) was considered a rich person. People lived off the land and the sea and were happy.

Image (487)

Police constable Harold Johnson of ‘Above-the-Bush’ at ‘Upper Hell’s Gate’.

Harold can also tell a lot of stories about how life was during the Great Depression in New York. As a matter of fact as bad as things seemed on Saba back then, according to Harold, life on Saba was a whole lot better than life in New York during the Great Depression and that is why he came back to Saba and stayed. We wish him many more years on Saba.

Taken from the ‘Saba Herald’ -1986.


Bust presentation from Senator Theo Heyliger of St. Maarten


December 1st, 2017 Here standing at the bust in front of the Administration Building. Photo by Ingrid Zagers.

All  dignitaries present

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our islands are small and our history is based on personal relationships. While in other countries you have long histories and monumental buildings here we have family and friendship relations which form our histories.

Today I want to thank the friends who made this recognition of my service to the people of these islands possible.

First of all Senator Theo Heyliger. I started public speaking in 1962. My first speech was on the square in Philipsburg. I had assistance from a friend Mr. Cooper of Nicaraqua, Dr. MacDonald and a number of others in preparing my speech. They all advised to stay positive and gave me some pointers. Theo’s great grandfather Mr. Cyrus Wathey was up in his house at the window looking down. When I was finished speaking someone said to me: Mr. Wathey coming down into the crowd. He came directly over to me held my hand in the air and told the crowd that mines was the best speech for that night. Mind you I was there speaking for his son the legendary Claude Wathey.


Someone asked why is Theo Heyliger’s name on the plaque. Simple. He came up with the idea several years ago and pushed it through. Theo is known for getting things done. Does anyone believe that if I had to wait to get recognition from my own island that it would ever happen? Here he is looking at his creation and tribute to my work for the islands and I am grateful to him for that.

In 1969 I was the opposition to Theo’s grandfather Claude on all three Windward Islands. One night during the campaign I was invited to a birthday party. It was for Theo’s mother Aggie Wathey. When I got in the party I realized I had made a mistake. I was in the headquarters of those whom I was opposing. I can never forget how when Theo’s mother saw what was happening she came over and asked me to dance with her. That was a message to all who were there: “Will is my guest here tonight and that must be respected.”


King Willem Alexander and Queen Maxima here with Lynne my wife and my three sons, Teddy (lawyer Notary on Aruba), Chris (Dutch representative on St. Maarten and Peter (engineer and teaching at the Saba Comprehensive School), and me standing next to the bust.I want to thank their Majesties for their presence. Normally this would not happen. However while standing there the King and I were reminiscing of all we had shared and created memories of since he was a little boy.

When Claude was in trouble I was still in opposition to him yet I was the only one who went on radio and defended him. His family remembered that and when a ceremony was held at the Government Administration Building after his passing, I was the one invited to deliver the keynote address on their behalf. On another occasion I was invited to deliver a speech on the history of his life which was broadcast live to both sides of the island on radio and television. On Theo’s father’s side we go back very far as well.


Former Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs who is not here with us today I have known since he was a little boy when his family came back to St. Maarten in the early nineteen sixties. Marcel and I served many years together as members of parliament. A cousin of mine who would have been 94 years now and who lived in New York used to tell me when he grew up on St. Maarten that Marcel’s grandfather Daniel Beauperthuy had 119 children. Marcel would tell me:” Lord Will don’t exaggerate, he only had fifty foive”. Our history is written in friendships which cross the separation made by Caribbean waters dividing us from one another.

Lt. Governor Th.M. Pandt

Island Council of the Windward Islands and on which Mr. Charles Austin Woodley and I served together.

Island Governor of Statia the Honourable Julian Woodley and I go back far as well. I served with his father Mr. Charles Austin Woodley on the Executive Council of the Windward Islands and the Island Council as well. A man of great principles and qualities of integrity which were passed on to his son Julian. Statia should be proud to have a man of such quality to be their Island Governor.

I remember once travelling with Mr. Keith Franca and his nephew then state secretary Mr. Erno Labega. I was headed to Washington to attend a National Prayer Breakfast with President Bill Clinton and they were going to New York. We shared a row of seats in the economy class. I was sitting in the middle. As is usual with we West Indians there were jokes and reminisces back and forth all the way to Miami. I noticed a young African American stewardess pausing each time she passed us and listening with amusement to the three of us. When I got up to go to the bathroom, she politely approached me and asked me where I was from. She said that the accent was not from her country. She was also intrigued with the familiarity of the three of us. I told her that I was from Saba and that I was travelling with Mr. Keith Franca and his nephew Erno Labega. She told me how she wished that in her country there could be friendships between races like that


Prime Minister and my longtime friend Marcel Gumbs here giving a speech.

which we obviously shared.

Keiths sister Rosie (Erno’s mother) is also from a large family. Her father was a policeman from Simpsons Bay. I recent wrote that he had 32 children and one of his descendants Henderson Williams corrected me and told me that I was wrong, that the correct number was 56. Henderson who  calls me Cuzz as we are related through his mother’s side of the family wanted to make sure that his grandfather got the correct upgrade.. Our history is not tied up in old buildings and past wars but rather in relationships between families and the blood which joins us.

The Honourable Mr. Keith Franca Esq.

On small islands our history is in the people we know and the friendships we form as we move through life.

On the initiative of Senator Theo Heyliger and then Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs they formed a Committee and invited Mr. Julian Woodley to form part of that committee and Mr. Keith Franca was the point man in getting this recognition done on my behalf.

I have been through many bitter elections. I remember once a lady asking me: Will do you have any friends at all? I told her I have many friends but they live mostly on St. Maarten, Statia and such places. This statement now proves itself in the fact that this initiative to honour me came from those who I mention here.

Last year on Saba Day Senator Heyliger in a speech on St. John’s announced that he questioned the delay in putting up this bust and said that he wanted it placed in front of the Government Administration Building.

Brakkeput, identification card.jpeg

Here getting ready to leave home for the Boys Town Brakkeput in Curacao which shaped my history from then until now.

It is here now and it would be remiss of me not to be truthful and to thank Senator Theo Heyliger, Former Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs, Island Governor Julian Woodley, and Keith Franca for recognizing my work done in the Netherlands Antilles and in particular in the Windward Islands.

Thank you and I appreciate what you did.

Finally I wish to thank Commissioner Rolando Wilson for organizing this reception here today.

And I want to thank His Majesty King Willem Alexander and Her Majesty Queen Maxima for being here with us at the ceremony of unveiling of this bust honouring my person.

Will Unveilling-395

The right honourable Mr. Keith Franca Esq. who brought it all together. Thanks Keith.

Thanks to all also for being present here today.


Will Johnson 10Will Johnson

The Man on the Hill.


Post Navigation