The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

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






Saba Day 2002

Saba Day speech by then Lt. Governor a.i. Will Johnson



Around 1850 Mr. Engle Heyliger was in a dispute with Saba’s Lt. Governor (and former pirate) Edward Beaks over the legality of having transferred what he termed ‘Kings Land’ via an auction to the people of Saba. In connection therewith, Mr. Heyliger made a complaint to the Governor of Curacao who requested Lt. Governor Beaks to give an account. Beaks not only wrote a letter but accompanied it with a large number of signatures by local residents to back up his legitimate transfer of the Kings Land to the people of Saba.

Saba, 9th July 1850

To His Excellency

J.J. Rammelman Elsevier Esq.

Governor of Curacao and dependencies



I have the honor to inform Your Excellency that on the 12th ulto., I received from His Excellency Major John de Veer Lieutenant Governor of St. Eustatius, a letter dated the 8th ulto: accompanied with a copy of one from Mr. Engle Heyliger of this island dated St. Eustatius the 7th ulto: in which Mr. Heyliger informed His Excellency “ that I had sold a tract of land situated in the Southern part of this island, called The Company’s  land, and which had been considered by all former Governors  as belonging to the Crown, the sale of which he states, had caused much dissatisfaction among  the generality of the inhabitants and prayed that His Excellency would investigate the business  for the welfare of the inhabitants and the Island.

1950s - Rendez-Vous

Former Agricultural lands in Rendez-Vous

Therefore, now most such I positively beg leave to make Your Excellency acquainted with the following facts related to the sale of the said land by me. In the month of June 1939, I sold at Public Auction in lots for the benefit of whom it may concern after it had been duly advertised a tract of land called The Company’s land situated in Jallops Quarter at the Southern part of this island for the sum of f.1059.50 an amount much beyond its real value, and much more, than I calculated it could sell for, and which land was purchased by six different individuals of this Island. In making this sale I beg to assure Your Excellency that I was under the impression and belief, that the land had originally been the property of some private individuals and had remained unclaimed by the proprietors for a period of fifty years and upwards and Your Excellency will perceive by the certificates I have the honor to send herewith, that the same opinion was entertained by many others and that consequently I had the right to dispose of it at any time and appropriate the proceeds thereof for the benefit of the Island, and being at that time in want of means to pay a debt I had contracted from 1837 to 1839 for an extra expense which this island had been subjected to of f169.87 appropriation of cost of building a prison for the levitation of the criminal John Every and of f.240.- for the serviced of Abraham James Vlaughn attending the prisoner during the time that the said John Every was confined therein. I appropriated the sum of f.409.87 to pay these amounts, having no other means to work with, and reserved the balance of f.649.62 for the use of the Island.  I beg to assure Your Excellency that I was not aware at the time I sold the land that then existed any extra prohibitions ti the sale on any lands belonging to the country never having received any instructions on the subject, a copy of the general instructions for the Government of Curacao & its dependencies furnished me in 1848 being the first one received. I was therefore entirely ignorant of such prohibition and  should Your Excellency consider  I have acted wrong in selling this land, I beg respectfully to inform Your Excellency, that the land can be immediately restored to its former state, the purchasers being quite ready and willing to return it to me for that purpose.

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Payment receipt for building the jail.

How the state of this land could in any way affect the welfare of the Island and its inhabitants I respectfully assure Your Excellency I am at a loss to understand, for the revenues derived from its previous to its being sold which never exceeded f.24.– per annum in as or could be in any way injured by the sale.

At the period I sold the land June 1839 this island was immediately  under St. Eustatius,and formed a part of the Government of His Excellency Lieutenant Governor John de Veer.

I sold it publicly, the circumstances was known throughout this island and generally at St. Eustatius. How is it be supposed that had there been any dissatisfaction on the occasion that some as some represent as would have been the case to his Excellency the Lieutenant Governor of Saba de Veer previous to Mr.  Heyliger’s of the 7th January last which occurred  after a lapse of 10 years, nor would Mr. Heyliger’s  anxiety for the interests of the inhabitants and the Island have now this late been drawn out, had not a quarrel of a private matter between this individual and myself at a dinner party the night of the 31st December which induced him to address me a letter dated the 2nd. January last a copy of which I have also the honor herewith to hand  Your Excellency from a perusal of which, Your Excellency will readily perceive that Mr. Heyliger is acting from no patriotic  fuss  and disinterested natives, but that he is solely actuated by  spirit of revenge emanating  from the occurrences of the 31 st December last.


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Governor Jamie Saleh on a Saba Day visit with  Lt. Governor a.i. Will Johnson in 1998, great-great grandson of Richard Johnson Commander i 1828. Accompanied by Senator James Ray Hassell and Commissioner Steve Hasell.

While I have the honor to submit the foregoing to Your Excellency and at the same time most respectfully

Solicit Your Excellency’s favourable consideration of the case.

And I have the honor to be, Your Excellencies most obedient and very humble

Servant, The Lt. Governor of the island Saba

Edward Beaks.

Our Lt. Governor backed up his letter with signatures of the most prominent white men on the island. Saba was still in a state of slavery at the time and only men could sign. The Woods family being the exception as they had bought their freedom from the Thomas Dinzey heirs in the early eighteen hundred’s.

Saba, January 1850

We the undersigned natives, residents and Burghers of the island Saba.

Do hereby declare that we are fully aware when the sale  at auction took place of a certain tract of land by order of His Excellency Edward Beaks Governor, and to which we were and are perfectly content and satisfied and that we have never expressed any dissatisfaction ever relative to the sale of said land and we further declare we have always understood it was land to which the inhabitants had the rights.

Henry J. Hassell, Former Commander of the Island and at present Senior Member of the Court.

Josiah Peterson, Member of the Court. Abraham Simmons, Moses Leverock and Peter Simmons, Assessors.

James B. Hassell and Jacob E. Hassell, Members of the Advising Council.

Hercules Hasssell, Provisional Secretary

John Peterson, Marshall

Other signatories.

Abraham Davis, John Toland, William Simmons, Richard Simmons, Edward B. Darsey, John Simmons, James Heyligo, Hercules Hassell Jr., William Simmons, George Hassell, Thomas C. Vanterpool, John Simmons 2x, Thomas Darsey, Peter Hassell, Henry Every, Peter J. Johnson, John Hassell 2x, Abraham Mardenborough, Josiah Peterson Jr., George Holm, Henry Hassell, John Leverock, Mark Horton, Abraham J. Peterson, Thomas P. Mardenborough, John H. Every, John H. Hassell, John H. Every, James Hassell, Abraham H. Hassell, Daniel Peterson, James B. Hassell, Abraham Every, Richard J. Hassell, Richard Woods*, Peter Hassell, John R. Barnes, Thomas W. Beaks, John G. Hassell, William Simmons, Thomas D. Horton, Edward Simmons, Thomas Johnson (my great grandfather).

The following persons who cannot write have fixed their crosses as their signature:

Abraham J. Vlaughn (Scout)., Thomas Dinzey, Daniel Simmons, James Baker, John H. Winfield, Henry H. Hassell, Samuel Green, John R. Hassell, Thomas Every, James Every, James Johnson, John Hassell, Josiah Hassell, Thomas Mardenborough, Christopher Mardenborough, Abraham J. Every, Peter H. Every, John Every, Daniel Simmons, Henry Hassell, Peter Woods*, Peter Hassell,

Wenter Peterson, Fida Leverock, Richard Hassell, Charles Peterson, Peter J. Every, Charles Hassell, Edward Hassell, Daniel Woods*, Peter Collins, Edward Barnes, James Hassell, Peter Carter Hassell, Richard Johnson, John Johnson, Cohone (Colgohoun) Johnson, Jacob Johnson, John Every, William Keeve, Henry Hassell, John Hassell, Peter J. Every, Abraham Every, Scipio Every, Richard Simmons, Richard Every, Peter Woods*, James Hassell, Phoenix Simmons, Henry T. Zeagers, Thomas Hassell, Thomas Beal, David Horton, Phoenix Hassell, John Molner, Abraham Richardson, James Hassell, James Horton, Thomas J. Every, John H. Hassell.


Commander Richard Johnson was still alive in 1850. He lived well into his nineties.

30th January 1850

A true copy of the original exhibited to me.

The Provisional Secretary

Hercules Hassell.

Another supporting letter was from one of my great grandfathers Richard Johnson.

“We the undersigned residents and Burghers of the Island Saba.

Do hereby certify and declare that we have always understood from our Fathers that the land situated in Jallops Quarter called the Company’s Land was left by the proprietor for the benefit of the Inhabitants of this island and that we have never known it to be Kings Land or called as such, and the said land was sold at auction by order of His Excellency 7th June 1839.

Signed Richard Johnson, former Commander of the Island.

Henry J. Hassell, former Commander and at present Senior Member of the Court.

Signed in presence of me.

Saba, 31st January 1850.

Hercules Hassell, Provisional Secretary.


P1020098 (2)And this was the letter which caused the whole commotion.

To His Excellency Edward Beaks Lieut. Governor

In consequence of my having recently applied to the Court here in a case similar to this for satisfaction and receiving none, it is positively my intention to lay before the Honorable Court of St. Eustatius the treatment received on the 31st. Ulto. I therefore notify the same to you.

And further state we shall then know whether the sale of the track of Company’s land was considered a legal sale or not, and which has been a continual dissatisfaction to the rest of the inhabitants as well as myself.

And I am of opinion that those who rejoice at the slaps I received will have a right to regret.

Yours Respectfully

(signed) Engle Heyliger

Saba 2d. January 1850.

A true copy of this original exhibited to me this 1st day of February 1850. The Provisional Secretary

Hercules Hassell.

Lt. Governor Edward Beaks was constantly complaining about the fact that he was not receiving a salary.  He had been dismissed in 1828 for being involved in piracy and later reinstated.

In Ryan Espersen’s latest work with the intriguing title: “Fifty shades of Trade: Privateering, Piracy, and Illegal Slave Trading in St. Thomas, Early nineteenth century he has the following interesting information which involved Governor Edward Beaks.

“ Destroying captured ships was a common occurrence as a means to hide evidence of piracy. The sheer number of ships being brought into St. Eustatius would be difficult to launder and re-sell regionally without drawing unwanted attention. In the case that prize ships themselves were to be re-sold for profit, they were brought over to Saba and left abandoned at anchor, most often at Well’s Bay (DNAVIH# 143). The ship was repaired as necessary by Saban carpenters, with evidence made to remove evidence of the ship’s origins, such as its name and place of manufacture. This could include painting the ship to make it look different than its former self. Usually, the ship would then be claimed by a merchant in St. Eustatius, who would claim that his ships papers were lost or destroyed by the pirates who captured it. A new set would be furnished by the Lt. Governor of Saba, the ship would sail for St. Eustatius, and it would be resold most often in St. Thomas or St. Barts.


Marion_Belle_Wolfe_headed to Guyana 1952

One of the many old Saban owned schooners. The “Marion Belle Wolfe” here on her way from Barbados to Guyana 1949.


Merchant houses in St. Thomas that sponsored the cruises also managed payments of commissions to parties involved in the laundering process. In the case of the Admiral Pacheco, another prize from Las Damas Argentinas, Cabot & Co. Paid a 12% commission to St. Eustatius governor van Spengler and John Martins for receiving and transshipping its prized goods at St. Eustatius. Charles Mussenden, and Island Council Member of St. Eustatius and chief of police, took the prize ship to Saba where it was repaired and had its identity concealed by Saba shipwrights. (New York Gazette 12/9/1828; Baltimore Gazette 1/15/1829). Cabot and Co. Then paid van Spengler 150 pieces of eight to provide a new Dutch register for the Admiral Pacecho, which was renamed the Elizabeth (ibid). The Lt. Governor of Saba received 500 dollars in undisclosed currency, along with coffee and sugar, for these acts.”

There you have it.








Pulling up the Family Tree by the Root

11223506_950315691658510_6068085198462857358_oBy; Will Johnson

One day while enjoying the view from my balcony I got a call on my cell phone. It is Ms. Jetta Woods calling from the office of the Census. She is the head of that Government Department. After exchanging courtesies she said: ‘Johnson, can you tell me if so and so was married?’ I was able to give her the answer she needed. I then told her; ‘Girl you know where I am?’ I then told her that the balcony I was referring to was of the cruise ship I was on and I was enjoying the view of the Rock of Gibraltar which we were just departing from. Jetta said: ‘Well, well I was calling to see if you was on the Rock and here you are leaving another Rock. Have fun!’

Sometimes when the Census gets stuck they call me as I have been doing research on the various families on Saba since I was a young man.

10551122_753301291374680_7950069021823911806_n   Long before the internet I had amassed a whole set of information of the families in the Leeward Islands and beyond to establish their connections with people on other islands in the neighborhood.

Research then involved not only checking the local census and property registers but when travelling to Curacao or the Netherlands every spare moment I got I would go to the National Archives to see what I could find there. Besides that reading Dutch historians of the 20th century who had been doing the same sort of thing.

IN the process I became a sort of expert in this field. I discovered many mistakes which had been made by those Dutch historians as well. The problems of communicating with the Dutch which we lament on today were the same several hundred years ago. In 1665 the buccaneers from Port Royal in Jamaica captured St. Eustatius and Saba and carried back the slaves to Jamaica while sending a number of the Dutch as indentured servants to Barbados and the rest to St. Maarten. And yet the Dutch ignore this fact. The pirates were led by Edward and Thomas Morgan uncles to Sir Henry Morgan. Edward died of a heart attack and is buried on St. Eustatius. He was very corpulent and in his sixties and fell dead while attempting to take the Fort there.

Will Johnson 10 The pirates fell to strife among themselves and some ninety of them remained behind on Saba with the English, Irish and Scottish people they found there. Some 226 in all.

One of the problems historians have is the census taken in 1699. Obviously this was done by a Dutch speaking person dealing with mostly illiterate pirates. What he wrote down as Sharles Symens should have been Charles Simmons who was already with his son Peter Simmons on St. Thomas in 1660 before moving to Saba. And so the census goes on from one confusion to the other. The 1705 and 1715 makes a drastic change in the names and corrected them to the English names they should have been in the first place. By that time the Commanders of the island were Sabans who knew what the correct names should be. People by then were also naming their grandchildren after their grandfathers in the correct English way.

The other problem was Pastor Anthony Kowan of the Dutch reformed church of St. Eustatius. He baptized anyone who came forward. On Saba where there was no established church he would visit and baptize any and everybody who wanted to be baptized. Even practicing Jews were baptized by him. He too had a problem with English and wrote down many names which he thought should be spelled in the Dutch way. Kelly from Montserrat which was settled by Irish people became Celly and there were many other examples which this article does not allow space for.

Image (1636)  While oral history seems to be ignored by ‘historians’ who were dependent on a few yellowed papers in the Dutch archives I had a greater advantage. I sat around the old coal pot under the sea grape tree while grilling my grandparents as to how life was when they were children and stories they had heard from their grandparents. And it was not limited to them. I grew up at a time when there was no electricity, roads, airport, or even a harbor. Let alone radios or television. There was plenty opportunity to sit around with the old folks and question them. In later years while doing research many of the stories which I was privy to turned out to be real historical happenings.

Keeping to the subject of genealogy. In a letter to the West India Company after the great hurricane of 1772 and in the census of the year 1823 all the names of males listed were English names.

So taking that into account and that which had been told by my ancestors I based my research on those names and did not get misled by Kowan et al.

Even the name Zagers in its various spellings can be traced to the South of England where the name existed at the time of the settlement by Europeans other than the Spanish in these West Indian islands.

Of course I was not alone in doing research on my ancestors. I had great help from Gosta Simmons of Nortalje Sweden who did a tremendous job in documenting and sorting out information I would send to him. He shared everything with me. He also visited the island several times to search on the origin of the Dinzey family and of course the Simmons family and went beyond that to document as much as he could find. He died relatively young after suffering with cancer. His collection was donated to an obscure library in the South of Sweden.

Professor Eric Simmons who died in his nineties was a great help in making corrections to many of the things which I wrote and adding much valued information to my research. He was a son of the famous St. Thomas Harbour Master Capt. Engle Simmons and his wife Estelle Vanterpool both from Saba.

Old Lamp Lighter In the nineteen seventies I came in contact with Raymond Simmons from Venezuela whose great grandfather was John Miller Simmons from Saba a master carpenter and shipbuilder. After he died in a mining accident on Curacao, his wife and children moved to Panama during the construction of the canal. The sons started a pharmacy there married two young ladies from Venezuela and ended up in that country. No one born and raised on Saba could be more proud of their Saban ancestry than Raymond and his extended Simmons family.

He started a newsletter ‘Somos Primos’ [We are cousins] which documented many of the people from that branch of the Simmons family.

Later on he started the very popular Facebook site ‘Of Saban Descent’ in which hundreds of photos of old time Sabans have been placed by families from around the world.

Also Michelle Yaros Pope partly of Puerto Rican descent and the rest Simmons from Saba was very helpful in collecting old family photographs and organizing two Simmons family reunions on Saba with family members from all over including the Dominican Republic.

For the surrounding Leeward Islands I was dependent on people like ‘Uncle’ Carl Buncamper, Mr. Siegfried Lampe, and Fred Labega Jr.  As well as those who had been Article-11-1.Lampe-reading-kleindoing research on the various families of the Leeward Islands.

When I started documenting the Saban families I would write the information by hand in notebooks under the various family names past and present from Saba.

Some of them had very interesting origins. Descendants of these people changed the names to suit where they lived. I will use the example of the Holm family. One of my friends who had changed his name to Holmes used to tell me that he was descended from Eldad Holmes who had built the New York water system.

Image (8)I tried to tell him as politely as I could that this was not the case. The first Holm recorded in these islands was on St. Eustatius. Laurens Holm was listed in the Rodney Roll of 1781 as living there. Further research has the family living in Osterholm in Denmark before coming out to the islands. The Holm’s of Saba all originated from Laurens of Statia and intermarried with several prominent families on Saba.

The trend the last years has been looking into ones DNA to find out where the ancestors came from. I had two done voluntarily and one when I was pulled offline in New York. That one there was no choice. The man who interrogated me had a spray can of what looked like flit and the choice was to flit my mouth or take a swab. So I gave in not even knowing at the time what the swab was for. A young lady from St. Barth’s who was taken off line with me told me that after she told them where she was from they let her go. St. Barth’s people too rich for swabbing I guess.

Anyway be it what it may the last one I took was from the National Geographic. All European, and Neanderthal and Denosovians, and the most remarkable was 15% from Northern Iran.

I read a lot. The mystery solved itself. In the book ‘Black Sea’ by Neal Acherson (From Pericles to Putin).

Many of my ancestors are from the area between England and Scotland.

On Page 218 I quote the following:” Here, towards the end of the second century A.D., a large force of Sarmatian lancers arrived. They were Iazygians, the vanguard of the slow Sarmatian migration from the Black Sea steppe towards the West, who had crossed the Transylvania Mountains and entered the North-Eastern Hungarian plains. From there, they began to raid the Roman frontier on the middle Danube until Emperor Marcus Aurelius led an army across the Danube and defeated them. He had intended it seems to have them massacred. But problems elsewhere in the Empire required his attention, and he offered them the option of enlistment instead. The Iazygians accepted and were drafted to northern Britain. Some 5.500 cavalrymen, presumably accompanied by their horses and families, made the journey across a continent and a sea. The Sarmatians never went home. The Empire lost control north of the Danube, which meant they could not be returned. For two hundred more years, until the final Roman evacuation of Britain in the fifth century, the descendants of Iranian speaking nomads continued to multiply and to be found in the lower Ribble valley.

What happened to them in the end is unknown. But if one day it is established that there are distinctive Indo-Iranian genes, A DNA survey in the Preston hinterland might well reveal that the Sarmatians in a sense are still present.’

And so you can see how interesting research into your family roots can be and how people have ended up all parts of the world.







Ralph Simmons

Ralph Simmons

By: Will Johnson


Some of Ralph Simmons’ nieces and nephews who live on Curacao and who were visiting me at my home earlier this year looking up information on their ancestors.

After the 1969 elections when on the URA list I pulled 232 votes on Statia or 48% of the votes cast, the WIPM party thought that I should visit Statia as much as possible. We formed the WIPM in 1970. After that good showing we wanted to win the 1971 Island Council elections and we did.

When I used to go to Statia I would board by Mrs. Wilma Gibbs and her husband across the street from the Seventh Day Adventist church. They tolerated me and served me a hearty breakfast together with a room  for five guilders a night. When I say they tolerated me they were deeply religious and I can see them now reading their bible at night. I would come in at all hours of the night and with party members from Saba or St. Maarten and having indulged a bit too much there was much talking before everyone dropped asleep.

Across the street lived Mr. Ralph Simmons. When I first met him, I thought he was from Statia. He was from long before my time and had decided to retire on Statia.

Dr. Julia Crane besides Saba Silhouettes had also done a similar book on Statia. I was there when she was doing research and when her book was published in 1999 my friend Senator Kenneth van Putten sent me a personalized copy and he is also featured in the book.

For this article I will quote extensively from her interview with my friend.

Ralph M. Simmons, sailor

My dear friend Ralph Simmons sitting at his home on St. Eustatius. He lived next to the Seventh Day  Adventist church in Oranjestad and was to me a wealth of information on how life was in former times.

“My name is Ralph Milburn Simmons. I was born twenty fifth of July, nineteen hundred and twelve. I was born in Saba.

My father used to be a cook on the four-master schooners. He was named Augustus; my mother was named Rachel [Heyliger]. [ Marriage 13 April 1910; Bridegroom William Augustus Simmons (48) mother Catherine Heyliger. Bride Rachel Heyliger (24) father Laurence Heyliger, mother Clothilde Cappell].  Rachel’s father Laurence Heyliger (21) was married on 30.12.1885. His parents were; Father Gideon Godet Heyliger and mother Mary Every. His bride was Clothilde Cappell (21). Her mother was Christina Blyden and Clothilde is listed as a natural child.], they had five of us, three boys and two girls. I’m the second. The one that died in the United States, he was the first. Adrian, myself, Thelma, and George. But then my brother went to St. Thomas. The oldest brother [ William Adrian Simmons, born The Bottom 26 May 1910], when he was only about seventeen, eighteen. Then, those days, anybody could go in, but not now.

Image (595)

One of a number of four masted schooners connected with Saba. This is the Margareth Truph which was captained by  Capt. Lockland Heyliger and also by Capt. Arthur Wallace Simmons both from The Bottom, Saba.

Adrian had a laundry/dry cleaning in Jamaica New York. He came to Saba in his fifties or so and built a house in The Bottom which upon his death I believe he left to Ralph. When Adrian would come to the office to see my brother Eric he would ask for the Kings Attorney. In my mind’s eye I could see the poor King being hauled off to Court and my brother having to defend him. Recently someone from the Public Prosecutor’s office told me that in parts of Holland they still refer to the Public Prosecutor as the Kings Attorney.

Adrian was married to a woman from Virginia and I don’t think they had any children. I remember going to visit him with my cousin Lenny who lived in Richmond Hill. Adrian lived in a large two-story brick building and must have done well with his business. He had been a member of the Seaman’s Union and took up a case for pension for my uncle Leonard and succeeded.

In his interview Ralph continues:” Our father died in Saba, in 1922, and I was living in Barbados with my aunt at that time. Cause my aunt had like me, and I lived with her. I went Barbados twice. And the first World War I remember seeing some o’ the soldiers comin’ home disfigured and all that. But I was just a small boy then. I was about seven years then. Yeah, that was the first time. And then that was around 1919 so. I used to go to Bay Street Boys School. They were pretty strict in school there, yes, pretty strict. I remember the teacher was a man by the name o’ Taylor. He used to teach the third class. Good fields to play ball on. But we didn’t play with no big boys; we played with just small boys in those days. And those boys, if they saw you was a stranger, they all looked to make trouble with you and tease you and all that, you know. And then my mother went up there with some ‘o the children, and things wasn’t so nice up there in Barbados. And then after that, as I told you, I came back to Saba with my mother. I think about four of us. Maybe the whole five, the whole five of us was up to Barbados. I was twelve years when I came back from Barbados. We came down on the schooner, got off St. Maarten, and then we came home. Well, the house was there for us to live in. It was a British schooner. The schooner was named ‘Florence Stream’. And then at that time our father had died, and after that we were there with our mother.

In recent years a number of children from Saba have been going to Barbados to further their education and they speak very highly of the schools there and the treatment they received at the University of the West Indies.

Ralph continues: “We had to help our grandfather with the cow. Never had more than one cow. We had to go and cut grass. And sometime we plant some potato, just in the hill above us. That was after we came from school in the evenin’ or early in the mornin’. Those days we didn’t go to school until nine o’clock. Nine o’clock in the mornin’ till twelve and from one to three. But at that time our grandfather was livin’, my mother’s father. And then after that we came a little bigger, about thirteen years, then our mother got in some trouble. Somebody stole something and they give it to her, and then she had to try and get out o’ the country. She went and she lived in St. Barth’s, and from there then she went to St. Thomas. The oldest boy and the oldest girl was there with her. And she died down there in 1926.

Then we used to go down on the bay and make a –well, you know, something they called a shilling. Make a shilling or two shillings sometime. We were still minors, and we stood there a couple of years after that. But that time our grandfather, his first wife, Clothilde, she died; and we had – he married a younger woman. And we used to live with her, the balance of us. But she wasn’t very nice. She was young, and she more keep with the younger sets. At that time, he used to sail on those schooners goin’ to St. Kitts and Sint Maarten. And then Curacao open.

Schooner Ina Vanterpool

One of the many schooners owned by Captain Charles Thomas Vanterpool which was lost at Oranjestad St. Eustatius in the hurricane of September 1928.

Then I got a job on the schooner that used to transport passengers to Curacao, what we call ‘Moose Boy,” to attend to the passengers. Five dollars a month in those days. But five dollars was plenty money those days. There were no real tourists, just immigrants, immigrants. The schooner used to carry immigrants down to Curacao to find work, you see. So in between you may find a couple-because they was no steamers those days. In between you find you find a big shot then would be travellin’. Those schooners would belong to Tommy Vanterpool. I don’t know if you heard about him. He died in St. Thomas.

Image (99)

Captain Charles Thomas Vanterpool here in St. Thomas with his niece Mrs. Estelle Simmons-Vanterpool who was married to the harbormaster Capt. Engle Heyliger Simmons. The boy in the background is the later famous Dr. Eric Simmons who was a chemical engineer and worked on the Manhattan Project and was later a Professor at the University of Illinois.

And then after that I learned how to steer s ship. And then there was another schooner named the ‘Three Sister’, three masts.

A ship came in one day while I was down there, in Curacao, and they said they wanted some men. And I asked the Captain – the captain was named Will Johnson, from St. John’s [should be Will Leverock. Ralph must have had me on his mind when doing the interview]- and I asked the Captain to let me stay off, and he told me all right. And there I started my way up. Curacao was good in those days, those early days. Things were pretty cheap, very cheap. Sometimes a bunch of use used to live together. [Sabans would bunch together also in Bermuda and the United States in order to save money for back home].

Image (1115)

Schooner The Three Sisters owned by Captain William Benjamin Hassell and his brothers. Captain “Ben” had many fine schooners and he is the grandfather of Richard Goddard of Barbados of Goddard Enterprises.

I remember when we used to be sailin’ on those ships. The wages was seventy-five guilders a month. Every three months they used to give you a tin o’ butter, a five-pound tin o’ butter. That was good money! Good money those days. We used to go on a ship with our suit, suit and necktie. Change it when we get on board the ship, put on our working clothes. We used to go to Maracaibo. Every two three days so we come back. Two trips a week.

I stood a couple of years, came back to Saba then keep goin’ and comin’ Then finally when everybody said they was going I went to Aruba too, and I got a job on those Lago boats.”  He later sailed on a British tanker. He went to places Like Morehead City, North Carolina; to Tampa, Flordia; Jacksonville, all those places I went on the tanker.

He explains that he met his wife on Curacao and got married in’48. She were born in St Kitts- or Santo Domingo somewhere. [Pretty important question my friend Ralph forgot to ask].  But she came here to Statia. She knew plenty about Statia. They claimed that she was three years when she came to Statia. She used to work with the Pandts.You know the Pandts down by the Cottage? Well she used to work with them. And then she went to Curacao where I met her and we had four children.

Ida, Herman, Tommy, Maud, Mac Pandt

Members of the Pandt family for whom Ralph Simmons’ wife used to work.

In 1957 his wife decided to come to live on Statia where her mother lived and Ralph joined her the following year. He had been a housepainter on Curacao and claims that he was a heavy drinker. “ As I told you, I used to drink plenty. But then after I said, well it was all nonsense, it was all nonsense. People laughin’ at you and you think you was doin’ good but you wasn’t doin’ good.

Thirty-three years I haven’t drink a beer now.

He goes on to describe his trips after he started living on Statia. One of them was when he went to New York for the funeral of his brother Adriaan and all the Saba people he met there.

Image (208)

This is the street  “Kerkstraat” lower down is where Ralph Simmons used to live. In 1961 I worked at the Post Office on St. Eustatius for two months and I stayed in the Guesthouse there and this was my view at the time. Many lovely memories from those days,

I used to go fishing in Saba pretty often, mostly nighttime. Sometime we leave –those were days when we didn’t have any motor. We used to set sail around one o’clock the day, reach down on the bank around four or five the evenin’, and then leave around 3 o’clock the next mornin’ to come back home. We had to pull oars. Sometimes we get a good catch. Twenty, twenty-five, thirty fish a night – each man, each man got. But them days fish was cheap, half guilder a pound. He used to fish with James Linzey, Carlton Heyliger, Kenneth Peterson and ‘Bowba’ . He also sailed with Captain Randolph Dunkin on the ‘Santa Lou’. He also used to sail as a moose boy on the schooner the ‘Virginia’ , and the ‘Diamond Ruby’ with Captain Charles Barnes from St. John’s who moved to St. Barth’s and had a big business there.

I can still hear his voice as I type this and hope that you will enjoy it and also realize how Sabans in the past used to move from pillar to post to make a living.



Living off the land.

By Will Johnson


Farmland in Rendez-Vous

Big Rendez Vous which was the breadbasket for the people of the Windward Side, Little Rendez Vous for those of St. John’s and The Bottom, while Hell’s Gate had farmland from the mountain all the way down to where the airport is now.

The older I get the more my memory goes back to my youth when we had to plow the ground for our survival. Nowadays very little is planted on the islands.

In the Governor’s report of 1934 for the island of Saba he records that for the first four months of 1934 one hundred bags of Irish potatoes were exported. Each bag weighing approximately 70 kg and the cost of the potatoes was fls. 12,50 per bag.

For this article I have consulted a number of books and over the years I have read many reports on the attempts to do something about improving the agriculture on these islands.

In their book “Windward Children” by John Y. Keur and Dorothy L. Keur they go into detail on the climatic conditions and the available acreage for agriculture on the three Dutch Windward Islands. The book was published in 1960 a watershed moment in the transition from what little agriculture there was to a fully tourism-oriented economy.

They write that the environmental factors of temperature and humidity are important for their effect on rainfall, evaporation, plant growth, labor output, and living conditions.

Temperature data for the three Windward Islands are either often incomplete, conflicting, or lacking. The following figures are taken from Braak (1935). The average annual temperature over the period 1920-1933 measured in Philipsburg, Sint Maarten, and Oranjestad, St. Eustatius, was 26.5C. No scientific data was then available for Saba, but the assumption may be made that due to the higher elevation, the mean annual temperatures would be lower there. Temperatures as low as 16* C. (61*F.) actually have been reported at Windward Side and Hell’s Gate.



Nearly every household had a cow in the yard. Here is Roy Heyliger and his brothers carrying the family cow to pasture.

At Philipsburg, the mean maximum temperature is 29.2*C., with the hottest period from July to October. Mean minimum temperature is 24.4*C., and the coolest months are January and February, which the Sabans call ‘winter’. The highest recorded temperature on St. Maarten was 34″ C. in August; lowest, 18.5 * C. in February.

I remember reading in the newspaper ‘De Slag om Slag’ where the Editor ‘Broertje Brouwer’ stated that it was 68* degrees Fahrenheit on St. Martin in the nineteen thirties and that he “shuddered” when he thought how cold it must be on Saba.

The islands are exposed to the trade winds which blow almost constantly, day as well as night, from the East – mostly from the northeast, but also occasionally from the southeast. The effects are noticeable on the vegetation.   The prevailing wind affects the planting of certain crops such as bananas. Winds also cause excessive drying out of the light volcanic soils, especially on St. Eustatius.



This is a lady and her daughter on their way from Colombier to Marigot and beyond to sell agricultural produce to the population.

Geographically, the islands are located in the hurricane region. St. Martin was badly damaged by hurricanes in 1819 and 1950. Not only was harm done to houses, crops, trees and livestock, but physio graphic changes occurred as well. In 1819 the sea opened up a channel to the Simpson Bay lagoon through the Eastern end of the Simpson Bay sand bar, thus isolating the fishing village from the mainland. Connections were maintained by row boat until a bridge was built in 1932. In 1950, this channel was again closed by shifting sands, and as the outlet from the lagoon to Anse des Sables in the North since the 1848 hurricane, the lagoon is now (1960) completely separated from the ocean. Recent government plans (1960) have been made to reopen the Simpson Bay Lagoon to restore it to its former capacity as a breeding ground for lobsters and some fish.

The mean annual rainfall on the islands, observed over a period of 52 years, is 43.3 inches. While in 1947 only 33 inches of rain fell, in 1945 nearly 55 inches were recorded. This amount may seem large, but evaporation is high, runoff great, especially on Saba, and volcanic soils cause fast percolation, as on St. Eustatius. Rain usually falls in short showers and is followed by rapid clearing. Precipitation is very erratic from year to year and month to month. Farmers have learned by experience that once in three or four years crops are likely to fail partially or completely due to lack of sufficient moisture.



A young boy looking with anticipation at the goodies which this lady has in her tray for sale.

Monthly averages also show great variation, viz. 15.8 inches in September 1949 and 4.5 inches in September 1950 (recorded on St. Eustatius). In connection with the growing of crops, the raising of stock, the character of the vegetation, and the availability of drinking water, the monthly distribution of rain is more important than the total annual precipitation. The “dry” months are from December to July when average monthly rainfall may reach a low of one-half inch while during any of the “wet” months, it may reach a high of 10-12 inches. As stated by Ballou (1934), ‘any wet month may be dry (I.e., one half inch during November 1947) and any dry month may be wet (I.e., 6.5 inches during June 1944). November is usually the wettest month (2-3 inches). Of the three islands, Saba has the greatest amount of annual precipitation. (+_45 inches), and St. Maarten and St. Eustatius slightly less (+_ 42 inches). In 1952-53 the island of St. Eustatius had the worst drought in a century and even had to import drinking water from St. Kitts.


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My brother the late Thomas Eric Johnson here milking his cow in the nineteen fifties.

With very little being imported into the islands before 1960 in the form of fresh produce and meat products the population was very much dependent on the local butchers. When I first knew St. Maarten starting in 1955 the best butcher here was Alexander Richardson of Middle Region known to all as “Alec The Butcher”. He had a fairly regular schedule. He bought up animals to supplement his own and would slaughter a pig every Tuesday, sheep and goats on Thursday, and a cow on Saturday. Some families slaughtered for their own needs, but many people living in town had no regular meat supply and were dependent on Alec The Butcher to bring his meat to town.

On Saba, a good many families in both The Bottom and Windward Side kept a pig or a cow in a small pen, and there were many wild goats as well. On St. Maarten, even in town, most people kept a few chickens for eggs, and occasionally for the pot; and some turkeys and a very few guinea hens were raised in the country. On Saba, goat meat sold at twenty-six cents per pound and beef at one guilder, early in 1957.



Cattle grazing in the fields on St. Martin where formerly several thousand head of livestock roamed the plantations.

There was a considerable amount of small-scale inter-island and inter-community marketing, of vegetables and fruits in season.

Among my first memories of St. Maarten are when the Simpson Bay fishermen would sound the conch shell and people would go down to the beach to buy their fish. But even more than that I remember the following. On St. Maarten almost any weekday morning six or eight women could be found sitting in the recess of a building near the square with small piles of tubers for sale supplemented by a few papayas, avocadoes, mangoes, soursops, pigeon peas, and fresh eggs. Wild fruits and berries were sometimes collected by children and used in the households and peddled. If a few mangoes or breadfruit were wanted from the trees on someone else’s property, it was customary to ask permission and to pay a few cents. Green vegetables were not much used in the diet, and the supply was quite limited. Some people used to have small kitchen gardens, but the most usual sight was simply a small plot of pigeon peas growing beside the house, and occasional pumpkin vine as well as corn and sweet potatoes.



On St. Martin in the early morning hours you would hear the fishermen from the village of Simpsons Bay blowing their conch shells announcing that they had fish for sale. Scene at Philipsburg. Photo Father Bruno Boradori.

On St. Maarten Mr. Alexander Richardson, who was also a butcher, grew enough to load his truck and go to Phlipsburg to sell. He raised lettuce, onions, tomatoes, carrots, eggplant, cabbage and cauliflower, as well as other vegetables in small amounts. A very few others had small gardens and were able to serve five or six customers in addition to their own households. Since most townspeople grew no vegetables at all, this supply was inadequate. Hence the “tray” women who came from Colombier, a fertile valley on the French side, were a most welcome sight. There were twenty or twenty-five of them, including a few from other parts of French St. Martin. They almost all came twice a week, early morning (Wednesday and Saturday) but sometimes, if perishable produce was ripe, daily trips were made. Until the late nineteen fifties, they walked distances of three to five miles daily each way with large flat wooden trays or big baskets on their heads. After that they would all ride on the bus. They would each have five or six regular customers, for whom they saved special items, and whom they would first visit. Sometimes they would be accompanied by one or two children who would do part of the hawking. They would also sell the produce of a neighbour or relative. The demand for their supplies was indicated by the group of people on foot, on bikes, or even in cars, who would go out to meet the hawkers at the Prince Bernhard bridge as they approached the town, in order to get the pick of the trays. Their produce over the run of a year, would include limes, oranges, mangoes, papayas, bananas, guava berries, lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, pumpkins, gourds, avocadoes, peppers, okras and bunches of mint and sweet marjoram. They earned approximately ten Antillean guilders per tray, and occasionally up to twenty guilders, depending on the type of food for sale. While in a sense one might think this money belonged to the sellers, it was spent towards the support of their households. They almost all made purchases in the shops of Philipsburg before returning home and would spend between one third and one half of their mornings earnings. Purchases included such items as a piece of corned beef or pork for the soup, fish, white potatoes, rice, corn meal, flour, sugar, soap, sweet oil, small amounts of butter, lard, Vaseline and matches.



In Marigot the capital of French St. Martin cattle are being prepared for export to most probably Guadeloupe.

Years after I experienced all of this while staying at the home of Miss Browlia Maillard on the Back Street I read the book published in 1890 and written by Lafcadio Hearn. The book is “Two Years in the French West Indies” and is about the period he lived in that loveliest of cities in the West Indies, Saint Pierre in Martinique.

He describes ‘Les Porteuses” starting on page 101. “The erect carriage and steady swift walk of the women who bear burdens is especially likely to impress the artistic observer; it is the sight of such passersby which gives above all, the antique tone and color to his first sensations; and the larger part of the female population of mixed race are practiced carriers. Nearly all the transportation of light merchandise as well as of meats, fruits, vegetables and food stuffs, to and from the interior, is affected upon human heads. At some of the ports the regular local packets are loaded and unloaded by women and girls, – able to carry any trunk or box to its destination.”


Bennett Johnson riding the donkeySeptember 1964

The well known Benny Johnson (Uncle Benny) as we call him, here on his way up to Rendez Vous to help his father John William ‘Willy’ Johnson with the planting and taking care of livestock.  He is still into planting and raising livestock.

I could go on and on but will conclude with the observation that the independence and self-contained life of our three Dutch Windward Islands, pleasantly disturbed only at long intervals by the coming of a ship, is like a tale that is told.”





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