The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson


Dantes Fortunat


Marie Madeline Lachenais. Had children by two Presidents

The introduction of this unusual book states that it contains historical and topographical mention on the other Antilles. It was authorized for use in secondary education on October 6th, 1877. Published in Port-au-Prince and Paris in 1888.

The author introduced it to Madame Michel Dominique wife of President General Dominique on September 29th, 1875. There is also a long letter dated May 29th, 1877 to Mr. A. Thoby, Secretary of State for Public Education. The letter was for official approbation for the book to be used in schools. He listed as collaborators Beaubron Ardouin, Diana Ramsay and Thomas Madiou.

The book was brought to my attention by Mr. Christophe Henocq some years ago and was printed out for me by Brigitte Halley of St. Martin. The reason why Mr. Henocq thought I might be interested as the book contained a nice lithograph of the Governor of Saba Mr. Moses Leverock.


General Alexander Petion President 1807-1818

Since the author introduced the manuscript to Madame Micehel Dominique in 1875 I am assuming that his research was done before that time. Governor Moses Leverock passed away at the age of 61 on August 1st, 1875.

In various articles Mr. Dantes Fortunat is referred to as a young man. He must have travelled throughout the West Indies in order to get the information he needed for the chapters on the Spanish, English, French and Dutch colonies. He was either a painter himself or travelled with someone who was as the book has many fine lithographs of many of the towns in the West Indies at the time.

The book has more than five hundred pages and was filled with information on the world and the people who inhabited it with a description of each race of mankind who inhabited the planet. As for the Republic of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, he travelled extensively to bring geographical knowledge to the students of secondary education in Haiti.

I have not yet been able to find too much personal information on the writer other than that he was born in 1851. He would have been 19 years of age or in his early twenties when he visited Saba. Reference is made to his young age in the book. So that alone is remarkable in an age when slavery had just been abolished for a young black man from Haiti to travel the West Indies and be received by the authorities of the various islands. Remarkable as well that Haiti would embark on a project to educate its young people not only about their own geography but also that of the rest of the Antilles.


The last military President of Haiti Raoul Cedras. He deported President Aristide to South Africa.

I am busy reading several books on the Dominican Republic and its turbulent history. So many of its citizens live among us in the Dutch West Indies nowadays that in some cases they may well be in the majority.

In this article I want to dwell briefly on the color issue and give a very brief history of the dissolution of France’s once most productive colony. Much has been written about the Haitian revolution as if it was a one night affair and through simplification misinform our present generation at the same time. Especially history as interpreted by writers from the United States. In their view anyone who is not 142% white is black thereby ignoring the ‘Mulatto’ factor in Haiti and the Spanish speaking Caribbean. Especially in Haiti this has played a big role even in slavery times. Even today the struggle in Haiti is between the mulatto and the black elite. The black elite hedge their bets by marrying mulatto women (Papa Doc and Baby Doc, Father Aristede et al) or having mulatto advisors when they have the power and vice versa. Haiti might be a poor country but if only one percent of the population have money you are talking about one hundred thousand or more people with money.

In David Nicholls book: ‘A work of combat’ (Mulatto Historians and the Haitian past (1847 -1867), he examines the way in which a circle of mid-nineteenth century historians from Haiti’s mostly mulatto French educated , French speaking elite – rewrote Haitian history to strengthen the position of this ruling class and to justify its ascendancy:

Joseph Benoit Andre Rigaud sepia image courtesy Alin Hall

General  Benoit Joseph Andre Rigaud Born 1761 died 18 September 1811

“ The general effect of the mulatto version of the Haitian past is however, to encourage Haitians to unite under the leadership of the most patriotic, civilized  and technically qualified group in the country, to legitimate the mulatto ascendancy in the social and economic field, and to lend weight to their claim to guide and control development in the political sphere.”

In brief the French colony of Saint Dominique dissolved over a period of at least 15 years. First when the French revolution broke out the whites in Haiti broke up into Royalist supporters and those of the revolution. This caused many people to start leaving for Louisiana. Then the French educated mulatto’s started their own revolution to get equal rights with the whites. After that came the revolution of General Toussaint L’Ouverture  a descendant of people who ruled the Kingdom of d’Adra in Africa. He was raised by white plantation owners who were allowed to leave Haiti undisturbed. Then came the betrayal of Toussaint among which were a number of mulattos. After that Napoleon’s brother-in-law came to recapture the colony and his twenty thousand troops died within a short time in battle and with yellow fever. With Leclerc many of the Mulatto elite returned from France. Among them Rigaud, Petion, and Boyer. Once they realized that slavery was to be reinstituted they joined forces with the blacks for the final battle of liberation. Then the recognized liberator of Haiti General Dessalines won the war of liberation and declared Haitian independence on January 1st 1804.

After that the real trouble started. Dessalines declared himself Emperor and two years later he was assassinated. Haiti was split up for many years in the Kingdom of the North under Emperor Christophe who was from St. Kitts and favored the English. He was very successful for a while and there was law and order in the North and a good economy.


President Henri Namphy

The South including the capital city of Port-au-Prince fell under the Mulatto republic of the South. In Saint-Dominique the free people of colour constituted a third place between the whites and the enslaved Africans. While restricted in political rights, many received social capital from their father’s and became educated and wealthy landowners, resented by the petit blancs who were mostly minor tradesmen. Following the French revolution of 1789 the ‘gens de couleur’ led a rebellion to gain voting and political rights they believed were due them as French citizens. This was before the slave uprising of 1791. At that time most free people of colour did not support freedom or political rights for enslaved Africans and free blacks. The affranchise numbered 28.000 in 1795 and were mostly mulattoes born of a French father. Not all mulattoes were free as 40.000 of them were still slaves. But with the ensuing conflict and with many whites moving out to Sanato Domingo and places like Trinidad and Louisiana the influence of the mulatto’s grew and is still strong in Haiti. Remember President Namphy with blue eyes like a Norwegian and his wife from Italy?


Baby Doc son of a mulatto mother here marrying a daughter of a wealthy mulatto merchant.

The three main mulatto first Presidents of the South of Haiti were General Benoit Joseph Andre Rigaud (1761-18 September 1811). He was the leading Mulatto military leader during the Haitiain revolution. Among his protégés were Alexander Sabes Petion and Jean Pierre Boyer, both future Presidents of Haiti. His father was a wealthy French planter and his mother was Rose Bossy Depa a slave woman. His father acknowledged him as a young man and sent him to Bordeaux where he was trained as a gold smith.

In 1810 the new Haiti split in two. Petion who succeeded Rigaud as President of the South was much influenced by his (as well as his successor’s lover) Marie Madeliene Lachenais. She had two daughters for Petion (Cecile and Hersille) and also a daughter Azema for Boyer.Alexander Sabaes Petion (April 12 1770 – March 24, 1818). He was born in Port-au-Prince son of a wealthy French father and Ursula a free mulatto woman which made him a quadroon (one quarter African ancestry).


Jean Pierre Boyer served 25 years as President of Hispaniola from 1818 to 1843. An exception in the history of Hispaniola.

When Petion died from yellow fever in 1818 he was succeeded by Jean Pierre Boyer (1818-1843). His father was also a Frenchman and Boyer was educated in France. He united all of Haiti under his rule and in 1822 invaded the land of Santo Domingo land of the Mulatto’s and kept that part of the island under his control until he was overthrown in 1843, exiled to Jamaica and later moved to France where he died and is buried.

When the writer Dantes Fortunat visited Saba around 1870 the entire West Indies had some four million people. Saba had 2800 inhabitants and French St. Martin had 3.485.

Among his findings on Saba there were five fresh water springs and four Sulphur springs were located in the East of the island. He also gave a description of the fine potatoes grown on the island as well as cabbage, bananas, lemons and so on.

He states that; L’Ile de Saba s’estime hureaux d’avoir donne le hour aux lieutenants-gouverneurs Beaks et Leverock’.

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A lithograph of Governor Moses Leverock made by Dantes Fortunat on his visit to Saba around 1870

Of the men of Saba he has this to say: ‘Aussi, cherchera-t-on vainement, dans toutes les Antilles, des marins plus inteligents et plus intrepides que les hommes de Saba.’

It is my intention when I am finished reading my two large books on the Dominican Republic to give a short review like this one of the history of that country and its troubles relations with its neighbor Haiti. A class and ethnic struggle which continues to this day with mass deportations of Haitians and with changing laws that if someone from Haiti is born in the Dominican Republic they do not automatically get rights and are even subject to deportation. All of this goes back to the days of slavery and the strong influence of the mulatto class in Haiti which is still strong. I will post some photos of leaders of some of the most prominent mulatto leaders of Haiti as well.

There are many great books written about Haiti in the past which recognize this division of the people’s more than recent histories which leave the mulatto influence out of the picture.

Furthermore I want to thank Mr. Dantes Fortunat on his wonderful book on the Geography of Haiti and the rest of the (8)

Deputy Mayor Felix Choisy



‘Looka me wuk fo me,’ as the old timers would say. I never knew he was born on St. Barth’s. Such a strong St. Martin identity and occupying a high position in government I always believed that he had been born in Marigot.

I only found out this when I opened the latest DISCOVER magazine and found an article about him.

I knew him and Doctor Petit well. Although I was a young insignificant civil servant I somehow ended up being surrounded by all of the top officials from both the Dutch and the French side. (I don’t use this North and South thing, reminds me too much of places like Vietnam and Korea, whereas the reality is what I state here).

Mr. Choisy was a tall man who always came over as a calm and soft spoken person. He was a sort of philosopher King when it came to his views on not only local but international affairs. He had a distinctive voice. One which I still remember as I write this article.

I have quoted him in the past in articles and in my books on his views of Caribbean race relations. I found the following quote in an interview in a KLM, Holland Herald Magazine which is buried somewhere in my archives and which I could not find back for this article. But here is what he was quoted as saying and which shows his take on us Caribbean people.

It is an important statement. Nowadays on social media you read so many unrealistic statements about race and family, ignoring the reality of how small island Caribbean people evolved. He said:

“I have traced the roots of quite a few island families, and have reached the conclusion that it’s a misconception that black Caribbean’s are descended from African slaves only. My mother had a Spanish name, and my maternal grandmother had German and Flemish blood. On my father’s side, I have ancestors from Scotland, the Balearic Islands, and Portugal. My great grandmother was an Indian who was taken to St. Barthelemy by a sea captain. I think I owe my high cheekbones to her. I believe we Caribbean people are a separate ethnic group, with our own Antillean personality. The colour of our skin is irrelevant. I have seen families change from black to white and vice versa in three or four generations.”

I am at that age now where I can say that I have seen the same thing in many families, a process which is still going on and with a new people evolving out of the mix.

I met Mr. Choisy in the late nineteen fifties. He was pointed out to me as being the Deputy Mayor of the French Side. A concept which was only later cleared up to me as to exactly what that meant. That was done by Mr. Clem Labega with whom I used to pal around, even when I was opposing his party. He taught me how real friendship should be carried out. We would go to Marigot and invariably would end up in the company of Mr. Choisy. The Mayor, Dr. Hubert Petit was too busy running the hospital to participate in the standard politics of the day. Meeting your voters at certain drinking locations (rum


From left to right Madame Claudine Petit, Deputy Mayor Felix Choisy and Mayor Doctor Hubert Petit.

shops as I would call them).

My brother Eric told me once that he had heard an old man on the radio explaining why he was voting for Doctor Petit.

‘The man can mix cement, milk a cow, do anything you and me can do, and above and beyond that he can also operate on you in the hospital which he runs, so I voting for him.’ Good enough reasons in my book I would say.

And so the burden of managing the day to day affairs of the local government was in the hands of Mr. Felix Choisy.

The French side had a different political system. I learned to appreciate the elections on the French side through Captain Austin Hodge and his wife Mrs. Bertha Lawrence both of whom were from Grand Case and could still vote in the French elections. When election season was in the air I can still hear Miss Bertha saying;”Lawd, Austin I hearing that Daniel out to make trouble this election.’ She was referring to Daniel Beauperthuy who was reported to have thrown the ballot box from Grand Case out in the street in a previous election and the people’s votes were scattered all over the place. Where the Lolo’s are now was blanketed with voting ballots flying around. Daniel was with the Flemings of course, as I suspected that the Captain and Miss Bertha were also on their side.

Continuing with Daniel. Transportation was scare in those days. ‘Brother Joe’ Mathew used to deliver telegrams for the Cable office (Landsradio Dienst), and he lived next door to us on the Front Street. One afternoon after work he said to me;” I have to deliver a telegram in Cole Bay and we can take a swing in Marigot to see how the elections are going on.’ Now elections on the French side back then was considered to be very risky. Like going on the front lines in Vietnam to see who was winning the battle. So it was more than with a bit of apprehension that I accepted the invitation. We had hardly passed the area close to the Court House where the elections were being conducted in a school when we saw the crowd start to move. A crowd back then consisted of probably fifty people, but primordial instinct tells you when a crowd starts to move, get out of the way. There have been studies done on crowd movement and the consequences of being

Felix Choisy 2

Opening of the water plant in Marigot with Deputy Mayor Felix Choisy in attendance.

caught up in it.

We started to move along and heard someone screaming out;’Lawd, Daniel shoot dee poor man,’ Now Daniel I knew well too and some of his children and grandchildren I am good friends with. Not trying to bad talk the man. Just giving the story as if I was a reporter, in that Daniel had come to Marigot with as objective to halt the elections by firing a shot at the Doctor. He had left the scene already and Daniel concluded that he should not come from Quartier d’Orleans in vain and so told the man behind the desk ‘since I come here to stop this election I might as well shoot you.’ I don’t think that he actually shot the man but the threat was enough and the shot which was supposed to go around the world in the end did not stop the elections after all as later in the night we heard that Dr. Petit and Felix Choisy had won the elections after all.

So many stories were told about election rigging and stuffed ballot boxes that it made the French side seem like a very sinful place and to be avoided at all costs especially on election day. But as so much from that period in my life I loved the excitement caused by elections over there. There was also a constant war of words between Joseph H. Lake Jr. in his ‘Windward Islands Opinion’ and the Petit/Choisy faction that Dr. Petit declared him ‘Persona non grata’ on the French side, something to be taken quite seriously. Good thing Mr. Lake was on the same side of the political stomping grounds as was Daniel, or else he might have been fair game for anyone in the mood to prove a point.

But back to Deputy Mayor Felix Choisy I want to quote what is written about him in the DISCOVER MAGAZINE.

‘Felix Choisy was born into a prominent family in Saint-Barthelemy on October 30, 1915. The Choisy family enjoyed a reputation as excellent sea fishermen but Emile, Felix’s father distinguished himself from the others by achieving his academic success (As my friend Fred Tren would have said ‘Boy dem Choisy’s is a bunch of ‘brainsers’, me son.’) The French administration promoted him to school principal first in Saint Barth, then in St. Martin. He was a patriot and a man of honour (as his son would be later, as we shall see). For these reasons, when Marshall Petain ordered all French civil servants to collaborate with Germany, he refused and found himself obliged to accept a premature and forced retirement. No longer allowed to teach, he bought a plot of land at La Savane and raised cattle. This episode must have made a profound impression on the young Felix.

After studying at the Lysee Carnot in Guadeloupe where he was taught law and philosophy, Felix Choisy narrowly escaped military conscription and so avoided the horrors of war. When he returned to St. Martin the economy was sluggish and it was difficult to find a job corresponding to his level of education. Determined to work and highly resourceful, he became a self -taught marine diesel mechanic and was put in charge of cargo on the ‘Mary Stella’, a ship that sailed throughout the Caribbean. But his sea faring adventures were destined not to last. Soon he would meet his future wife, Angele Petit. Married in 1947, their union produced 7 children. As he was now a “family man”, Felix decided to give up the dangers of a life at sea and to begin a career in construction. It was a wise decision! He built the first villas in the Terre-Basses as well as the first hotels on the French side. It was at this time that he began to get involved in politics. Being a young novice in the election campaign, he failed to beat the incumbent Mayor (Elie Fleming) of the time, but he made a strong impression on the young Doctor Hubert Petit, just back from completing his studies in France. In 1959 they joined forces to present a common front and won the following elections. Felix Choisy was appointed first deputy to the Mayor. It is for this role that he will always be remembered, as he became one of the most respected and popular politicians Saint Martin has ever known. The fact was, Doctor Petit had far too much work to do with his patients to also efficiently run municipal affairs. Placing his entire confidence in Felix Choisy, he delegated that role to his deputy. It was an alliance that surprised many. Doctor Petit was a confirmed Republican, Felix Choisy a diehard socialist. However, they worked

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Mayor Doctor Hubert Petit up front on September 18th, 1963 attending the opening of the Juancho Irausquin airport on Saba.

successfully as a team for close to 20 years.

Felix Choisy remained close to the people. Everyone knew him and he was very well-liked. Ambitious with a fighting spirit, he was a man of convictions who never used political double speak. He knew what he wanted and everything he got was obtained for the benefit of the people of Saint Martin. He believed probably rightfully (in the context of that era) that France administered this tiny overseas territory more than 7000 km away, as a colony, with no thought for special local reality. And so he developed his entire life to helping and advising his fellow citizens all the while respecting their fundamental rights. Deeply humanitarian, he was also a Freemason (he founded the Concorde-Perrinon lodge). But his actions were felt far beyond the scope of the Town Hall and its institutions. People would seek his help at all hours of the day and night to deal with a problem or settle a family dispute. His word was law, he acted as a trusted mediator. When a hurricane threatened, he was the last to take shelter and the first out to help. As a building contractor, he could be seen for hours on end, hammer in hand, nailing up boards to protect the homes of the poorest citizens and making sure everyone respected the confinement order. He was the very embodiment of the expression “help thy neighbour’. In 1971 he was made Chevalier of the Ordre du Merite Nacional.

Felix Choisy

Deputy Mayor Felix Choisy

Felix Choisy fought on many fronts. He was appointed President of the hospital in Marigot and Conseiller General de Guadeloupe (1973-1979). At the end of the 1970’s, he withdrew from politics, leaving an unforgettable impression in the heart of the people he had governed. He also quietly retired, although he still did some building for pleasure. Felix was a true Saint. Martiner but he believed first and foremost in a Caribbean identity. He died on November 18th, 1989, a few days after Saint Martin’s Day, a festival he had founded along with Clem Labega and Claude Wathey. His funeral will be remembered as one of the grandest ever seen on the island, as the whole population turned out to pay him their respects.

I must mention this. In later years I was going through a tough election on Saba. I was on St. Maarten trying to get some donations for my campaign. At one particular stop I got a dressing down from a merchant as to why I would think that he should donate to my campaign on Saba. I thanked him and left. I must have looked upset as Mr. Choisy was passing by, stopped to say hello and then invited me to go with him to have a cup of coffee. He told me that he could see I was upset. After relating the story to him he advised me as follows: “Will if after you have done so much for Saba you have to come to St. Maarten and get insulted trying to get donations to win an election, my advice is to go back to Saba and let whatever has to happen take place. If you lose this one there will be others to come in the future. Perhaps you are destined to lose this one in order to gain strength for the future.” He was right of course. I did lose that one and came back to win many more.


Tribute to Sir Cuthbert Montraville Sebastian


Left to right. Prime Minister Dr. Denzill Douglas, Governor- General Sir Cuthbert Sebastian and Commissioner Will Johnson at a ceremony in the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis.


By; Will Johnson

A great man has departed from our region. He was a Prince among men.

When I was once again Commissioner in the Period from 1999 to 2007 I conducted my own foreign affairs. Whenever I was invited to a meeting of the O.E.C.S. Ministers of Tourism I would make sure and attend. The last meeting I was at in Grenada I got a standing ovation from the other Ministers as it turned out that I was the only one who had attended all the meetings whereas some of the real members had not attended all.

In our now status Saba is isolated from our neighbors and the region. We are no longer addressed in our native language English and there seems to be no authority which we can complain to.

With St. Kitts and Nevis after 1999 we established a special relationship and we were invited to a number of events. The same goes from our side. We invited the dignitaries from the Federation to come to Saba. On more than one occasion the authorities there loaned us their defense force band to come to Saba and give luster to the Saba Day celebrations. Many people tell me they miss the ceremonies with the defense force band parading in the village of Windward Side and The Bottom on Saba Day.

Around 2000 the Government of Saba and St. Eustatius formed a delegation to meet with the authorities on St. Kitts to renew the ties which had existed in former times. From St. Eustatius we had Senator Clyde van Putten and Commissioner Brown and from Saba I was there in my

Curthbert Sebastian

Governor General Sir Cuthbert Sebastian here visiting Saba.

capacity of Commissioner with Dave Levenstone as my aide de camp.

During that visit we also had the pleasure to meet formally with Governor General Sir Cuthbert Sebastian at the home of the Governor. As a Senator and ‘formateur’ of one of the National Governments of the Netherlands Antilles, I had many formal meetings with various Governors of the Dutch islands in the palace on Curacao. I was surprised that the same protocol was observed at the home of the Governor-General on St. Kitts as that on Curacao.

We were also invited to attend a reception hosted by Prime Minister Dr. Denzill Douglas. When I introduced Dave Levenstone to the Governor-General he introduced himself as ‘Levenstone’. I told him ‘Dave man give Sir Cuthbert your St. Kitts name. The moment he did so, Sir Cuthbert without hesitation exclaimed;’ Oh so you are from ‘Monkey Hill’. I told the Governor-General ‘Lord why did I not know that before, this man just ran against me in the elections on Saba and I would have had a field day with ‘Monkey Hill’. In later years I did have occasion to refer to Dave’s politics as those of ‘Monkey Hill’.

At the dedication of the new terminal building on Saba we had the honour of Sir Cuthbert Sebastian joining us here on Saba and for the Saba Day celebrations as well. He was accompanied by Members of the St. Kitts/Nevis defense force on that occasion.

will and dave

Here at the opening of the new wing of the hospital on St. Kitts. The funds were donated by the Dutch Government and the Master of Ceremonies thought we were there representing the Dutch Government. I told them Holland has plenty money, ask for anything you want. Joking of course!

I had been invited by the Government of Prime Minister Dr. Denzill Douglas to witness the arrival of the first direct flight to St. Kitts from Atlanta. I accompanied Sir Cuthbert and his aide de camp back to St. Kitts. He informed me that I was to accompany him in his limousine. He was accompanied by a Police Escort and he had them take me to the Marriott Hotel. He informed me that he would be back at 2pm to pick me up. I was waiting on him. A number of tourists had seen me all dressed up and must have wondered who I was and where I was going. Imagine their surprise when the Police escort and Sir Cuthbert in his Rolls Royce pulled up. As I went down the steps one of the Policemen was there to open the door and see that I was properly seated alongside His Excellency.

As we were entering the airport premises a large number of young students were greeting us as we passed by. Because he was in his military uniform I believe that the students must have thought that it was I who was the Governor-General by the enthusiastic way they were waving at my side of the limousine. I thought to myself; Isn’t this a privilege for a small island politician?’

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Delegation from Saba and St. Eustatius on an official visit to the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis.

We were on friendly enough terms for Sir Cuthbert to confess to me that he had broken his oath as a doctor once and had lied to a patient. He asked me to find out for him who the man was. He told me that the patient had been brought to Cunningham Hospital with a burst appendix. However coming to St. Kitts with the ‘Blue Peter’ had taken so long that there was no hope of survival for the man. Dr. Cuthbert told me that the young man pleaded with him and told him that he had a wife and two small children on Saba and to tell him that he was not going to die. Dr. Cuthbert realizing that it made no sense to tell him the truth reassured him that he was not going to die, and within minutes Gerald Hassell smiled and turned over and died. I was able to get the information on Gerald these many years later and Dr. Cuthbert was happy to get the information.


The Governor-General gave me a copy of his book.

Sir Cuthbert Sebastian assumed the post of Governor-General of the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis on January 1, 1996, and retired 17 years later on January 1st, 2013. He died on March 25, 2017, at the age of 95. He was 91 when he retired as Governor-General and you would never have believed that he was that age.

During World War 11 he served as a rear gunner in H.M. Royal Air Force and as a captain in the Scottish Army during the 1960,s, as well as in myriad capacities within the Federation’s healthcare sector.  He also served in the St. Kitts-Nevis Defense Force as its longstanding captain surgeon.

Dr. Timothy Harris the Prime Minister of St. Kitts-Nevis noted that Sir Cuthbert had mastered every one of those positions, making a name for himself, in his own right and stepping out of his father’s shadow during the process. Sir Cuthbert’s father was Joseph Matthew Sebastian, a well-educated, successful trade union leader and politician.

Sir Cuthbert worked as a learner dispenser at Cunningham Hospital; then in 1945 he was appointed senior dispenser and steward (hospital administrator) and remained at Cunningham Hospital for the next five years.

He would go on to study in Canada, earning Bachelor of Science degree from Mount Allison University and an MDCM (doctor of medicine and master of surgery) degree from Dalhousie University. He later pursued training in obstetrics and gynecology at Dundee Royal Infirmary in Scotland, United Kingdom.

Upon his return to the Federation, he worked again at the hospital as Medical Superintendent and obstetrician/gynecologist, and later served as Chief Medical Officer.

Prime Minister Harris said on learning of his death On Saturday night:” Sir Cuthbert was a renaissance man, demonstrating many talents and a penchant for excellence, even at a very early age when he was a ‘pupil teacher’ teaching the younger boys at the school he attended in Basseterre. We have lost a treasure, but how blessed we are to have had him. Tonight, the many mothers and fathers whose babies he delivered are thinking of him. Sir Cuthbert Sebastian’s body is gone, but his legacy lives on in countless ways.”

I can see St. Kitts from my house. It is still there. I would want to hope that the centuries old relationship we have enjoyed with the Federation of St. Kitts-Nevis will not be lost to this generation of Sabans.

People on Saba should never be led to believe that because some of the other islands are Dutch that we have some kind of special relationship with them. Linguistically and historically we have more in common with St. Kitts and St. Maarten than with Bonaire. My hope is that we will not lose those connections because of a colonial policy being imposed on us from The Netherlands.


The Governor- General here inspecting  the defense force of the Federation of St. Kitts/Nevis.

I want to pay tribute to Sir Cuthbert Montraville Sebastian and thank him for also taking Saba into account when he was Governor-General. My wife Lynne said to me, ‘with a common name like Johnson you should have perhaps thought of naming one of the boys Cuthbert Montraville Johnson’, it would have sounded more unique. I pass hereby that suggestion on to my youngest son as you can never tell. Those distinguished old names seem to be going out of style nowadays, but a word of caution to those who are giving their children all kinds of names. Take a look at the record of Sir Cuthbert Montraville Sebastian and see how far his name brought him in this world. May he rest softly in his well-deserved peace in the Lord. Amen.


Dr. George Illidge van Romondt


Dr. George Illidge van Romondt (1809-1854). This photo must have been taken before his death as photography was in its early stages back then.

Dr. George Illidge van Romondt

By; Will Johnson

Doctor van Romondt was born on St. Maarten on December 9th, 1809 and died there on July 2nd, 1854.

His parents were Diederick Johannes van Romondt born in Amsterdam on February 16th, 1781 and died on St.Maarten on April 19th, 1849. He arrived on St. Maarten in 1803. In 1804 he married Ann Hassell born on St. Maarten in 1784 and died in 1845. She was a daughter of John Hassell and Susanna Westerbrand.

Diederick Johannes served as Governor from 1820 to 1840, and was the progenitor of the powerful Van Romondt family who dominated St. Martin economically and politically until the death of Diederick Christian of Tintamarre and Mary’s Fancy fame in 1948.

At a young age George went to Holland in order to prepare for his planned academic

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This house before being sold to the Roman Catholic church was the home and perhaps clinic as well of Dr. George Illidge van Romondt.

studies. That was customary in those days as there were no secondary schools in the Dutch West Indies. His parents left him behind at the home of a certain Johannes van der Zandt, with whom he built up an excellent relationship, seeing the fact that in his dissertation George mentions him as his dearly beloved uncle. He dedicates his dissertation, written in Latin to him:

‘Tu! Carissime Avuncule! Senex plurimum venerande! J. van der Zandt, qui jam a juventute, dux, mihi vitae exstitisti cujus curis, ego, puer, a perentibus meis carissimis, committebar!’

(My beloved uncle, respectable J. Van der Zandt, who already from my youth has been a leading mentor in my life and to whose care as a young boy I was entrusted by my beloved parents.

So goes his song of praise for a number of sentences further to the figure of his foster father.

It is probably useful to stand still at this phenomenon. Only in the Second World War a Secondary School was established on Curacao which was also frequented by pupils from the other islands and from Suriname where there was also no institute for secondary education.

That meant that up until 1940 young people from the Dutch West Indies, who had ambitions for secondary education (middle school, high school, university) already at the age of  between fourteen and fifteen years left for a long period for the Netherlands. They landed in boarding schools or were turned over to foster families.

That sometimes strong ties developed between pupil and foster parents is obvious from the emotional dedication to his foster father in his dissertation.

Van Romondt studied medicine at the University of Leiden and is part of the Corps Leiden’s Freedom Fighters, and as such takes part in the military activities of 1830/1831 against the Belgians, and thus also took part in the Ten Days Campaign. Because of this he lost a year and on October 3rd, 1831, after demobilization, he continued his studies. And then followed on August 7th, 1834 his graduation in Leiden with in the meantime his famous thesis; Rationem, qua systema cutaneum, hepaticum et nervosum in regionibus tropicis affici possunt et morbos praecipuos exinde oriundos. (The reason why the skin-, liver,- and nerve system in the tropics can be attacked and the specific illnesses which are a result of this).

Why famous? Because this is probably the first Dutch dissertation which has tropical diseases as its subject. His promotor is Prof. Macquelin.

Dr. van Romondt writes in his foreword: ‘Now that I have kept myself busy for fifteen years already – with the exception, in which I because of the Belgian insurrection was involved with militias of academic’s, was involved in armed conflict – in the seat of the muses , Leiden, was busy with medical sciences, the solemn day has finally dawned in which I must bring my academic studies to an end; faster than I had thought because if they had not decided otherwise, I would have without a doubt planned to the study of surgery, of which I consider the practice no less desirable in the West Indian islands as that of medicine.

His promotion was a success. The diploma is accompanied with written tributes of rector and professors in which he is given much praise.

They write: ‘When he displayed before us and for the subject a kindness and modesty of spirit, we gladly presented him the certificate with praise and virtue, which he deserves.


Dr. Hendrik van Rijgersma who practiced on St. Maarten from 1863 until his death in 1877.

After his graduation he returned in 1834 to his native St. Martin and until his death, in 1854, he was a general practitioner in Philipsburg. Already working there at the time was his brother-in-law Dr. Philogene Phillippe Maillard (b. St.Croix June 1st, 1806 and died St. Martin Augugust 31st 1886). His first wife was Susanna Elizabether Illidge van Romondt, sister of Dr. George).

In 1863 the Dutch Government sent out Dr. Hendrik Rijgersma to attend the needs of the liberated slaves. He worked on St. Maarten from 1863 until his death in 1877. He owned the Welgelegen plantation and is remembered as a noted scientist.

Dr. George Illidge van Romondt on his return married Angeline Petersen of St. Barth’s whose parents were Peter Petersen and Ann Maria Laporter. Angeline’s sister Susan was married to Diederick Christian van Romondt (born 1807) and a brother of Dr. George. Their children then were double first cousins.

Dr. George and his wife Angeline had 5 children, the youngest of which was Ann Sophia van Romondt born December 13th, 1849 and who was married to the Dutch engineer Cornelis J. Hudig. In an article ‘My dear Kees’ in the Saba Islander I have written about this couple already.

From his dissertation of 43 pages we quote a few fragments, translated in English from the


Thesis in Latin of Dr. George on the diseases of the tropics.

Dutch and Latin, to illustrate for that period in time, his intimate knowledge and sharp clinical eye.


Tetanus is a complete tonic convulsion of which the patient himself is no longer aware. The illness causes a general contraction and stiffness of muscles or part of the muscle system; the name of it is different depending on the part which is affected. And so one speaks of real tetanus when a general contraction and stiffness of the muscles is observed, whereby the body spreads itself out completely, and becomes stiff and cannot move. . Opisthotonus when the body is bent over, Emprosthotonus when it bends forward. Trismuss when the lower jaw because of a heavy contraction is pulled in such a way to the upper jaw and the mouth cannot open again. This spasmodic affliction is generally observed in tropical regions because of the great sensitivity and movement of the nervous system. It can develop at the slightest irritation, through a sting or bite of insects, through wounds, damage by exertion, damage of nerves and ‘aponluirosen’ etc. Often also through the cooling of a heated body or by dampness which damage the skin. In the tropics it often occurs that on the ninth day after birth babies are sensitive to this illness.

About a form of paralysis which the inhabitants call beriberi.

Beriberi is a disease which very often leads to a paralytic form; it starts with pain in the small of the back, subsequently the lower limbs and the vocal chords can no longer move, and finally the entire body becomes stiff and cannot move cf. Bontus Medicina Indiorum. This disease which affects the people is called by the inhabitants Beriberi (which resembles the noise of a sheep. I believe because those who have this disease walk like sheep with bended knees and with legs pulled up). There is also a sort which causes paralysis the movement and the feeling in hands and feet and sometimes the entire body becomes different. This disease occurs in the time in which the winds are cold and blow from the continent especially in the months of December and February.

Especially foreigners such as Europeans are very sensitive to this disease, when they are drunk, or sleep in damp places or under a rainy sky. If this disease is not cured quickly a ‘hycerops’ of the joints, swelling of the entire body, stupor and lameness occurs. Healing is not easy, because of which medical practitioners advise the sick to go and live elsewhere or to take a sea journey.

Colica Pictonum.

Colica Pictonum appears in the residents of the tropics (dry belly ache). The name comes from the region of Pictavia Galliae (Poitu) where the illness was first discovered to have originated through the use of very sour wine, and a lead solution with which the wines have been impregnated. In the West Indies this illness is endemic. The cause is principally to be found in the lead solutions which is used in the distillation of rum.

This illness is accompanied by a terrible pain of one part of the body to the other. Often accompanied by frequent green vomit. That vomit is so bitter that silver objects become black as if they had been in contact with Sulphur. This is followed by a stubborn constipation, dry tongue covered with a brown layer, and finally- if the illness persists for some time- there develops a lameness of the lower limbs which does not disappear again.

Notes: Much of this article is translated from an article in Caraibische Cadens by Wim Statius van Eps and Robert Royer: ‘Twee Antiliaanse medische studenten en de Tiendaagse Veldtocht.






Winds of War

By Will Johnson

In former times the Island Administrators were obliged to keep a Journal of the important events taking place on their islands.

A pity that some of them were lazy in this regard and did not bother to mention anything in the Journals. Some of them went over to keeping the Journal in Dutch, others in English.

I have found just parts of a few of these journals. For this article I want to show events leading up to the Second World War and the number of warships cruising in this then unimportant part of the world.

Some of the schooners mentioned here may have had English registry or United States registry but they were owned by Sabans and traded throughout the West Indies. To the article I will attach some photo’s to make it more interesting to the reader.

Starting with May 22nd 1936 we will present some of that which is written in the parts of the Journals of which I have copies.

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Florence M. Douglas going down river in Guyana

22 May 1936; ‘Florence M. Douglas’ English three Master schooner left with 10 passengers to Barbados.

30 May 1936; ‘Shipped out 11 (eleven) bulls to Curacao with the S.S. ‘Baralt’.

20 June 1936; English schooner ‘Marion Belle Wolfe’ arrived from St. Maarten with 1

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Marion Belle Wolfe here with a house in tow after a tidal wave in Canada

passenger. Left on June 22nd for St. Thomas with no passengers.

November 12th 1936. Dutch schooner ‘Esther Anita’ from St. Maarten with 4 passengers.

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‘Ester Anita’ here docked up in Manhattan close to the Brooklyn bridge. This was when we had regular schooner trade with New York.

Left November 13th with 2 passengers for Barbados via St. Eustatius.


January 9th, Kenneth Bolles returns to Saba.

March 23rd 1937: Vice Lt. Governor went for a walk to Mary’s Point and became lost. He and his party were found at 11pm and arrived back in The Bottom at 3am after a search party of locals located them. He records in his diary that approximately around 8.30 pm he saw five Man-of-Wars in a line passing by in a West-South-West direction.  (Kaiser Sorton informed me that the British fleet used to pass the island regularly on their way to Jamaica).

7 May 1937. English schooner ‘Nanette’ left for Bird Island with 4 passengers and returned on the 18th. (They used to go there to fish and to catch turtles, birds etc.) The ‘Nanette’ left


Aves or Bird Island which at one time was claimed by Holland as Sabans  used to fish there. My grandfather James Horton Simmons and a group of men would row a boat to Statia. From there they would take a course and after twelve hours of rowing they would turn back and try to make it to Statia. In 1865 or so Venezuela won a case against Holland claiming they had inherited Bird Island from Spain and they won!

on the 20th to St. Eustatius without passengers. They had completed their fishing trip.

June 10th, 1937. Arrived from Curacao H.M. Submarine 014 and left in the night for St. Martin.

August 20th, 1937.  Plus/Minus 160 mm or 6.5 inches of rain fell during the night.

November 27th. 1937. Vice Lt. Governor A.H.M. van Weel passed over to the sub Act. Lt. Governor G.P. Jansen’

December 20th, 1937 ELECTIONS.

A.R.W.G. Brouwer received 12 votes and Cl.R. Plantz 3 votes.

This election was for the colonial council. Brouwer was the son of Governor A.J.C. Brouwer and was born on Saba, but Plantz who was born on St. Thomas of a German father and a mother from St. Eustatius won on the other two islands. He was also the preferred candidate of the Roman Catholic Church at the time.

January 7th, 1938. Arriving from Barbados the U.S. registered schooner ‘Marion Belle Wolfe’ with 10 passengers and departed for Anguilla with 1 passenger.

March 5th, 1938 H.M. ship Jan van Brakel arrived with the Governor General on Board.

November 16th, 1938 A.H.M. van Weel first to St. Maarten and then transferred to Curacao. G.P. Jansen took over the office of Vice Lt. Governor.

December 24, 1938 English registered yacht ‘Roavia’ with members of the ‘Lord Moyne Commission’ and some guests on board, among which Mrs. Winston Churchill. They were received by Vice Lt. Governor G.P. Jansen. Because of the short time available they were only able to visit The Bottom.

December 30th, 1938. Arrived from Antigua the Belgian trading ship ‘Mercator’ and later in the day continued on to ‘La Guairá’.

January 18th, 1939 Mr. Xavier H.C.M. Krugers took over as Onder Gezaghebber.

JANUARY 26TH, 1939; Report of two Man-of-Wars, probably torpedo chasers as far as could be observed, with numbers D15 and D 17 and without flag sailing in the direction of St. Eustatius. Probably 2 units of the American fleet, which are now holding manoeuvers in this area.

February 26th, 1939. Sunday. ‘A report from Hell’s Gate that a plane had crashed in the sea about 8 miles away and had burnt as they saw plenty smoke. A similar incident took place during the period when I functioned here before and it turned out to be a plane of the British Marine. ‘No further particulars concerning the plane have been heard also nothing on the radio because it was probably a Marine plane.

April 19th; what seemed a Man-of-War signaling from the Spring Bay was not confirmed.

April 20th, 1939. An English Man-of-War sighted off St. Eustatius going in the direction of St. Kitts.

September 23rd, 1939. Around 12 o’clock close to the coast estimated between 2 and 300 meters from the Ladder Bay to the Fort Bay an American light cruiser marked in the 2nd smokestack “E”. With several planes on board and headed in the direction of St. Eustatius.

November 21 1939, a strange cruiser passed here about 5 miles from the coast and 2 planes circled several times over the island, could not determine the nationality.

December 6th, 1939; The vice Lt. Governor Xavier Krugers today passed over temporarily the Administration of this island to Dr. D.R. de La Fuente and left at 3pm with the S.S.

MV "Batalt" 1930's

THe S.S. Baralt at Fort Bay.

Baralt to St. Eustatius.

December 12th, 1939. At some distance from St. Eustatius saw a Man-of-War which did not seem to be moving ahead and probably was lying at anchor. In the Windward Side it is reported that around 7.45 am a large Man-of-War passed very close to Saba and headed in the direction of St. Eustatius.

December 13th 1939. Around 6.30 pm a steamship passed close to the Fort Bay headed west. Supposedly a Man-of-War. With search lights signals were given from which could be decoded was “Good night Saba.”

December 18th, 1939 at around 2pm a tanker and a Man-of-War passed along the Fort Bay in a Westerly direction, the latter was flying a British flag according to reports. From Hell’s Gate it was reported that a French Man-of-War had passed the island.

January 11th, 1940 in the morning a French airplane with the identification NEC5666 across The Bottom. Sometime later it was reported from Windward Side that around 2.5 miles from the coast a Man-of-War unknown nationality had intercepted a tanker whereby hoses had been connected to the warship from the tanker and after some time they both went their way.

January 31st 1940. Mr. Halmberg arrived here. He is the representative of the KLM. His intention was to check on a location for the eventual building of an airport. He checked out

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No room for an airport but the first helicopter did land at St. John’s.

property on St. John’s.

Additional notations;

Average rainfall on Saba 1200 mm per year.

Rainfall recorded for the year 1939 was 955 mm.

May 31st, 1949; there are almost daily flights of two French planes over Saba these past weeks.

June 28th, 1940. Although the collection from The Bottom for Dutch victims of war is not known yet the collection from the entire island is nearly fls. 1.250.—this is very special for such a small impoverished island.

Journal ends July 10th, 1940.

A great pity that these journals were not maintained on a regular basis. That is the very least which the then Vice Lt. Governors could have done. However in going through the minutes of the meetings of the Council of Policy much more can be found covering that period when there was general concern about events in Europe. Especially after the occupation of The Netherlands by the German Army Saba was cast adrift. St. Kitts and Barbados were part of the British Empire and were fighting the Germans. Curacao, and Aruba were first occupied by the British army to defend the oil refineries and then the United States took over. For trading purposes Saba could at least depend on St. Thomas but the Second World War was a period of want. A good thing that our people could farm in the mountain area and elsewhere and could depend on their livestock and fishing on the Saba

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During the war flour was a scarce commodity. Here are some donkeys with Gold Medal Flour for Miss Helena Peterson-Every’s bakery in Windward Side.

Bank and on the rocks and in the cliffs around the island.

Interesting from these tidbits gleaned from the Governor’s Journals is that Mrs. Winston Churchill and the Moyne Commission visited Saba. Also that the KLM representative Mr. Halmberg had inspected St. John’s for the possibility of building an airport there. St. John’s??? A good thing that Mr. Remy de Haenen saw the possibility of Flat Point or else we would still be taking the boat to the surrounding islands.

Now that there is so much instability in the world anything can happen so it is good to know how things were in the years leading up to the second World War.










Ambrose Johnson here with Mike behind him.


By; Will Johnson

I recently came across a photo of preparations in the Windward Side for Ronny Johnson’s newly built boat to be launched at the Fort Bay. It was taken by Father Bruno Boradori in the early nineteen sixties.

Among the photos of the launching of the boat there was one with Benjamin Ambrose Johnson (Gilly) with a black dog by his side. I realized that the dog had to be the famous dog called Mike. I went back in my old Saba Herald’s and in the edition of Monday October 28th 1968 I found what I was looking for.

The article was written by William Carl Anslyn. He was from Saba and had served on Aruba as a Senator for seven years and also as a Commissioner for five years as well. He returned to Saba when he was in his fifties. Here his brother John Arthur Anslyn had also served this island for sixteen years as a Commissioner and a Member of the Island Council.

Carl helped me for a while as the Editor of The Saba Herald but we fell out after a short while as his politics and mine, to say it mildly, were different. In the end after many battles and verbal abuse he somehow decided to support me and did so until he died. He returned to Aruba when he had passed eighty and died there and is buried there as well.



Carl Anslyn here feeding his chickens on the Scjotsenhoek plantation on Statia which he and his brother Arthur used to own.

He was a talented writer, especially of political pamphlets, of which I bore the brunt of the blows in his political pamphlet called ‘The Bull’s Eye’. He also wrote a small book of his years as a teenager growing up in the Windward Side.

To give you a sample of his skills to properly alarm people on Saba as to my ambitions in the 1969 elections, he would warn the people of Saba to beware of me and my intentions towards the hard working people of Saba. Although I was running with the U.R.A. party at the time he aligned me in his propaganda with the Frente Obrero the party of Wilson ‘Papa” Godet and Stanley Brown. The latter party was formed after the uprising on Curacao on May 30th 1969 which resulted in the burning of much of the city of Willemstad.

Carl would warn people that I did not have a house nor lived on Saba that my only intention was to burn the place down. With some 80% of the houses on the island being built from wood the threat of fire was one way to get voters’ attention. He even listed a number of young people who had built houses to fear the worst as I envied them and wanted to burn down their newly built homes. Even though these modern homes were built from cement there seemed to still be reason for fear. One of these young people even approached me and asked me what he had done to me to warrant me to want to burn down his newly built home. Carl was not easy believe me.

Then the rebel himself, ‘Arsonist in Chief’ Sanely Brown during the campaign showed up on Saba to support me. I was from another political party and living on St. Maarten. No matter. I was not a threat to Stanley’s ‘Frente Obrero’ on Curacao and so he thought it would be of some help to me to visit Saba and support me. Too bad in the night it was claimed that he was shouting out ‘Burn Baby Burn!’


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Ambrose Johnson here with teacher Gladys Hassell.

Carl’s stencil machine went into overdrive the night of Stanley’s visit. A pamphlet came out giving instructions to people to purchase fire buckets, extra rope, ladders and so on once again informing people that I had gone into politics with the sole intention to burn the place down. That kind of writer he was. An alarmist of the first order and a political opponent to be reckoned with.

But in his story about Gilly’s dog Mike he shows a different kind of skill and is a pleasure to read.

I experienced Mike once on a visit to Saba with friends from St. Maarten. He had just come down from the Mountain with a group of tourists. He was lying in front of the Police Station where ‘Gilly’ worked as a telephone operator. When he heard us talking about going up the mountain he promptly revved up and accompanied us the way up to the top and back down.

And now to Carl’s interesting story of the remarkable dog Mike who once graced the streets of Windward Side giving visitors to the island a tour whether they wanted one or not.

“Mike is a part-breed Labrador Retriever which to the casual observer shows no more distinguishing features than those shown by any big and friendly dog. Looking at Mike one would hardly think that he’s an intellectual, a prince among dogs! For Mike, besides being a gentleman, is Saba’s unofficial tourist guide!

From the porch of the Post office building where his master works in the Telephone Exchange, Mike regards the passing world with seemingly sleepy eyes. Let a vehicle disgorge Saban passengers in front the building, Mike, as far as interest is concerned, could be blissfully asleep on Mars. Let a Jeep arrive with tourists, and Mike is in their midst before their feet touch the pavement. After properly introducing himself in a gentlemanly manner by quietly sniffing each of the arrivals, he will turn his attention to the business of the day, accompanying his guests around the town, and leading them to the main points of interest.

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Algernon Hassell, Carl Hassell and Mr Harold Johnson here cooling out where Mike had his headquarters.

Once his job is done and the usual rounds have been made he will take off and attach himself to another group, and repeat the procedure. At the end of a busy day, and a job well done, he returns to his home and begins his wait for another day and another group of arrivals.

Often a solitary visitor to the island, drifting around and wondering where to go and what to do, will feel his leg nudged and will look down to see a black dog loping along at his side, and leading the way with occasional backward glances to assure himself that the visitor has got the point! One such visitor, a young Hungarian, decided on a fine morning that he was going to walk from the Windward Side to the airport. This is a walk which any Saban would hesitate before attempting, but our friend left the Guesthouse in fine spirits. By the Post Office he was joined by Mike, who duly inspected and accepted him, and proceeded him to the airport. In due time Mike delivered him back to the Guesthouse, nudged his leg as a farewell salute to a job well done, and returned to the Post Office porch. As the visitor afterwards remarked, ‘How is it possible? He went before me all the way. I didn’t show him where to go, and I couldn’t tell him. How does he do it, is what more than one person asked themselves, and the answer is still a big question mark.

On a bright and sunny day two elderly American ladies were walking around the Windward Side, accompanied by Mike. One of them, being a bit talkative, stopped several persons and asked questions about the island. In the beginning Mike was very tolerant but as time went by there were too many stops and too much talking. Mike who must have had a pretty tight work schedule that day, decided to put a stop to the dalliance once and for all. The lady was once more deep in talk when she felt her hand practically being swallowed by Mike, his face the picture of disgust, dragging her from the scene. As the lady remarked later;” It was an experience I wouldn’t have missed for anything.”

Mike’s exploits are legendary in Saba, and already some of our good citizens have suggested that he be given the official title “Ambassador of Goodwill and Unofficial Tourist Guide.”


The old Post Office, Police Station and Telephone Exchange where Mike used to hang out. This photo is from the collection of Dr. Julia Crane of young people picking up packages on a day which the mail boat was in. 1964

He is one of the simple things, the unique things, which makes Saba an interesting place to visit. He is only a dog, yet he has caused more pleasure, and done more to make Saba interesting to its visitors, than many a well-meaning citizen. We would not be surprised some day to see a statue of Mike in our town, adorned with the inscription: “He was only a dog, but he did his part.”

We must thank Mr. Anslyn for this wonderful story about Mike.  And we cannot end the story without mentioning how Anslyn’s pamphleteering was not as successful of that of Thomas Paine in the revolution of the North American colonies. Mr. Carl Hassell (‘Sheddy’) came to my rescue in the end. A bunch of people were drinking in his shop and crying shame on me for wanting to burn down the place. Mr. Carl asked them ‘Pray tell me where is Anslyn’s home?’ Fact is that he did not have one and was living with an old cousin of his. And so the constant reference to the fact that I did not have a house did not have much effect anymore and that was the end of the story. Good memories though and I have those pamphlets still on file somewhere. But you must admit that Carl did a good job on preserving the story of Mike the unusual dog which lived among us on Saba. Enjoy the story of Mike the dog!

The Church of England On Saba

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Christ Church in The Bottom is the oldest building on Saba. It was built in 1780 and is also in need of repairs. When I get the chance I will go over this article and add more to it with some interesting photo’s as well.

The Church of England in Saba

By: Will Johnson

In June 2001, Ms. Ingeborg M. uit de Bos-van der Naaten, who was doing research on my ancestors in the National Archives in Holland, sent me a list of information which she had found. Among the list of documents she had consulted was one which stated that a meeting of “the English Church on Saba was held on July 23rd, 1763 to secure a salary to the Reverend Richard Davis for 3 years to be “Our Pastor”. A pledge was made to pay him 1250 pieces of 8 per annum.” In another note it states that “On October 5th of the same year, present at Vestry: Richard Davies.”

In 1777 the Rev. Kirkpatrick requested permission of Commander Johannes de Graaf to officially establish an Anglican Church on Saba. Permission was granted and thus the Anglican Church came into official existence, though from the aforementioned record, it was already in existence in 1763. Research indicates that the present Christ Church building in The Bottom was restored in 1777, after having been severely damaged by the great hurricane of 1772. Folklore has it that the doors of the Dutch Reformed Church on St. Eustatius were found close to my home in The Level on Saba in that ‘category five’ hurricane.

Helena Peterson (nee Every) COPY - had a bakery

My old friend Mrs. Helena Peterson-Every. Her father Peter Every known as ‘Peter War’ as he was always at war over the Pope was the one responsible to encourage the building of the Holy Trinity Church in Windward Side. I have a letter from Father David Hope to him from 1892. The Roman Catholics had built their church in Windward Side in 1860 which was enough reason for Peter ‘War’ to go into action and try and get an Anglican Church for the Windward Side.

Although Dutch historians claimed that Saba was settled by the Dutch from St. Eustatius in 1640, there is reason to believe that the villages of Palmetto Point and Middle Island were already settled soon after 1629 by refugees from similar named villages in St. Kitts, after a large Spanish fleet captured that island. The Irish indentured servants, being Catholic, and allied to the Spanish, were allowed to leave and settle on other nearby islands. In 1665 a pirate fleet from Jamaica led by Edward and Thomas Morgan (uncles of Sir Henry Morgan) captured St. Eustatius and Saba. They dispersed the 57 Dutch settlers and their families to plantations in the English islands and took the African slaves back to Jamaica as booty. There were over 200 Irish, Scots, English and French left, besides two Dutch families of ten people, who remained on Saba as well as 70 or 90 pirates who had mutinied. From 1672 to 1679 the English again occupied Saba. Already in 1659 in a petition to the Dutch West India Company, the inhabitants had requested a clergyman who had knowledge of the English language.

The few Dutch colonists who came from St. Eustatius around 1640 built themselves a small settlement on the South side of the island above Fort Bay. This settlement was destroyed by a landslide in 1651. After this the surviving colonists came to live in the area which they had previously farmed. This area known as “The Valley” later became known as the town of “The Bottom” as the English thought it was the bottom of the crater. At the entrance to The Bottom there was a small church, behind the present World War II monument. The hill we call “Paris Hill” is referred to in old property records as “Parish Hill”.


The Holy Trinity Church now under repairs and needs your financial help.

In a bill-of-sale of January 21st, 1829 in the property bounds reference is made “to East old church place and the High Road.” We have reason to believe that here was located the “Church of Christ” of the Presbyterians started by the renowned Reverend Hugh Knox. He was born in Northern Ireland of Scottish ancestry and migrated to the American colonies. Ordained in 1755 Knox decided to propagate the gospel and was sent to Saba. On Saba he married Mary Simmons daughter of Governor Peter Simmons and his wife Rebecca Correa. He moved to St. Croix in 1771 where he became the teacher of the great Alexander Hamilton and inspired him to go to the colonies in the North which later became the United States of America. On March 19th, 1765 Reverend Knox made a now famous eulogy at his mother-in-laws funeral, a copy of which I have in my collection, and is probably one of the few great sermons preserved from that period in our West Indian history. Remarkably in 1792 a eulogy conducted for his young successor John Elsworth who died on November 22, 1791 at the age of 29 also survives and I also have a copy in my collection. The latter eulogy conducted in East Windsor Connecticut was dedicated to the people of Saba. It states that ;” After his return to the continent, he frequently expressed a cordial regard for you, as a people whom he sincerely loved, and whose salvation he ardently desired; and with whom had his health permitted, he would have chosen to have spent his days; and a grateful sense of those respectful attentions shown to him, and kindnesses received from you, and particularly from his Honor Governor(Thomas) DINZEY, and his worthy family, in whose family he lived, during his residence in the island.”


This photo was taken in 1875 or so but before the Holy Trinity church was built as where the church is now was an open lot at the time.

I mention this as although the Presbyterian Church did not survive they left an impressive record for such a small island and their members flowed into the growing community of the Church of England.

In 1791 when Dr. Thomas Coke of Methodist church fame visited Saba he wrote that there was a church but no preacher. Indeed during the first century of the Church’s life on Saba, it was unable to provide a resident pastor for the island, but the population remained actively Anglican.

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Here as Administrator a.i. in 1977 I handed out a Royal Distinction to Mr. Thomas Frank Hassell. He ans his sisters Norma and Bertha were the upkeep and the pillars of the Holy Trinity Church for as long as I knew them. In the picture you can also see Norma and teacher Gladys Hassell.

When the Dutch historian M.D. Teenstra visited Saba on February 13th, 1829 he wrote that the only religious instructor on the island was John Toland a “Presbyterian”. In that Teenstra was mistaken. He states also that; “The Church building after the hurricane of 1772 has been completely rebuilt. In 1821 it was re-shingled. It is a square building, not very large, of which the solid walls are built of cut stone. The same building serves as Council Hall and school.”

John Toland was born in Ireland. Dr. Thomas Coke in his history of the Methodist Church in the West Indies refers to a Toland as a Methodist missionary preacher in Tortola around 1790 to 1800. That could have been the father of our John Toland, as the Methodists were briefly active on Saba around that time and the name Toland is only related to John and his family on Saba.  The Reverend John Toland was married to Ann Louisa Rodgers of Antigua. They had four daughters and a son James Osborne Toland. James died May 12th, 1870 on Saba.  One of the daughters, Susan Rebecca, married Richard Robinson Richardson of St. Martin on July 22nd, 1835 and another daughter Annie married Abraham Charleswell Simmons Vanterpool and died in childbirth in Virgin Gorda.

I have a record of passengers arriving in the United States at the port of Washington, North Carolina, on the schooner “Eli Hoyt” in 1837 stating that the Reverend John Toland and Mrs. Mary L. Toland both age 57 were passengers. He had been to North Carolina in 1836 and served for one year as pastor of the Episcopal Church in Bath. Their children (should be grandchildren) accompanying them in 1837 were, Master James Toland age 14, Miss Rachel L. Toland age 12 and Master Hugh Toland age 8 and travelling with them was Master Thomas C. Vanterpool, age 8 a son of their deceased daughter Annie. The Vanterpools had been resident in Tortola before Saba so that Dr. Coke’s Toland could have been Hugh Toland, father of the Rev. John Toland. The Reverend died on Saba on December 4th, 1863.  We don’t know much about the North Carolina connection but we do know that Rachel died there in 1838 and that Hugh remained in the United States and married there and ended up on Staten Island and has descendants in the United States.Since this article was first written I found a lot more information on John Toland and there is a seperate article about him and since then one of his descendants has visited Saba.

The church was served by a visiting Anglican priest from Anguilla from 1861 to 1878. As he kept good records much is known from him about his service to Saba. In 1867 he writes that the population of Saba was 1411. The attendance at the Anglican Church School was 30 boys and 25 girls. In a letter of 31 December 1867 he says: “I have also to express my great satisfaction at the Congregations in the Islands of St. Barths and Saba. I spent the last Sunday in the year on the latter island, on which occasion I had a full assembly at both Morning and Evening services. Indeed I may say I had a Congregation all Sunday night, far into Monday morning – for on that night at 9 we experienced a fearful shock of earthquake and in a few minutes the Governor’s House (Moses Leverock) was filled by a terrified crowd, for whom, after some order was restored, I prayed, and implored God’s merciful protection, and administered from time to time words of consolation to those ready to faint with fear, imploring them to put their trust in God. On Monday morning, I proceeded to the Windwardside, and held service as usual in Capt. John Hassell’s hospitable house, to a large assembly of attentive and fear-stricken people (for the Mountains still quake). I made my discourse applicable to the occasion and received 6 new communicants.”


Father John Rohim a Trinidad National but born in Guyana knows a bit about construction himself. If you hear what quotations he got to repair the building and what he and some volunteers like Percy Ten Holt and Eric Cornet and some others you will not believe how he has stretched the few dollars he had available. He will need more as all the pews in the church were destroyed by wood ants and those have to be replaced.

On February 25th, 1878 the Holy Trinity Church in Windwardside was consecrated by the Right Reverend. William Waldrond Jackson, Bishop of Antigua. According to cannon law the Anglican community here falls under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Antigua.

In course of time, five Sabans have become Anglican clergy. These are: John W. Leverock, nephew of Governor Moses Leverock, Alvin Edward Simmons, both of the Bottom, Frank Hassell of St. Johns, Aldric Steeling Hassell of Windwardside, and Ivan Heyliger of The Bottom.

Saban Anglicans were also active in spreading the faith to other islands. The Anglican Church on Curacao was for a large part financed and built by Sabans, and also the church on St. Eustatus. Sabans would go there on weekends to help with the building and the priest on Saba still serves the Anglican community on that island. In 1977 the church issued a booklet with interesting historical facts which was written by Mr. Frank Hassell  who along with his sisters Norma and Bertha are the pillars of Holy Trinity Church.

CIMG4781.JPGThe Church of England had 1500 members on Saba in 1874. However, with the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church on Saba in 1860 the numbers declined. In 1877 there were 1458 Anglicans on Saba out of a total population of 2072.The Anglican Church has lost its dominant position over the years since then, however the church still carries on and the remaining members of the church are as dedicated to their church as those who in 1763 got together to pay a salary to the Reverend Richard Davis, and may God continue to bless their work on Saba.

“We love the place O god

Wherein Thine Honour dwells

The joy of Thine abode


Capt. Ben Hassell who owned many schooners was from Windward Side. He and his family were ‘rank’ Anglicans as they would say and contributed financially to the maintenance of this church. We call on all to help the church in its hour of need.

All earthly joy excels.”

Will Johnson

Will Johnson’s contribution!


Here giving an interview for researchers on Saba’s History.

Will Johnson’s contribution to History and Culture in the Eastern Caribbean.

Sir Winston Churchill said: “History will be kind to me. I intend to write my own.” Another great figure of the 20th century Fidel Castro also advised:’ you have to write your own History.”

I have witnessed already that there are some who want to deny my history and others who would not want to give me any credit for what I have done in either the political field or in the field of letters and in the preservation of our past history in these our beloved islands of the Eastern Caribbean.


My column in this paper was entitled ‘News and Views’. I did not get in trouble with the ‘News’ part, but definitely my ‘Views’ were not acceptable to the political establishment of the day.

I was asked to submit a document to an organization which wants to honour me. In complying with this request I thought it was time and important to give a summary of what I have done and what I think important for my children and grandchildren to know and if need be to defend my legacy.

Not that I have been ignored. My name is so well known in the Eastern Caribbean and beyond first and foremost because of my political career.

I will give just a few examples. I remember once Mrs. Dinda Hassell-Dunlock telling me that she had been listening to the Saturday morning radio program of Mrs. Josianne Fleming-Artsen for children. When she asked the class who was the President of the United States one little boy said he knew the answer and before anyone else he shouted out: “The President is Will Johnson. I hear him every day on the radio.”


Menno and Corine Hofman here on my verandah discussing artifacts which were found at The Plum piece by Mr. Carl Zagers. It turned out to be a settlement from the days of the Arawaks and Kalingo.

On Saturdays we usually have a West Indian meat or fish soup for lunch. Just as we sat down to eat the phone rang. I advised my wife not to answer the phone. But having children abroad going to school you always answer every phone call which my wife did. The call was from Mr. Erasmus William on St. Kitts. He was the former Editor of The Chronicle newspaper on St. Martin, and after that assistant to the then Prime Minister of St. Kitts/Nevis the Hon Denzill Douglas.

After exchanging greetings he said to me. “I am calling on behalf of our Prime Minister. We have some people here at his office and they have a question. I told the Prime Minister that the one person in the Eastern Caribbean who would know the answer to their question is our friend Will Johnson.’

saba-herald  I told him ‘Man you have a lot of confidence in me. I hope I do not disappoint.’

The folks in the Prime Minister’s Office were looking for the Somers Islands where their ancestors once lived. Erasmus said we cannot find them anywhere on the map.

I told him;” The Somers islands are the old English name for Governor Somers who was shipwrecked there and went on to colonize Bermuda.’

I heard the Prime Minister in the background asking; ‘What did he say? ‘And then:’ But I was there just last week and nobody told me that.’ When ending the phone conversation I said to Erasmus:’ Man you nearly put me on the spot! Suppose I did not know?’ Erasmus said: ‘Will I had every confidence that you would know the answer.”

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My first book on St. Maarten.

Daniella Jeffrey, teacher/writer of French St. Martin also had high praise for my approach to history in a lecture which she gave when my book ‘Tales from My Grandmother’s Pipe’ first came out. She thought it great that I had approached history from the perspective of the contributions made by the native population, rather than highlighting the role played by colonial officials.

Because of my knowledge of history I have been asked a number of times to contribute to speeches to be made by officials.

I remember getting a call to prepare a speech for then Prime Minister Maria Liberia Peters when she was invited to speak at a convention of the People’s Action Movement (P.A.M.) on St. Kitts. She called afterwards from Curacao to thank me and to tell me how enthusiastically it had been received. Many young people had come forward to tell her that they had no idea how important a role St. Kitts had played in the Eastern Caribbean in former times.


I am the third from the left and Ray Hassell was the first Chairman of the Harry L. Johnson Memorial Foundation. Opening of the Museum.

I was asked to contribute articles to the ‘Libre Amicorum’ for three former Prime Ministers:’Juancho Evertsz, Don Martina, and Maria Liberia-Peters, and contributed in the research of the book on the life of Prime Minister Minguel Pourier. Many people young and old have been to my home for help in their research on any number of topics relating to these islands and I have always willing gave my time freely for their projects, from simple home work to a University thesis.


Comments on my blog.

One of the many services to the community has been doing eulogies for prominent as well as ordinary citizens of the three Dutch Windward Islands. I may have done at least seventy five eulogies. Well appreciated. I remember once after having given a eulogy at the St. Martin of Tours Church in Philipsburg upon leaving the church a friend twenty years younger than me shouted out saying;” Will Johnson, when I dead I want you to do the talk for me.”

I thought this would be a good opportunity to publish a small history of my work and contributions to the Literature and culture of Saba, and the islands of the Eastern Caribbean. Since I am at it I will illustrate it with some appropriate photos as well because photos tell their own story.

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Presenting the Saba Flag for the first time on Saba Day 1985 to the people of Saba. I was the Chairman of the Committee given the task in May 1985 and succeeded in a matter of months even though there was a very heated election in between.

While working in the Old Courthouse on St. Maarten I had a column in the ‘Windward Island’s Opinion’ at the insistence of its founder Mr. Joseph H. Lake Sr. This was in the early nineteen sixties already. From 1966 through 1968 I used to prepare and broadcast the Local News on the Voice of St. Maarten Radio station. I used to walk down to Fort Amsterdam under all kinds of weather conditions. Later Alcile Lake used to pick me up and bring me back to town after the newscast was over. I became well-known through that local news program and these many years later I  still have the files from that period with Saba Day Awardthe news items.

In 1968 at the request of Mr. Alrett Peters I started the newspaper ‘The Labour Spokesman’ for the General Workers Union. At the same time James Maduro and I started the ‘Emporium Review of St. Eustatius’ and I was its first Editor.

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In the left corner. I was Commissioner of Culture and started Saba Day. Mr. Ray Hassell functioned as Chairman and was assisted by people like Mr. Eugenius  Johnson.

I also started the ‘Saba Herald’ which lasted for the next twenty five years. In the beginning I had Mr. Eddy Peterson and Mr. Alan Busby as Editors as I was already under pressure and stood to lose my job. However when pressure was applied to them I said everyone knows it is my newspaper anyhow so I took on the responsibility of being the Editor. These newspapers were all stenciled at the Union Headquarters in Cole Bay. I remember Alrett’s old father coming sometimes and sitting with me and I would read him articles which I had written. He would look at me in disbelief and say;” Johnson boy you put that in the paper in truth? “It was that kind of newspaper. Not one to please the

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Annual account Windward Islands Bank Ltd. 2015

establishment but to oppose it.

In 1971 I started a column: ‘The Exile Speaks’ in the St. Maarten newspaper ‘The New Age’ of Mervin F. Scot. The column was hard hitting and became such a hit that the circulation of the paper increased by tenfold.

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The first edition of the Emporium Review of which I was the Editor after which I passed it over to my friend James E. Maduro one of my friends from the Boys Town on Curacao.

In one of the first editions of the Saba Herald in 1968 I advocated for Saba to have a National Day of its own. One of the first decisions I made as Commissioner in 1975 was to make a Government resolution to have the National Day organized for December 6th, 1975. As Commissioner of Culture I had a Committee put in place headed by Mr. Ray Hassell (later Senator Etc.), Mr. Frank Hassell and others. The first Saba Day was carried out as scheduled and very much appreciated by the people of Saba. The Government of Saba assisted by Committees were responsible for carrying on Saba Day and they still are. It is still enthusiastically received and appreciated by the people of Saba.

Saba Herald, December 2nd, 1968: “Did you know that December 6th is San Saba Day? We hope that if not this year that December next year, December 6th will be celebrated as a National Holiday.

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A tapestry in the Hall of Knights in The Hague of a speech which I made as Chairman of the Island Council in 1999.

In an article in 1970 I emphasized on how important it was for Saba to have its own National Day as was the case with the surrounding islands. A day in which to remember our hard working ancestors of the past. A day in which to showcase our culture and our handicrafts and so on. A day in which to encourage sports and in general to let the world know that we did exist as a people though small yet proud of what we had achieved and were still capable of achieving.

In 1971 in a thirteen page memo to my W.I.P.M. party colleagues, among the many suggestions one was: ‘December 6th, is San Saba Day. Provisions should be made for this to be a day of festivities and could be developed into something nice with folkloric plays


Homework of Nikita Johnson.


In the month of May 1985 I was asked to be Chairman of a Committee for Saba to have its own flag, coat of arms and national song. This had to be done on short notice and I personally prepared all the legislation for the flag, coat-of-arms and national song. This was not an easy task and as Chairman I had to do a lot of arm twisting to get the final design of the flag and coat-of arms approved by the Island Council of which I was a Member. The Lt. Governor Mr. Wycliffe Smith, the Commissioners Vernon Hassell and Peter Granger helped to push the initiative and even though politically we were not on good terms and in the middle of an election they were full of praise for the end results. It was a glorious moment on December 5th, 1985 when the people of Saba witnessed for the first time the unfurling of the Saba Flag. I appreciate very much to see how young people especially going abroad to school appreciate their flag.


Here I am running behind the food truck in the Boystown on Curacao where I spent some of my boyhood years.

In 1977 I was able to purchase the house and property in Windward Side and to start the Harry L. Johnson Memorial Foundation and Museum as a tribute to the work which he had done before he died to preserve the Maritime History of Saba.

In those years I would also prepare and give out the Local News on the Voice of Saba when Miss Pauline Paul was off island.

As a result of my research I decided to publish a book of my own. Not only of oral history. But backed up by research in the archives of Willemstad, Curacao and The Hague Holland.

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This one is a political history of the island.

My first book was.

  1. Tales From My Grandmothers Pipe, followed by
  2. For the Love of St. Maarten
  3. The Diary of a St. Maarten Salt Checker
  4. Dreaming Big
  5. Co-author of Caribbean Interlude.
  6. I was also one of the contributing editors of ‘De Encyclopedie van de Nederlandse Antillen.’
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One of the many times I have been invited to give speeches on the history of our islands.

Even before 2007 I used to contribute articles of historical interest to The Daily Herald newspaper. At the suggestion of Wim Hart in 2007 I started a regular column for which he suggested the title: ‘Under The Sea Grape Tree’. I have now enough material to publish five books based on that column alone. I would even say that more than my political career this column has made me well-known in the Eastern Caribbean islands.


This is the fifth edition of my first book.

2013 I started a blog ‘The Saba Islander’ which in the first two years had more than one hundred thousand visitors from countries from all over the world. I include in my blog articles from all the islands, and not only of Saba. A little bit of politics but I try to resist that as much as possible as I have an International audience who would not be interested in local politics.

Over the years I have encouraged and assisted others with their books. I encouraged Dr. Johan Hartog to translate his book ‘De Bovenwindse Eilanden’ into English and Mr. Frank Hassell did the translation. We also pointed out to him that several claims he had made in his Dutch version were not based on fact. Saba has always been an English speaking island.


Dr. Julia Crane is one of many who were grateful for my assistance with their research.

Also I have letters from Dr. Julia Crane thanking me for my help with her books ‘Saba Silhouettes” and ‘Statia Silhouettes’.

As I write this I am about to review a book for a University in the United States at their request. It is about Saba and I am flattered that I a poor island self-educated boy get regular requests like this one.


Technically Mr. Alrett Peters was the Editor but everyone knew that the newspaper was mine.

With my interest in history and genealogy for many years I did research on the history of the Sulphur mines and located a possible claimant to the lands. After getting an agreement from her that she would transfer the lands to the people of Saba I passed over my dossier to the Saba Conservation Foundation for completion.

In 1999 as Acting Lt. Governor and Chairman of the Island Council I included in the ordinance a clause that no buildings were allowed in the Mountain above the five hundred meter line. It is my hope that government will not be tempted under any circumstances to change that and deface our mountain.

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What the article does not say is that my advisory capacity to government has been ‘pro-bono’ and still is.

aba Lace. I have written a number of articles on Saba Lace which were carried in newspapers and Magazines in the USA and for a period of time I was a correspondent for the New York Times when they would produce articles on the Caribbean.

Raymond Simmons asked me to be a board member of the Facebook site ‘Of Saban Descent’ which has become very popular and a source of preservation of histories and old photos of Saban families of yore.

My own Facebook page is very popular because of the old photo’s I post of the Islands.

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Photo by Roger Snow. Someone said once that I had a dark and brooding personality.

Most of my activities are self-financed. The Prins Bernhard Fonds has helped me with donations to help with the publishing of my various books and the Saba Government has purchased some copies for distribution to dignitaries coming to the island.

At my age I still spend several hours each day on the computer doing research, and also reading books of interest to Saba’s history and I always seem to find things which I believe would be of interest to the people of these islands. I continue to be involved with researchers and students in answering questions pertaining to their field of interest. Over the years I have also been helping people with their family research and with property title research. This takes up lots of my time.

In 1999 a speech which I made to the Island Council of Saba as Chairman at the time to celebrate fifty years of Universal suffrage, was later used on a tapestry in the Hall of Knights in The Hague.

In 2014 I received an award from the St. Martin book week group organized by Mr. Lasana Sekou and Mr. Suga Reiph in recognition of my contribution to the literature of the Windward Islands.


Part of the interior of the Harry L. Johnson memorial musueum.

In ending this first draft I would like to give a small story from my brother Walter Frederick Martinus Johnson, a lifelong teacher and in his spare time agent for Windward Island’s Airways. He said something in a public setting which I thought he should not have said and I told him so. His answer was ‘At my age if I cannot say what’s on my mind and what I want to say, when will I ever say it?’ A few months later he was no longer in the land of the living. The very least I can do for my descendants is to defend my legacy.

And finally my great-great-great- grandfather Governor Richard Johnson stepped down at the age of seventy in 1831 with the reason: At my advanced age and disability I want to respectfully tender my resignation.’ I later discovered that at the age of ninety one he was still signing old documents for later Governors as to what he knew about property

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I was asked to be one of the Editors of this encyclopedia of the Netherlands Antilles.

transactions all the way back to the West India Company lands.

Whatever time is left to me I only wish for good health so that I can continue doing those things I love most and I wish to thank the many thousands of people who still give me

Old Lamp Lighter

Sometimes I flatter myself by comparing my message as bringing light to those in need of it like the lamplighters of old.

encouragement to continue writing and speaking out!

Will Johnson

The Saga of Captain Richard Hassell

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Schooner ‘Margareth Truph’ of Capt. Wallce Simmons. Capt. Richard Hassell in his lifetime was Captain of many schooners.

The Saga of Captain Richard Hassell

Introduced by Will Johnson

This story was written by Richard Stuart Hassell on May 26th, 2000 when he was 87 years of age and living in Santa Monica California. He did this at the urging of Brian Mark a friend. Brian had heard Richard telling so many stories about when he grew up on Saba as a boy that he felt these stories should be written down and sent to the island for people here to enjoy. After Richard’s death Brian sent the stories to Sea Saba whose site he found on the internet. Lynn Costenaro passed them on to me. I first introduced Richard’s (Dick) own life story which was very interesting and now what he informs us of his grandfather the captain. He lived in the house in Windwardside which was torn down to make way for the new Kindergarten and he was related among others to Captain Eddie Hassell of “Swinging Doors” restaurant.

In the foreword the writer tells us:”This story has been written with the knowledge that it is a true story as related to me by my mother who experienced a great deal of it herself and as a youngster and teenager had a lot of it related to her by her mother. There are many seamen who may have had similar experiences, but since I can only write about those of my grandfather, it then becomes a partial history of my family, and is written with a humble pride. Therefore, this story is dedicated to my grandfather for being a man of great courage and that he had the determination to do what he thought was best for him and his family when the odds were against him.”

My grandfather Captain Richard Hassell was born on the tiny Dutch island of Saba (only 5 miles square in size) in the year 1856 and whose forbearers settled on Saba in the year 1640.

Since seafaring was the way of life in those days, and the island being so small, the male population by necessity had to go to sea in order to earn a living and support their families. The very young teenagers had to start out going to sea at 13 years of age to follow in their father’s footsteps, and were always signed on the ship as the “cabin boy.” It was standard practice that the captain had the responsibility of teaching the cabin boy all the rest of the schooling he would be missing by starting out at sea at such an early age. In addition he had to teach him all the rudiments of navigation and seamanship, along with the aid of books on the subject.

As it turned out, my grandfather was a very ambitious man, and so at 16 years of age he decided that he wanted to get married and so he married a Saban girl who happened also to be 16, after receiving the blessings of her parents. One year later my mother was born. Being a father gave my grandfather the impetus to learn more about navigation and seamanship. He studied so hard that at age 21 he had taken the examination for a Captain’s license and passed it, whereupon the shipping company for whom he was sailing gave him command of a ship, and so he kept going to sea. It was a customary thing for a shipping company not to allow the prospective captain to take command of a ship without being a part owner which was 25% of what the ship was worth. The shipping company’s idea was that the captain of the vessel would be more interested in keeping it in good shape and would look out more for the company’s interest if he was a part owner. My grandfather turned out to b a man of good judgment and thrifty with his money because he had built his own home on the island of Saba by the time my mother was three years old. After having sailed to New York many times my grandfather decided to take his family to live there in the year 1877. After his first son Richard was born my grandmother started to get a little more apprehensive about my grandfather going to sea, particularly after having weathered three hurricanes at sea. He finally relented and found a grocery store in New York City that was for sale and bought it almost immediately. But being a born seaman at heart he put the grocery store up for sale after only two years and eventually sold it to another merchant. He found a small schooner of 46 tons in size and bought it, putting it in seaworthy shape. He began trading up and down the East Coast of the United States and

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The schooner ‘Priscilla ‘ of Capt. T. C. Vanterpool anchored in Fort Bay at Saba. Transported mail and passengers between the Dutch Windward and Leeward Islands.

the Caribbean area. He called the vessel the R.H.

My mother having been born in 1872 was about 8 years of age and interested in whatever my grandfather did because my grandmother had gotten in the habit of keeping her informed even at such a young age, particularly about the dangers of going to sea. Although Captain Hassell had some dangerous adventures, one where he was the only survivor, he always returned successfully. But my grandmother was more convinced than ever that she would try to persuade him to give it up. Finally in about 1886 on a particular trip to Jacksonville, Florida, he was approached by a representative of a local shipping company who was interested in buying the R.H. at a price satisfactory to my grandfather. By the following day he found out that an orange grove was for sale located on the St. John’s River, not too far from Jacksonville. The price of the orange grove was much less than what he had been offered for the R.H. and so he made up his mind to sell his beloved ship and buy the orange grove.



Schooner ‘Mona Marie’ of Capt. Ben Hassell of Saba.

So he put down a down payment on the orange grove and signed an agreement to sell the R.H. to the shipping company, advising them that he would have to go back to New York City and conclude all business there before returning to Jacksonville and finalizing the sale of the R.H. and purchasing the orange grove. Captain Hassell finally got all the business taken care of in New York and took enough supplies including food and water for 26 days to take him and his family to Jacksonville. After about 3 days at sea, when he was approximately off the coast of Cape Hatteras, the vessel’s barometer started to fall rapidly. From his experience with other hurricanes he knew that the telltale signs pointed to trouble – running headlong into another hurricane. He immediately called the crew together and told them that from his past experience with hurricanes he felt it imperative that they prepare. He decided to ride it out. He then ordered the crew to take in all sails except for the jib which he needed to help keep the vessel’s bow into the wind. He battened down the hatches. He further asked several crew members to lash him to the helm so that he would not get washed overboard and since his family was on board, he wanted to make sure he and he alone was responsible for bringing the vessel through the hurricane. Many of the crew had asked him to let them spell him at the helm but he would not hear of it. The ship’s cook, knowing that he would have to at least have some hot coffee, did manage to hold the coffee pot on the stove long enough to boil the water for the coffee. That was all Captain Hassell had for three days and three nights while the hurricane lasted. But he did bring the R.H. successfully through. After the hurricane was over they found themselves becalmed which lasted for 25 days and my grandfather had supplies for only that period of time. On the 26th day he was down to one tin of salmon and some “hard tack,” which he chose to give to the crew and sugar water and crackers which he gave to his family. That afternoon, around 3 P.M., a United States warship was seen approaching within a close distance and Captain Hassell put up a distress signal. The warship gave them enough supplies to get to Jacksonville, which they reached after six days. He then proceeded in finalizing the sale of the R.H. and the purchase of the orange grove, and immediately started to put the orange grove home in better shape, after which he started the trimming of the orange trees. Blossoms sprouted in a month or so, and soon tiny oranges began to appear. My mother said she had never seen him in a better frame of mind. As the oranges started to reach maturity my grandfather envisioned a bumper crop and had by this time decided that being a “landlubber” was not so bad after all. However, his luck was about to run out because the area was hit with one of the heaviest frosts in years and the whole crop was lost. He went bankrupt. Wasting no time, he checked in Jacksonville about possible other jobs and as luck would have it; he found out that the Jacksonville lumber company had a three master schooner that needed a captain. He applied for the job and got it. The lumber company gave him all the information that was necessary including the fact that he would have to run the vessel on shares of the profits, which he readily agreed to. After taking command of the vessel his first trip was to Trinidad with a load of lumber. He took his family and dropped them off at the island of Saba where he still owned his own home, and he continued on to Trinidad. My mother, now having reached the age of 17, had started to teach a small kindergarten class of children to help out as much as she could until her father had received his first share of the profit. Soon my Uncle Richard had reached the age of 13 and immediately went to sea as a cabin boy with an uncle of his who was captain of a 4 master square rigged ship. In the meantime, my grandfather continued to carry lumber to Trinidad and on one particular trip, after he had taken his first sight of shooting the sun, in the morning around 10 o’clock he laid down to rest. In the afternoon, just before he shot the sun again (around 3 o’clock) he called the mate and told him he was not feeling well and that he felt like he was going to die. He said if he did, he did not want his body buried at sea, but to take tar and tar his body, wrap it in canvas, folding it over and over, and put it in the ship’s hold. He gave the mate the course to steer after having taken his second shot of the sun, and found his position according to his calculation of the latitude and longitude, and that if they stayed on course as he told them they would come to Barbados where he wished to be buried, and so he was.


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Saba island as it looked from the air in the nineteen thirties.

The crew then sailed the vessel to the island of Saba where they related all the details of what had occurred. When my grandmother, Rebecca, heard it, she told my mother that six months from that date she would not be alive and let herself grieve to death. My mother then had to take over the responsibility for her younger brother Camille who was only five years of age at the time (+_1892). After my mother reached 20 years of age (1896) she felt that she could better provide for her brother and herself by going back to New York City and with her uncle being captain of a sailing ship he stopped at the island of Saba, packed them up, and sailed for New York. Since she knew no one in New York City, she decided after a year to go to Providence, Rhode Island, where she had relatives.



The lady in black Victoria Hassell was I think a daughter in law of Capt. Richard Hassell.

My father had fallen in love with my mother after her mother died, but she did not get to see him too often because of his going to sea. When his ship stopped at Providence, he heard from other relatives that my mother was now living there and he went to see her. They decided to marry and did so in January of the year 1902. My brother was born in December 1902. Soon after, my mother decided to go back to Saba for a short time but that never happened, as she stayed much longer. My sister Caroline (Carry) and I were born on Saba which is a place I can never forget, as small as it was.

As this story has been written primarily about my grandfather I deem it to be my duty that it is centered on him. I wish to add that nothing has given me greater pleasure than to try to recall all of the information that comprises the Saga of Captain Richard Hassell.” END.

As I was typing out this article I thought of the hundreds of Saban captains and other men of the sea who would have had similar stories which went unrecorded and that Saba can truly be called “Isle of a thousand sea tales.”

Will Johnson


Two Tales of One Hassell Family

By: Will Johnson

Sometime back Ms.Lynn Costenaro of Sea Saba called me and said that she had two interesting stories for me. They had been sent to her by a Mr. Brian Mark of Mar Vista, California. He must have found her website on the internet and sent the following letter: To whom it concerns. “I was a friend of Richard Hassell (who passed away some years ago) and I heard many of his stories about growing up on Saba. I encouraged him to write about Saba and the stories he knew, and before he passed he was able to write two pieces. I’ve included them here, as I think they may interest Saban Islanders, as well as visitors interested in your island.”


A painting of the schooner ‘The Three Sisters’ by Richard Hassell who wrote this story.

As there were so many Richard Hassell’s on Saba it was not easy to figure out his background. One of the stories which he wrote was about his grandfather Capt. Richard Hassell. I contacted several “old timers”, but it was teacher Frank Hassell who helped me to put the puzzle together. His grandfather was also Richard Hassell married to Ann Rebecca Hassell. They owned the house in Windwardside which belonged to the R.C. nuns and which was torn down to build the Kindergarten there. His aunt Lilly May was the organist in the Anglican Church both in Windwardside and The Bottom. The family bought a home at The Gap which they sold later on to Mr. Ignatius Zagers. He had a sister named Carrie who spent her last years on St.Maarten and who has a surviving daughter Leonora Hassell who is in the “Sweet Repose” at the St. John’s Ranch. I put that name to it as my fond memories go back to the “Sweet Repose” on the Backstreet. These folks are related to Captain Eddie Hassell of the “Swinging Doors “restaurant in the Windwardside.

I will first give the story of Richard Hassell (Dick) the friend of Mr. Brian Mark (and  we also thank Ms. Lynn of Sea Saba) whom we thank for bringing  these stories to our attention so that we can share them with a larger audience to once again show how people from this little island moved around in former times.

He starts his own story with a Foreword.

“The story entitled “The Saga of Captain Richard Hassell”, has been written by me his (Grandson) Richard S. Hassell, mainly because of it’s being unique by nature of it’s contents and is somewhat abrupt in some circumstances, but is nevertheless a true story as told to me by my mother and she in turn was told by her mother, which is really considered to be a part of my family’s history.”

“Since I am the grandson of Captain Richard Hassell I am now compelled to write something about my own life with a view that it will be construed as a story of some interest to anyone who may read it.

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In the past Saban schooners traded regularly with New York carrying salt, sugar and passengers from the Eastern Caribbean and bringing back passengers, lumber, and dry goods from New York to the island. This schooner the ‘Esther Anita’  belonged to Capt. Ben Hassell of Saba.

Like all my forbears I too, was born on Saba even though my brother who was the eldest of three children was born in Providence Rhode Island and lived there until he was two years of age when my mother took him back to Saba to see the family, planning to come back to Providence in the near future, but she never did return and chose to live in Saba where the weather was like summer year round. In the meantime my father kept on going to sea and would come home for a vacation every two years or so, but worked doing painting or other needed repairs on our home if required, and would even put in a vegetable garden if the weather was good.

“According to the records that were located in the archives in Holland, there were 3 families of Hassells that were found to be residing on Saba and who had settled therein 1640 and in 1695 one of them was listed as a Richard Hassell and so the name Richard has come down through the ages from family to family all having the name Richard in each family till my Grandfather who had 4 children, 2 girls and 2 boys, had the notion that he too should name one of his sons Richard who also went to sea, and was a Naval Officer in World War 1, but finally became a landlubber after getting married to a girl in Providence, and my mother in turn named me Richard. In 1695 there were only around 500 people living on Saba and so that is the reason practically everyone had to go to sea in order to earn a livelihood, while all the women were home makers.

I was born on December 13th 1913 on Saba and enjoyed a very happy and peaceful life there until I was 21 years of age. Since there were no cars there everyone had to walk wherever they went because the only mode of transportation were horses which numbered about 6 or so and were owned by the Doctor, the Governor and the others by merchants on the island. We had no movies or telephones or any ice cream stores, but I would not change one day of it. Now that our little island boasts over 100 cars and 2 movie houses, everyone now possesses flush toilets and showers, T.V. sets and Telephones including supermarkets with ice cream available. However I would not change life as it was while growing up there, and I will always cherish the memories of my childhood.

I had a loving kind and gentle mother who was the epitome of a first class lady who never smoked or drank alcoholic beverages of any kind and the word “damn” was not in her vocabulary. My father was also a good man who never cursed or used profane or foul language of any kind but he did like his little schnapps now and again to which my mother found it hard to accept the idea that he did, but he never overdid it.

He came home on vacation December 1920 and upon returning to the United States brought my brother with him and found my brother a job with a manufacturing concern in Brooklyn New York. He then went back to sea, sailing around the East Coast of Canada and the United States. In November 1922 he came down with chronic bronchitis and asthma and his doctor in Providence, Rhode Island suggested that he should retire back to Saba where the tropical weather would at least give him better health there. So he made up his mind that he would do just that and came back to Brooklyn, New York to make sure that my brother was doing O.K. and being satisfied that he was took passage on a steamboat that sailed between New York and the Caribbean, with St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands being the first stop. While on the way he came down with double pneumonia and bronchitis and when the ship reached St. Thomas he had to be placed in the hospital there and passed away a couple of days later. This was a great sorrow and shock for the family but my mother was a very religious person and although suffering great sorrow, she nevertheless accepted my father’s death as God’s will. She was highly concerned about how well we would be able to live and fortunately found a job as a school teacher in one of the schools where we lived and along with dress making jobs we were able to live fairly comfortably.


The entrance to the LAGO oil refinery on Aruba where Richard worked.

I was only 9 years of age when my father passed away and found it hard to cope with, but my mother would sit me down and tell me that this was God’s will and that we had to accept it as such. As time went on I finally reached age 17 when I graduated from the local school that I attended with the equivalent of a High School education in the United States. On many occasions I would talk to my mother about coming to the United States after I graduated, but soon thereafter, the great depression came about and that scuttled everything that my mother and I had planned. As luck would have it I found out that the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey had built an oil refinery on the Dutch island of Aruba and that the possibility existed that I might find a job there. So I talked it over with my mother and she agreed that it was worth a try and so off I went to Aruba and as luck would have it I was hired as an apprentice in the electrical department. However electricity at the time was all Greek to me and it was suggested by the electrician with whom I worked, that I should take a course in electricity from the International Correspondence Schools in the United States, and so I did and after 4 years with on the job training and the course in electricity the company promoted me to a first class electrician. This was the terminology used by the company, but I can assure you that it did not hurt my feelings any, because it was not a fallacy. During my four years tenure I had switched to the electrical shop, where I worked on repairing electrical motors and also rebuilding them. After spending 10 years in Aruba I wanted to come to the United States, and so I did in May 1944 but I had to be released from the oil company because they were considered to be a highly essential industry who was supplying two thirds of all the aviation gas for the allies in England and North Africa and because of that 7 oil tankers were torpedoed by German while waiting to be docked and loaded with aviation gas. It occurred in 1943 and the refinery had been in a state of total blackout, but some of the submarines had surfaced and was shelling the refinery and in doing so were first firing tracer bullets of all colors and some of them were going over my head and hitting the bachelor quarters where I lived.


The LAGO oil refinery as seen from a distance.

Some passed only 10 feet over my head where I was standing watching the whole scenario and as in the rest of the health turmoil of mine the Good Lord was with me. We were shelled twice more after that but luckily I was a mile or so from where the shells hit. After arriving in the United States in May 1944 I went immediately to the draft board in Brooklyn, New York and at that time they were not accepting anyone over age 30 and they suggested that I go to the Naval supply depot and they would employ me as a maintenance electrician and so I was hired immediately and worked there until the war was over. To all intents and purposes the war ended in 1945 and although the naval supply officer wanted to find me a job in the naval shipyard in Brooklyn, I chose to resign and seek a job in private industry which I did by taking a job as an electrician with a marine electrical contractor. Soon after I met a girl who eventually became my wife and we had 3 children, and the first born who was a boy, “yep you guessed it”, I named him Richard and that is where the name Richard ended because eventually my son Richard who did have 4 sons chose not to name either one of them “Richard.” And so that is a history that ended after several hundred years, and is the sign of the modern times we live in, but I accepted it with some degree of reticence. I had 3 children of my own, Richard the eldest, then my daughter Patricia, and finally a son David. Richard lives in a little town called Bennet about 40 miles from Denver, Colorado. My eldest daughter Patricia lives in St. Louis, Missouri, and my youngest son David is working in Northern New Guinea as a business administrator along with his wife and they have no children. Back to my own private life, I got divorced after 17 years of marriage and have lived alone since 1969, but I have some good friends with whom I come in contact fairly often, and apart from that I manage to keep my mind occupied with taking care of myself health wise. I thoroughly enjoyed working for the Marine electrical industry because anything to do with shipping was something that I grew up with and the fact that it was never dull, considering that overtime was always a possibility and very often a fact, when I had to work 7 days a week for as long as 6 months with going 12 hours a day Monday to Friday, 10 hours on Saturday and 8 hours on Sunday, and very often worked 24 hours around the clock and twice that I worked 2 days and 2 nights without stopping except for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. So you can see that working on ships was never dull, and very often in fact humorous because of things occurring that invariably had spontaneous humor in them.

A view of Windwarside nineteen seventies

Village of Windward Side where Richard was born

I lived in Brooklyn and Long Island for close to 20 years, and then I got the bright idea to move to Tampa Florida, because of the cold winters in New York but soon changed my mind because the wage scale was about half of what it was in New York. So back I came to New York and settled down in Wantagh, Long Island and remained there for 10 years when my doctor advised me to move to a warmer climate and so I came to California and have lived there for 35 years in Santa Monica which is large enough in size to equal the 5 square miles of Saba Island, and the only difference between the two is the geographical location and mode of living, but are the two places where I have spent the most of my life, and have enjoyed living in both immensely. Just about 18 years ago I was lucky enough to get an apartment in Santa Monica and when I went there the board of Directors asked me if I would be the entertainment chairman which I accepted and once every month would hold a “dinner dance” for all the seniors in the building who were observing their birthdays for the particular month and we would have special entertainment for them with a little band for dancing, which was enjoyed by all.

Dorothy Palmer

An ordinary day at sea in the life of Sabans in the past. Lest we forget!

After doing that for 10 years with my age creeping up on me I retired and a good thing that I did because of my having serious setbacks with my health. I enjoy living in Santa Monica because of my being in close proximity to the beach and the ocean and will always be happy here, but nothing will EVER, EVER surpass that little island of Saba where I was born and grew up having two of the best loving parents in the world in a very happy and peaceful environment, all of which could persuade me to call it “fantasy island”, and for all that I offer my praise and thanks to our everlasting Almighty God for his love and care of me. END.

If you have enjoyed this just wait till I bring you the story of his grandfather Captain Richard Hassell.

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