The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Attempts to revitalize the Salt Industry




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The Great Salt Pond as it looked in full production.

In a report by Local Councilors Abraham Cannegieter and Richard Robinson Richardson dated December 10th 1839 they take an in depth look at the possibilities being pursued to revitalize the Salt Industry.

In an attempt to find the original copy of the Treaty of Concordia of March 13th 1648 they also provide much information as to the state of the island of St. Martin and the salt industry at the time.


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Salt heaped up on the salt lots in Philipsburg waiting for export.

“The originators of the plan for grants in the salt pond, were alone actuated from the motive, that they beheld with regret, so valuable a resource of wealth entirely unimproved, they saw the colony entirely deteriorating, and that so rapidly, that it bid fair to be very soon entirely ruined. They were well acquainted that the revenue of the colony so far from meeting the expenses, were much behind hand, knowing this, they were necessarily convinced that the Colonial Government could not give any assistance whatever to public improvements. They hoped that the inhabitants of the Island, without distinguishing between Dutch or French, by joining together in a public company, and each one contributing his mite from the small remnant of property left to them from the ravages of misfortune, and untoward events, might derive some benefit from the salt pond in question. For this purpose, and in accordance with the recommendation of the originators of the scheme, His Honor the Commander of the colony, gave public notice, to all, and every inhabitant, that they might join together in a company, and contribute by purchasing shares in the same. Responding to this public notice, several of the inhabitants subscribed, among whom were every class of free subjects, they formed a company, and called themselves the “Saint Martin Salt Company”. Each share was unanimously agreed upon, to be fixed at the value of one hundred guilders but in order to assist the most indigent, as low as one eight of a share was allowed to be taken, and in consequence of money being hard to be procured from every shareholder it was permitted to be paid for, in labour or materials, for the making of the company dam, mill saw. From this plain statement of the case, it must be very evident that no base, or unworthy self-interested motive actuated the measure, besides the part of the salt pond from which concessions were bought, namely the Eastern, and northern Shores, so far from being prejudicial to the center of the salt pond, would be a protection from the streams of fresh water into the pond from the surrounding hills, some of which streams are far from being inconsiderable.


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Construction on the Rolandus Canal to carry the fresh water past the Salt Pond out to the sea.

There is not a doubt but the dams of the several salt companies materially served to bring forward the salt crop in the general pond in the Year 1837. Every one acquainted with the circumstances of the grants in question must allow, that it seemed to have been an interposition of divine providence at the time, to prevent the utter ruin of the colony, for in consequence of the very severe drought with which the colony was visited at that period, the sugar crop had entirely failed, provisions for the feeding of the slaves excessively high in price, the merchants in consequence of not having a prospect for immediate payment, afraid to give credit and added to all other miseries the gloomy consideration that slave property became only nominal, because from the locality of the colony, the slaves can whenever they please, abscond to the neighbouring English Island of Anguilla and be made free. The only means therefore by which they could be retained in this colony, were that they should be made happy, and if possible, contented in their station, and that means should be provided for their support.


Another dyke built to keep out the flood waters from the valley of Cul-de-Sac

In the town of Philipsburg at the time, there was at least one hundred slaves, who by their industry contributed to maintain their owners and themselves, these people found employment in the construction of the Dams, and were paid by the St. Martins Salt Company, a half guilder per day for each labourer. Carpenters also found employment and several planters who had not the means to feed their slaves, also hired them at the St. Martins Salt Company’s work, thus were they prevented from starving, or absconding from the plantations, and quitting the Island. It is true that in consequence of the exertions of the said company, several individuals were stimulated to follow the example, and made application for concessions, which so long as they were confined to that part of the salt pond, already mentioned, and could not be prejudicial to any general interest, were complied with, and granted to them; but as soon as application was made by some individuals for a concession on the southern shore, next to Philipsburg and which might have led to the injury of the inhabitants generally in the Island an intimation was given to His Honor the Commander of the Colony of the circumstances and His Honor with most prudential care gave notice that no grants would be given, which could interfere with the center of the pond, or which might be prejudicial to the reaping of salt therefrom, and which was strictly adhered to.


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The Salt Pond as it would look when the salt was “ripe’ for harvest.

Before that the undersigned endeavor to answer the several questions submitted for their consideration, they deem it necessary to give a short description of the salt pond in question. Which will be found they think, essential to make their explanations better understood. In the Dutch part of this Island, the town of Philipsburg has on its Northern side this salt pond which from the ad measurement of the late Doctor Samuel Fahlberg, is three miles in circumference, but this must be well understood, to be when the pond is filled with water, because when it has dried out sufficiently for the making of salt, at least it is abridged of one fifth of its expanse. This pond it is scarcely to be doubted was formerly a part of the sea of Great Bay, because the narrow Isthmus of sand on which the town of Philipsburg is located, is constantly progressing on the sea, and a bar which is opposite the town, about half a mile distance perceptibly becomes shallower, more particularly so after a southern gale, which blows directly into this bay. The decrease of water has been very great since the earth-quake of 1755 which was experienced very severely in this Island, and produced a very extraordinary phenomenon. The Sea left the shores of Great Bay, and went to a considerable distance beyond the bar aforementioned. Its movement was so rapid abovementioned, the movement was so rapid and instantaneous that fishes were left on the sand; its return was equal in velocity, and for some few moments threatened the destruction of the town. The undersigned received this information from persons of the highest respectability and who were eye witnesses of the fact.



Hard work carrying the salt and up that primitive ladder to heap it up.

From the Western part of the town of Philipsburg, the Isthmus continues, but much narrower, and in a northern direction joins the main land. It is northern strip of san which separates the salt pond from a fresh water pond, or which might with more proprietary be called a small river, which takes its rise in the mountains of Cul de Sac and running through that division of the island, is ordinarily a trifling rivulet, and while pent up in that narrow valley does not expand much, when it reaches the open space at the southern bounds of Cul de Sac it diverges, taking an easterly course and having an open space expands itself, and seeks its way to the ocean. This space was fully wide, and sufficient formerly for the purpose in every season of the Year, and required to be so after very heavy falls of rain, when the rivulet in Cul de Sac overflows the entire surface of the bottom of that valley, and runs down with tremendous rapidity, carrying everything before it. On the shores of the aforementioned, and described narrow strip of sand were growing large trees, whose roots entwined together, supported the sand bank, and the river unobstructed, discharged itself at all times into the Sea, at the western extremity of the town of Philipsburg, and that without the possibility of doing any damage to the salt pond, from which it was effectually separated by nature. We do not therefore find any complaint of its having done so in former days of the colony; but in the year 1778 the Colonia Government had a Stone Bridge built across the Fresh Pond, to connect the main land of the southern shore, to the sand bank opposite.


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The bridge which served more as a dam and would periodically flood the Salt Pond with too much fresh water.

Instead of having this bridge constructed with one, or at most two wide arches sufficient to allow the water to flow at all times unimpeded to the Sea, it would not appear, that the projectors of the bridge were sufficiently aware of the power of the stream as they only constructed the bridge with three small openings in it, each of them only seven feet wide and four feet high. The consequence of which was, that as soon as the water in a tremendous fall of rain found itself unable to have vent through the small openings of the bridge, and became on a level with the top of the bridge, which was several feet higher than the sand bank on the northern extremity, it necessarily recoiled and flowed over into the salt pond. The Colonial Government of that day must have soon discovered the error of the arches of the bridge, and in order as they conceived, to prevent the possibility of the water ever flowing into the salt pond, they had a wall built all along the sand bank. This work was done by contract, and instead of the wall being higher raised than the bridge, with a deep and strong foundation to it, and sufficiently wide to resist the immense force of water, with which it would at times have to contend, it was only built on the surface of the sand, and only of the trifling width, at the top of it, of two feet, and much lower at the northern extremity than the bridge. In order likewise to build this wall the trees were cut down, and thus the narrow sandbank rendered too weak to sustain the pressure of water against it, so that even when there was not sufficient water in the fresh pond to make it overflow in the salt pond, as it could not run into the sea, it filtered through the coarse sand bank and thus found its way into the salt pond. The consequence of such ill-advised measures were that in the Year 1792 when was experienced in this Island, a very severe hurricane accompanied by an immense fall of rain, the rivulets from Cul de Sac came down so rapidly, and with such greater velocity than it could not find vent, through the small arches of the bridge, that it recoiled on the sand bank, and broke away the northern extremity of it, sweeping away the wall with it, forced itself into the salt pond, and so filled it with fresh water. At the time, it endangered the safety of the Isthmus on which the town of Philipsburg stands, and to prevent it from forcing its way through, a small canal was obliged to be made at the eastern part of the town, which gave a vent for the time to the salt pond into the Sea.


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The long wall dyke which was built below the level of the bridge and proved to be of no use during the periodic floods.

From this year 1792, no attention whatever was given to repair the damage done to the sand bank or dyke as it is called; nevertheless in the year 1797 such was the duration of the drought, that the cul de sac rivulet became dry, and the salt pond that year gave an immense crop of salt, and the continued drought allowed the reaping of it for one Year, after which such a vast quantity of rain fell, that the salt pond was once more filled with rain water and the breach in the dyke so deepened as to have eight feet water in it. In this condition it remained until the Year 1805, when the Governor and Council of the Dutch part entered into a contract with Messieurs Gerald du Clouz, and Edward Scott, to erect a dyke, to separate effectually the salt pond from the fresh one, and agreed to pay them for the same, two thousand two hundred dollars, payable from the revenues of the first salt crop. Those gentlemen complied with their engagement, but as the source of mischief remained unaltered by the bridge across the fresh pond being higher than the Dyke, the consequence was, that in the Year 1806 in the month of September, when this island experienced a fall of rain of three days continuance, that the dyke was carried away. It had been constructed with floodgates, but such was the consternation at the time, that they were never thought of until the destruction of the Dyke. Moral of the story


Up until the early nineteen sixties locals could wade out into the Salt Pond and get enough salt for home use.

for present day St. Martin: “The More things change the more they remain the same.”


When the salt in the pans were ripe for harvest.




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The Court House and Scale House in front from around 1890.

There have been several times in the history of relations between French St. Martin and Dutch Sint Maarten that conflicts arose over the treaty between the two sides of the island. Even in 1963 the French government questioned the agreement of March 23rd, 1648 in relation to the stewardship of the Juliana Airport. Based on the treaty the French wanted joint control over the airport. Before that time there were several conflicts concerning the right to harvest salt. Based on the agreement of 1648 the French claimed the right to also harvest salt.

I have a lengthy correspondence from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from December 20th, 1972. At the time the Kingdom Committee was in place to prepare for the independence of the Dutch islands known as the Netherlands Antilles as well as Suriname. I was a Member of that committee. The islands were able to get away from independence at the time as Aruba wanted a separate status and those discussions dragged on until January 1st 1986. Suriname however did get its independence in November of 1975.

The original document of the treaty f which the history is well documented, was never found in The Netherlands or in the islands. All references to the agreement of Concordia go back to J.B. du Tetre who referred to it in his “Histoire generale de l’establisment des colonies francaises dans les Antilles de l’Amerique” (Paris 1668). In conflict situations between 1830 and 1840 over the use of the salt pond, in 1941 when the French occupied the Dutch part of the island, and in the years 1963 and following no official appeal was ever made to the agreement of 1648 even though it was referred to.


Senator Claude Wathey and others seeking for that elusive togetherness of the islands.

Already in 1839, no original copy could be found on St. Maarten. Cannegieter and Richardson, members of the Colonial Council in their report of December 10th, 1839 stated: “ That we have not been able to discover any other important document relative to the salt pond in this colony, nor the treaty of 1648, is not however the least astonishing, because in the year 1810 when the British captured this island , in consequence of no capitulation having been made with them, their military force marched into the town of Philipsburg, and occupied the Court House in this town as a barrack. In the Secretary’s Office, in that building was deposited all the archives of the colony, and the day after their occupation, it was discovered that the said Secretary’s Office had been broken open, the papers and books taken from the Desks and Shelves and thrown on the floor, a great many of the papers torn in pieces, and rendered useless, and the whole cast in utter confusion. At the time it was supposed, that the infamous act was perpetrated by some of the military, who had expected to have found money, and being disappointed, had thus wantonly destroyed the Books and Papers. The perpetrator or perpetrators were never found out, and in fact the British Authorities did not give themselves much concern about the matter.

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The Great Salt Pond a sometimes bone of contention between Dutch and French

The Secretary Adrianus Beckers was occupied for a considerable time, in assorting such of the papers which were not entirely torn up, and by his assiduity, and attention they were brought into some order, very many however were rendered entirely useless and it is more than probable, that if the treaty of 1648 had ever been among the archives, that it was then destroyed.”


On April 12th, 1838 at a reception of Lt. Governor D.J. van Romondt, at which were present the French Director of the Interior at Guadeloupe and the French Commander of St. Martin, Captain Forget. (I know the French pronunciation is different, but I could not help thinking when writing this article that perhaps Mr. Forget, forgot where he had put the old document.)

On that occasion Mr. Diederick Johannes van Romondt requested if he could locate and send him a copy of the agreement of 1648.

On April 14th 1838 a missive was received by Governor D.J. van Romondt from Guadeloupe containing the requested document. This document was used in 1839 by King William II as the basis for a new treaty with France.

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When the Great Salt Pond was in full production employing hundreds.

On October 29th 1964 a copy of this same document was submitted by the French State Secretary to the Dutch Government.

On December 10th 1839 a lengthy report was submitted to His Honour the Commander of the Netherlands part of the Island of Saint Martin from which we will now quote.

“ We the undersigned Abraham Cannegieter and Richard Robinson Richardson, Burghers and Inhabitants of the said part of Saint Martin having received Your Honour’s invitation “to elucidate or resolve the questions propounded by His Excellency the Governor General, in the best manner possible according to our knowledge, and to add thereto such other particulars, as we may deem necessary on the subject”, undertake the task, with that diffidence which arises from the consciousness of our feeble abilities to do full justice to the theme; as however we wish to comply with the request of our much esteemed Chief, and feel persuaded that he will make every allowance for the circumscribed means from which we can derive information, we do not hesitate to enter on the elucidation.

After going into the history of the first colonization of St. Martin and the stories relating to the treat of 1648 they continue with their report as follows:

“The undersigned have diligently searched for among the archives of this colony, the agreement before mentioned, but have not been able to find it. We found a treaty entered into, on the 14th of July 1734 between Charles Bochart, Seigneur de Champigny, Governor General of Martinique and its dependencies among which the French part of St. Martin was included, on the one part, and Nicholas Salomons, of St. Martin having full powers from John Heyliger, Governor General of the Island of St. Eustatius, St. Martin and Saba, and Jacobus Barry, Vice Governor of the Dutch part of St. Martin, by which treaty, the strictest friendship and good understanding was secured between the two colonies, either in war or peace, but nothing is mentioned therein about the salt pond.

The earliest document which we found among the archives of this colony relative to the salt pond in the Dutch part of Saint Martin, is a petition, dated 28 August 1778, signed by 162 of the principal inhabitants of the Dutch part of Saint Martin, to the West India Company in Holland, against an offer which it seems had been made by a Mr. Henricus Godet of this Island, to purchase, or lease the said salt pond from the said West India Company. In this petition, we discovered a clause that states “the, inhabitants of the French part of this island, have equal rights to pick salt as the Dutch, as has been always customary , and if they were to be deprived of this right, that no doubt that then the Dutch inhabitants would be deprived of fishing, hunting, trading, and all other privileges which they enjoyed in the French part, in the most friendly manner.

Image (348)We also found among the archives an act of harmony, and good understanding between Johannes Salomons Gibbes, Commander of the Dutch, and Chevalier de Durat, Commander of the French part of this island, dated the 13th of March 1785 whereby they ratified all former agreements between the two colonies, and a convention agreed upon between William Hendrik Rink, Commander of the Dutch part of this island and Laruyere agent of the French Republic, dated 12th Germinal, Year 3 which answers to the 5th April 1795.

The undersigned in bringing this circumstance to the knowledge of His Excellency I.C. Baud, are convinced that he will no longer be astonished that this document has vanished away from the colonial archives and we feel it to be our duty to vindicate the upright conduct, and honest intentions of our fellow citizens, who were members of the Court of Policy of this colony, in the year 1831, when petitions were made for grants in the salt pond, and which were conceded to some of the inhabitants as their grants specify. Every measure was then adopted to prevent the shadow of suspicion from being cast on the intention. The originators of the plan for grants in the salt pond, were alone actuated from the motive, that they beheld with regret, so valuable a source of wealth entirely unimproved, they saw the colony entirely deteriorating, and that so rapidly, that it bid fair to be very soon entirely ruined, they were well acquainted that the revenues of the colony so far from meeting the expenses the expenses were much behind hand, knowing this, they were necessarily convinced that the colonial Government could not give any assistance whatever to public improvements . They hoped that the inhabitants of the island, without distinguishing between Dutch or French, by joining together in a public company, and each one contributing his mite from the small remnant of property left to them from the ravages of misfortune, and untoward events, might derive some benefit from the salt pond in question.”

From this report another interesting article can be written as the report on the lost treaty is much too long for a single article.

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

In 1941 the French briefly took control of the Dutch side on behalf of the Vichy Government.

There is something I would like to mention from this report and this involves the Year 1825. “A remarkable occurrence took place, during the time of the pond making salt in this year. In the evening an uncommon stench was experienced in the town of Philipsburg, which was attributed to the mephitic air from the Pond, and on the morning after, all the houses in the town, which had been painted white, had become perfectly black, and the silver and plate in the town of the same colour. Such a circumstance had not been noticed in former salt crops and it was also remarkable, that so powerful a stench did not produce any disease in Philipsburg.”

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Photo from 1948 showing an unchanged scene of the quiet life on St. Martin going back centuries.

Worthwhile mentioning also is the fact that Richard Robinson Richardson was a lawyer also known as “Dicky Dick”. and that his house on Backstreet is still standing. It was later bought by Johannes van Romondt, then by Zilah Richardson to whose family if I am not mistaken the house still belongs.

And a number of people claim descent from Mr. Richardson including Mark Williams who can tell you more on his lineage and connection to Mr. Richardson.

The report covers interesting information of the attempts to revitalize the salt industry and which continues on through various other reports. They all considered the salt pond the most important resource for possible development and improvement of the economy of Sint Martin as salt was a much-needed commodity in the fishing industry in Nova Scotia and other places. And yes, the original copy of the treaty has still not been found.



Commuting in the Eastern Caribbean


By: Will Johnson



The tall grave on the right or the one in the corner are candidates for the grave  of Sarah Catherine Mardenborough who died on December 19th, 1903 at the age of 79 and was born on Saba on February 19th, 1824.

The surname Mardenborough does not exist on Saba anymore. There are a number of people though with names like Hassell, Peterson, Johnson, Simmons etc. Who have Mardenborough ancestors.

I am busy reading the book by Julianne Maher “The Survival of People and Languages”. Schooners, goats, and cassava in St. Barthelemy, French West Indies.

The same could be said of Saba in former times. On page 31 we read the following: “ Vaucresson, French Intendant, writes in 1713 that, once the French no longer have land on St. Christopher, St. Barthelemy and St. Martin are too poor and too distant from Martinique to justify French protection or support. St. Barth and St. Martin are thus left to their own devices. Surrounded by English islands and at 150 miles distance from the larger French islands, they were particularly vulnerable to attack.

More turbulent times lie ahead. In 1742, Sieur Bernier of St. Barth, descendant of the Bernier families we met in 1681 sailing the islands to pick up livestock for Martinique, reports to Champigny, the Governor of Martinique, that there is talk on St. Martin of impending war with the English. Champigny sends him back to gather more information (Champigny 1742). Bernier was right. Annoyed by attacks from French corsairs harboring in St. Barth, the English invade St. Barth and St. Martin in 1744. Champigny reports that St. Martin was quickly taken by the English due to the imprudence of the French commandant there but that St. Barth resisted longer and even repelled the invaders several times before ceding after their leader was killed. The Bristish report (Memorial of 1762) that Christopher Mardenborough, with a privateer from St. Kitts, dispersed all the French inhabitants on St. Martin and took their slaves, leaving the French half of St. Martin uninhabited. The total evacuation of St. Martin in 1744 will explain later its differences from St. Barth.”


Plaque in the back of the church in Windward Side Peter Hassell and his mother-in-law honoured for their role in getting the Roman Catholic Church a  building to worship in.

In the St. Peter’s church yard on St. Kitts there are several Mardenborough’s buried. Two children with the name of Giles Mardenborough. Another is that of Christopher “of this island was born June 1st 1734 and died September 17th, 1806. This stone is erected to His Memory by his grateful children. He was a son of the Christopher Mardenborough who in 1744 invaded St. Martin and St. Barth’s from the island of St. Kitts and who did much damage to those two islands and their people.

The name Giles who was probably the father of Christopher continues on in the person of Giles Mardenborough who was married to Esther Peterson and both of them were still alive and on Saba in the year 1882. He was at one time the owner of the large piece of land known as ‘Giles Quarter’,’

The name Mardenborough existed on Saba much longer than I was aware of when I started this article and looking up information of the name on Saba. In the population list of 1699 and 1705 there are a John Mardenborough and a Poinwells Mardenborough. In 1715 the same names are there with a Paul added to the list. In a petition after the severe hurricane of August 31st 1772 there is a Peter and a Thomas Mardenborough, and in 1823 there is a Peter Sr. And a Peter Jr, as well as a Thomas Mardenborough.

The most well-known of the Mardenborough’s was Sarah Catherine. She died on December 19th, 1903 at her home in the Windward Side at the age of 79. She was born on February 19th, 1824. Her parents were Christopher Mardenborough and Mary Hassell. In the Roman Catholic church records Sarah is considered as the founder of the church on Saba.


Captain Abraham Mardenborough’s schooner the Virginia. Lost in a hurricane in Nevis.

“Father Johannes F. A. Kistemaker from St. Eustatius visited Saba in 1843 and appointed Miss Sarah Mardenborough  to give some religious instruction. Sarah thus became in fact founder of this church on Saba and the Ecclesiastical Chronicle also refers to her as “Apostala Sabae”.  She was baptized by Father Kistemaker on June 22nd, 1850. She was part of the large Hassell family in the Windward Side who converted from being Anglicans. Her mother Mary was a sister of Peter Hassell who donated the property in Windward Side where the church was built in 1860.

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Elliot Elmore Mardenborough and his wife Blanche Peterson. After his death in New York she came back to Saba and lived  in the Windward Side with her sister Edith. They had no children.

For twenty-nine years she gave religious instruction, and, after 1854 when a resident priest came, she served as assistant to each succeeding priest until 1873. She taught the youth, took care of the churches, and nursed he sick. As a result of the last-mentioned occupation she contracted leprosy. Even then she had the children gather around her bed to prepare them for first Holy Communion. Each year on Maundy Thursday she had herself taken to the church on a stretcher where she spent the night and remained until the ceremonies of Good Friday. When this remarkable woman died in 1903, she was buried in the cemetery in front of the church in the right corner to the street known as the “Founder’s Corner. One of the fancy graves is hers and the other one is that of Peter Hassell. He by the way was the husband of my great aunt Esther Lowell Hassell born Johnson. Someone recently suggested to widen that section of the cemetery and remove those graves so that larger trucks can pass. I think that people should buy smaller vehicles instead of wanting everything sacred to the people of Saba removed.


The Dominican Nuns who came to Saba in 1904 and served Saba until 1984.

In 1873 her work was carried on by Gertrude Johnson-Hassell who was a trained teacher. She taught in a privately-owned house. She is also the one credited with introducing the “Spanish Work” or “Saba Lace” to the women of the island. A life saver for many families in former times.

There was a Captain Abram Thomas Mardenborough who died on St. Maarten on January 17th, 1951. He was a widower of Ina Maria Johnson and he later married Mary Ann Wathey “Miss Ohney” sister of Malcolm “Mally” Wathey. They lived in a lovely mansion opposite the Oranje School on the Front Street. This fell victim to progress as it is called and replaced with an ugly cement building. Captain Abe was the owner and captain of the mail schooner the “Virginia”. It was built on Curacao by the S.E.L. Maduro ship builders. The schooner served the Dutch Windward Islands and also St. Kitts and St. Thomas. It was later purchased by the government for the same purpose. My cousin Carl Lester Johnson who lived as a boy on St. Maarten in the nineteen thirties would tell me stories of many of the old timers he knew over there. He said that when Captain Abe retired, he would always be dressed in a suit in the full heat of Philipsburg. He had a pocket watch on a long gold chain. The boys would get a lot of pleasure from asking him the time of the day. This was followed by a long and careful procedure of Captain Abe taking his good time to bring out the watch from its hiding place and then in a firm voice gave the time of the day. With the same slow procedure, the watch would be carefully deposited to its hiding place in an inner pocket of the jacket Mr. Abe would be wearing while taking his stroll down the Front street. He had a couple of children by his first wife. One was named Ulric and another one was Elliot Elmore born in 1901 and was married to Blanche Peterson who lived on the “Fort” in later years with her sister Edith.

And with the advent of Face Book one of my friends on Facebook is a descendant of Captain Abe and lives in the United States.


My Face Book friend Anne Marie Mardenborough great granddaughter of Capt. Abram Mardenborough  and his wife Ina Marie Johnson. Her grandfather was Ulric Mardenboorough who was born on Saba and moved to New York in his twenties with his brother Elliott. 

The Saba Mardenborough’s had some connection with Christopher Mardenborough of St. Kitts fame as the name continued on in the Mardenborough family on Saba.

There are a number of other family names which have disappeared from Saba but still remembered by families who descended from the originals.

I will end this with the statement:” I have studied beyond my own needs, and for my own entertainment. Knowing the world beyond my own small domain. Transmitting what I have learned to others who have not yet ventured beyond their own environment.”





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I am not absolutely certain. I found this one years ago in a collection of one of the former priests. It could also be his mother but I believe it is that of Sarah Catherine Mardenborough credited as Founder of the Roman Catholic Church on Saba.

After I wrote this article Dr. Ryan Espersen  shared additional information with me which he had found. I  decided that I would add the information here for those in future who would be interested in this remarkable family. A sloop named the ‘Elizabeth’ had been intercepted by the British and On October 31st, 1745 Benjamin King took a testimony from the crew of the sloop.

” Depositions of James Johnson mate of the sloop ‘Elizabeth’ and John Mardenburgh mate of the said sloop to interrogatory to them exhibited in to repartorio to provide the same sloop lawful prize…

To the first interrogatory James Johnson said that he was born in British seas and had been living at the Dutch island of Statia for the past give years. ( my great-great-great grandfather was a James Simmons married to Annie Martin (pronounced Martin whose father was a businessman on St. Eustatius.)

To the second interrogatory [John Mardenburgh] saith, that the said sloop was taken there the twenty first day of October, was in the island of St. Christopher’s by Capt. Phillpot of his Majesty’s ship ‘Woolish’ and was first carried to Old Road whence he remained for two days and was afterward brought to the Harbour of St. John in the island of Antigua, saith that one gun was fired after the said sloop from his Majesty’s said ship the ‘Woolish’, and had last sailed from Grand Terre, [Guadeloupe] an island belonging to the French King, but had no clearance from there and was bound to St. Eustatius and sailed under Dutch colours.

The third interrogatory the saith examinant saith that he was the Master of the sloop when she was taken and the owner thereof was Joseph Blake.

To the fourth interrogatory the said examinant saith that the other examinant  John Mardenburgh   and four negro slaves [to wit] Francois, Laurence, Robin, and William, were all mariners on the said sloop when taken saith that Francois were the slaves of the said Joseph Blake, the owner of the said sloop, that William belonged to Mr. Lindesay. a Dutchman and that the other belonged to Giles Mardenburgh a creole of Saba, a Dutch island, saith that the deponent nor the others, have not any property or wares in the said sloop or for lading.

To the fifth interrogatory saith that when the said sloop was taken she was bound to St. Eustatius, but sailed last from Grand Terre, saith that the deponent , saith that the voyages began from St. Eustatius and was thence bound to Grand Terre, and was to have to have endeth at Eustatia saith that the deponent carried a dry good cargo consiting of chequed linen and Pinabriggs from Eustatia to Grand Terre and was loaded with barrels of sugars molasses and cotton.

The sixth interrogatory saith that JosephBlake is the sole owner of the said vessel and cargo that he and his family have lived many years in Sint Eustatia and are subjects of the States of Holland saith that to his knowledge he does not know where the saith Joseph Blake was born, but believe him to be either an Englishman or Irishman.

To the seventh interrogatory saith that he the examinant hath sustained no particular loss by the capture of the saith sloop.

To the eight interrogatory saith that he delivered all the papers he had on board ( which were a Dutch pas and two / that he threw no papers overboard before or after he was taken.

To the ninth interrogatory saith the deponent that he had not any bills of lading, [inventory], clearance, co? or custom house papers for the goods on board befroe the same said sloop was taken. Signed James Johnson.

The other deponent John Mardenburgh saith that he was born at Saba a Dutch Island that he hath heard what countryman Joseph Blake (in the deposition name) is



By: Will Johnson


The Honorable Max Nicholson behind the controls with his good friend Clinton Cranston here visiting with him at The Voice of Saba.

When I first ran for office in 1969 for Senator of the Windward Islands, I could not get permission to use the radio station. The only one in these islands. was PJD-2 on St. Maarten.

After the elections I decided to apply for a license , for my own radio station. No money of course. Back then my salary was one hundred and ten dollars a month. After room and board payments I was left with around ten dollars a month. But I lived well and applied for the license.

When Minister Leo Chance became Minister I remember he and I walking on Front Street going to Risdon’s snack bar. He said to me: I have your petition. But I know you don’t have a cent to your name. I also have a petition from Max Nicholson, dated the same day as yours applying for a license. And I know he has the money. I was opposition to Max at the time, but I admitted to Mr. Chance that I was hoping someone from St. Croix would finance the station for me. But I agreed that it would be better to have such a station in local hands.

And so, the “Voice of Saba’ went on the air informally, with one thousand watts of power on Tuesday September 28th, 1971.

I did have my own newspaper though and the Editorial of Sunday October 24th, 1971, vol. 39 the Editorial reads as follows:



Mike Nicholson son of Max and Germaine here carrying on with the Voice of Saba after all these years.I do not have to ask but I know it must be a big financial struggle for the family as the market is limited for advertising on such a small island.

Earlier this month P.J.F.1, “The Voice of Saba” went on the air. Although the Editor of this paper had been involved in the discussions and plans towards this end from the very beginning, it came as a pleasant surprise to hear the good response from the neighbouring islands on the fact that little Saba could now boast its own broadcasting station. More so our Sabans abroad and those who in one way or the other have binding ties with Saba will be more than pleased with and feel proud of Saba’s first broadcasting station.

John Howard Payne (1791-1852) in a lyric from the Opera “The Maid of Milan” in the first and last stanzas said: Mid pleasures and places though we may roam, there’s no place like home; A charm from the sky seems to hallow us there, which seek through the world, is ne’er met with elsewhere;

Home, Home, sweet, sweet home. There’s no place like home! There’s no place like home! To thee I’ll return, overburdened with care. The heart’s dearest solace will smile on me there; No more from that cottage again will I roam; Be it ever so humble there’s no place like home. Home! Home! Sweet, sweet Home! There’s no place like Home.

We do not know if Payne’s lyric inspired Council Member Max Nicholson to return to his place of birth from Aruba in 1962, We do know that he has done well and contributed a rich portion of his life, to the people of Saba which many of us should respect and admire him for, Especially when we consider how very few responsible people with education are willing to throw themselves in public life to the whims and demands of the people.



Saba is very proud of its own radio station.

The crowning success of his years spent on Saba may not have been political, but “The Voice of Saba” can certainly be considered as his greatest contribution to his little island.

During his term as Commissioner of Saba, the “Saba Herald” has often been critical of his Administration (1963-1971), without becoming personal. To show Max in his true light, only the writer of this article can do him Justice. When the time came that the people wanted a two-party system, I called upon Max and told him: “Max the people want an opposition and they expect me to provide that opposition. Since it is so, I will fight to win and I expect you to do the same”. During the entire political campaign, we remained friends, and consider ourselves friends and have frank discussions pertaining to Saba, its people and its future.

When the station first went on the air, we sent him the following telegram: “I join the people of Saba in congratulating you with the Voice of Saba. I sincerely hope that it will serve as an instrument to assist in the further development of Saba and its people.”


1509187_820991641323231_8359496519459907580_nOctober 24th 1971. PJ-F1, Radio Saba on the air. On Tuesday September 28th, the voice of Saba, was heard for the first time, throughout the neighboring islands. This was made possible when Radio Station PJ-F1, owned and operated by Mr. Max Nicholson, former deputy of Saba, went on the air.

The voice of Saba has an output of 1000 watts, and a frequency of 14.43 kilocycles in the medium wave band. This radio station will carry a variety of programs, commercial, educational, request programs of both popular and religious songs, and we are sure that Mr. Nicholson will gladly carry public service announcements when necessary. The Saba Herald wishes Mr. Nicholson success with his new undertaking, and we are sure it will be an asset to Saba. All radio dials are already tuned to 210 meters.


Three of Saba’s Commissioners who also acted as Lt. Governor’s. From right John Godfrey Woods, Maximiliaan W. Nicholson and Will Johnson.

In the December 1971 edition of the ‘Saba Herald” we read the following letter to the Editor.

Dear. Mr. Editor.

Kindly insert the following in your newspaper. Once again Saba made another Historical step forward by this by the inauguration of a broadcasting station situated in the lovely town of The Bottom. The opening took place on Thursday night at seven o’clock, directed by the founder Max Nicholson, and was attended by several hundred people among whom were the Lieutenant Governor of the Netherland Windward Islands, the Minister of Transportation of the Netherlands Antilles and the Prime Minister of St. Kitts. The following poem was therefore presented to the Voice of Saba Pj-F1.

“As the clock struck seven Thursday night

Dignitaries from North and East

Paid respect on this historical night

During prayers by our Reverend priest.


By the mike stood founder Max

To welcome one and all

Without a chance to relax

Here and foreign lands to call.


When the National Anthem began to play

The crowd in silence stood

Thinking of this happy day

For the Voice of Saba was on its way.


It is for us who can promote

The dignity of our land

Which is our greatest hope

Therefore, lets march forward hand in hand.

Harry L. Johnson


Saba Day December 1985 the day on which our new flag was presented to the world. I gave a check from Chester Wathey to the organization of my choice and since Max and his wife had just established to Coralita Foundation for the handicapped I thought they should get a head start.

On November 25th, 1971 Minister Leo Chance made a speech at another ceremony. This time the granting of the license to operate the station.

Honourable Lt. Governor, Members of Parliament, Island Council Members of Saba, Mr. Administrator,

Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is with great pleasure and satisfaction that I comply today with the request Mr. Max Nicholson has made to me to open this radio broadcasting station. You may wonder what are the reasons for so much pleasure and satisfaction. These are two-fold; in the first place the fact that someone from this island has taken the initiative to construct, install and run this radio station on Saba. Too often we must experience that we have to ask for outside help to accomplish our plans. To many times also we have to see that the financial burden of new plans is placed entirely on the government. Mr. Nicholson, however, has proved that private enterprise can also accomplish something.

In the second place as a Saban and in my capacity of Minister of Communitions, I am happy to inaugurate to-day on this small island where I was born, the “Voice of Saba”. From this day many listeners, will through this station, get acquainted with the name of our island. Their attention will thereby be directed on Saba and they may sometime pay a visit to this lovely island of ours.


This one is from when Max Nicholson was Commissioner and he is pictured here with Police Chief Mr. Bakker and telephone operator Mr. Hilton Whitfield.

Ladies and gentlemen, a radio station has a far more responsible task than many of you may believe. A radio station has the duty among other things to help educate its listeners with its balanced programs. Herein, Mr. Nicholson, lies a great responsibility for the “Voice of Saba.”

Mr. Nicholson, as I said before today, you have assumed a great responsibility, the Government of the Netherlands Antilles has given you the tools by granting you by Government Decree of 10th September, 1970, no. 13 the necessary license to operate the radio broadcasting station.

Now it is up to you to do the job, and you will no doubt succeed.

Knowing your zeal, I am sure that you will devote your energy to make the ‘Voice of Saba” one of the best in the Netherlands Antilles,

May I avail myself of this opportunity to congratulate you on behalf of the Government of the Netherlands Antilles and myself on this occasion. You may rest assured that you can count on my cooperation at all times. Finally, I want to wish you, Mr. Nicholson and the “Voice of Saba” the best of success for the future.

With these words I declare the “Voice of Saba” open and “on the air.”

In another item in the same edition of the paper we read the following.

“On November 25th, 1971 the “Voice of Saba’ officially opened. It was opened by His Excellency Minister Chance who granted the necessary permission to Mr. Nicholson to operate the radio station. Speakers were, Minister Chance, Premier Llewlyn Bradshaw from the islands of St. Kitts, Nevis. The Lt. Governor R.O. van Delden, Mr. Austin Johnson, Mr. Floyd Every, Island Council Member Jocelyn Arndell, Deputy Clifton Berkel from St. Eustatius, Mr. Leslie Cannegieter Chief of the Governments Radio Stations in the Windward Islands, Mr. Carl Anslyn and Island Council Member Mr. Matthew Levenstone.

Premier Bradshaw in his speech said that the last time he visited Saba was for the opening of the airport (1963) and that if his work would allow him to take a vacation, Saba would be the place.

Mr. Van Delden said that on his many voyages past Saba the first thing you would hear people say was ‘look Saba’, but now they will have to add ‘hear Saba.’

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Saba Day, December 7th, 1975. Even though Max and I were politically opposition to each other, I did not have to ask.Max was there with his broadcasting equipment to transmit all of the activities live on this historic day.

“We at the ‘Saba Herald’ are convinced that the “Voice of Saba” is and will continue to be an asset to Saba. We know at the beginning it is not expected that everything will be perfect. The people of these islands have been looking forward to a radio-station where they can have nice songs played for their friends and relatives. The “Voice of Saba” has provided this opportunity, so let everybody support it in whatever way they can, as it takes money to operate a radio-station. To Mr. Nicholson, Mr. Simmons and to all who assisted in bringing PJF1 to Saba, along with the ones who tune in to PJF1 “Long May the “Voice of Saba” be on the Air.

In the Saba Herald of that same month we have the following news item. On Thursday December 2nd from 8pm on Mr. Carlyle Granger and his boys (The Occasional’s)  were the guests of a large majority of the population of the neighboring islands via the “Voice of Saba”. Mr. Granger and his talking banjo was just socking it away. The surrounding islands were surprised to hear that such a banjo player was in this area and on the island of Saba.

Mr. Granger and his boys will be back on the “Voice of Saba” on Christmas Day bringing a rendition of Christmas songs.”



The radio station has its own Facebook site and I ‘borrowed’ some photo’s from them without asking. I wanted this article to be a surprise for them. Sometimes when you are serving the public you feel that you have been forgotten.

Last night December 20th 2018 I was driving to the airport to deliver a car. I had the radio-station on full blast and they were playing nice Papiamento songs and it brought back a flood of memories to me. Austin who used to love his Dutch songs liked to tune in to Max when he was at the controls as Max also liked the old Dutch songs and had a whole collection of them. I had been working on this article for some time already but as usual got stuck with other duties. I was reminded to finish this article which I had started some time back. Max’ favorite song was “I did it my way”. He has since departed the earthly scene but lovingly remembered by his family and friends for his many contributions to Saba, the greatest of which is “The Voice of Saba” and in ending I would like to repeat that which I wrote in the December 1971 issue of the “Saba Herald” that my continued wish is that long may “The Voice of Saba” be on the air. And I congratulate and at the same time thank the Nicholson family for carrying on the radio station for so many years.



By; Will Johnson


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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



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

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

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


Ernest Hassell and Delmar Barrington Johnson.jpeg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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






Captain Leo Chance Pier

A real harbour at last!

By; Will Johnson



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

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

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

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

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



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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


Leslie Johnson - Jul 1964

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

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



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

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

April 5th, 1971.

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


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

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


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



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

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

May 5th, 1971.


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

June 5th 1971.

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


Arrival of Man-o-War with Princess.jpeg

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

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

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

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

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

July 5th, 1971.

Fort Bay, Saba 1915..jpeg

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

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

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

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

The Mentor 1927


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

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


Men of the sea.


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

Ralph Hassell “Ouw Cutty”.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Children with Ralph Hassell

Ralph Here with some of his off-spring.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Garnet Hughes, George Hassell and Ralph Hasssell

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

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

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

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

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

Ralph Hassell Nov. 1980

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





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