The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

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By; Will Johnson


The Palm Tree in all its glory all alone up in the clouds.

My brother Thomas Eric gave me a palm slip after I built my house. He said that he had gotten it from former Administrator Gerard van der Wal. Eric said that he understood that it was a prickly palm. And so, it remained a mystery to me for some years. No one whom I asked seemed to be able to tell me what kind of tree it was.

One morning as I came out of my front door on my way to work, the street sweepers were standing there looking at and discussing the palm tree. I thought all three of them were strictly island men who had stuck close to home. To me it seemed that the era of island owned large schooners and famous captains of yore were long gone.

I challenged the men to tell me what kind of palm tree it was. Melford Gordon and Julius Hassell were well known Saba huggers. They had not done much travelling. Delmar Barrington Johnson “Ton”, said right away and very authoritatively, “Why, that’s a date palm.” Laughing I said to him, “Where did you ever see a date palm Ton?” Without hesitation he said “Oh man, I’ve seen millions of them up in Shatt-Al-Arab waterway.”

With that I started questioning him as to when and how he had ever managed to travel to Shatt-Al-Arab waterway.

When no politics were going on, I tried to interview as many interesting people as I could. So, I made an appointment with him to pass by his house in the center of Windward Side. I published the interview I had with him in the Saba Herald of Thursday, September 24th, 1987.

I had so many positive comments on the article which I recently wrote for the Daily Herald about Ralph Hassell, that I decided to update the interesting interview which I had with ‘Ton.’

Although our young Sabans still follow the calling of the sea they do this closer to home now. Saba has a sizeable fishing fleet which supplies neighboring islands with fish and lobsters. The men of Ton’s generation have nearly all died out. Ton was one of a vanishing breed of sailors when I interviewed him over thirty years ago. They had to leave their homes in order to make a living and in the process, they discovered other worlds.

He was born on Saba on January 2nd 1919 and would have made one hundred years in a couple of weeks from when I am writing this article.


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The brothers Captain Tommy Hassell behind the wheel and Captain William Benjamin Hassell on the schooner the ‘Maisie’.

His first introduction to the sea was on the schooner the “Maisie Hassell”, as a cabin boy with Captain Tommy Hassell to St. Kitts. He also remembers going with Captain William Benjamin Hassel (“Captain Ben”) on a schooner to Barbados once.

As a young man he was a member of the boy scouts under the leadership of a Dutch Police Officer Van der Marel. “Ton” was one of the six young men from Saba selected to attend the World Jamboree in 1937. Carl Anslijn was also one of the young men who went. Then like now the world was very tense. Hitler had come to power in Germany and was gearing up for war which cost the lives of nearly seventy million people. Russia alone lost at least twenty-seven million of its people.



1937. The boys Scout’s group on their way to Holland for the World Jamboree.

Ton stayed several months in Holland and then stopped off at Aruba on the way back. The journey to Europe was by boat in those days and the ship stopped at several ports to and from Europe, it is from that trip that “Ton” got the bug to travel.

After working for several years on ships around the Caribbean and the United States on oil tankers out of Aruba, “Ton” decided to come to Saba to ride out World War II. Many other Sabans came back home during the years of depression before the war and they survived from agriculture and fishing. “Ton” loved to fish. I can remember him back in the nineteen sixties always going to the Spring Bay and Coeur Gut and fishing from the cliffs here. Once while visiting here from St. Maarten where I lived at the time, I remember passing him in English Quarter with a huge “Green Knight” fish on his head. He had to leave the head behind and the fish weighed ninety pounds still. Those fish seem to have disappeared from around Saba.


Ernest Hassell and Delmar Barrington Johnson.jpeg

Delmar Barrington Johnson with his co-worker Ernest Hassell here sweeping the road.

After the Great Patriotic War as the Russians call it, he returned to Aruba and started sailing on the oil tankers of the ESSO company with names like the “Sea Pearl” and the “Sea Clover”, and the SHELL tanker the “Paladina.”

Sometimes he sailed with other Sabans like Frank Riley of The Bottom, and Eddie Hassell of Hell’s Gate. But mostly he sailed with Norwegians and people of other nationalities who all treated him well.

In his years of roaming the high seas, Ton has visited the pyramids of Egypt, rode an elephant in West Africa and also in India. He has a tattoo on his right arm which was done in Calcutta (India). He has also visited Bombay and the island of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). He has sailed up and down the Tigris river, slept in Jerusalem, Beirut, Damascus, Istanbul, Kuwait and many other exotic ports.

Sailors recall the girls they have met around the world. “Ton” remembers his share as well. From a winsome eyed “Boer” schoolteacher in Durban to a Guyanese woman of Portuguese descent at a bar in the “Hotel-de-Paris” in Port-of-Spain, to the girls of Alexandria.

Once he was kidnapped in Senegal, in the then French West Africa. Taxi number 4711, pretending to take him back to his ship, took him out into the jungle instead. The taxi-driver also had a friend with him. Realizing what was happening “Ton” said he took a bite out of the friend’s ear, and a German shepherd dog which was also in the car went berserk, causing a panic, and in the confusion, Ton escaped into the jungle. He could hear the two men trying to find him. But with his Saba experience of wandering around the Mountain he was able to climb up into a tree in the dark and his would-be captors gave up and returned to the car and took off.

Several hours later when morning broke, he ventured from his hiding place and some friendly natives dressed in tribal costumes secured him a lift back to the city some sixty miles away. Just in time to catch his ship. The police were able to quickly apprehend the Taxi driver and his friend, later on, due to “Ton’s” alertness in remembering the license plate number. Forty years later he remembers the incident and the taxi-number as if it had all occurred just yesterday.

Sabans have had many adventures on the high sea. Many of the hundreds of sailors from Saba over the years will have had similar stories about the ports which they visited and in which they frolicked with the locals.


Senator Ray Hassell reminded me that ‘Ton’ also had another nickname ‘Buckey’.  He had pets of all sorts from cats to iguana’s.

Ton returned home, worked for the government as a street cleaner and did some farming. As mentioned earlier in this article he loved to fish around the rocks, and he can tell you many stories about that too. He never got married and cherished his life as a bachelor. He says that if he were younger, he would like to go sailing again. He said he was surprised to see how many young men were content to sit on the walls and waste their life away. According to “Ton” there is a whole world out there to see and to experience.

He had a problem or two in his later years. He had a pet iguana named Pablo, which would climb on his shoulder and go all around with him. Being an old sailor, he liked his booze of course. One night in September 1973 he must have overturned a kerosene lamp in the beautiful old home of his parents and it burned to the ground. His sister Joanna Martin-Johnson came to his rescue and built a concrete house in its place and allowed him to live there until he passed away. He still liked the ladies and had a slight altercation with a lady from the Republic for which the Judge gave him a sentence beyond what was necessary.


The Palm Tree with new post Irma hurricane arch mid 2018.

He was a good friend of the detective Victor Monsanto. When Victor came to Saba and saw the distress his friend was in Victor sent him home and told him to wait and see what would happen. “Ton” is perhaps still waiting in the great beyond to see if anyone is coming to pick him up to send him to Curacao.

I learned a great lesson from that day when Ton identified my palm tree as a date palm. A street sweeper had roamed the world and had experienced all of the exotic places I had only read about in books. While I fancied, I knew all about Jerusalem from books how could I argue with a man who had actually been there. Istanbul, Calcutta, Durban, Shanghai that I dreamed of, these and many more are places which were all familiar to ‘Ton.’ He was also known as “Buckey” and after a relatively short illness he passed away in 1994.

It will be Christmas soon. Ton spent one Christmas in Port Said, Egypt. He caught a shark from the back of the ship. When the Arab stevedores cut open the shark, seven young ones came out of the bowels. The Arabs all excited jumped about exclaiming “Praise be to Allah,” and saw this as some kind of omen. One of them afterwards said to ‘Ton’. It is Christmas. You are far away from your family, your country. Come with me into Port Said and be my guest. And a most delightful Christmas he spent in a land with people mostly of another religion, and he still remembers the Arab friends he met in Port Said. In retrospect the gentleman could have been a Coptic Christian. Allah is the Arabic name for God. The Christians in Egypt also call the Christian God Allah. Happy Christmas to all and praise be to Allah.






Captain Leo Chance Pier

A real harbour at last!

By; Will Johnson



An article from the Amigoe newspaper of December 9th, 1972 announcing the opening of the L.A.I. Chance pier.

It had long been a great desire of the people who lived on this tiny Caribbean island of Saba to have a practical and safe landing place.

Writers who would visit out once isolated island, in the articles they would write about Saba, would make fun of the fact that Saba had a Harbour Master but no harbour. And it was the truth. However, there was a need for an authority to check on incoming and outgoing vessels and to keep records, collect duties and so on. So even though there was no harbour as such, just landing places at Well’s Bay and Fort Bay there was a need to have someone in charge.

Be it as it may the longing to have a safe landing place was regularly brought up in meetings of the colonial council going back as far as we had such an institution as well as in correspondence with Commanders and later Lt. Governors to the authorities on Curacao.

In 1934 an attempt was made to make a landing place at the Fort Bay, And before that also at the Well’s Bay. I can remember seeing the metal poles at Well’s Bay up until the nineteen sixties. They may be still lying somewhere in the sea where the hurricanes would have dragged them.



Memories of another day, forever gone but fondly remembered by those who experienced it.

The one at Fort Bay was done by the contractor Lionel Bernard Scot from St. Maarten. My father Daniel Johnson was his foreman. They built a ramp on the stones which were lined up together in a formation. They also tried to tie in the rock known as the ranging rock but with the primitive tools available to them at the time it proved impossible. Good thing too, because if they had succeeded the government on Curacao would have said it was god enough.


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

Someone made a sketch of how the pier would be tied into the Ranging Rock and acrried a bit further.

In the nineteen fifties another attempt was made to build some sort of breakwater but once again it could not hold up against the high seas.

And so the desire for a real harbour continued unabated and in 1970 or so plans were made by a Dutch engineer to build a pier and tie it in to the large rock known as the hog’s thigh (or hogs sty) .


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November 8th, 1972 Minister Leo Chance being congratulated by Sister Agatha.

By that time Mr. Leo Chance who was a Saban was a Minister in the government on Curacao. The local Government of Saba lobbied with him to try and get Holland to approve the building of the proposed pier, which he did. The project was approved and could start in 1971. The Saba Government Information Bulletin edited by another political stalwart William Carl Anslyn wrote extensively on the progress of the construction from which bulletin we will now quote.
March 5th, 1971. The preparation work for the construction of Saba’s pier is progressing at a satisfactory and rapid rate, so much so that it is amazing to see what has been done in the short time since the heavy equipment was landed. In the “gut” in front of the Esso installations a wide area has been leveled, and a large storage area erected. A wide road has been cut along the shore to The Hog’s Thigh, which has almost completely disappeared. The road passes around this point and goes on into the bay beyond, traversing the entire length of the bay. At the end of the bay it climbs towards the center of the cliffs above where The Hog’s Thigh on that side. These two roads converging on the cliffs from two directions will allow the caterpillar D-8 to tumble the cliffs from above, which is the logical and safe way to do this work,


Leslie Johnson - Jul 1964

Leslie Johnson – Jul 1964 The Hog’s Sty in the distance from where the present pier was started and incorporated in the foundation .

The mass of fallen cliff which lay along the shore from the Fort Bay to the Tent Bay has been pushed aside by the D8, and a road has been made to the Tent Bay. This road, which has been paid for by the island Government as part of its plan to make the Tent Bay a recreation area and possible hotel site, is still in a rough state, and will remain this way until work on the bay has progressed to the point where it can be attended to. A large storage building has also been erected on the cleared off area next to the water collection tank.



The old situation with the government schooner the “Blue Peter” bringing mails and passengers from St. Maarten.

The Island Government, in having the road cut to the Tent Bay is planning for the future. With the completion of the pier the number of tourists visiting Saba is expected to increase sharply. Saba has but two beaches which can be reached by vehicle. Of these Fort Bay offers the least shade from the sun. When the Tent Bay is cleaned up the area under the large trees, there will be an ideal picnic or recreation area. This will be a most welcome improvement, not only to tourists, but to the people of the island as well.

April 5th, 1971.

The preparatory work for the construction of Saba’s pier continues at a rapid rate, to the credit of the Samco-Dumez personnel and employees, with a special word of praise for the drivers and operators of the heavy machinery being used. Machines being operated under difficult conditions, and in dangerous places.


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The porters in the nineteen thirties bringing up cargo and suitcases from The Fort Bay on the day when the S.S. “Baralt” was in port.

When a pier is to be built in other countries it is usually built out from level land where it is easily accessible. It is the exact opposite on Saba, where the first machine landed started working immediately to make landing room for the others which followed. Cliffs have had to be dynamited, and a road made to the point where the pier will begin. The Hog’s Thigh (or Hogs Sty) has completely disappeared and the company owned vehicles now drive to the extreme end of the bay beyond, on a wide road. The machines are now attacking the center of the cliff above where the Hog’s Thigh (Sty) formerly stood. Persons remembering this area of towering cliffs will find it hard to believe that a mighty caterpillar D-2 is now working where goats seldom ventured in the past.


The caissons were built in Marigot St. Martin and towed to Saba to be put in place. One sunk close to Saba in deep water. Divers at the time claimed they had seen a pirate ship completely in tact and after that many groups came to explore for it but no one has seen it since. That’s if it was there in the first place.



A break-water, presently approximately sixty to eighty feet long, and about twelve to fourteen feet wide, is being built straight out from where the Hog’s Thigh (Sty) stood. This break-water is to allow the crane, which has an extremely long boom, to scoop sand from the sea bottom, to be used in the construction work.

Thousands of bags of cement brought in by small steamers, have already been stored in a warehouse, and concrete mixers etc. Are already in place. Should the work proceed in future at the rapid rate it has in the past, the time needed for the completion of the pier will be much less than originally estimated. (To the present it has not been possible to determine if the name of the place mentioned above was Hog’s Thigh or Hog’s Sty). Opinions differ on this).

May 5th, 1971.


This photo is from before the fishermen’s wharf was built.

Work on the pier project continues without let-up. A stone crusher has been brought in, and will be located at the Tent Bay since the area cleared on the Fort Bay does not have sufficient room to accommodate the crusher on the Fort Bay does not have sufficient room to accommodate the crusher which would have to be located up-wind of the project and would cause too much inconvenience with dust. The Tent Bay is being made ready, and a large area has been cleared and levelled to accommodate the machine. The area behind the Hog’s Thigh (Sty) will be used for the stockpiling of the three different sizes of stones needed for the construction of the pier itself.

The road to the Tent Bay has been made much wider and graded better to accommodate the heavy trucks which will be moving back and forth when the crusher is in operation,

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Some of the equipment being used by Saco-Dumez during the construction phase in 1971-1972.

The pier itself will start from a point slightly West of the Hog’s Thigh (Sty), and will extend sea-ward for approximately forty meters. At this point it will extend in a westerly direction at an angle of sixty degrees, for a distance of 80 meters. The total length will be approximately 120 meters. The base of the pier will be built of bags filled with concrete. These bags will not be the usual burlap bags, but will be special bags for this purpose. For the first 40 meters this base will extend from the bottom to sea-level. From the bend to the end of the pier the base will be a considerable depth below the surface as on top of it will be placed caissons nine meters long, 10 meters wide, and varying from 6.20 to 7.60 meters in height. These will be made in St. Martin (Marigot) by Dumez, and will be towed to Saba and sunk in place. From the beginning of the pier to its end will be a reinforced concrete slab 2 meters high and 6.5 meters wide. The sea-ward side of the pier will be sloping, with a stone protection barrier, while the shore-side will be vertical, with mooring and landing facilities.


A recent photo of the harbour. Another big harbour project will soon be started. After hurricane Lenny when the pier was severely damaged a company from Trinidad won the contract to do the repairs. Everyone in the know agrees that the company did a tremendous job.

From the shore to the end of the pier (across the basin formed) will be 100 meters. The lower layer of stones used for filling-in will be stones of approximately 500 kilograms weight, and the middle layer will be approximately 500 to 4000 kilograms, and the top layer will be approximately 4000 to 7000 kilograms (2 to 3.5 tons). The basin formed by the pier will be cleaned up, and all large stones etc. Will be removed. It is hoped the sand will accumulate on this enclosed part of the shore, and that for the first time in its history Saba will have a sand beach which will not disappear with the first heavy seas. A parking lot will be made close to the pier, and a road built to the existing road. The entire project will cost approximately fls. 2.600.000.

June 5th 1971.

To many it would appear that work on the pier project has slowed down in recent weeks, but having grown accustomed to observing the weekly progress made by the bulldozer etc. In levelling land and in clearing away dynamited cliffs, we may fail to realize that most of the spectacular feats in connection with this work have already been performed, and from here on the work done on the construction of the pier itself may be less visible than we have been accustomed to, since this work will be below sea-level,


Arrival of Man-o-War with Princess.jpeg

On the left you can see yet another attempt by the local government in the nineteen fifties to build a sort of landing place at Fort Bay.

To the present a section of the base of the pier has been laid, and barring break-down in equipment, work should continue as planned.

The stone-crusher, a giant of its kind, has been made ready for operation and by the time this bulletin is distributed, should be delivering crushed stone.

The Tent Bay is now hardly recognizable, since a large area has been cleared and filled in, resembling a site for a very large building, or a future ball field.

Dynamiting of the cliffs above the Hog’s Sty (or Thigh!) former site continues. And already the shore below is lined with tremendous boulders which, following the depressions on both sides of the cliff, have crashed down from above. These will be used for filling the caissons when they are sunk in place.

July 5th, 1971.

Fort Bay, Saba 1915..jpeg

The Fort Bay in 1915 with a sloop pulled up in the rocks for repairs.

On July 1st, another section of Saba’s pier was completed, making the total length now finished 22.60 meters. The part already laid down now reaches to the point where it will turn in a westerly direction at an angle of 60 degrees. The finished part consists of a concrete slab 2 meters thick and 6.5 meters wide, which rests on a base of concrete-filled bags. From here on, because of the depth of the water, caissons will be sunk to rest on the base. These will reach to the surface of the water and will be filled with stones. The concrete slab will continue on top of these to the end of the pier.”

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The new pier created a wealth of possibilities for our people. Those who have work in their souls make use of these possibilities to make a decent living.

There is much more but for this article I will suffice with writing that on October 2nd, Administrator Eugenius Johnson issued a program of the ceremonies for the opening of the Captain L.A.I. CHANCE PIER” which was opened on his 40th birthday on November 8th 1972. This was a momentous day in the history of Saba. The pier has been damaged and restored several times with hurricanes and repaired each time. Soon another project will be started up at the Fort Bay to improve the harbour facilities which will be reported  as time goes on.Scan0261

The Mentor 1927


The photo with the boys taking sights at the Fort Bay. At the end is Hilton Whitfield. The teacher was  Captain Frederick Augustus Simmons who in 1909 got permission from the Dutch Government to start a Navigation School on Saba. He was assisted by old retired Captains. He died in 1922 but many young men passed through his school and went on to the United States and became Captains there of large ships.

The last photo you can see there two of my aunts. Alice Eliza Simmons holding my other aunt Loura Simmons.


Men of the sea.


The “Wyoming” being launched. Ralph worked on her as a ‘donkey man’.

Ralph Hassell “Ouw Cutty”.

Ralph was born on the island of Saba on January 17th, 1894. His father was John Benjamin Hassell and his mother was Henrietta Hassell.

Ralph grew up here on Saba and went to school in Windward Side.

Most boys in those days went to sea as cabin boys on the large Saban owned schooners. In Ralph’s case he lingered on here until the age of 16. He went sailing throughout the West Indies on a two-master schooner which belonged to Captain William Benjamin Hassell. The schooner had been a former New York pilot boat and was named the “John Hazel”. Ralph told me that he recalled visiting nearly all of the West Indian Islands with the exception of Guadeloupe where he had never been.

At the age of 18 he went to the United States which people even from here called “America”. There he obtained his chief mates license in New York which is in the Harry L. Johnson museum in the Windward Side.


Ralph and others from Saba used to work on this four master schooner.

He then shipped out on the four master 1400 tons schooner the “Perry Setzer”. This schooner was 216 feet long. Ralph’s brother John Benjamin Hassell was Chief Mate on the same schooner. Ralph learned to drive the engine, then shipped out as engineer on the four-master schooner the “Henry J. Smith”, which was 199 feet long.

A big help to me with statistic on these large schooners is the book: “Four master schooners of the East Coast” by Paul C. Morris.  This book was given to me By Richard Winfield Jr. His father Richard Winfield was born and raised on Saba and learned to play tennis here on the island. He went to New York and became the tennis champion of the state of New York. He married Stanley Johnson’s sister and became a banker.  Thanks to this wonderful book I can look up the schooners on which many of our Sabans sailed in the past.

Ralph also served as a donkey man on the large six master schooner the “Wyoming” one of the largest wooden ships ever built.

He also shipped out on the “Governor Powers” with a length of 237 feet. She carried 3200 feet of sail and Ralph sailed with her around Brazil. The ship was from Portland, Maine and she ran from Norfolk Virginia out to Brazil and on. “Cattoo” Whitfield who was Hilton Whitfield’s oldest brother, and in his nineties when I did this interview in 1994. was also a sailor on board of the “Governor Powers” at the same time with Ralph. He told me that “Cattoo” could lift any amount of weight. He was a nice and easy going fellow. Although he was a giant of a man, he did not look for trouble. I remember “Cattoo” visiting his brother Hilton once and indeed he was a rally big man. After that he obtained his second mate’s license, and then he went to work on the “New York and Cable Mail” on the so-called Lake boats. They were steam boats built on the lakes and they could only be built a certain length and width in order to pass through the locks.

In 1932 he returned to Saba and started working for the government as a foreman and handy man.

Children with Ralph Hassell

Ralph Here with some of his off-spring.

While he had been working abroad, he returned to Saba to get married. On September 21st, 1915 at the age of 21 he married Joanna Viva Dowling aged 20. Her parents were Peter John Hassell Dowling and Joanna Lovelace Hassell. He and his wife Viva had eight children. Being a true West Indian, he had some children outside of the marriage as well. Ralph’s mother was named Henrietta Hassell born Johnson from Booby Hill, a daughter of Henry Johnson. She died at the age of 62. His father was John Benjamin Hassell who died at the age of 84.

According to Ralph his grandfather Henry Johnson had a two-master schooner called the “Spring bird”. He went on a drunk in Curacao, took in with pneumonia and died there. Ralph’s father “Old Claw” was a mate on board and brought up the schooner from Curacao after which she was sold. A whole year later his grandfather’s remains were brought to Saba on the schooner the “Gouverneur van den Brandhof” which schooner ran the mail at the turn of the century and he was buried here in the family cemetery.

Elmer Hassell, his father Ralph and his wife Edith Lejuez.

Ralph with his son Elmer Hassell and Elmer’s wife “Miss” Edith Lejuez who lived to be 102 years of age.

Ralph said that he heard from the family that his great grandfather was a Swede and that he came to Saba during the pirate days. He lived on Booby Hill when he was young. He, the grandfather, is also buried in the family burial ground in Windward Side.

The idea that ancestors came from the Nordic lands is because the surnames originated there. However, one must not forget that the Vikings conquered large parts of Scotland, England and Ireland and held them for several hundred years in some cases. So many of the Nordic surnames became part of the regular English and Anglo/Saxon names. The pirate legacy came from the fact that in 1665 the uncles of Henry Morgan of Jamaica, namely Thomas and Edward led a pirate expedition from Port Royal and captured St. Eustatius and Saba and removed the Dutch settlers while leaving behind 226 people of English, Scottish, and Irish descent and some Indians and two Dutch families who swore allegiance to the pirates. Also, ninety of the pirates after a brawl remained back and formed the bulk of the future European component of the population.

Ralph’s mates license is now on display in the museum. He claims to have the distinction of putting in his home the first flush toilet on Saba.

During his career at sea he says he never lost a boat and not even a rope yearn. He mostly sailed by himself. He remembers that the “Henry J. Smith” leaked like a basket. His brother-in-law John Peter Hassell was 2nd mate with him, James Leverock was cook, and John Blyden from “Under-The-Ladder”, was a sailor.

Ralph also hanged out by Kaliski’s place. This gentleman’s store and guesthouse was located at 27 South Street and was the headquarters of all Sabans for nearly forty years.


Schooner “Henry J. Smith” was 199 feet long and met a watery grave when rammed by a  steamship.Ralph and other Sabans sailed on her.

When not at sea Ralph was a house painter in the large Saban community in Richmond Hill, Queens. Many Sabans sailors would find employment with other Saban painting contractors like Merrill Hassell. My uncle Leonard who sailed the oceans of the world for more than forty years, when taking a break from the sea, would work with Merrill. The stories Merrill would tell about incidents while painting people’s homes all over Long Island would kill you with the laugh.

Ralph remembered “Willy Wits” Hassell who was captain of a barkentine, a 3 master called the “St. Peter”. A barkentine has square sails on two masts and the aft mast has sails like a schooner. He used to come to Saba often with the ship when Ralph was a boy. He used to trade with lumber and codfish selling to the West Indies from Nova Scotia and so on. It belonged to the Endicott people who were ship chandlers in New York. They had their offices in Broadway. They also owned a four master called the “Charles G. Endicott.”  Augustine Johnson of Saba was her captain for many years. She also visited Saba often. He had a son. Ralph could remember both Captains Agustine and Willie Witts. Augustine mostly had a crew from Saba. Wilson Johnson used to be the cook on board the Endicott. Ralph’s brother Henry who was married to “Effie” sailed with Captain Agustine as well.

Garnet Hughes, George Hassell and Ralph Hasssell

Ralph Hassell on the right, with George Hassell in the middle and Garnet Hughes on the left. Ralph although he was ninety years old did not stay long in the Home for the Aged. He came back home to Windward Side and told everyone that he had no idea that the place was for old people or else he would not have gone there in the first place.

In life Ralph had his share of set – backs as well. His son Walter was the first traffic fatality on Saba in 1954

I believe. Motor vehicles had only been introduced to the island in 1947 and the novelty of picking up a speed on the stretch of even road between St. John’s and Windward Side was where the accident with the Jeep happened. Ralph and several of his sons was in the Jeep but Walter the one who was driving was the only fatality. Carlyle Granger used to tell me that the Anglican Priest Father A. L. Cromie (1954-1960) in his sermon reminded those present at the funeral that you cannot blame God for everything. He gives you choices. When you choose to live on Saba you have to take into account that it is a volcano in the heart of the hurricane belt. And so, it is with a motor vehicle. If you increase the speed you are also increasing your chances of having an accident.

When I did this interview, Ralph had recently made ninety.  He had moved to the Home for the Aged, but he did not like it there and returned to his home in the Windward Side. He told me that he did not realize that it was a place for old people.

He remained young at heart until he passed away at the age of 93. May he rest in peace.

Ralph Hassell Nov. 1980

Hoog Bezoek as they would say in Dutch. When  Ralph was ill in the hospital in 1980 no less a person than Her Majesty Queen Beatrix came to see him and wish him well.






Henry Every.

By Will Johnson


Glass decanters claimed to have been handed down by the pirate Henry Every who used his alias of John Avery on Saba.

Many years ago, Mr. Carl Anslyn gave me two cut glass decanters when he was moving back to Aruba to be with family in his old age. He told me that they had been given to him by his aunt Mrs. Helena Peterson born Every. According to Miss Helena they had been handed down to her by her famous pirate ancestor Henry Every.

I had never heard of him at the time. I thought it had been a story which was made up, though we did have well known pirates like Hiram Beakes who coined the phrase “Dead men tell no tales.”

I took the decanters with thanks and the story of the pirate with a grain of salt.  I never thought about it again until some years later in Old San Juan. There used to be a famous bookstore which I would always stop at when visiting the lovely city of Old San Juan.

Leafing through a book I came across a story about the pirate Henry Every. By that time both Carl and Miss Helena were deceased and there was no one around who I could ask about the connection between the Saba Every’s and the famous pirate. I must confess that I had a personal interest in finding out as one of my great-great- grandmothers was Adriana Every. Already claiming descent from Daniel Johnson popularly known to the Spanish as “Johnson The Terror” I was anxious to add one more pirate to my family tree.

Remarkable though is that in Miss Helena’s family there were a number of Henry Every’s. The last of which was the Judge Henry Every who was her nephew. He was probably named after his uncle who died tragically in Windward Side on January 2nd, 1934.

15337377_1197162167018558_7388221557867779764_nA lot of interesting facts and speculation by pirate enthusiasts have taken place over the years. I will quote from a few of these articles.

The following is taken from “The pirates Realm” of 2003.

Henry “Long Ben” Every.

Interesting facts.

Every supposedly offered to pay off the English National debt in exchange for a pardon.

He once paid for provisions with a Bill of Exchange drawn on a fictitious bank… a pirate’s rubber check!

There was even a play written about him called. The successful pirate.



Fanciful  painting of Henry Ever the pirate

Henry Every was born about 1653 (or perhaps as late as 1665) near Plymouth England. (I will come back to these dates to prove a point later on in this article.) He was so successful at piracy that in his day he was known as the ‘Arch Pirate’, and the legendary plunder of men like him and Thomas Tew caused a “Red Sea Fever” to spread through America, the Caribbean, and England.

After an early period of unlicensed slave trading out of the Bahamas, Every was by June 1694 a first mate on the 46-gun Spanish privateer the Charles II, which was assigned to attack French smugglers on Martinique. The crew became increasingly irritated after many months of no pay, and Every led a mutiny while near the Spanish town of La Coruna.

He was promptly elected captain of the new “Fancy”, which was sailed north of Madagascar only to capture one French and three English ships, adding many to his crew. Near Guinea, Every would lure out locals under pretense of trade and then take them as slaves. He was well established in a career that would prove so successful, he would later be declared outside of the Acts of Grace (beyond pardon).


Lithograph of Saba Island a former pirate stronghold and possible retirement home of the pirate Henry Every.

In early 1695 while in the Red Sea, Every forged a pirate flotilla of 5 ships commanded by pirates such as Thomas Tew, William Want, Thomas Wake, and William May. With these he soon attacked the Grand Mogul’s Fatah and the larger 40-gun Gang-I-Sawai, which were busy accompanying a pilgrim fleet from Mecca. The Gang-I- Sawai lost its mainmast, and a cannon exploded on deck, shortening the fight and resistance. The passengers and crew were brutalized in hope that the locations of any secret stash would be revealed: some jumped ship, and some of the women committed suicide. The search yielded 600.000 Pounds in gold, silver and jewels in one of the largest hauls ever, and each man got over 1000 pounds and the younger pirates 500.

Soon after this, the flotilla split up. Even some of Every’s crew left, but he got slave replacements before heading back to St. Thomas and finally New Providence. After buying protection from the Bahamian Governor Nicolas Trott and having a big party, Every and Company sailed to Jamaican June 1695 and tried to buy a pardon from Governor William Beaston for 24,000 pounds. Boston refused and they returned from the Bahamas and split up. Some went to the American colonies and a few went to parts unknown.

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Mrs. Helena Peterson born Every who gave the two decanters to her nephew Senator/Commissioner William Carl Anslyn.

Every had a number of aliases among them John Avery which was the one most often used, also Long Ben, and Benjamin Bridgeman.

Henry Every reportedly changed his name to Benjamin Bridgeman and grouped some sloops to sail with the remaining crew to the British isles.

Lying low and acting inconspicuous was not their strong suit, and several of them were quickly caught by October 1696. Those who were not hanged were deported to the American colonies. Every however, disappeared after arriving in Ireland and was never heard from again. There were various reports of his being seen in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and even on a tropical island.

And here we come to that tropical island. When Every was on St. Thomas there were any number of Saban pirates active in the trade as Ryan Espersen refers to as “Fifty shades of Trade.” Every would surely have passed the isolated pirates nest of Saba on his travels to and from St. Thomas and destinations beyond. He would have heard that it was a pretty secure pirates’ nest and seldom if at all visited by the European powers who claimed the island from time to time.

In 1728 on the population list of Saba there is a John Avery listed as living on Saba with a wife and children (3 sons, 1 daughter). In all my research I have never found any other Avery listed. But any number of Every’s and there are a number of people on Saba who still carry that surname.

If as some claim that he was born in 1665 he would have only been 63 in 1728. Even as some others claim that he was born in 1659 he would have been only 69 when listed under the name of John Avery on Saba.

There are many records of people with names of Henry Every over the centuries. One such person is Henry Every who was born in 1817. His parents were Thomas and Ann Every. He married a Mary Peterson on February 8th, 1849 and died on June 8th, 1861.

On September 3rd 1931 a Henry Every (47) was witness to the wedding of his brother Peter Every, son of Peter Every and Eleanor Elizabeth Hassell,


Oral history cannot be discounted. I lived just above the home of “Miss Helena Peterson-Every”. I was her eyeball as we would say. I remember once when she went to St. Kitts on a business trip that she brought me a small penknife and the handle was full of flowers. If she had brought me back the whole of St. Kitts it would not have been a better present. It is a great pity that only a number of years after her death when Carl Anslyn gave me the two glass decanters that he told me about Henry Every. I would have surely questioned Miss Helena about that pirate story and those two glass decanters which I have. Carl was living on Statia and Aruba when I was a boy and he would not have known the close relationship I had with Miss Helena. Perhaps via him Miss Helena meant for me to have the decanters.

I remember once when a man living on St. Thomas came to my house and he claimed expertise in every possible thing, from making an atomic bomb to planting sweet potatoes. I told him the story about the decanters and he took a look at them and said they were recently made. But then he offered me one hundred dollars to “take them off my hands” as he claimed. I knew that Miss Helena was born around 1880 and if she had inherited them they were of no recent vintage, so I thanked the gentleman and told him to look around and he would come to the conclusion that I am not a person desperate for anyone to take things off my hands as if they were a liability instead of the treasure which I have them to be.

So since here were so many reports that Henry Every had disappeared from his pursuers in the British Isles, I will go with the premise that he moved to a tropical isle and that tropical isle was Saba and that he still has descendants walking around.

My speculation in this is as good or better than all of those who have been trying over the centuries to locate his ultimate hideout. With a large degree of certainty, I can argue that Henry Every spent his last years on Saba with a family and he has descendants here


Another fanciful speculation as to what the pirate Henry Every would have looked like.







Portrait of Commander John Philips in the National Museum in Holland

Commander John Philips (1733-1746) had done a great job in advancing the economy of St. Maarten. He was also able to accomplish that the island was removed from under the administration of St. Eustatius and became self-governing. He revitalized the salt industry and brought in new settlers and convinced the plantation owners to move away from a subsistence economy to an export economy. The island back then was under the supervision of the Dutch West India company.

All was not well however and he created a number of enemies among them the cantankerous Peter Hassell, born on Saba, and a sugar cane plantation owner in the valley of Cul-de- Sac. The information on Hassell is largely taken from the book by Prof Dr. L. Knappert (Geschiedenis van de Nederlandsche Bovenwindse Eilanden in de 18de eeuw) . This book dates from 1932. I intend to do a separate story on the Dutch historians at some point. Furthermore, from an article by Ph.F.W. van Romondt in the (West Indische Gids of 1941). He was a descendant of Hassell and gave a detailed account of the life and turbulent times of his Saba ancestor.

The name Hassell was spread throughout the Dutch Windwards from early on in the history of European settlement of the islands.


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The empty land as it would have looked like in the days of Phillips looking from the valley of Cul-de-Sac to the town in the distance which would be named in his honor.

The islands changed hands frequently between the colonizing European nations in those early years of settlement and people moved around the islands on their own or were forced to move from one island to the next by the various European occupiers. Already in the 17th century the name Hassell can be found on St. Eustatius, St. Maarten and Saba. The first named island (St. Eustatius) was the head island and governed by a Commander while St. Maarten and Saba had to make do with a Vice Commander.

Who are interested in the history of the islands can find much of this from the books in the Dutch language by Hamelberg (De Nederlanders op de West Indische Eilanden), Knappert (Geschiedenis van de Nederlandsche Bovenwiindse Eilanden in de 18de eeuw), and Dr. Johan Hartog who leaned largely on information from both of the previous authors to write his “De Bovenwindse Eilanden).

What follows here is also borrowed from the old archives of Sint Eustatius, Sint Maarten and Saba which are to be found in the Public Records Office in The Hague.


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Philips burg from the air in 1955.

Around 1677 Peter Hassell must have been born ,presumably on Saba, and there between 1705 and 1706 he married Susanna Haley, also from Saba. Although Knappert admits that Hassell could not speak a word of Dutch as Saba was an English-speaking island, he still spells the name as Pieter in the Dutch form. From the beginning of our history we English Scottish and Irish descendants have been subjected to Administrators, preachers (Kowan) and other officials who when they could not understand the accent and pronunciation of our ancestral names just took the easy way out and wrote down the name in Dutch as it would have sounded to them. This has been a great source of irritation to those when doing genealogical research.

From the Hassell-Haley marriage five children are known. Jacob born May 14th 1716, Daniel and Helena both born on Saba successively on October 21st, 1718 and July 10th, 1721. The last two Richard and Johannes were born on St. Maarten on January 1st 1724 and May 27th, 1727 (Baptismal book St. Eustatius). The birth place of the first child is unknown. And there should have been other children born between 1706 and 1716 when we find the birth of the first child mentioned here. One can conclude from this information that Peter Hassell and his family moved to Sint Maarten between 1721 and 1723. He can be found there in 1728 when he together with Jan Lespier, citizen and resident of Sint Eustatius, came to an agreement on September 16th, 1728 concerning a sugar plantation in Cul-de-Sac which Hassell would take under his supervision. Seven years later on June 18th 1735, this estate agreement was dissolved. Jan Lespier gave up his share against compensation of 650 pieces of eight. On Hassell’s plantation he

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One of the many fine plantations in the valley of Cul=de=Sac

cultivated principally cotton and sugar cane.

On May 7th, 1735 he appears as signatory of a petition for windmills to be used in the salt pans. In a declaration of July 5th, 1729, Peter Hassell is referred to as a ships carpenter. In 1732 (April 16th), the year in which an earthquake struck St. Martin, he is listed as buying a piece of land from William Mussenden.

According to a list of inhabitants of the island of February 28th. 1733 the household of Peter Hassell consisted of the married couple and three sons. From that year on he was a member of council and lieutenant of the civil militia.

When Commander John Philips returned from The Netherlands on February 16th, 1735 to take charge of the island Peter Hassell had just been reelected as a member of council. Philips had convinced the directors of the West India company to give Sint Maarten full autonomy from St. Eustatius. With all of his accomplishment for the island Philips from all accounts was no easy man to deal with. Peter Hassell on the other hand was known as a cantankerous man and was constantly in conflict with others.


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Until the late nineteen sixties the town of Philipsburg was still relatively unspoiled.

On Philips return Barry was dismissed but was allowed to stay on island which turned out to be a mistake. Philips’ recorded sins is also not small, and Peter Hassell who shortly after Philips return was elected as a member of council, was one of the many who could not get along with him. Hassell himself was no easy person. There is a report of a complaint made against him for insulting the island secretary of St. Maarten, J.P. Schenk, in which last mentioned expressed his regrets.

In that same year, 1736, the conflict began between Hassell and Philips. This is what happened. Philips had received a letter from the Gentlemen X of October 29th 1735 insisting to collect the head tax. The execution thereof created turmoil among the civilian population and captain Hassell called them to arms, ‘which Philips denied on grounds of rebellion.


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The grave of Commander John Philips on the foundation of the first church on St. Maarten located in the Little Bay cemetery. It is supposedly a national monument but I wonder if anyone looks after it or even knows where it is located.

A few months later it got worse. From a declaration by a certain Jan Ryan it appears that he was at the home of the court usher Jan Weyth on June 15th; Philips was also there. Ryan overheard Philips asking Hassell how many governors there were on the island. Hassel answered “one”, but added that he was the captain and could call out the civilian population on their request. Philips then started to curse and confront Hassell. The civilians had restrained them when it threatened to come to blows between the two. Cursing, Philips threatened to banish Hassell from the island, if he had not been banned from Saba. The accusation is not probable as because in the lawsuit against Schenck the magistrate had consulted the court on Saba and was informed that Hassell was known there as an honest man.

Two days later on a Sunday, (June 17th, 1736), because there is talk about leaving the church, Philips was once again by Wyeth. The citizens with Hassell in the lead stormed in the direction of Philips. The captain read off a decree of accusations. Philips denied everything but the citizens shouted “Put him on board” and they took his sword and he was seized and forcefully put on a schooner and brought to St. Thomas. From there he went via St. Eustatius to Holland. The people then proceeded to destroy his house and office, they stole his money, books and papers. Later they arrested his servants and placed them on a diet of bread and water and in the night, they slaughtered his slaves and animals in the fields. In the thirteen months that he was off-island his plantations and warehouses were reduced to ruins, his merchandise was stolen or they spoiled due to lack of air in these warm climates so that his commercial activities came to a halt. His wife Sarah Hartman died from grief. Later Philips described all of this as enough to move even a Turk to sympathy.

Johannes Markoe the Commander of St. Eustatius sent a letter to Holland explaining what had happened with Philips on the 16th and that two days later the citizens had elected Hassell as the new Commander.

Peter Hassell who could not understand Dutch, wrote to the directors to inform them that Philips, of whom the population was very bitter, had been dismissed on June 16th, 1736, and that the citizens had elected him as Commander, which he had accepted against his wishes. Others made complaints as well. Philips treated the civilians with caning and abusive language and conducted himself as a Nero. William Richardson one of the wealthiest planters declared that Philips had cursed him out and threatened him. Even the Commander of St. Kitts, Gilbert Fleming, got involved and considered Philips a victim of his duties in a letter to the Council of St. Maarten dated July 13th, 1736.

After laying his case before the directors of the West India Company Philips was sent back to St. Maarten as Commander. He arrived back there on July 22nd, 1737 after an eventful trip. Together with Isaac Faesch he left Holland on the “Oostwaart” with Captain Roelf Alders. A Spanish coast guard ship boarded the “Oostwaart” close to St. Eustatius. The captain robbed both commanders and kept them for two days on his ship. After that he forced them to transfer to the frigate “Triumphant” with Captain Don Lopes D’Aviles. Who after two weeks left them on shore at Hispaniola, thirty miles from Santo Domingo with no other provisions than a bottle of wine and three biscuits, even letting them without a clean shirt, while at the same time the Spanish sailors were walking around with the stolen linen clothing. Faesch landed there in shirt and linen pants but without shoes and Philips in an old jacket. The Governor Don Alfonso  de Castro y Maza did not treat them very well. But after the States General heard about it and they complained to Spain the two were allowed to leave and via St. Kitts they arrived on Statia on June 24th, 1737.

In the meantime, St. Maarten had lost its direct rule. Hassell and his rebels were commanded three times to come to Statia but they refused. Only when they heard that a Man-of War was coming from Curacao they went and surrendered to the authorities on Statia.

John Philips had been given instructions that he should not impose corporal punishment on the rebels. He appointed a new council and started a civil case which dragged on until a decision was made on February 24th, 1744 which gave some compensation to Philips for his losses but not very much.

John Philips must have had friends on the island as when he died in 1746 he was buried on the ruins of the old church in the Little Bay cemetery in a regular but still impressive tomb which still stands there even today. His antagonist Peter Hassell struggled from one crisis into the other. His bad temper was blamed on his “old age”. On March 27th, 1752 he ran into a problem with Commander Abraham Heyliger who condemned Hassell to be imprisoned and to be brought to the place where Justice was usually carried out and for him to be given lashes and branded with the branding iron, banished from the jurisdiction for 99 years with confiscation of all his goods and property and by provision that he would have to stay in prison until God (or the devil) called him home. After a petition from his wife and children and an apology from his part his sentence was reduced to a fine of 400 pesos. He died before November 8th, 1757 as on that date there is a conflict between his heirs.

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A nice view of part of the lovely town of Philipsburg in its former glory days.

Commander John Philips had brought St. Maarten to an autonomous island and a large measure of prosperity. There is much more which can be said but space does not allow all for this article. However, from the trials and tribulations he went through for St. Maarten and the alternatives he had for a quiet life on his estate in Scotland you must admit that this Scotsman loved his new home ,  the island of St. Maarten.

Will Johnson


Postcard by Guy Hodge with Michel Deher overlooking the beautiful town named after Commander John Philips (1733-1746).






Commander John Philips

Often, I go back in dreams to that beautiful town locked between the shores of Great Bay and the once Great salt pond. Looking back, it is now like a tale that has been told.

I have written many times on my first experience of coming into that beautiful blue sunlight bay with its white sandy beach after leaving the turbulent dark waters of the island on which I grew up on. No flight of imagination could have prepared me for the sight in front of me when I crawled out of the hold of that old sloop. Many hours of sailing in turbulent waters and not knowing what to expect left me totally unprepared for the scene in front of me. Something which I still carry with me in my dreams after all these years. I have this recurring dream of wandering through the streets of old, lost among the wooden buildings trying in vain to find another soul. Then I wake up all aglow with memories of beautiful days spent with friends enjoying life as it was thrown at us.


What the town looked like in 1955 when I first saw it.

In my book “For the Love of St. Maarten” I did a good deal of research on that lovely town in which I considered myself privileged to live and to share with friends.

The town was named for Commander John Philips part of whose life story I recently wrote, and to which I will return in this article.

It is claimed that when Columbus arrived at St. Martin, the sandbank on which the town is built did not exist. At least it was still partially under water and would have been filled in later. The great explorer, it is said, sailed with his ships all the way in against the hills on the Western side of the bay. Later on, perhaps in a hurricane the sandbank was fully formed, closing off a part of the bay thereby creating the Great Salt Pond. This does not hold true completely as the native Amerindians called the island Soualigua the place for gathering salt.

Although Commander John Philips, for whom the town is named, is generally credited with founding the town, this is actually not the case. (M.D. Teenstra).  He is responsible for having built the first house, however. His house was located North of the East end of the Front Street and was destroyed in the great hurricane of 1819.


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The “Oranje School” when it was first built.

The name appears for the first time in a letter of Philips himself directed to the board of the Dutch West India Company dated June 3rd 1738. It is now generally accepted that Philip’s predecessor, Martin Meyers, together with the council, decided to build a new town on the sandbank in the Great Bay on May 15th 1733. The new village was cut up in parcels of 125 x 125 feet (38 by 38 meters). The town has a length of several kilometers. The original sandbank on which it was built had a width of only 60 or 70 meters. The town was divided into Front Street and Back Street.

A town in those days consisted of private homes and one or more churches, When Philipsburg was founded the great majority of the population were Protestants and adhered to the Dutch Reformed Church. The church building was located in what is now known as the Little Bay cemetery.  The tomb of Commander John Philips is situated on the floor of the ruins of that old church.

Since the church location involved quite a walk from the new town, it was decided in 1738 to tear down the church and rebuild it in Philipsburg. It was built on the grounds of what is now part of the “Oranje” school. In 1851, after the Dutch Reformed Church had disappeared from St. Maarten, it was turned into a government school. In 1919 the cemetery was removed to Little Bay (J.C.Waymouth) and the building was temporarily converted to a Pasangrahan (Indonesian word for ‘guest house’.)


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Front Street as it looked in the nineteen twenties.

Commander Martin Meyers and the council decided to name the new town after Philips even though they had a very turbulent relationship. Philips is credited with having got St. Maarten from under the authority of St. Eustatius and coming into its own. He restored the salt industry and built new windmills. He also convinced the plantation owners to move away from subsistence farming and to go over to sugar cane, cotton and tobacco and coffee for exports. He brought in 200 new settlers to manage the land and the island prospered. He also lobbied hard with the West India Company to buy up the French part of the island as he saw that a united St. Martin would make much more sense economically. He was a tough man described by some as vain and stingy. He owned the “Industry plantation” now known as ‘Emilio’s’. Although he was a Scotsman he enjoyed the confidence of the Dutch West India Company. He was overturned in a rebellion led by Peter Hassell of Saba who shipped him out on a schooner to St. Thomas and destroyed his plantation, slaves and cattle which caused his wife Rachel Hartman to die of grief. Philips was able to return and put the chaos behind him. The full story of that is the subject of another article, I am already working on.

In 1755 with the great earthquake which destroyed the city of Lisbon this also cause a tidal wave in the Great Bay harbour and people had to flee to the hills.

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Parade in 1951 celebrating 100 years of Methodism. St. Maarten used to have a lot of parades formerly.

In the year 1816 St. Maarten had a total of 3559 inhabitants and there were 178 houses in Philipsburg proper.

The great hurricane of 1819 devastated the island and the village of Simpsons bay was isolated until1933 when a channel was carved out between The Corner and the village.

The hurricane started at 3pm on September 21st 1819 and was accompanied by large amounts of rain, thunder and lightning and even an earthquake. Philipsburg was severely damaged. The Government building constructed of stone was demolished right down to the cellars as well as the Reformed Church.

The Courthouse and structures at Fort Willem lost their roofs. Most of the flourishing plantations were destroyed and the sugar cane crops all lost. A report signed by the general accountant A.Th. Kruythoff informs us that more than 200 people had died, 384 dwellings of wood and stone with inventories were lost and 76 houses damaged. Livestock losses were great, 17 horses, 145 head of cattle, 23 mules, 30 donkeys and 353 sheep, goats and pigs succumbed to the elements.  The total damage was estimated at f. 1.122.190 which was an enormous sum for those days. M.D. Teenstra visiting the town in 1829 was told by people that only 26 houses were somewhat livable. The streets were sandy and loose as roads in the dunes and only small low wooden houses had been rebuilt.



The Methodist  Chapel built in 1851

A petition from the Methodist Community on St. Maarten to His Majesty King William III of Holland asking for a vacant piece of land known as “The Old English Church Lot” was approved and forwarded by Lt. Governor J.D. Crol on March 20th 1850 to His Majesty. This had been the site of an old English church which was blown down in the hurricane of 1819. Slow as the means of communication were in those days the news that His Majesty had reacted favourably to the petition was received and the foundation stones laid on the same date in the following year, March 20th, 1851. The work also proceeded at great speed, and the church was completed and opened on October 19th of the same year (R. Colley Hutchinson ‘A Hundred Years of Methodism in Dutch Sint Maarten). In 1978 it was torn down and replaced with a new one built more or less in the same style. The old Methodist Manse, which was situated in back of the church facing the Back Street was torn down in 1931 and replaced by the much larger one facing a central court yard. The contractor was the then young Lionel Bernard Scot.



The Brick building.To my great pleasure recently restored to former glory. Built before 1800 and home of Susanna Illidge-Warner great grandmother of J.C. Waymouth

In 1835 Prince William Henry was the guest of Governor Diederick. The building where he lodged was torn down some years ago.

Governor Diedrick van Romondt was born in Amsterdam in 1791 and when he came to St. Marten he married Ann Hassell. They had eight children and many grandchildren who went on to own a large part of the entire island of St. Martin and many properties and fine houses in Philipsburg.



The Roman Catholic church as it looked until 1952 when it was replaced by the present church.

The old Roman Catholic church was built in 1844, and in 1921 it was referred to as one of the few churches in the colony of Curacao built before 1870 which had remained basically unchanged (Gouden Jubileum Der Dominikaner Missie op Curacao 1870-1920).

The government school which was started in 1851 was accommodated in the former Dutch Reformed Church next to the present ‘Oranje’ school. A wooden school, forerunner to the present concrete structure, was started on July 2ist 1919 and inaugurated by Lt. Governor J.van der Zee on October 31st, 1921.

On May 3rd 1890 four Roman Catholic Nuns of the Dominican Order arrived in St. Maarten. On June 2nd that same years they started a school and soon had 133 pupils. A school building was erected in 1893.

Ever since the Nuns arrived they had a great wish to establish a hospital. Medical conditions on the island were deplorable with no central place where sick people could be taken care of adequately. In 1908 a Catholic inhabitant willed to the church a plot of land on the Back Street with two dwelling houses which were later connected. A Roman Catholic nun named Sister Agatha, assisted by some lady volunteers started taking care of the sick in this building that same year. The hospital continued to grow with a new St. Rose Hospital being opened on the Front Street in 1935.

In 1781 Dr. Willem Hendrik Rink, a Dutch lawyer born in Tiel in the year 1756 settled in Sint Maarten. Appointed Commander he was responsible for the building of the first Courthouse for the daily operation of the government. It was not until 1886 that a new government administration building was built on the Front Street. The upstairs served as the home of the Lt. Governor and his family. This building was torched by arsonists in1974.

1876 saw the construction of a pier to the South of the “De Ruyter Square”. Before that time cargo had been landed on the beach in that same area.

By 1919 one hundred years after the Great Hurricane Philipsburg was fully functioning as a town with public buildings, schools, churches, a hospital and pier and many fine private dwellings. Situated as it was on a sandbar, with the Great Bay on one side and the salt pans on the other, it was by far one of the most beautiful capital towns of the West Indies.

And the people? In His book of 1938 S.J. Kruythoff writes: The St. Maarteners are a serious and ‘mind your own business set’, the majority at least- and as there is very little connection with the outside world, they, generally speaking, busy themselves with some occupation for their existence.


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The Philipsburg I first knew as a boy

The people are also of an independent nature, and consequently carry along with them, a cheerful and independent spirit. The island is more replete with natural resources than the other islands of the colony, which along with their simple mode of living, accounts for the independence of the people.

Each rustic, whether farmer, laborer or mechanic (with few exceptions) owns a home on a small plot of land which enables him to keep a horse, a cow or a few sheep; or on which he plants his favorite crop. Government mountain lands provide free grazing to his flocks of goats; these run wild but are marked for identification. In short, these conditions avert the chance of starvation in St. Maarten. “

Indeed, that is the way I experienced it as a boy.

Will Johnson




1691  – 1746













With so many of St. Martin’s historic monuments and memories of the past having been lost I feel that old information needs to be recycled for the generations of our time. You cannot erase the historic fact that European people came to St. Martin built settlements, forts and the salt works were started, as well as sugar plantations, trade with the surrounding island and much more. The inhabitants of today need to know that the island has an interesting history.

One such person who comes foremost to mind is John Philips. You will wonder, who is this man and what was his role in a new town being built and named in his honour. And the curious thing is that he was a Scotsman and became the Commander of the Island belonging at the time to the Dutch West India Company.


What ships of the Dutch West India Company would have looked like.

Around 1560 one can find recorded a Henry Philipe registered in Arbroath (Aberbrothock) in Scotland a preacher in the Scottish Church. Parson Philipe had a son (James I) and two daughters. James came into the possession of a rural estate named Almryclose or Almerieclose with a house in Arbroath.

James (I) Philipe, had a son. James (II) and a daughter; he died in 1634. James (II) married in 1653 to Margaret Grahame a granddaughter of Sir William Grahame, a cousin of the Marques of Montrose.

James (II) had three sons of which the oldest was also named James, thus the third such name, furthermore Walter and Peter. James (III) was born in 1654 and studied law at Edinburgh. He married Jean Corbit in 1684 and was the builder of a large manor house, with gardens, orchards on the mentioned estate. The name was after that known as Philip without the s.

James (III) had two sons; James 1V and John the latter born in 1691. When James (III) died around 1725, James (1V) succeeded him as owner or Lord of Almryclose and John went into business. He visited the Caribbean perhaps already in 1718, because in that year he married Rachel Hartman born in Amsterdam, but living in the then Danish Island of St. Thomas. John remained however stationed at Arbroath.

When he decided in 1721 to definitely move to the West Indies, he transferred a factory (of what is not known) to his brother James (1V) and purchased a vessel called the “Providence”. James (1V) died however childless in 1734, and John thus inherited the estate Almeryclose. He became what is a Scottish word, Laird which means Lord or owner of Almryclose.


What the Great House of the estate “Industry” would have looked like.


The definition “Lord of” does not indicate nobility. John hardly bothered with his possessions in Scotland. After his death in 1746 the estate came into possession of John’s only child, Susanna.  This girl who was born in 1720 in Scotland, wanted to marry on St. Martin to the Scottish merchant Alexander Wilson, against which her father John, then already Commander, made such objections, that he imprisoned his expected son-in-law, because Wilson had made a promise of marriage and was accused of kidnapping Susanna after that. However, the two lovers managed to escape St. Martin and got married elsewhere, presumably on the island of St. Kitts by parson Devens. The married couple Wilson-Philips after that went to Scotland; Alexander Wilson established himself as a merchant in Glasgow. After the death of Commander John Philips, it was some time before Susanna could claim the inheritance of her father, but in 1752 she became the owner of Almryclose. The following year she sold the estate to Robert Barclay.

In the documents consulted in Arbroath (Hartog) the name appears without an s at the end. In the documents in The Hague it appears with an S. So, it is easier to maintain the version of the spelling in the archives in The Hague because of the role he played on St. Martin.

On St. Martin John Philips was the owner of the plantation ‘Industry’. It was sold to Mrs. Kolff and later to Mr. L.C.L. Huntington.

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The grave of Commander John Philips located in Cul-de-Sac on the foundation of the old church which was moved to the new town of Philipsburg when that town was established.

According to Commander Abraham Heyliger who as is known belonged to the anti-Philips group, some people accused Philips of evil conduct (quade conduites) , as written to the Gentleman Ten in 1733, who were the Directors of the West India Company in Amsterdam. And M.D. Teenstra writing on this subject one hundred years later brought forward a document in which Philips was mentioned as very proud and stingy. (He was from Scotland, wasn’t he?)

There was a very confused situation in the islands after the death of Commander Jacob Stevens in 1727. The provisional Secretary John Lindesay became provisional Commander and had already been accused of embezzlement on Curacao. Lindesay together with Doncker Jr., and the deceased Commander Stevens (by their marriages were brothers-in-law to each other). They governed the head island St. Eustatius as a sort of triumvirate. The tax Inspector John Meyer in a remonstrance to the Gentlemen Ten stated that they, just like Caesar, Antonius and Lepedius characteristic of their reign in the Rome of Old, also would right away talk of hanging and burning.

In July 1728 a new Commander Everard Raex, stationed in Curacao was appointed Commander to put Statia’s house in order (sound familiar?).

Lindesay and Donker as well as parson Anthony Kowan made a complot against Raex. They called themselves the ‘black ties. Lindesay was arrested and put in a cistern but managed to escape to St. Kitts.

His assets on St. Eustatius were sold and here is where our John Philips enters the picture. The triumvirate on St. Eustatius had depleted the assets of the company and Raex in order to collect moneys due to the West India Company from the French islands delegated John Philips, Commander of the Regiment on St. Martin, a Scot, who had been residing on St. Martin for some time already as a merchant, to collect the debt.


John Philips’ estate “Industry”. If he came back he would still recognize it. 

John Philips left on March 4th, 1729, to Martinique and after that visited Guadeloupe where Isnard, one of the culprits who had depleted the Company’s funds on St. Eustatius, had fled on arrival of Raex as Commander. On May 21st 1729 Philips returned. He had not been able to get the money released which was due. His travel expenses, daily allowance guesthouse allowance and transportation were comparable to your average civil servant of today and were cause for complaint by the company.

Even though they complained about the expenses the directors thought to show their appreciation by promising to appoint Philips as Commander of St. Maarten. Raex gave him a guarantee in writing to this effect. In 1722 the question of Commander was solved. De Windt, who was being searched for by the Company for theft and all kinds of irregularities, just walked away from the job in April. Old Meyer had the West India’s Company possession of St. Maarten all to himself. But not for too long. Philips back from his trip to the French islands encountered opposition from St. Maarten when he proposed building several fortifications with a head tax. Hereby he lost the confidence with the citizens who shortly before that had elected him to civilian military commander. Those who were not satisfied chose Jacob Barry (or Berry) as Captain Lieutenant. Philips who felt humiliated blamed his dismissal on the work of Vice Commander Meyers. The relationship between Meyers and Philips, already not too good, did not improve. Because Philips knew that upon Meyers’ death, that he Philips would be Meyers successor Philips made it difficult for Meyers in every respect, often by doing petty things, such as making loud noise during the night.

With the death of Meyers in June 1733 the difficulties took a turn for the worse. Raecx of St. Eustatius in the month of February had also passed away as well and was succeeded by Johannes Heyliger. Whether he knew of the promise made to Philips from the Company or that he did not consider Philips capable enough is not known. But he appointed as Vice Commander of Sint Maarten Jacob Barry, the man thus who had replaced Philip as civic captain. Philips and his supporters tested the possibility to unleash a popular movement on the motive that Sint Maarten was ripe for self-government and should break away from St. Eustatius. (Saba had already tried this in 1699).

When the plan did not work Philips took it upon himself to go to Holland to try and find justice there. The Directors could do little else but give Philips the position they had promised him; but by way of compromise, they maintained Barry as Vice Commander. It was therefore clear, that, when Philips, who by this decision suddenly had been placed over his rival, once he returned, that this would lead to greater problems.

During Philips’ absence Barry proved to be a good administrator. He did his best to put the government affairs in order, and paid attention to the defense works, and did not do that which had cost Philips his job, namely to have the citizens pay for it, but turned to the directors, who indeed sent him some means to carry out the task.

On February 16th, 1735 John Philips returned to St. Maarten via Scotland where for some time he had been indisposed due to illness. Immediately the expected and sometimes deep personal related problems started up. Indeed, the directors eventually dismissed Barry, but they allowed him to remain on the island which became a new source of conflict.

Philips was now Commander of Sint Maarten. Before that time the administrator of Sint Maarten was Vice Commander. In the new situation the independence from St. Eustatius became a fact, and Philips and his supporters through this decision of the Company had gotten their wish after all.

According to Dr. J. Hartog during Philips’ term as Commander (1735-1746) Dutch Sint Maarten experienced a period of prosperity. The population rose sharply between 1715  and 1750. The population quadrupled (to some 400 whites and over 1500 slaves). There were 35 plantations. The French side was going through a depression. There were no more than 40 whites living there.

There being nearly 2000 inhabitants on the Dutch side, the question of overpopulation became an issue even back then.  Because Philips’ started out from the premise that St. Martin as a whole would prosper by it, if the island was under one flag, he suggested to the Company to buy the French part of the island. He believed, he wrote, that the Company would be able to obtain it for 150.000 guilders. His letter was never answered. In the 18th century the Company did not think anymore of expansion. Philips however persisted. In 1743 and again in 1745 he sent reminders drawing attention to the fine plantations which might be obtained for a bargain. Just before his death in 1746 he succeeded in convincing his colleague at St. Eustatius to go along with his idea.

Philips did a lot for the economy of Sint Maarten. He revived the neglected salt making industry and saw to it that more mills were installed. The island was sparsely populated back then and the plantations were only cultivating sweet potatoes, yams and cassava (subsistence farming), whereas sugar, cotton, and coffee were a promise of products which could be exported. Philips succeeded in persuading the estate owners to plant these crops and encouraged foreigners to settle in St. Maarten. Some 200 colonists from elsewhere responded to his call. He also had an examination of soil conditions carried out. It was not his fault that the results were disappointing.

Philips name lives on in the name of the capital of Sint Maarten. A separate article from my book ‘For the Love of St. Martin’ will deal with the history of the town. Another article will deal with the rebellion by Peter Hassell against Philips.

“……Philipsburg, all aglow with the ruddy hues from the setting sun, lies placidly between two waters. On her Southern flank the deep blue waters of the Great Bay, streaked with the lighter hues from hidden sand bank shallows – ripple gently to the shore; on her opposite side a fringe of hills are mirrored hundreds of fathoms down beneath down beneath the unbroken surface of a lake.” From Sunny Isle on a Sunny Sea.” by Helen C. Crossley, later on Mrs. S.J. Kruythoff.


Doing something a bit different for once. I do all this writing as a labor of love. It takes a lot of time and research to put such articles together. Here I am on my veranda doing the research for this article.

September 12th, 2018 Will Johnson





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