The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Archive for the category “Uncategorized”

Bust presentation from Senator Theo Heyliger of St. Maarten

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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.

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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.”

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

The Man on the Hill.

 

The Honourable Theodore Maxwell Pandt

The Honourable Theodore Maxwell Pandt

By. Will Johnson

 

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July 2nd, 1975 Lt. Governor Max Pandt fourth from right standing, and me second from left squatting and newly elected Commissioner for the second time.

Whenever a good friend dies it is not only an occasion for sadness, but a reminder that we are here alive on this earth for a relatively short period of time. No matter how much we love our country our home and family. No matter how much we appreciate life and wish for a much longer one. There is no holding back the unwanted guest when he comes calling to tell you: “Time is up for you to go and leave everything behind.”

I always feel, as sad as it may be , that I am duty bound to pay some kind of tribute to the memory of each good friend who leaves me behind.

Max, Eddie Buncamper, Dr. Billy Herbert the PAM leader on St. Kitts, and I would meet on St. Maarten from time to time and have a meal and discussions on world affairs. Some years ago Max reminded me of those pleasant times. He said: “Mind you, it is only the two of us left.” That was after both Eddy and Dr. Herbert had met untimely deaths. When I saw a post on Facebook of the passing of Max, I was reminded of when he said that and thought to myself, it is now only I left of that group.

I try to lose myself in doing hard work in the garden when I get sad news of this sort. The death of a lifelong friend. So after working for some hours my next step is to start putting some memories on paper as to how I remember Max.

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Nothing to write home about but these were our first sleeping quarters in the Boys Town.

Former State Secretary Roy Smith called to find out if the news was true. I confirmed that it was. We started reminiscing on our boyhood years together in Brakkeput the Boys Town on Curacao where we had spent our teenage years. Max, Roy and I had stayed in the same pavilion together. The Boys Town had a number of beautiful pavilions and those boys who went to schools outside of the Boys Town were housed together as they had to do more studying. Among those who shared the pavilion with us were people like former Prime Minister Minguel Pourier, former Minister Rudy Ellis of Bonaire, Dentist Aurelius Scot of St. Maarten and his brother Mervin, Ben Vlaun, Victor Monsanto, Lou and George Halley and any number of people who became well known in their own right in the Dutch Caribbean islands.

 

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Lt. Governor Max Pandt on Saba at a Queens Birthday party reception.

What we remember of our friend Max was that he was a “rolly polly” little fellow with a big mouth which he carried through life. One thing though he was always well dressed. This too he carried with him for the rest of his life, so big mouth and well dressed were the basic things we recalled about him.

He was from a prominent family on St. Eustatius and his two aunts “Miss’ Maude Pandt and her sister ‘Miss’ Ida, had raised him and made sure that he had the best of clothing.

You always had to have one up on Max as he would bring you down to a laughing stock if you did not have a comeback. Mines was ‘Man Max keep quiet, your ancestor Hendrik Pandt surrendered Statia to Admiral George Rodney. You are descended from a coward,” and so it was back and forth.

 

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Brakkeput is all built up now but all this and more belonged to the Brothers when I was there as a boy together with Max.

Later in life in doing research I found out that through the Horton’s and the Hill families we had a distant family relationship as my Horton ancestors had been on St.

Eustatius for over one hundred years during the period when the island was known as The Golden Rock.

When we left the Boys Town both Minguel Pourier and Max went on to study tax law while I worked in the Receivers and Post office on St. Maarten. In 1962 I went to Curacao to work in the Customs Building in Willemstad for 10 months to take a quick course in assessing and collecting taxes. There I met Max and the other Max Huith who was the big boss told me one day that we were getting a new boss and perhaps I did not know him but it was Minguel Pourier. I then told him of the relationship we had built up together from the Boys Town.

Later on I went into active politics and became a Commissioner and Member of the Island Council for the three Dutch Windward Islands. Max became Lt. Governor of the three island and for six years we worked together on the Executive and Island Councils. At the same time Minguel Pourier became Minister of Development Cooperation. Because of the connection we had from the Boys Town I was able to by-pass the red tape and get through with many projects for Saba from Holland.

During that period we carried on in the same spirit Max and I. He trusted me with many stories of experiences he had to deal with as Lt. Governor. One of those stories I can share without mentioning names. Around Christmas time he was delivered a gift by a messenger from the firm of Spritzer & Fuhrmann. He was told that it was from so and so after he informed the messenger that he only received presents at home from his wife at Christmas time. He decided to open the gift which turned out to be a Patek Philipe watch worth some seven thousand dollars. So he returned it. And instead of getting credit for returning the ‘gift’ most people were saying that he was a fool for returning the watch and the person who sent it was very insulted.

 

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Lt. Governor Max Pandt here taking the oath of office from Mr. Raffie Sorton the new Administrator of Saba at the time.

Max when he was lt. Governor called me one night and said he was calling on behalf of the Wathey family. It was 1981 and a ceremony of the Island Council which consisted of 15 members needed to convene. International guests had been invited. Of the 15 Members of Council my party the WIPM had eight and we were in coalition with the SPM with 2 seats. So we had 10 of the fifteen. Vance James decided that he was not going to be part of that. The onus was on Ralph Berkel and me to form a quorum in order to make the meeting possible. After consulting with Ralph, I called Max back and told him we would make the meeting possible. Since the regulations did not require the normal dress code I came to the meeting dressed up like Fidel. The place was packed with dignitaries from all over and family and friends of Mr. Wathey. I made a rousing speech, but rose to the occasion before the end to the great relief of my friend Julian Connor a former Commissioner. He said that once or twice he felt that I was going to make a crash landing but had redeemed myself at the end. Max was greatly relieved as he and Claude were not on the best of terms and he wanted to be impartial and was able to prove to Claude and the rest that he had enough influence to bring me to the meeting so that the party could go through.

I remember once meeting Max in Punda. I had just heard that a Mr. Beaujon had been appointed Prime Minister. At that time I was at war with the establishment. I said some unkind things about the new Prime Minister even though I did not know him. Max informed me then that the new Prime Minister was his first cousin and to give him a chance first and see what he would do. I was most embarrassed and Max was right after all. I did not have any more unkind words about the new Prime Minister.

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Max’s two aunts Miss Ida and Miss Maude Pandt and his father Alphie Pandt sitting in the front.

During that period we had to meet regularly and had many heated discussions on issues but it all worked out well. I continued on in the political field while he started his own tax office and he would file my taxes for me every year.

He was also very good friends with Eddy Buncamper, a mutual friend and so we had much occasion to meet and travel together at times.

I shared in his stories of personal tragedy. He naturally was very depressed when his wife Irene lost her life in a traffic accident in Philipsburg. He had met her on Curacao and together they made St. Maarten their home. Also both of us were very upset with the death of our friend Eddy Buncamper.

 

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Group photo osfsome of the prominent people on St. Eustatius. Number five from the left in between the two ladies is Mr. Alphie Pandt, father of Max.

Max continued on as an advisor to Ms. Bernadette Buncamper who took over the management of her brother Eddy’s various businesses. As I write this today is also the 85th Birthday of former Minister Leo Chance. We were always at odds in different elections. In one of the elections Max gave me a donation of five hundred guilders. This was under instruction that if I intended to nominate Leo Chance for Minister he wanted his money back. Well to be truthful I had every intention to do that. Chance could deliver as Minister. However I wanted to win the election first and see from there. I was on St. Maarten when the news was about to be announced that Leo Chance would be the

Bernadette Buncamper and Lt. Governor Max Pandt.

My two sincere friends Bernadette Buncamper and Lt. Governor Max Pandt. Photo taken when ‘Bunchie’ received a Royal Distinction from Her Majesty the Queen. If laughing is allowed  in heaven I should be able to hear ‘Bunchie’ laughing all the way from here siitting at my computer writing this tribute. Thanks Carolyn!

Minister. I made use of the opportunity to pass by Bunchie Buncamper’s office. I gave her the five hundred guilders and told her when she saw Max to give him the money for me. She was having a good laugh when her phone rang. I could hear Max shouting on the phone that you could put absolutely no confidence in any politician and started telling her about the conditions he had put on his donation to my campaign. Bunchie continued laughing and told him that I was there sitting in front of her and had given her the money to give to him. He sounded flabbergasted and then said;” Mind I hope you did not give him the money to pay me back.”

Lt. Governor Th.M. Pandt

Lt. Governor Max Pandt taking the oath of office from Island Councilmember Charles Austin Woodley with Commissioner/Island Council member Will Johnson behind the camera man looking on. July 2nd, 1979.

Some years later at the airport with a large group present he started to tell them that you could not trust any politician. He started with the five hundred guilder donation. I told him:’ Now stop right there.” He laughed and told the group: “Indeed he did pay me back, but my advice still is to never trust a politician.”

When my son Chris was appointed as the Dutch representative on St. Maarten we made sure and invited Max. It was there at the Holland House that he informed me that his eyesight was giving him trouble.

Sometime after that I was with my son at the Grand Marché  Supermarket and Max was there shopping as well and we took a photo together.

Wondering about what happened to my many friends on St. Maarten from the recent hurricanes. He was in my mind as well. So this morning when I saw the news of his passing on Facebook I thought it might have been of stress from the hurricanes. I called Carolyn Buncamper immediately and she brought me up to date on all that had occurred and that there were other health issues which caused his death.

In looking back at my association with that chubby little fellow from Statia our friendship goes back to over sixty years. Our paths crossed many times in our careers in government and it  is with a sense of great sadness that I put my feelings now on paper.

My son Chris was telling me that when  he went to Statia for the funeral of another great friend, that of Ralph Berkel, that he Max and Varina had rented a car for the day and had lunch together and he felt glad that they had bonded well together. So even unto the next generation our life of friendship was passed on. God bless his memory and may he rest softly.

Former Lt. Governor Max Pandt.

Former Lt. Governor Th.M. Pandt

 

Harbour Master With No Harbour

HARBOUR MASTER WITH NO HARBOUR

by: Will Johnson

 

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This is how passengers and cargo were carried out to the waiting schooners. At the right the attempt to build a pier in 1934.

This reminds me of once on Statia I went to a Chinese restaurant after a funeral. I asked for a cup of coffee and it took some time before the owner came out of the kitchen and informed me: “Have coffee but no have cup.”

Formerly it was fashionable in magazines and newspapers in the United States to spread several myths about Saba. The island had a mysterious allure about it as to the origin of the original European inhabitants and how they survived. From the days of piracy to several years ago boat building was a tradition on Saba. The press in the USA had boats being built in the crater of the volcano and lowered over the sides of the cliffs surrounding the capital and launching them into the sea. This of course was not true. Smaller boats were built in the villages high up on the side of the mountain and then they were dragged along the old footpaths down to the sea. Larger boats including schooners were built on the Tent Bay, the Wells Bay, and up by Giles Quarter close to where white cedar groves provided some of the lumber with which to build. Records show that schooners up to more than sixty tons were built here. They were registered in places like Tortola and St. Kitts.

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H.M.S. Martin part of a British fleet passing Saba in 1893. Painting by G.S. Good. Crown Copright: U.K. Government Art Collection

Even in recent times the author of a book on building of sailing craft in the Leeward Islands claimed he came to Saba and had spoken to an old man at a bar who claimed to have never heard of any boat ever being built on Saba. His research consisted of a half day visit to Saba and then he flew back convinced that he had solved the age old question of whether or not boats were ever built on Saba.

 

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July 1964. Leslie Johnson here with one of the many fishing boats which he built.

The other myth was as to the origin of the European majority population up until recent times. My research indicates that when a Spanish fleet captured St. Kitts from the English and French settlers in 1628, they allowed the Irish indentured servants, who were also Roman Catholics, to leave and settle elsewhere. Oral tradition has it that a group settled above the Well’s Bay and named the two villages they established Palmetto Point and Middle Island after two villages where they had lived on St. Kitts. Of course being local does not count as being a historian despite my entire life doing research into the history of my ancestors. So some of these know-it-alls have me writing make believe history to make the Saba people feel good. These people , the first settlers, maintained links with French and English people ,also from St. Kitts, who settled on the island of Tortuga located North of Haiti. They turned to piracy to harass the Spanish and the Sabans joined in happily to claim some share of the loot.

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Schooner ‘Ester Anita’ belonging to Captain William Benjamin Hassell of Saba here docked close to the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. A number of Saban owned schooners maintained a regular service between the Caribbean and New York carrying salt, sugar, molasses and passengers and bringing back lumber, dry goods etc. as well as passengers.

After being routed from Tortuga by the Spanish the pirates in 1655 joined Oliver Cromwell’s capture of Jamaica and settled in the new pirate Kingdom of Port Royal. From that pirate nest in 1665 a raid was made on St. Eustatius and Saba by Edward and Thomas Morgan uncles of the notorious pirate Sir Henry Morgan. Edward died of a heart attack in the capture of St. Eustatius. The pirates fought among themselves as where next to proceed to and ninety of these pirates remained on Saba and added to the English and Irish settlers already on the island laying the foundation of an English speaking people for centuries to come.

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Marion Hassel of St. John’s manning the signal station at St. John’s. From that location the boatment of The Bottom could see when a ship was approaching the island, from which direction and the type of ship.

With a settled population Saba had boat building and boat traffic and so there was some control needed. Gradually this evolved into appointing usually an old sea captain to do the duties of Harbour Master even though there was not much of a harbor to speak of.

 

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Up front Guy Johnson and Hartley Jones assisted by others helping Kenneth Peterson carry his newly built fishing boat from the Windward Side to the Fort Bay.

However there was quite a bit of traffic to and from the island and this required some sort of supervision. In the old records there is to be found much data on the comings and goings to the island. A Saban local councilor Erroll Hassell in the nineteen thirties was able to get money put on the budget, despite the Island Governor’s objections, to build a real road from the Fort Bay to The Bottom and on March 17th,  1947 the first motor vehicle, a Jeep was landed at the Fort Bay and changed the history of Saba considerably. The small landing craft which brought passengers and cargo to shore were used by the local boatmen until 1972 when the new pier was put into use. For hundreds of years these boatmen did a wonderful job. Also Sabans acquired a respectable fleet of schooners from New England which carried mail and passengers to Curacao and also as far away as New York, which goes to show there was a need for a Harbour Master indeed.

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Sloop belonging to Red Head Joe Simmons and built at the Fort Bay by Mr. Lake being readied for launch. Schooners up to sixty tons were also built on Saba in former times.

Sabans travelled a lot and saw how things were done in other countries. There was even a direct bi-monthly schooner service with New York of which much has already been written. In the old archives when local people could elect two local councilors to work with the Island Governor these councilors often pleaded for a proper berthing facility to be built at the Well’s Bay. Nothing ever was done about it due to a lack of finances.

Finally in 1934 an attempt was made at the Fort Bay to build a ramp on the large boulders which extended out into the sea. The job was carried out by hand and the contractor was the now famous Lionel Bernard Scot a contractor from St. Maarten. The idea was to carry it out further and tie in the ranging rock into the construction but local expertise and lack of funds prohibited such a venture. It would still have not been of

Hartog Collection - Saba - dept. Arubiana/Caribiana - Biblioteca Nacional Aruba

The dotted lines show how the final plans were intened to be. A sea wall was built by the first dotted lines but did not last very long so the plans were abandoned. Perhaps it was a good thing as that would have been considered enough to last Saba for gerenations to come.

much use. Luckily it did not go through as that would have been all that Saba got.

In the nineteen fifties an attempt was made by the Island Government to build yet another pier with primitive planning and construction methods and that too led to nothing. Years before that materials from Curacao had been landed at the Ladder Bay to build some kind of pier there. It never went through and up to several years ago there were iron piles lying along the shore at the end of the Ladder road.

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July 19th, 1938 Erroll (Hassell)  put his name in concrete on one of the walls coming up from the Fort Bay. He was the man who as local councillor was able to get funding to build the road from the Fort Bay to The Bottom.

Finally a Dutch harbor expert was sent to make plans for a real pier on Saba. The present site was not considered the best location for the pier. Locals suggested that it would be best to build it up by the Black Rocks near the ‘blue hole’ as that area was shallower and

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Minister Leo Chance being greeted by Sister Agatha on the opening of the pier named after him on November 8th, 1972. Will Johnson leader of the WIPM government (in dark glasses) looking on.

indeed it is.

The Dutch expert thought it would be too expensive to bulldoze the cliffs but years later a local Mr. Walton Hassell pushed through those cliffs with a bulldozer in less than a week.

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Dominican Nuns here getting ready to go for their annual vacation with the government schooner The Blue Peter at the Fort Bay.

The present location has been damaged by several hurricanes, and the last time when a construction company from Trinidad rebuilt the pier it has withstood all the hurricanes threw at it.

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First motor vehicle, a Jeep, being landed on Saba on March 17th, 1947. Driver is Mr. Oliver Zagers of Hell’s Gate.

In 1970 approval was given by the Dutch Government to build the pier. The various local governments had been pushing hard for the Netherlands Antilles Government to do something about it. When native born Leo Chance became Minister at the end of 1969 he was able to get the monies released by the Dutch Government for the construction and the local WIPM government decided to name it in his honour and on November 8th, 1972 on the Minister’s fortieth birthday it was opened with much pomp and with the participation of the population.

Over the years with all of the increase in hurricanes the pier has sustained much damage. Consideration should still be given for a plan to be made for a good harbor at the Black Rocks for yachts and tourist ships.

Schooner Priscilla

One of a number of fine shooners owned by Captain Thomas Charles Vanterpool of The Bottom, the ‘Priscilla’. She traded with Curacao and also with New York on a regular basis. For more information on this article and other stories see my book:”Tales From My Grandmother’s Pipe.

So Saba has a real harbor now and the harbor master Mr. Travis Johnson does not have to fear that he will be ridiculed that he is a harbor Master but has no harbor.

Will Johnson

 

 

 

 

Sir Emile Gumbs

SIR EMILE GUMBS OF ANGUILLA

BY: Will Johnson

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Visiting Sir Emile Gumbs at his lovely home in Sandy ground and presenting him with one of my books.

I was passing through Miami airport (May 22nd, 2010) on my way back from Guatemala when I got a call from my friend Sir Emile Gumbs, former Chief Minister of Anguilla.

I have known Emile since 1977 when I was Commissioner and Acting Administrator of Saba. Anguilla was to receive its new status with England and I was invited to attend the ceremony. He was Minister of Communications and Works in the Ronald Webster led Government at the time. Emile occupied leadership positions in politics in Anguilla for twenty seven years from 1967 to 1994 when he retired from active politics. My wife Lynne, my baby son Teddy and I stayed at the guesthouse of Jeremiah Gumbs. No close relation of Emile’s, Jeremiah was quite a flamboyant character and played a part in the Anguilla revolution. Emile took care of us and gave us a tour of what was then Anguilla. He and his Canadian wife also had us over for dinner in his ancestral home in Sandy Ground. The old generator which gave him some light a few times a week was from an old schooner. It was a noisy affair and he told me that he gave lights to his immediate neighbours who were elated to have a “naked” light bulb in the house. A couple of times during the dinner he had to run downstairs with his young son Laurie to turn back on the engine while we sat in the dark waiting for the lights to come back on. At the time Anguilla had no electricity, a series of bad dirt roads and no such thing as a restaurant. On St. Maarten people used to make fun of the Anguilla people about these things. One story told was that someone from Anguilla who worked in St. Thomas had brought back with him electrical wires and a light bulb. He wired his house and installed the light bulb in the ceiling. He then invited his neighbours to witness the miracle he had seen in St. Thomas. At the appropriate moment he turned on the switch and of course no light came on. Another one was that a man working on Aruba received a letter from his mother in Anguilla telling him that she had a wish to taste this thing they called ice. He wrote her back and told her not to worry that when he came home he would make her wish come true. When he arrived home and opened his trunk the ice he had packed had melted and soaked everything inside the trunk. His mother’s wish to taste ice had to wait for another day. (Blame Allan Busby for this one “tis he tell me so.”) Well no one can make such jokes about Anguilla now. If you listen to Bill O’Reilly then Anguilla is the place to be and the joke now is on St. Martin.

 

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Sir Emile Gumbs showing me a photo of the famous schooner the ‘Warspite”.

Emile’s wife was not amused to hear that little Saba had four restaurants (if you included Bugaloo’s place) and 24 hour-a-day electricity. But of course that was the period when Anguilla had just got out from under St. Kitts. It is rumored that Great Britain gave money to build a pier on Anguilla and that St. Kitts had built the pier at Sandy Point and named it the “Anguilla pier” as there was where the schooners and sloops docked up from the neighbouring islands to pick up cargo and passengers.

Emile and I had an indirect family relationship in that one of his uncles was married to Genevra Simmons, a cousin of my mother’s. Emile’s uncle died in a fire in the LAGO oil refinery. I think it was when the German U-boats attacked the refinery during the Second World War He left Genevra a widow with two small children who are Emile’s first cousins. She later married a doctor from the Dominican Republic if I remember correctly. Genevra was one beautiful woman and kept her beauty well into old age when I first met her in Richmond Hill, New York many years ago.

 

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Sandy Ground Anguilla where Sir Emile Gumbs lives.

I have the good fortune to have been personally acquainted with and friends of all the Chief Ministers of Anguilla, starting with the Honourable Ronald Webster who I knew from when he owned Mary’s Fancy plantation on St. Martin and long before the revolution. I was a sort of field marshal for Claude Wathey and Clem Labega when Anguilla had its revolution to break away from St. Kitts. I used to work in the Receivers Office downstairs in the Old Court House. One day Ronald came and said to me that Claude had sent him to me to explain about elections. That is the way Claude operated. If things failed my head would have been on the block as Claude would have said that I got myself in trouble by interfering in Anguilla’s business. But when it succeeded Claude got the glory. But that is the way things work in the world. Anyway I told Ronald to meet me at Capt. Hodge’s Guesthouse after work and I would explain him everything. As soon as Ronald left I rushed up by the Census Office and Mr. Constant Williams and Mr. Jocelyn Arndell gave me all the details on how elections are conducted and that a referendum (unknown to us at the time) could be organized in the same way. By the time Ronald came to meet me, I was the expert on how to conduct a referendum. That was as far as I was involved in the Anguilla revolution. All I know is that there were four people voted against secession from St. Kitts and some sixteen hundred voted to secede and Claude got the glory for the good advice and support he had given to Ronald. He did of course and since I was just a subordinate I carried out orders. And guess what. It was a learning lesson for me applied in later years to some of my subordinates.

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Aerial view of the West Side of Anguilla.

I am also good friends of the present Chief Minister the Honourable Hubert Hughes and the recent Chief Minister Osborne Fleming.

I have been invited on a number of occasions to Anguilla Day and was able to renew my acquaintance with Emile. I remember once being invited to a St. Martin Day celebration and staying at the Grand Case Beach Hotel. Emile was there and expressed great admiration for my book “Tale’s From My Grandmother’s Pipe”. He as an old schooner captain himself and had known many of the former Saba captains and their lovely schooners. As a matter of fact when he called me in Miami it was to tell me a story of when his great grandmother died in 1936. As an eight year old boy he was privileged to go on board the Saba schooner the “Marion Belle Wolfe “( sister ship to the “Mona Marie”) so that his folks could negotiate to carry back some people to St. Kitts who had attended the funeral of his great grandmother. At that time large Saban owned schooners used to carry salt from Anguilla to Guyana and some of them were also involved in carrying workers from Anguilla to work in the cane field of the Dominican Republic. One of those Captains was Capt. John Leverock Johnson a great-uncle of mine who was the father of Romney on St. Barths. Emile comes from a long line of schooner captains and shipbuilders. His mother was a Carty (sister of the well-known West Indian Methodist Circuit preacher the Reverend Leonard Carty). As a matter of fact the house in Sandy Ground in which Emile lives belonged to his grandfather Capt. Arthur Carty.

When I went to Anguilla in 1960 after hurricane “Donna” with the M.V. “Antilia” together with Lt. Governor Japa Beaujon the schooner the “Warspite” was in the harbor. It was still there when I visited in 1977. When I told my uncle Captain Charles Reuben Simmons (then in his eighties) that the “Warspite” was still around he said that the older I got the stupider I became. He claimed that the “Warspite” was an old schooner already when he was a little boy and that there was no way the schooner could still be around.

 

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Reverend Leonard Carty of the Methodist Church and uncle of Sir Emile Gumbs.

On another occasion for St. Barths Day Emile Gumbs, Leo Chance and I ended up that night in a restaurant in Gustavia swapping old time stories. Emile told me several stories which I don’t think he will mind that I pass on. When he was Captain of the family owned schooner the “Warspite” he used to transport salt from family operated salt pans on Anguilla to Trinidad for use in the oil fields there. On the way back he would transport general cargo between the islands. On one of those trips back up from Trinidad the pump on his schooner went bad and he had to put into St. Vincent on a Saturday night. The following day being a Sunday with all stores closed he went ashore and was informed that a Portuguese descended St. Vincentian might be able to help him with a new pump. So he went by the house above the business and told his story. He did not have enough funds with him to pay for the new pump. The storekeeper asked him if that schooner in the harbor was the “Warspite” by any chance. Long story short, when Emile told him that it had been in the family for more than fifty years already (built in 1905), the storekeeper told him to take the pump on credit. He said that any family that could keep a schooner that long and still looking like brand new could be trusted to pay for a small item like a pump. On his next trip down to Trinidad Emile stopped in at St. Vincent and paid for the pump of course.

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Marian Belle Wolfe on her way to Guyana from Barbados.

Emile told me the story of how the schooner the ‘Warspite’ was built. A John Thomas Hughes  who was a young carpenter in Anguilla bult the schooner. He as a young boy asked the Saba Captain Will Leverock of the schooner the ‘Marian Belle Wolfe’ to take him to Lunenberg Canada so he could learn ship building there. He spent seven years in Lunenberg. He had no money so the captain took him free of charge along with the load of salt he had bought in Anguilla for Canada. Upon return to Anguilla he built the Warspite for Van Buren Lake owner of Blowing Point. He used a bad piece of lumber which Hodge insisted he must put in the boat. After 5 years -it rot- then Emiles grandfater Carty bought the schooner and had it sawed in two and officially named it the ‘Warspite’ It was owned by Johnson Emile Gumbs who was manager of a sugar cane

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For many years the ‘Warspite’ used to carry and bring back the Anguilla lighthouse keepers to and from the island of Sombrero.

plantation on St. Kitts and Arthur Romney Carty was the Captain.

Another story he told me on that occasion which I may have mentioned before, but which belongs with his story is the following. He told me that once he was transporting a load of lumber from Sandy Point on St. Kitts to Mr. Cyrus Wathey on St. Martin. Late afternoon the French Canadian Roman Catholic Priest then stationed on Anguilla boarded the schooner. Emile offered him supper but he declined saying that he had just shared a meal with his colleague the Catholic Priest at Sandy Point.

On arrival in the Great Bay harbor the next morning Emile offered the good father some breakfast. He however decline as he said he would most probably have breakfast with the Roman Catholic priest in Philipsburg. Emile told him that he would send the small boat to pick him up exactly at 12 noon as he would be finished with unloading the schooner by that time. He told the priest that the Roman Catholic rectory was located opposite the church and sent him on his way.

 

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On the left of the parked car is the home of Mr. William Benjamin ‘Wille Bee’ Peterson where the mix up occured with the priest from Anguilla.

Promptly at noon the priest was picked up on the beach and brought back to the “Warspite”. Emile told me that the priest was laughing when he came on board and told him how embarrassed he was as to something which had happened to him ashore. When he went ashore there was a Mass in progress. He did not want to disturb the Mass and besides he was feeling quite hungry by then. He reckoned the Dutch priest would not mind that he helped himself to some breakfast. This was in the early nineteen fifties and no one on St. Martin ever locked their house then. So the priest entered the house across the street and found the kitchen with a well stocked refrigerator and with a stove. In those days they would have been a kerosene fridge and stove. My mother, a six foot one inch woman and good looking besides, had cooked on wood in the yard most of her life. When my older brother’s bought her a, two burner kerosene stove and a second hand kerosene fridge from her first cousin Eugenius Johnson, she said that she could now die in peace as she never expected to have such luxury in her house. Try and ask a woman to cook on wood today or even on a kerosene stove.

Anyway I got sidetracked as usual but when the priest sat down to breakfast, he looked up and to his amazement a good looking young woman seemingly perplexed was standing there staring him down. His first reaction was: “What would the priest be doing with a good looking maid like that?” Upon enquiry as to whether she worked there she informed him that she lived there. Worse yet! He said “You mean you live here with the priest?” She answered him:”This is my house, the priest lives next door!” It was one of the Peterson girls (daughter of Mr. William B. Peterson) whose house was opposite the church where Boolchand’s is next to the Roman Catholic Rectory. Emile said he and the priest had a good laugh over the embarrassment which the good priest went through. But it all ended well as the young lady let him finish his breakfast of eggs and bacon and then took him next door to meet the local priest. For me it is always nice to meet up with people like Emile and swap old time stories. He is 82 now he informs me. I remember having lunch at Governor Huckles official residence in the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) in Port Stanley in 2007. The Governor was in London but his wife Helen graciously hosted us and together with the Military Commander gave us a tour outside the town to see the penguins, seals and other wild life. At the lunch we discussed Emile’s upcoming 8oth birthday and the pleasant times the Huckles had enjoyed with Emile and his family when Governor Huckle served on Anguilla.

Regrettably the “Warspite” was lost during hurricane “KLAUS” in 1985. For many years the old schooner had the contract to carry the men from Anguilla to work on the lighthouse on Sombrero. Emile can tell you any number of stories related to that period.

Sometime back his son Laurie was on Saba with a boat and called me to convey greetings from his father. There was insufficient time to pass at my house. I have not seen him since he was “knee high to a grasshopper” as they would say.

I have many good friends in Anguilla. People like Maurice Conner at whose guesthouse I stayed for a week with my family in the eighties when it was just built. I have many fond memories of visiting there. Even had the privilege of being a guest at the famous “Mallihouana Hotel” on no less than two occasions and carried there by Chief Minister Osborne Fleming himself. Once when I was a guest for Anguilla Day, Emile came to the airport to see me off and to present me with a nice book on Anguilla’s history. I informed him that the government had given me the same book the day before and that he should give the one he had brought me to another friend of his. When I got home I saw a familiar person with a Panama hat sitting behind the Honourable Ronald Webster. I realized that it was a photo of me taken on the occasion of a previous Anguilla Day. I called Emile to check it out. I told him that even Anguilla could not keep us Saba people out of their business. We had a good laugh about it.

Ever since I used to issue clearances for the Anguilla captains at the Receivers office on St. Martin in the early nineteen sixties, I developed a great deal of respect for the enterprising spirit of the Anguilla people. I later became friends with the various airplane pilots like aforementioned Maurice Conner and the late Captain Lloyd who died tragically and who was then much too young. That enterprising spirit of the Anguilla people is still there. I recall an interview on television lately in which the Honourable Osborne Fleming on going into retirement informed the Anguillan people that a bank he had started with five million dollars now had assets of 700 million dollars and that it had been legally done, and I believe him. Such are most Anguillans.

Although I have known Emile for so many years I have never enquired after his business. He lives contentedly with his second wife, a lady from St. Vincent who he had a

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Traditional sail boat racing on Anguilla.

crush on as a young man.

Like all true Anguillans Emile loves the traditional sail boat races and lives in Sandy Ground close to where the sailing action is. He can give an expert assessment on the chances of the various boats to win the race, the right wind conditions necessary, and the skill of the boat crew to bring in the gold. May he enjoy many more years in his beloved Sandy Ground on beautiful Anguilla.

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OUR OWN COMMODORE TOM SIMMONS

Our own Commodore Thomas Simmons

By: Will Johnson

Image (25) He was born on Saba on April 4th, 1895 son of Margareth Jane Simmons and Joseph Benjamin Simmons. The sea was very much into his blood. His mother ‘Maggie Jane’ was born in New York to a Saban father who was lost in the North Atlantic and her mother was a Manning from Barbados. Many Sabans married into Barbados families back then as there was so much trade and contact with Barbados.

He also lost two brothers at sea. On a plaque in the Christ Church Anglican church in The Bottom one can read:” In loving memory of John Simmons, age 52, David Simmons, age 40 years, Richard R. Simmons, age 22 years. Isaac Simons age 16 years. Lost at sea September 1918. ‘We cannot Lord thy purpose see but all is well that’s done by thee.”

Capt. Tom Simmons 11  They were on the Danish registered schooner the ‘Blanford’ from St. Thomas. The vessel and its crew were lost coming out of Miami and bound for these islands.”

Like most young men of Saba, Commodore Tom Simmons, started his career at the age of sixteen on sailing ships through the West Indies and along the coast of the United States. Many of these schooners although registered in English territories (like Barbados), Swedish (St. Barth’s) and Danish (St. Thomas) were owned by Sabans many of them family of his.

He worked his way up to second mate on schooners and then joined the American Hawaiian Line as Quarter Master. In 1917, he went over to the Munson Steamship Line as third officer on the passenger Liner “Murio”. He later became captain and was in Command on the maiden voyage of the old 32.000 ton Argentina, as well as the new 22,000 ton luxury liner by the same name.

The old ‘Argentina’, under his command, was the first troop ship to enter the ports of Australia during World War II, and also to stand by for D-Day in England. He was captain of various ocean liners such as the “Western World”, the “American Legion”, the “Southern Cross”, and the “Pan American”. He later became Commodore of the Moore-McCormack Line. He spent fifty two years at sea and was awarded the highest decoration by the government of Brazil given to a foreigner.

Capt. Tom Simmons 10  On January 25th, 1963 the Director of Public Relations of Moore-McCormack Lines issued a release on his career with the company.

Commodore Thomas N. Simmons, friend and counsellor to a myriad of international travelers, culminates 50 years on the sea when he commands the S.S. ARGENTINA on her “Sea-Safari” cruise sailing from New York, February 13th. This 63 day trip will be Commodore Simmons’ last, as he has announced his retirement affective upon his return, April 17th.

And, coincidentally, another 50 years are celebrated in 1963 – the 50th anniversary of Moore-McCormack Lines, founded in 1913, one of Americas foremost steamship owners and operators, whose fleet includes the two new passenger lines, ARGENTINA and BRAZIL, and 42 modern cargo liners.

Capt. Tom Simmons The innate modesty of the Commodore camouflages a colorful career. To him all the flavor and excitement of the sea is not commonplace—far from it—but so much a part of his life that he accepts the unusual as the everyday, the crisis as the norm! The highlights of his career are people he knew and knows, and loves: The Duke of Windsor, Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, corporate presidents, Cardinals, artists, singers. Summing up, all are Tom Simmons’ “exciting moments.”

The Commodore was born on Saba Island, in the West Indies, of forefathers who were Dutch nationals of seafaring bent. He started his sea career in sail as a deck-boy on ships trading out of New York, Boston, the Gulf of Mexico and the West Indies.

After working up to second mate in sail, he turned to ships of steam as a quarter-master on the American-Hawaiian Line. He went into the South American run in 1917 as Third Officer on the Munson Liner ‘Munrio’ and has been almost continuously in that trade. Before joining Mooremack he had been in command of the passenger ships PAN AMERICA, WESTERN WORLD, SOUTHERN CROSS AND AMERICAN LEGION.

uniex-brasil-nyc  Commodore Simmons joined Mooremack in 1938 to take command of the old ARGENTINA on her first voyage to South America. During World War II, he continued in command of this ship while it was in military garb as a troop carrier. After the war, he and the ARGENTINA went back into the South American cruise trade until the ARGENTINA was retired in August of 1958. When the new luxury liner BRAZIL made her maiden voyage in 1958, Commodore Simmons was on the bridge. He also captained the first trip of the sister-ship- the new ARGENTINA, where he has remained.

Commodore Simmons wartime recollections are, he says, completely full of lack of excitement. He never mentions that his S.S. ARGENTINA was the first troop ship to carry U.S. troops to Australia, the first at Oran and among the first into England for stand-by for the D-Day invasion of Europe.

ARGENTINA (US)(1958)(Moore-McCormack) image 2 8x10 copy But one instance stands out in his memory; he was Captain of the old ARGENTINA returning with troops from Australia through the Caribbean during a period when enemy submarine action was particularly intense. At full speed, all precautions, red alert, a lookout spotted a raft. It was lonely, pitiful, occupied by one feeble scarecrow of a man. At the alarm, Tom Simmons turned his ship, slowed and —despite a natural reluctance to expose the ship, plus adverse comments from military experts aboard — quickly rescued the sole survivor of a torpedoing. Then turned the ARGENTINA back on her course and sped safely away. This act of mercy was typical of the Commodore. But more typical is his shrug of the shoulders in denying that it was anything “special” that anyone else wouldn’t have done.

Commodore Simmons last trip takes him amidst friends in the Caribbean port of Barbados, in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. Thence he and the ARGENTINA sail to South and East Africa, thru the Suez, to the Mediterranean and homeward via Italy, Spain and Portugal. These are familiar friendly places to Tom Simmons, faces of friends whom he relishes visiting. At many of the ports, officials, old cronies, travelling companions and the ‘Simmons people’ are planning commemorative ceremonies marking the 50th and retirement year of service of Commodore Thomas N. Simmons.

A grandfather over a dozen times, Commodore Simmons enjoys his holidays at his home on Long Island. But the sea is part of him and anyone can see from his ARGENTINA that he is a man of the sea.”

Commodore Tom Simmons was married to Enid May Simmons by whom he had six children. Her father was Solomon (Butchy Coonks’) Simmons who was a captain of square riggers. Her mother was the daughter of a Scotsman who lived in Montego Bay Jamaica and she had two sisters and one son. The son remained in Jamaica while the daughters went to New York. One married Captain Cameron Dudley Simmons and the other one married Tom Simmons.

As mentioned earlier he retired in 1963 and later moved to Florida where he died on March 27th, 1970 at Palm Beach Gardens.

 

THE BRICK BUILDING

The Brick Building

By; Will Johnson

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Last week I walked along the streets in Philipsburg to see if anything was left of the buildings I knew as a young teenager. What a pleasant surprise it was to see that the ‘Brick Building’ had been relieved of its coat of cement.

On a recent visit to St. Martin I decided to walk around the town of Philipsburg to see if anything from my youth there remained in place.

On the Back Street I was most pleasantly surprised to see that the cement plaster which had encased the ‘Brick Building’ of the Methodist Church had been removed. I was writing for the Windward Island’s Opinion in the nineteen sixties when the building was paved over with cement. I think it was the Reverend Muffett who did it. There was no public outcry at the time. Perhaps people preferred cement to brick. And perhaps like in so many other instances people had no interest in the history of the island or the wish to preserve that history. Like what happened to Fort Amsterdam. Or to Fort Belair where Peter Stuyvesant lost his leg and where I sleep when visiting my family. I will write an article on the loss of his leg and the story of the battle to regain the island from the Spanish. I believe that now more than formerly people, young and old, are more curious to know how things were back in the day. At least that is the impression enforced on me by my many supporters of “Under the Sea Grape Tree”. Everywhere I go on the islands people are running me down to tell me how much they enjoy my column and how they keep them.

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The Methodist Church as it looked when completed in 1851 and started a new chapter in the history of St. Martin.

I have a large collection of books and photos of the West Indies in general and the Dutch Islands in particular.

With regard to the ‘Brick Building” I am consulting ‘A Hundred Years of Methodism in Dutch St. Maarten by R. Colley Hutchinson and ‘Memories of St. Martin 1852- 1926. By Josiah Charles Weymouth whose ancestor on mother’s side owned the ‘Brick Building’.

There was a time that I represented the Windward Islands on a National Committee to honour well known island personalities by issuing Postal stamps in their memory. When the time came to honour writers I chose to present Mr. Weymouth. However no ‘likeness’ could be found of him though I checked everywhere I could. I also wrote Rene Johnson who was residing in Florida at the time. He had been a student of Weymouth’s daughter Sue when she was a teacher on Saba. Like President Macron of France he took a liking to his teacher and they got married and moved to Aruba. Rene said to me that he did not have a photo but had a book which he mailed to me and said I was welcome to keep.

Years later when I wrote an article about the life of Josiah Charles Weymouth I received a letter from someone in England who claimed to be a grandson of Mr. Weymouth and could I return the book to his mother. Yeah I thought wait on it! This is the most prized possession in my book collection along with Steve Kruythoff’s original book from 1928 which was given to me by  Daisy Hoven-Carter Rey, a granddaughter of Johannes van Romondt who lived in Canada and with whom I was friends back in the sixties.

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Mission House built by young contractor Lionel Bernard Scot in 1931. I have a photo of the old one as well which was a wooden building.

In his book ‘Memories of St. Martin N.P.” Mr. Weymouth writes the following:

“In the period mentioned (1785-1816) numbers were born and still in their teens. Many were full of maturity and had done duty in the Schutterij (National Guard). One of these, who in the year ’85 was in his 53rd year and whose name in that year, 1785, stands as Gezaghebber of this Netherlands part of St. Martin, was the writer’s great-great-great, grandfather, mother’s side – the Hon. Johannes Salomons Gibbes, who was father of Thomas Gibbes, who begat J.S. Gibbes Tz. Who begat Louisan Augusta Gibbes who was the mother of Suzanna Gibbes who from the matrimonial contracted with the Reverend William T. Weymouth in 1851 when Superintendent of the Wesleyan Mission here, was destined to be the parent of the individual who indicts these lines.

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Contractor Lionel Bernard Scot at a young age when he started out in business. He went on to become one of the most prominent and influential people on St. Martin and respected by all.

“It will be quite sufficient for us to say just here that the number of the Gibbes was legion; that they were men of prowess in arms and learning: did not shun encounters with the English when under Col. Nicholson and Tucker they had possession of the island. In the Courts sometimes, where there was always a strong Gibbes representation, their association with the English element was not always confined to peaceful argumentation. The legal prowess of the grand-son of the first J.S. Gibbes, who was the son of Thomas Gibbes was so great on the liquidation of his grandfather’s succession his wife, who was a marvel of frugality was able to produce and hand over to her husband such a sum as enabled him to purchase at the auction the large sugar estate then known as “Gibbes Sight”, and has remained in the direct line of Gezaghebber Gibbes’ succession ever since – being today the property of Mr. T.G. Weymouth a great grandson of the purchaser Mrs. Ann Burnett Gibbes,  and brother of the writer.

Tombstone of Commander Gibbes on St. Eustatius.

Thanks to Walter Hellebrand, Statia Island historian for providing this photo to enhance the article. The tomb of Commander Gibbes is on property now owned by Nu Star oil terminal.

After a life of 69 years, Gezaghebber J.S. Gibbes died and was buried by a party of the English garrisoned at “Statia” in 1802. He was Lt. Governor or ‘Commander’ of the island from February 5th 1785 until February 11th, 1792.

His devoted wife, Vrouwe Margaretha Stokvis, of Rotterdam, by whom he had 13 children, survived him at St. Martin 15 years and her earthly remains were in 1817 deposited beneath the sod in the cemetery of the Dutch Reformed Church of which a few years before Pastor Brill had been in charge and had baptized the infant Louisan Augusta her own great-granddaughter. Sorry we are to state that after a repose of one hundred and three years the remains of this good lady and six other celebrities were exhumed in 1920 and reburied at Little Bay.

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The ‘Oranje School’ when it was first built and which Mr. Weymouth wrote about. He was upset that the remains of his grandmother and other eminent people had been removed from the old Dutch Reformed cemetery located there and their remains were moved to the cemetery in Little Bay.

The event which furnished the occasions for these exhumations was the excavation which had then begun under architect Sass for the two massive concrete structures which have since been opened under the name of Orange Public School.”

The writer Wemouth goes on to list the various families into which the Gibbes were married and then continues: “It was during this Governor’s administration (Diederic Johannes van Romondt) that Methodism made such rapid progress. After the conversion of the Hon. George Illidge’s spouse Susan born Warner, it was an open secret that during the years in which the ministries of the Rev. Janion, Jeffreys, Rogers and Tregaskis were conducted in the island from 1822 to 1849, the Brick Mansion situated at the corner of the Back Street and St. John’s Alley which continued until 1857 to be, and was, in the 1820’s the residence of the Hon. George Illidge, was the favourite resort of the Methodist and no less of official circles. This it was that gave impetus and success to the efforts of

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St. Martin’s first newspaper published by Josiah Charles Weymouth. Lest we forget!

Christian workers.”

In ‘One Hundred Years of Methodism’ is recorded that: “The first Methodist preacher known to visit St. Martin was Parson Hodge, a free coloured man who had established a Methodist Society in Anguilla and who came to St. Martin in 1819. He preached to large congregations on the French side but not being looked upon with favour by the authorities, came over to the Dutch side. Some prominent ladies of Philipsburg are said to have disguised themselves by putting kerchiefs about their heads and to have attended his services. Among them was the wealthy Louisan Augusta Illidge, whose husband was a brother of the Lord Mayor of London, and one of whose sisters was the wife of the Viscount D’Arnauld, a French aristocrat. The daring lady is said to have driven through Paris wearing the white cockade when the city was in the hands of the mob.

The conversion of Mrs. Illidge was an event of importance and consequences. She became the ‘Mother’ of Methodism in St. Martin. Her residence, the brick mansion at the corner of St. John’s alley and the Back Street, was the favourite resort of the Methodist as well as of official circles. The Governors of those days, and particularly Governor P.R. Cantzlaar and the Hon. Diederic van Romondt (the first van Romondt to come to St. Martin), gave their hearty support. Mrs. Illidge rallied the English families among the settlers, some of them Methodists, and in all probability was the one who got protection for Parson Hodge from those who resented his preaching. During one of his services he was threatened by a band of people led by a lady with a cowhide whip, and he narrowly escaped being ‘tarred and feathered.’ Appeal by his supporters to the Governor resulted in a guard of soldiers being sent to keep order at his services.’

 

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

Thanks to Mr. Alfonso Blyden, St. Martin island historian and collector of old photo’s (like me) for this photo. I have a copy somewhere lying around but he made it possible to avoid a long search. With the occupation of Holland by the Germans in World War 11, the French authorities occupied the Dutch side and station their military here in the Brick Building. In a few weeks France itself was defeated by Germany and the defense of the Dutch West Indies was taken over the the British followed by the United States.

In a description of the effects of the 1819 hurricane goes on to mention:” In the Illidge mansion 4 feet of water effected its entrance into the basement and the remains of the old English Church were no longer to be seen.”

From this we can see that the brick building was already there in 1819. Lt. Governor Johannes Salomons Gibbes was born in 1732. The Brick Building was his private residence. In my book “For the Love of St. Maarten’ I wrote the following of the ‘Brick Building’.

“The ‘Brick Building’ situated on the St. John’s alley and the Back Street (which in the 1960’s was covered with a coat of cement plaster) is probably the oldest existing building in Philipsburg. It was the home of Mrs. Louisan Augusta Illidge, an early convert to Methodism and an active worker in the church. Her residence was a favourite meeting place of Methodists as well as of government officials before the Methodist Church was built by the Hon. Johannes Salomon Gibbes in 1785. In the hurricane of 1819 the water stood four feet deep in this old mansion. Between 1822 and 1849 the Methodists gathered there for services.’

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Mr. Weymouth’s home is the two story one sticking out over the sidewalk. It is there when he was already past seventy years that he wrote his book ‘Memories of St. Martin.’

Methodism has been a pioneer in education, and many schools in the West Indies bear witness to its energy and enterprise in the field. In St. Martin from the very beginning, schools were founded for the benefit of the children. In Philipsburg the Illidge mansion (Brick Building) toward the end of the eighteen hundreds was opened as a day-school by the Rev. Frederick Coward. Many still living in the island (1951) received their education there. The school was recognized and subsidized by the Government, the first teacher to be appointed being Mr. J.C. Weymouth. The school was unfortunately closed by the Rev. A.R. Kirby in 1914 for the lack of funds. Later attempts to re-open it were discouraged by the authorities because of the serious effect it would have on the Government School (Oranje School). The Brick Building now (1951) accommodates a Kindergarten school, which is being supported by the Department of Education, from which a number of children go year by year to the Government school.

 

In the booklet “One Hundred Years of Methodism in Dutch St. Maarten” by R. Colley Hutchinson there are several references to the Illidge Mansion popularly known as the Brick Building.

“ A hundred years ago the Methodists of Dutch St. Maarten, a vigorous and growing community known in those days as Wesleyans, needed a larger place of worship in Philipsburg, the capital town, and a petition was sent to H.M. King William III of Holland, asking for a vacant piece of land known as ‘The Old English Church Lot.’ The site had been lying vacant since 1819, when a great gale wrecked many elegant buildings in the town and irrevocably ruined many of the sugar estates on the island.

I recall using the Brick Building on one occasion. Working in the Receivers Office, Sydney Lejuez, Joe Richardson and me, decided to start a debating club, so Sydney being a Methodist arranged for us to use the building. Some of Claude Wathey’s supporters stood outside looking in. I overheard one of them say:” This ain’t no debating club. This is trouble brewing.” As soon as Sydney finished explaining the purpose of the meeting Mr. Vincent Doncher stood up and asked: “what is the name of the new political party you boys are forming?’ Well that was the end of the debating club but all three of us served on the Island Council of the Windward Islands later on and Joe and I in many other political and appointed functions.”

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Another view of the ‘restored’ brick building which was the home of Commander Johannes Salomon Gibbes and was built by him in 1785. A national treasure of St. Martin.

God Bless those who saw the need to bring back the Governor Illidge mansion built in 1785 back to life by removing the cement plaster covering the beauty of the ‘Brick Building.’

 

DOMINICAN NUNS ON SABA

The Dominican Nuns on Saba

By. Will Johnson

 

Sacrede Heart School

Booklet for the 112th anniversary of the start of Roman Catholic education on Saba.

In 1896 nine Roman Catholic Nuns from St. Martin visited the island of Saba for nine days in The Bottom as well as in Windward Side. They were given such a hearty welcome as if they had come to stay forever. This remained a wishful dream however.

In 1905 a good opportunity presented itself. The number of pupils of the existing private school dropped to ten and the teacher did not get a subsidy any longer.

Msgr. J.A. van Baars O.P.  Requested the government once again for a subsidy. He obtained this on the condition that one of the teachers would have a degree of assistant teacher. Sister Betranda Greene had that degree and thus she together with Sister Euphrosina van den Brink were the ones chosen to work on Saba. Prioress Regina Egelee brought both Nuns from St. Eustatius to Saba on August 18th, 1905, where until 1909 they lived in the Presbytery in The Bottom.

The school building which had been rented up until then was rented from the Government. It was situated in Upper town, The Bottom in the home of Lovelock Hassell.

BB096On August 28th, 1905 the school was opened with 63 pupils and this number grew by the day. Father Laurens Mulder requested and got approval from Msgr. J.A. van Baars to build a new school. On August 5th 1906 the new St. Joseph School was dedicated and the amount of pupils grew quickly to 101.

In 1907 Sister Betranda Greene went to live in the “Quarter” in order to take over the so-called “Mountain School.”.

Up until that time the sisters Mrs. Gertrude Johnson bron Hassell and Miss Peter Elenor Hassell had given private lessons there. Sister Bertranda organized with primitive means a classical system for the school. Each weekend she would walk up and down to visit her fellow Nuns in The Bottom and to discuss the progress of their work with the youth of Saba. The accommodations of the Nuns left much to be desired. In the most primitive living accommodations they were obliged to live and to carry out their mission.

An improvement came about when in The Bottom the newly built school was taken into use as a church. To the sacristy a room was added on for the Nuns.

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The former residence of the Dominican Nuns in The Bottom

From 1956 until 1962 the Nuns lived in a home belonging to the Government which was used to house off-island Receivers before that time. It was later incorporated into the home for the aged and forms the entrance to that building. In 1964 a small cement convent replaced the former wooden home used by the Nuns in The Bottom.

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Nuns in the long boat going off to the schooner the ‘Blue Peter’ to sail to St. Maarten.

Also in the Windward Side were facilitated in a small wooden house located between the Presbytery and the Primary School.  In 1948 a large wooden house was purchased from Mr. Eugenius Hassell ‘Mijnheer” as he was called. The Nuns gave it the name ‘Providence’. When the Nuns left Saba this building was sold to Mr. Frank Hassell and was purchased before his death by Mr. Ronnie Johnson whose son Mark recently restored it and has it for rent and he did a wonderful job with the restoration of this ‘convent’.

Further development in education continued under the Nuns. In Windward Side in 1955 a new school was opened. In 1954 I recall as a boy, breaking stones for gravel to be sold to the school. Back then there was no stone crusher so you gathered large stones and gradually broke them down with a hammer so they could be mixed with concrete.

In 1957 The Bottom also got a new School built by the same contractor Jacques Deldevert of St. Martin. This school got the name ‘Sacred Heart School’.

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The Nuns getting ready to go on the ‘Blue Peter’ (with sails up) to St. Maarten for a little rest and relaxation during school vacations.

Because of the isolation of the villages from each other there were two elementary schools on Saba. The one in The Bottom served that village and the village of St. John’s. The one in the Windward Side or “The Quarter” served that village and the village of Hell’s Gate.

In 1967 it was decided to combine the two schools and transport the children by bus. So if the first grade was in The Bottom, then the second grade would be in Windward Side and so on. I remember going to the 6th and 7th grade in The Bottom before the two schools were combined into one elementary school for the entire island. Living in Windward Side I would have to walk to school in The Bottom and back home each day. Only when the road construction reached the Windward Side the government Willy’s pickup which brought the material for the construction of the road was allowed to give us a lift in the back of the truck. That’s only if it was going in the direction we were and was not loaded with construction material.

 

1890-1910 Schoolphoto - Tropenmuseum - Pater Laurentius Mulder

School group early nineteen hundreds. Father Mulder in front with horse.

In 1970, the Foundation ‘Catholic Education Windward Islands’ was founded. Sister Edelberta de Barbanson was the first President and the late Mr. Henry Every was the first member representing Saba on the board of this foundation.

In 1974, the first local teacher Mr. Franklin Wilson was appointed Principal of the Elementary School. Over the years many locals who had attended a teachers training facility on St. Martin were later able to find employment with the Roman Catholic Schools on Saba. Among them were my brother Walter Frederick ‘Freddie’ Martinus Johnson, Floyd Every, and Frank Hassell all of whom stood before the class for their entire career.

Nuns on Saba  In August 1986 the Foundation for Catholic Education was founded and relocated to the new elementary school on St. John’s.

On September 17th, 1989 hurricane Hugo did extensive damage to this new school and it had to be rebuilt and hopefully no other hurricane will bring the disaster which was experienced with hurricane ‘Hugo’.

The abandoned school in The Bottom came in handy as a teaching facility for the newly established Medical School Foundation by Dr. David de Braauw and my brother Thomas Eric Johnson assisted by then State Secretary Max Nicholson and I as Senator. Because of the local nature of the School we were able to get all the necessary permits from the world health organization in Geneva Switzerland and got the school off to a good start. When David Frederick a former teacher at a school in Dominica was brought in to the picture by me on the urging of Mr. Max Nicholson, the school became a strictly commercial enterprise. We will get back to that on another occasion.

The school in Windward Side was turned over to the Saba Lions Club to manage as a public facility and where they could keep their meetings. The building has been well maintained over the years and was recently renovated.

Father de Groen center with Nuns.

Left to right. Sister Vincentia, Father Zoetmulder, Father van Weerelt, Father de Bruin, Prionress Agnes (seated) then standing from front to back: Sister Euphrosine, Sister Winnefrida, Sister Gabriela,  and Sister Georgine -Saba around 1920.

In 1948 the Dominican Nuns were charged with the management of a Kindergarten. This school was temporarily located in the former house of the Nuns above the Presbytery in the Windward Side. I remember it well. Went there for only three months and then moved on to grade one. My teachers were Dika Peterson, Hildred Johnson and Gladys Hassell. They were in training and teaching at the same time. I remember an incident which drew up the whole village. A dentist was visiting the new Kindergarten. One of the children was asked to open his mouth. Another student (not me) whispered to him that the dentist was going to pull out his remaining teeth. He put down such a bawling and led a choir of screamers that everyone in the village came running to see what had happened. I had not had to deal with Sister Arcadia as yet so no need to fear. Later kindergarten teachers were Mrs. Elaine Peterson-Johnson, Mrs. Janice Johnson and her

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Rose Johnson kindergarten teacher in The Bottom 1948.

sisters Patsy and Velma.

In The Bottom the Kindergarten was started in 1948 as well and was in the room used by the Nuns as a Convent before that. Rose Johnson was a teacher there in the beginning, also Claudia Johnson, Velma Johnson and Janice Johnson up until the nineteen sixties.

In 1974 a new Kindergarten school was opened (The Honey Bees), thanks to the Development Aid Fund of The Netherlands which paid for 75% of the building and the furnishings. In 1967 the Kindergarten teachers received additional training in St. Maarten which courses were under the leadership of Sister Dominica Hillen.

The Dominican Nuns were involved in many more lasting activities. In 1960 Sister Waltruda Jeurissen composed what is now the Saba National Song. ‘Saba, oh jewel most precious, in the Caribbean Sea. Memories will stay of thy beauty, though we may roam far from thee.” etc.

The Christmas before her death in The Netherlands I received a Christmas card from her as did many more of her friends on Saba. She must have had a premonition of her death. In my collection I am most sure that card is still somewhere among the many other letters which I have kept over the years.

 

1890-1910 School later church Bottom - Tropenmuseum

Church in The Bottom, which in 1935 became a school.

The duties of the Nuns consisted of much more than the study to get teaching certificates, preparing lessons for the students and organizing education in general. They also took care of the cleaning and upkeep of their own homes and gardens, also of the schools, playgrounds, youth club locations, churches and sacristies. For their own housekeeping they did their own purchases and they also cooked for themselves when the maid was not available. They were also responsible for the school meals of the children. Besides that they did their own laundry and only in the nineteen sixties they got a washing machine. Before that with the help of local women all the laundry was done by hand.

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Presbytery in The Bottom. Torn down and rebuilt into a mansion by the Saba community for the use of the Living Water Community in which to live and conduct their Christian mission in educating the Youth. We will be watching to see what is going to be done with  the building.

The Nuns were also sextons for the churches and took care of the sewing and darning for the church and presbytery. Besides that they took care of the Administration of the Schools, the youth work and their own housekeeping.

In 1974 Sisters Arcadia O’Connor and Waltruda Jeurissen left permanently for The Netherlands and the Catholic education in The Bottom was turned over to laymen.

In 1983 the last two Nuns residing at Windward Side Sister Agatha Jansen and Sister Benedicta Bisschop left for Holland.

Group photo Nuns on St. Maarten 1902  The departure of the Nuns was not without its controversy however. The two homes of the Nuns were sold to the opposition (religiously speaking) and people who were of the opinion that these buildings belonged to the church were disappointed. Father Anton Janssen who came to Saba from Cameroon was very upset that no provisions were made for a religious group to follow. Both Ronny Johnson and I offered to pay passages for two Nuns from Cameroon to come and work here. He was thankful but after reflection he told me that he had found a group in Trinidad called ‘The Living Water Community’ and he thought that culturally and linguistically they would be closer to Saba and he was right of course. They came here in 1988 and became a much loved part of the Saban community.

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Group photo in Windward Side with two Nuns around 1951 or so.

In 2017 the Sacred Heart School put out a booklet on the 112th anniversary of the school. I provided most of the old photo’s for the booklet. This article is not a history of the school however but of the involvement of the Nuns in education on Saba. In 2017 the community was once again sorely disappointed with the departure of the Living Water Community whose work is clearly illustrated in the booklet of the school anniversary.

Just a couple of years ago under the direction of the late Mr. Franklin Johnson the old Presbytery in The Bottom was torn down  and rebuilt in a community effort for use by the Living Water Community. We did not think then of putting the building under a Foundation for the use of this religious group for their work with the youth of Saba. We are grateful to them and to the Dominican Nuns for their work with the Roman Catholic Schools, the church and the children of Saba. Worldwide the Church of Rome is in a serious dilemma. The big question now is Quo Vadis Roman Catholic Church of Saba?

In the eighties there was a proposal to place us under the diocese of Antigua. I was all for it. Others cried shame on me for not wanting to stay with Curacao. People here who tried to get a meeting with the Bishop of Curacao were ignored, and the situation shows no sign of improvement. It is what it is and we will have to wait and see what the future of the church on Saba will be, if there is a future.

Hartog Collection - Saba - dept. Arubiana/Caribiana - Biblioteca Nacional Aruba

Former Home of Eugenius Hassell ‘Meneer’ purchased by the Nuns in 1948 and named ‘Providence’. Now belongs to Mr. Mark Johnson and had been lovingly restored.

Sources; Translation by me from Gods Wijngaard in de West by Valdemar Marchar .

Mathias S. Voges’ book in Dutch on the history of the Nuns in the Dutch Windward Islands.

Also Dr. J. Hartod “De Bovenwindse Eilanden”.

Geschiedenis Missie Curacao, and other publications in Dutch of the activities of the Roman Catholic Mission in the West Indies.

 

 

 

Man-of-the Sea: James Anthony Simmons

Man of the Sea – James Anthony Simmons

Schooner Ina Vanterpool

The “Ina Vanterpool” stranded on St. Eustatius September 1928.

By Will Johnson

The following was an article I wrote about Mr. Simmons before he died. I also did the eulogy for him in the Roman Catholic Church in The Bottom when he died and used much of the same article in the eulogy. I want to post it with appropriate photo’s on The Saba Islander and on Facebook so that his family , friends and general readers can enjoy the story of his life.

In 1984 I interviewed James Anthony Simmons. He is still alive and active(early 2009) and will be 95 years of age this year.

He was born on Saba on August 9th, 1914. His mother was Caroline Maria Simmons born Every who died around 1956. Her parents were Mamselle Every called “Zellie” whose people originally came to Saba from St. Thomas, and her husband was named Peter Every.

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The schooner “The Three Sisters” in Curacao harbour.

James Anthony’s father was named James Arthur Simmons and he died around 1943 in Barbados at the age of 55. His parents were Sally Jones and Alexander Simmons. They were all dead before James Anthony was born.

His father James Arthur Simmons had left Saba and went to live in Barbados to work for “Redhead” Joe Simmons who had moved from Saba as many Sabans had done at the time. Red Head Joe used to own Walmar Lodge which was a plantation at the time.

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James Anthony was a dedicated man to the Roman Catholic Church and helped out with all church activities.

James Anthony had not known his father and as so many young boys at the time he decided to go to sea and the usual age in those days was 14. And so at that young age James Anthony went to work as a mess boy on the schooner the “Ina Vanterpool”.It was a large schooner measuring 105 feet long, 26 feet wide and 218.90 tons. This three master schooner belonged to Captain Tommy Vanterpool. The Captain was Herman Simmons. They sailed between Curacao and the Windward Islands with the mail. The schooner had no motor and a trip, depending on weather conditions going and coming would take as much as ten days each way. Going down to Curacao would be faster and would usually take three to four days, but coming back could be from ten to twelve days. He also sailed on the “Georgetown” a schooner which was 81 feet long, 26 feet wide and 118.72 tons.

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A small painting of the “Marion Belle Wolfe” hangs in his home. He told me he loved this schooner.

This schooner would carry as many as 75 passengers who had to rough it on deck mostly. They made a monthly trip to Curacao and in between would sail usually between Saba and St.Kitts. Around 1929 or 1930 the “Georgetown” went ashore on the island of Nevis and got destroyed there. James Anthony was not on board at the time, though I had an Uncle Herbert Simmons who was just a young boy himself who went ashore with her. In those days it took several weeks before my grandparents knew that he was safe and sound. James Anthony also worked on the “Three Sisters” with Capt. Will Leverock.

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His wife Aline Hughes to whom he was very dedicated.

After that James Anthony sailed on the “Rhode Island” a two master which sailed to Curacao and which took the place of the “Three Sisters.” She also belonged to Captain William Benjamin Hassell. Her captain at the time was Aldrick Dowling. She was destroyed in a hurricane in Frederiksted, St.Croix around 1929. James Anthony and the crew had come to St.Thomas from Curacao. They went south to run from the hurricane and struck a reef just off the harbour of Frederiksted. No lives were lost. When daylight cleared the pilot boat came out and took the passengers and crew ashore. They were unable to save the boat but most of the supplies were saved. Mr. Labega (a son of Freddie Labega of St.Maarten) who was married to a red haired girl from Saba and who lived there put them all up at his home. There were about twenty passengers on board when the accident happened. The two master schooner “Mary C. Santos” also belonging to Capt. Ben Hassell then came up from Barbados to St.Croix to pick them up. The passengers were all from the surrounding islands.

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The “Francis W. Smith” a schooner on which he also sailed.

After that he went to work on the two master schooner the “Francis W.Smith” a salt fish runner from Canada which belonged to Captain Johnny Vanterpool and them.

The Captain was Aldrick Dowling. These schooners were all built in Canada. They would bring in codfish and lumber to Barbados and the Sabans would buy them there. On the “Francis W.Smith” he was an ordinary seaman and sailed to Trinidad, Demerara, Martinique and Guadeloupe carrying gasoline in drums from Trinidad. He did this for three years. The schooner was sold and then the captain went fishing off the coast of Guyana.

Around 1935 he went to Curacao where he worked for “Pletterij Nederhorst,” and then on to Aruba where he joined the “Mosquito” fleet. This was a fleet of tankers which belonged to ESSO on which a number of Sabans lost their lives in World War II. They brought the crude oil from Lake Maracaibo which was processed in the refinery on Aruba.

Many of the survivors who worked 15, 20 and more years and who then still lived on Saba got a big fat pension of fls.20.- and less per month (Yes, That much) for having risked their lives before during and after the war for ESSO on Aruba. James Anthony worked for about twenty years on the fleet. He mostly sailed between Aruba and Lake Maracaibo, but sometimes to Barbados, Brazil and to Mobile Alabama and Norfolk Virginia and to Cristobal Colon in Panama.

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Well into his eighties he was still on roofs painting. He made a living after a long life at sea from painting houses.

In 1945 he married Aline Hughes from which marriage three children were born. After he came back to Saba he sailed with Capt. Randolph Duncin on the sloop the “Eden Rock.”, mostly between Saba and St.Kitts. All the trade was with St.Kitts back then. The last time he sailed on a regular basis was on the sloop “Santa Lou” also belonging to Capt. Dunkin and which carried the mails between Saba and Sint Maarten in the sixties when Saba had an empty airport and they said no plane could land here.

James Anthony was also active in the politics since the sixties and was on the WIPM list each election since 1971 with Peter Granger and myself.

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He was a joiner and a dedicated WIPM supporter and ran on the list of candidates several times. When he did not run it was because he had pledged to support Mr. Cessie Granger.

He was a joiner. When Miss Carmen and they started the Women’s Organization he joined. When asked why he had joined he said “Them poor women need help.” If the Women’s Organization still exists I am sure that he is still a member in good standing. It reminds me of the time the WIPM had to send a delegate to St.Lucia for a Youth Conference. None of the younger ones could attend. Mr. Carl Anslyn then seventy five years of age volunteered to attend. The average age attending the conference was 18. You can imagine the St.Lucia press had a field day with Saba’s delegate. When he got back Mr. Anslyn was full of praise for the way he had been received by the young people. He said to me “And I told them a thing or two.” I am sure he did.

James Anthony has been one of the main servers in the Roman Catholic Church in The Bottom. He has been a pillar of his church and was a member of the Parish council and is also a Member of the Living Water Community.

For many years he was also a house painter by profession. I remember once when he was painting my roof that my son Teddy who was a little boy back then used to think that he was “Santa Claus” because it was around Christmas time and he had learned that Santa always landed on the roof. And since old James Anthony was on the roof for a couple of days, Teddy thought that he was Santa.

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The “Marion Belle Wolfe” on her way to Guyana. He also had many stories of this large schooner of Capt. Will Leverock.

When he could get around he was always to be found to help out with all kinds of social activities and was a real asset to the people of The Bottom in particular and the people of Saba in general. He retired from the sea when he was in his eighties but he still used to go fishing with his friend Elmer Linzey especially, and he has fond memories of a life spent at sea. Especially the years he spent on the old Saban owned schooners trading throughout the West Indies.

And as is often the case in small island communities such as ours we also have a family relationship. As a boy I remember a big tall brown man stopping me and asking me if I was Johnson’s boy and I said;” Yes.” He said to me “You know me and you are family.”

You bet I thought to myself. How can you be family to me? Anyway when I went home I asked my mother and described the man to her. She laughed and said;” That must be Long Charlie. Yes he and your father are first cousins.” Turns out my great uncle Henry Johnson was his father. “Long Charlie” was Charles  Simmons and a brother of our friend James Anthony.

James Anthony attends every event he can make it to and is fully alert as to what is going on around him. He will be 95 this year. I made a speech for him at his 90th birthday and it seems like yesterday. He still lives at home and is surrounded by his grandchildren and great grandchildren and it is always a pleasure to see how they appreciate having him around.

We salute James Anthony Simmons and wish him many more happy years here with us

James Anthony Simmons

Friends to the end. Our friendship never wavered nor faltered.

on Saba and thank him for being an inspiration for us all.

Shortly after this article was written he passed away on May 4th, 2009 leaving behind a legacy much to be appreciated and admired by his children and his other descendants. May he rest softly!

LETTER FROM SWEDEN

the_calm_sideLETTER    FROM   SWEDEN

By: Will Johnson

On February 2nd last I received an e-mail from Dr. Karin Simmons in Sweden which reads as follows:

Dear Will,

I am writing to give you some sad piece of news from Sweden. Gosta died peacefully on the 11th of January. He spent his last six weeks in a hospice in northern Stockholm where he was very comfortable and happy to be close to Petra and Richard and also his lady friend. The letter continues with information on his problems with cancer and then states: “I supported him in his work with the West Indies family history. Right now I am in touch with the Swedish National archives discussing where to house his material. I am the one with the best knowledge. Found this e-mail address among Gosta’s papers. We still have not got full access to his computer. But I hope this message reaches you. I am remembering with gratitude my visit to Saba and also your visit to Sweden. Love and best wishes from Sweden. Karin.”

Gosta Simmons and I go back through the generations to Governor Thomas Dinzey and through the Simmons family. Our correspondence started more than forty years ago. In his book “Labyrinths” the famous Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges mentions in a passage “for the innumerable ancestors who merge within me.” Gosta was on a sort of Don Quixote mission, but in his case that of genealogy to identify the innumerable ancestors which merged within him. Just a few months ago I had my last contact with him. I was aware of his problems with cancer. In that last letter he confirmed that things did not bode well for him. Around the time of his death he was strong on my mind. I even told Raymond Simmons, the sage of the Venezuelan branch of the Simmons family, that I should find out something about Gosta. My e-mail to Gosta went unanswered. I felt that something was wrong, and then I received the letter from Doctor Karin.

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Gosta Simmons here with a friend from Sweden at Juliana’s Hotel on Saba.

Gosta never published anything about his research. I have print-outs of much of his material which he would download and send to me. He also had his own website and face book , on which he placed many of his research documents. For him the joy was in the chase rather than in the capture.

His ancestor Abraham Simmons, like many other Sabans at the time, settled in the Danish island of St. Thomas in the early eighteen hundreds. There he became the Fire Chief and landed himself a good lay away plan by marrying the daughter of one Hardjemaal, a wealthy Danish planter with plantations on all three Danish islands. His son went to Kiel Germany, became a medical doctor, married a Swedish lady, returned to the Virgin Islands for some years and then immigrated to Sweden. In the early nineteen seventies while still living on St. Maarten I received my first letter from Gosta. He had been referred to me by Brigitha Abrahamsen, another distant relative in Stockholm who visited St. Barth’s frequently and was a member of the Swedish/St.Barth’s friendship society. Many letters followed. There was no internet then and so I had to delve into the government archives for Gosta which at the same time proved a learning process for me as well. Of course after the advent of the internet research became much easier and expanded. Gosta visited Saba at least four times to consult with me. I remember one night I got a call from him around 8pm. I said to him:”Man you did not go to bed yet?” thinking he was in Sweden. He answered: “No, but my time is your time. I am here at Scout’s Place and hoping to see you in the morning.”

Gosta was especially interested in the Dinzey/Simmons’ and related families, so he frequently visited St. Barth’s, St. Kitts and St. Thomas as well and had many friends on each of those islands. Families like the Pereira family on St. Kitts are also descended from Governor Thomas Dinzey, something which I learned from Gosta.  Through his research he is a national hero of sorts in the mulatto Walhalla of Santo Domingo. One of the white grandsons of Governor Thomas Dinzey, via the Dinzeys on St. Barth’s and St. Kitts had two sons by a black woman on St. Kitts. These boys emigrated to La Romana around nineteen hundred. Now you should know that if you like the female of the species, no better place to go to. One brother had fifty six children and the other thirty four. No one of the present Dinzey clan there disputes that, except as to which brother had 56. The Dinzey family became prominent there. Just an example as to how bloodlines flow. In October 2002, I along with my wife, my son Peter, my dear friend Elmer Linzey accompanied the Pony League little league baseball team from the Windward Islands to Santo Domingo. Despite they throwing big men with mustache like my grandfather’s, to play against our little ones, our team out of eleven games won something like ten. Of course we had taken a number of kids with us of Santo Domingo descent so we did have some advantage there as baseball is in their genes. Our team played in several cities like San Pedro de Macoris, La Romana, Higuey and so on. In El Valle a small city up in the hills while being received by the Mayor in his office, his attractive Vice Mayor looked in my direction and she said something to the Mayor. The moment the speeches were over they came over to me and asked:”Are you related to Doctor Dinzey of San Pedro”? The day before while looking up Windward Islands names in the San Pedro telephone book, I had come across the name of Dr. Dinzey and my thoughts had gone to Gosta and his research. I told them: “We share an ancestor from three hundred years ago.”

 

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Here at Gosta’s house in Nortalje Sweden in 1980.

In his ancestor quest Gosta traveled and visited with many of the prominent Simmons family members in the United States including Professor Eric Simmons who is in his nineties. Gosta also visited the archives in London, Denmark and The Netherlands. He linked up with a number of men and women who were similarly interested in West Indies genealogy.

I based the title of my article on a short story in Dutch by Mr. L.J. van der Steen from which I will translate parts:

“Have you ever heard of a name for the Fort on Saba?” Frans Brugman asked me in the fall of 1993 when he was in the Netherlands. Ir. F.H. Brugman, associated with the University of the Netherlands Antilles, hopes in September 1994 to take his doctoral degree in Delft on the buildings of Saba. “No”, I said, “no now that you say that, no. No mahn, we just call it the fohd”, in a certainly failed imitation of the Saban accent. But I promised him to keep a look out. That his question kept me busy day and night, I cannot really admit to.

And then the letter came from Sweden. A gentleman in a hamlet which is not to be found one, two, three on the map, ordered a publication of the “Natuur wetenschappelijke Studiekring voor het Caraibisch Gebied”, about the archaeology of St. Eustatius (Versteeg & Schinkel, 1992). That was no reason for a great surprise because the University Library of Stockholm is on the regular mailing list of the Society. But what did give reason for contemplation was the fact that the envelope, besides the formal order form, also contained a small yellow handwritten letter. In that letter the sender asked for more information on the Society. Furthermore he wanted to know if we had published anything else about the Windward Islands and namely in the field of history.

I looked once again at the name, and then the bells started to ring loud and clear. A name which on the hardly one thousand head population of Saba is only used together with a first name, as otherwise people would not know who you are referring to. I looked at the telephone book once again and indeed there were fifteen connections with the name Simmons. And how was that again, the Swedes had also had a colony in those parts? St. Barth’s, eventually French, but with the revealing name of the capital, Gustavia?

 

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Here on an island not far from Gotenberg with Gosta and his sister Karin

My curiosity was good for a long letter, which was promptly answered with an even longer letter. Mr. Simmons turned out to be an amateur genealogist, “a devoted tree climber,” as he described himself. It is true that he,” after almost fifteen years of devoted work had not found anything that actually proves my progenitor’s connection with Saba,’ but in the meantime he had collected a great deal of information concerning West Indian families. Moreover he was not discouraged, and was happy to have made contact with me. Perhaps I could help him to translate some Dutch documents of which he sent copies.”

This story by Mr. van der Steen though interesting, is far too lengthy to carry in its entirety here. The gist of the story is that from documentation in the Bancroft collection in which the name of the fort on Saba was “Fort Roadstead”.  This was clearly underlined in the documents of Engle S. Richardson when Saba surrendered to the Dutch on February 21st, 1816. Few people at the time knew of the Bancroft collection at the University of California until Gosta brought this to the attention of Mr. van der Steen.

Since that correspondence in 1993 Gosta continued his research, and did identify Abraham Simmons as his Saba ancestor, but research purist that he was he just continued on his ancestor quest until shortly before he passed away. A typical letter to me from Gosta last year (and there were many over the years), begins like this:

Hi Will,

I just got this message from Karin Tolan. There I see that she intends to get in touch with you and I just wanted to speed up the process. Besides, I attach a few Vanterpool files that I don’t think you have got before.

In the long letter he goes on to say: “Have I told you how much I enjoy your “Daily Herald” articles? I’m feeling the sweet smell of a new book – A Caribbean bestseller? If only I had been on the Nobel Prize Committee of Literature!”

Raymond, please remind me to dedicate the book “Under the Sea Grape Tree”, to Gosta when we get that far.

And Gosta, though I don’t think my style of writing qualifies for anything close to Nobel Prize material, thanks for the thought.  And to you my friend and distant sharer of the innumerable ancestors, who merge within me, farewell my friend, fare thee well, and may you rest softly.

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MY FRIEND RALPH

MY FRIEND RALPH

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“Meneer” Ralph Berkel, teacher, school principal, member of the Island Council, State Secretary.

Something strange when you look back on a lifelong friendship and cannot remember when and how this friendship started. When I heard of the passing of my good friend Sir Ralph Berkel on St. Eustatius yesterday, I searched my mind to try and remember when I first met him.

It may have been in 1969 when I was running with the URA party and lost the election on Statia with only 22 votes. We used to keep our internal meetings at the home of Mrs. Christine and her husband William Flanders where they also had a snack bar. I met his wife Elizabeth around the same time.

Ralph was born on Curacao on December 6th, 1938 but the family moved to Aruba and it is there that he grew up and from where most of his memories of growing up were from.

In 1970 he and I were among those from the three Dutch Windward Islands who formed the political party the Windward Islands People’s Movement (WIPM). I was living on St. Maarten at the time and despite the good showing I had at the polls in 1969 the new party was being formed without me. It is Ralph who when invited to join told the others that he would not join without me and also told the others “What message are we sending to the people who voted for Will? I would be hard pressed to explain to people what reason there could be.” Jocelyn Arndell was also in my corner. Remarkable is that after all these years the WIPM party is alive and well on Saba and governs that island.

The following year in 1971 the party won the elections on both St. Eustatius and Saba and acquired a majority of seats on the Island Council of the Windward Islands. With internal differences in the party on Statia the WIPM after only two years in government had to make a coalition with the Democrat Party of Mr. Vincent Lopes.

We were also knocking at the doors of the Federal Government on Curacao for recognition. And so in 1975 Ralph and I were appointed on the Kingdom Committee to represent Statia and Saba in the negotiations for the independence of Surinam.

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1967. Ralph Berkel number three in the lineup. Council of the Island Territory the Windward Islands.

Ralph and I both tried hard to keep the territory of the Windward Islands intact. We used to love the Island Council of the Windward Islands and used every opportunity in the combined meetings to throw licks into Claude Wathey’s skin but we could yet be magnanimous when required. In 1981 the WIPM had 8 seats and SPM of Vance James Jr. Had two seats with a combined combination of 10 seats for the coalition and 5 seats for the Democrat Party. Island Council Member Claude Wathey’s friends wanted to commemorate the fact that he had served thirty years on the Island Council. Lt. Governor Max Pandt a boyhood friend of mine called me and asked if I would be willing to come to the meeting and form a quorum. Without us the meeting was impossible and he told me that Ralph was willing to help out but not the SPM. So without me with five seats on the Island Council of Saba the meeting could not go through. I called Ralph and we agreed to go. I went dressed up in my usual Fidel Castro outfit. The meeting was attended not only by Mr. Wathey’s family and friends but many dignitaries from around the world including the United States consul on Curacao. I remember Ralph mentioning in his speech that even though we were separate from Mr. Wathey in our way of thinking but who knows he said: “You can never tell, Mr. Wathey in his infinite wisdom might see the light and one day decide to cross over and join us.” After my speech and when the ceremony was over Mr. Julian Conner told me that several times during my speech he had his heart in his mouth fearing that I would spoil the party, but that in the end I had made it all right. I used that opportunity to throw some blows first and then say that I recognized that this was a ceremony which Mr. Wathey and his friends and family were looking forward to and then went on to point out that even though he had defeated us in several elections that the Johnson’s had beaten him in their numbers. While he was the only Wathey to have served on the Island Council we had some 8 Johnson’s who had served on the Island Council.

 

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Ralph standing number three in the line up from the right. July 2nd 1975.

Ralph and I really tried to make the Island Council work. However at the Federal Government Level we would never have been able to get representation in the Legislature with the phenomenal growth in the population of St. Maarten We therefore came up with a plan to ask the people of Saba and St. Eustatius to do something different and they followed our advice and boycotted two elections.

In order to get some form of representation in the Legislature on Curacao we had to break up the Island Territory. The representation we got was limited to a Spokesman in Parliament who was put under so many restrictions that it did not amount to very much. Ralph and I had served on many committees since 1971 and attended numerous meetings together because of the desire of Aruba to achieve an autonomous status. We learned a lot from those meetings on a personal level as well.

 

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Meeting of Kingdom Committee with Her Majesty Queen Beatrix.

I remember once after a whole week of meetings with more to follow on Monday we decided to go to Aruba for the weekend. I stayed at the Astoria Hotel a magnified name for a few rooms above a Chinese restaurant. At the airport on Aruba I saw Ralph talking with Mr. Henny Eman. We had been with him in the meetings on Curacao for most of the previous week.

While I was busy checking in at the Astoria they told me that there was a call for me. I wondered who could have known where I was staying. The person calling told me that Betico Croes had just arrived from the United States and that he would be calling in at the hotel to see the political leaders of Statia and Saba. He first had to attend the opening of a large store in Oranjestad. After several calls he showed up with his wife and small daughter. In the meantime a sizeable crowd had gathered outside. Though they were not his voters he was such a celebrity at the time that they wanted him to see them as well. We pleaded with him to take his family home and get a rest as we would be meeting with him on Monday anyway. Finally he left and I went with Ralph to a ‘snack’ along the road for him to buy some Salem cigarettes. On the way back to the hotel he asked me if I had seen Henny Eman and him talking at the airport. I told him yes and he said: “See the difference between the two men. When I greeted him he asked me who I was and if he had ever met me before. “And Betico tired as he and his family were had come to greet us as two heads of state.”

I don’t know if the doorbell incident took place on that trip. His sister lived in the vicinity of the village. I walked across from the hotel to meet Ralph there the following day. While banging away on the door one of his teenage daughters was coming from school. She promptly walked up and asked me why I was trying to knock down the door, and said “Just ring the doorbell”. Who would have thought that a house in the village would have a doorbell. Ralph was not amused and I told him that his daughter meant well, so laughingly he accepted my plea to have mercy on her. A joke we shared for many years.

 

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Ralph and I here together as members of the Island Council the Windward Islands and I was also Commissioner at the same time. Meeting hall on St. Maarten 1979.

We travelled for so many years together that he got to know my habits very well. In the beginning years I was a heavy drinker and smoker and ate very little. In later years when I stopped both habits and started eating a regular meal he would say in amazement: “Well look at Johnstone finishing up his food.” He and Clem Labega both called me “Johnstone”.

WE also served together in the Pourier government. I was a Senator and his cousin Kenneth van Putten was the Senator elected on Statia. Ralph served as State Secretary for some years and once again we travelled a lot together and saw each other on Curacao.

Our final Committee we served on together was the Jesurun Committee. We came to the conclusion that the Netherlands Antilles in its new form after 1986 was unworkable. The Dutch had to take responsibility for the smaller islands, something which they had always refused to do.

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Fighting Logo of the WIPM party of which Ralph was one of the founders.

So many memories I have of Ralph and his family. Once he called me to book a hotel for his sister-in-law. I told him that she could stay by me as I had an apartment which was not being used. Just like her sister she was a knockout with good looks. When I had an operation in Eindhoven there was a gentleman in the same room with me who had four daughters who all seemed to be nurses and all good looking. One night after my wife and son had left the room, a beautiful lady entered carrying a bouquet of red roses. She spoke so softly and all I could remember when she left was something she said about Ralph. The ladies jumped on me right away to find out who the mystery lady was. It was then that I remembered that she was the sister-in- law of Ralph. She too was a nurse and Ralph had called her to look me up.

On another occasion Ralph and I were standing up opposite the Finance Department in The Hague. There was a huge demonstration going on with teachers heading to Government headquarters to state their grievances. All of a sudden a woman broke ranks with the crowd and started running towards us. I thought she had bad intentions until she shouted out “Ralph” and started hugging him up. Turns out she had gone to teachers training college with Ralph when he was studying in The Netherlands.

On another occasion on the pier in Nevis in 1983 Ralph and I were waiting to go back to St. Kitts with a coastguard boat from Trinidad and Tobago. I saw a woman running towards us. Turned out to be Margarita Palacios a friend of mine and Secretary to President Lusinchi of Venezuela. This was the independence day of St. Kitts and Nevis and Venezuela had a huge man-of-war there for the occasion. Margarita insisted that Ralph and I join her on the trip back to St. Kitts. The Commander was in agreement. We went on board and ended up in the commanders private salon and joined in a game of dominoes. All of a sudden we heard a bugle playing. Turns out it was for then Prime Minister Don Martina. When he came into the salon he looked at us a bit perplexed as if he did not know who we were. He started laughing as he joined us and I told him that Margarita Palacios had brought us on board as her guests.

The last years we were not in regular contact but I knew I had a friend in Ralph and he knew the same of me. The last time I saw him he was going into Cost-U-Less with one of his daughters. Since all three of them live on St. Maarten he would spend lots of time there as well as going up to Sweden to visit his son Robby and his family.

I have to end this on a sad note. As I am typing this I remember the following. I am unsurpassed as a eulogist for funerals on all three Windward Islands with many eulogies for friends on all three islands. On St. Maarten I did a number of eulogies among them one for my friend Eddy Buncamper. As I walked out of the church Ralph was standing in the crowd outside the Roman Catholic Church. When he saw me coming out of the church he shouted out to me:” Johnstone boy when I pass away I want you to do the talk for me.” We were both a lot younger then with death far away from our minds. Little could I realize then that indeed I would be here writing out the “talk” for my friend Ralph.

Our sympathy goes out to his children and other family members and to the people of St. Eustatius who have lost a great son. He could have remained in Holland or he could have gone to Aruba where he grew up. As a teacher the opportunities were there. But he chose to come to Statia which at the time had no electricity and lacked most of the conveniences which people enjoy there today. He and his wife put up with many inconveniences but he never gave up on his people on his beloved St. Eustatius!

May his memory be always blessed and my friend Ralph rest softly.

 

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