The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson



Sint Maarten’s number-one seafarer retires to his porch to watch the Caribbean fill up with ships.



the entrance to Captain Hodge’s Guesthouse was located on the Front Street just up the road from the Pasangrahan Hotel

I had lived with Captain Austin Hodge and his family at the Guesthouse for a good ten years. Starting with 1958 on my way to and from school on Curacao and then in 1960 on a permanent basis when I worked for the Government in the old Court House in a variety of positions.

Life was slow back then. I can recall sitting on the front porch of the guesthouse in the early evening. If a car passed after7pm the Captain would wonder where so and so was going that ungodly hour of the night. He knew all the car numbers out of his head.

There was much room for oral history and where he had lived. From his native Grand Case to the United States, Guadeloupe, the Dominican Republic, and back to Sint Maarten. His wife Mrs. Bertha Hodge-Lawrence was also from Grand Case. I would get a ride with them from time to time to do grocery shopping by Miss Bertha’s brother Jimmy Lawrence in Grand Case and got to know many of the families from that once quiet village as well.  I was curious and people would confide in me. Things which they would not tell a close relative they would lay the burden on me of keeping secrets.

But regular stuff, oral history interested me a great deal. I read a lot and would question the old timers how things were ‘back in the day’ as we say nowadays.



Government schooner the Blue Peter which ran the mail and passenger service from 1947 to 1962.

I was looking for a Holland Herald magazine in which they pictured the Captain with his dark brown skin and Norwegian blue eyes. His ancestors were partly from Anguilla and I believe that he told me more than once that his grandmother was Irish and he had inherited the blue eyes from her. Neville Lake will be able to correct me on that as I believe that he told me that the Captain was a great uncle of his.

I have not found the magazine I was looking for. However, I found an old “HOLIDAY” MAGAZINE from September/October 1972 Vol. 52 No. 2. with a long article by Michael Strauss. Captain Hodge’s life and the recent history of the Dutch Windward Islands is important. I will illustrate the story with photos of what is discussed in the article to make it more interesting to his family, friends and readers of The Herald.

“Once the most seafaring man of the Dutch Windward islands, Captain Austin Hodge is taking it surprisingly easy these days. In Philipsburg, Sint Maarten he’s content to sit on the front porch of his new seven-room concrete home with his wife Bertha and gaze at the masts of the large cruise ships in the harbour, to scan lush green heights of towering Fort William – near where Peter Stuyvesant lost that famous leg in a fight with the Spanish – and to look after his young coconut trees, the crotons, roses, and leafy bougainvillea that surround his house.

“It is a small wonder. Now 71, Captain Hodge has spent a full life. He has sailed the nearby waters of the Caribbean and the Atlantic countless times as a seagoing mailman – and has skippered a ferryboat. He has operated one of the most popular guesthouses this side of the British West Indies, even putting in stints as a cook, waiter, and “chief bottle washer’ at such American outposts as New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey.


Coming up to anchor at For Bay, Saba

“What did I like doing best?”  the tawny, leather-skinned blue-eyed Captain Hodge answered me in his soft, island patois. “I like it all. Early in life I decided I never would work at anything I didn’t enjoy. As a boy, born and raised on the French side of this island – in the ocean-front village of Grand Case – I walked the beaches searching for shells and turtle eggs. As a teenager I played cricket with bats often carved from a piece of fence board, built and sailed my own little sloop, and operated my own seagoing version of “Western Union” service. And, when I became a man, I went to the United States to see what I was missing. I’ve been back on the island these past 40 years, and I’m glad I’m here.”

Those who know Captain Hodge best, as well as those who meet him for the first time, wonder that this sturdy, tall, youthful –looking, muscular man has seen fit to retire. There are some in this capital city of Dutch Sint Maarten who insist that the Captain can still hoist a 100-pound cask as easily as a baby lifts a toy balloon, and that he can sail through a heavy storm to such neighboring islands as Saba and St. Eustatius and the English isle of Anguilla with his bright blue eyes closed, controlling a tiller with no more than a fingertip.


Headed in the direction of Saba

But the Captain’s reputation is not based on idle chatter. Through the years he’s weathered tempestuous squalls that have made his craft –mostly 25-to 50-foot sailboats – whirl like a spinning top. He has repeatedly inched into harbors at night during tropical storms with only a kerosene lamp as a landmark and in channels only slightly deeper than the draft of his boat. And he’s turned in feats of strength at sea – in emergencies – such as tossing a heavy anchor overboard that four of his seamen couldn’t move. Though he no longer sails regularly, the sisters of St. Joseph’s College still refer to him as “Our Captain” because of the many times he has carried nuns safely to Saba and Statia.

“Mention of the word hotel invariably seems to make the Captain look toward Front Street, the city’s main thoroughfare that borders the Caribbean for almost a mile. It was here, 17 years ago, that Captain Hodge found himself ‘backed” into the guesthouse business. It proved his most profitable venture.

“it all started just before the arrival of Queen Juliana,” Hodge reminisced. “Overnight housing was going to be scarce because of the Queen’s entourage. Everyone, it seems, was making the rounds in search for a place to stay.



The motor vessel the ‘Trixie’.

“I was approached by a man I still remember only as Dr. Humes. He said he was writing a book in his house on the other side of the Great Salt Pond but that he had turned the residence over to the Queen’s party. Now he needed a room for himself. Did I know anyone?”

“Since two of my three boys were away at school in Curacao, I offered the stranger my sons’ room for $5. — per day, though without meals. I wasn’t sure I wanted strangers in my house but I felt I should cooperate. After all a Queen might arrive only once in a life-time.

“I don’t know whether Dr. Humes ever finished his book,” continued the Captain . “I don’t even know what happened to Dr. Humes. But word got around that we were taking in guests and, before you could say “all hands-on deck” a few times, we were receiving letters from outside the island.

Soon Captain Hodge was adding rooms to his home and boasting of certain built in advantages for tourists. The dwelling faced Front Street, with all the stores nearby. And the aquamarine and a beach of sparkling white sand was at the back.

“Because there were not too many good eating places on the island for tourists in those early days,” I was told, “our guests soon began asking for meals. “So, it was into the kitchen for Bertha and onto the beach for me- to set nets and lobster pots. The sea in back of our ‘hotel’ was our fish market, and from my endeavors there we were able to feed our guests snappers, yellow tails, and crayfish fresh from the Caribbean.”


The Dominican Nuns here waiting to go on their vacation to St. Maarten

‘Although those were profitable days, in retrospect Captain Hodge regards them as being an anticlimactic part of his career. For while it was true, he took his guests on sailing trips, upon occasion, he felt that the hotel business too often took him away from his first love – the sea.


Advertisement in St. Maarten events 1969.

The son of a shipwright (his father was born in 1875 on the neighboring English island of Anguilla), the Captain trod his first deck shortly after he learned to walk. The elder Hodge, anxious for companionship, frequently took the toddler to sea with him on short trips.

“When I was 14,” Captain Hodge recalled, “an importer with an office in Marigot, the capital of the French side of St. Martin, came into my father’s place. He asked where he could find someone to sail across “the channel” to Anguilla to deliver a letter. In those days there was no other fast way – no radio telephone.

“Of course, I know someone,’ my father replied. He pointed to me and said, ‘There’s the best sailor on this part of the island, standing right in front of you.”

The trip was one of the first cross-channel voyages for the young skipper – for pay. Soon he was carrying letters and passengers in both directions. The journey usually was uneventful. But squalls capable of producing up to 8- and 10-foot waves occasionally came roaring in. Hodge, Sr., it seems, never worried. He knew that his son thrived on challenges on shipboard and could handle them.


Captain Austin Hodge here checking on the seas ahead.

When Captain Hodge was 18, he was presented with a sleek, 18-foot sailing sloop by his father. Since it was launched on the day the World War I Armistice was signed- and the Allies had won – the craft was suitably named The Won. A short hitch in the French army with service in Guadeloupe soon followed. Subsequently, the mustered-out soldier headed for the United States to satisfy his curiosity to see the outside world. And because he was interested in the preparation of food, he worked mostly in restaurants. Among those he remembers the old Palace Restaurant, next to the Fort George Hotel, on Manhattan’s East Side.


The old  or town wharf was named in honor of Captain Austin Hodge

“I like the States,” Captain Hodge said, “but I missed the sea and when I returned to St. Maarten for just a visit in 1930, I stayed here. I helped operate the local radio station but always was ready to trim a sail and often did.

Then when a chance arose for me to captain the 43-foot government motorboat the “Trixie”, I grabbed it.”

At last, the Captain was back on the sea on a full-time basis. And his journeys were not difficult because the Trixie, unlike most of his earlier sloops, had power-motors. He sailed regularly among the islands of Sint Maarten, Saba, St. Eustatius, and the English island of St. Kitts – for ‘the service of passengers and mails.”

In 1946, when the Trixie was “laid up” with engine trouble, he was told to substitute the government’s sailing schooner ‘Aurora’. Captain Hodge remembers with a smile one of his first trips on the ‘Aurora’, which had no auxiliary engine. “I had been told by Governor Paap of the islands to make the regular trip without delay. The mail service had been held up too many days due to the trouble with the Trixie. As God is my Judge, I started out in oil-calm weather in which there wasn’t a breath of wind. For three long days I was just a swimming distance from our shores. With orders as they were, I had to wait out the wind for there was no turning back. It took me eight days to complete the trip among the islands – a voyage I usually made in one day with the Trixie.”


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St. Kitts was also serviced by the ;Blue Peter’.

In contrast to that extended calm, Captain Hodge recalled a journey in 1947 when he set sail on the two-master schooner, the Blue Peter, a new government boat that boasted a small motor. He arrived at St. Kitts on schedule, and his four-man crew, as usual went ashore on the tender.

A storm blew up at about 11 pm, and the crew could not return because of the rough weather. The Blue Peter went aground during the big blow and the little motor conked out. Hodge and the youngster on board, nevertheless managed to get the boat afloat. But since the storm prevented them from returning to St. Kitts, they rode out the heavy winds all night and limped into St. Eustatius. There the Captain picked up another crew, returned to St. Kitts, got his regular men back aboard and continued his rounds of the islands as though the entire voyage had been routine.”

Captain Hodge also owned a sloop called the ‘Grace=a=Dieux’ which he built down street.

Space would not allow to tell more of the story. The Captain lived on to over ninety years of age. I was asked to do the eulogies for both him and his wife ‘Miss Bertha’ when they passed on. In later years the small wharf in Philipsburg was named in his honour. I don’t remember now if he was still alive when this took place, but I am sure that he


Nice photo of Captain Austin Hodge from 1947 on the Blue Peter.

would have been pleased with that.



Survival of a people

St. Barth’s

By Will Johnson


Gustavia before development in the 1950’s. Photo Father Bruno Boradori.




I have written about the island of St. Barth’s in a different context some years ago. This was about personal experiences going there as a boy and witnessing the hardship and the struggle for survival on this now prosperous island.

I have been busy reading two interesting histories of St. Barth’s and the struggle for survival of its people. One book by Julianne Maher is: “The survival of People and languages. “Schooners, Goats and Cassava in St. Barthelemy, French West Indies.

In the preface is mentioned: “This is a human story, a story of people and languages and their unlikely survival. In 1648 on St. Barthelemy a small French contingent settled on arid, rocky terrain at the behest of the Governor of French St. Christopher (now St. Kitts). Six years later they were slaughtered by a group of passing Carib (Kalinago) .

In 1659, a new collection of French settlers, also from St. Kitts, had the courage to return to St. Barth’s and they stayed. These were the people who cleared the land, dug the wells, and farmed the resistant soil.



Traditional fishing.

They withstood pirates and attacks by the English, recovered from devasting hurricanes and yellow fever, were sold to Sweden, and later redeemed. Virtually abandoned by the mother country, they were forced several times to leave the island, but they kept coming back. They were surrounded by tropical island paradises of sugar, coffee, bananas and rum; they lived on goats, yams and fish. As poor whites, they were looked down upon by blacks and wealthy whites alike. The economic situation of the island became so bleak that the majority of men sought work on other islands for months at a time. Periods of starvation haunted the population. But they survived. And now their home is a is a celebrity sanctuary, the most glamorous and luxurious vacation spot in the Caribbean. Each year, the island attracts thousands of tourists to its French ambiance, international glamour and spectacular beaches, but few tourists are aware of its complex linguistic environment and conflicted history. The residing mystery lies in the multiplicity of languages spoken there. Why would these survivors maintain their linguistic boundaries for 250 years?

Scan0336.jpg The book also has some very interesting interviews with the old timers and we will quote from one in the introduction of the book. “A dry little tropical island of ten square miles with rocky and dramatic contours that jolt all your senses. Since the peaks are never more than 1000 feet and the rainfall intermittent (20-40) inches annually), there are neither springs nor rivers. Every house has its cistern. A vast shallow continental shelf surrounds St. Barth’s and the neighboring islands; the fish are abundant (Vernoux et al. 1988).

“We got bait in the roadstead at Gustavia, herring or sardines, or at certain beaches, Anse Colombier for example, sometimes you had to go as far as Fourchu to get bait. We didn’t use motors, we had sails. Once we got bait, we split up – we went off to where we thought the best fishing was. We followed the moon, especially the third day after the full moon, those are the best days. At the new moon, the fish don’t bite. Sometimes we had traps, especially if we had herring. But it’s not every day that the herring come in, sardines either. Sometimes we left the traps for three to five days. Other times we deep-sea fished for grouper. If we had some herring, they’re the best, we would get some snappers. No, we didn’t use a drag line – well we would troll, if you like, after we finished fishing while we were returning to the port. Sometimes we got other fish that way – mackerel, dolphin (dorade), tuna, flying fish. The best month for trolling is in May for dorade. Once, we were me, P. and E., we three; it was night. We took twenty-eight sharks while fishing for snapper, some big ones too. But we had to clean them, gut them, remove the heads, before selling them. It wasn’t often we got sharks. (Male in his 90’s, Colombier, Translated from Patios.)



The houses were small and people worked hard and made do with what the land and the sea could provide.

“Another interviewee had the following to tell: ‘When I was young, there was no trade. The only thing was to go sailing or stay here and do-little carpentry jobs. There were no future really here. Most people leave to work. They exported pineapples but they didn’t have enough land to live by that stuff. Bananas need too much water. All had vegetables; we always eat from the ground here. Hats were exported, brooms, floor mats, schooners full. We catch a lot of fish. All night the women and the men would be corning (salting) the fish. In two days, they had it pack up in cases and shipped to Guadeloupe. Everybody had a share even if you didn’t pull (the seine). Sometimes they were embarrassed to have so many fish, they buried it. Oh, the fish we had – so much!”

Everything you read about St. Barth;s from those days was about the poverty.

Here is an article from Harry A. Franck, from 1920.

‘The little Pebble’



One of the R.C. priests overlooking this beautiful part of the island.

St. Barthelemy [is]colloquially called ‘St. Bart’s’. The inhabitants are chiefly white, and among them one finds the physiognomy, traditions, and customs of their Norman ancestors. Yet though they speak French, it is only badly, the prevailing language being English, or at least the caricature of that tongue which many decades of isolation have developed…

…. of volcanic formation, the island suffers for the lack of trees and water, being forced to hoard its rainfall in large cisterns….. Gustavia, the capital, was once rich and prosperous, being a depot of French and British corsairs, who carried on trade with the Spanish colonies. There are still immense cellars built to hold the booty and merchandise, and zinc and lead mines that lie unexploited for lack of capital. To-day the inhabitants live for the most part in abject poverty, getting most of their sustenance from the neighboring islands and emigration to Guadeloupe, where they are noted for their excellency as servants, despite their unfamiliarity with the native ‘creole’.

I believe Harry must have only visited Gustavia and the book by Julian Maher gives a correct version of the language of the entire island.

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The Ledee lands where the Mayor Remi de Haenen landed the first plane.

As for the pirates, one of our Saba boys Hiram Beaks who coined the phrase “dead men tell no tales’ is listed in the old harbour records of St. Barth’s in one of the documents I have from Gosta Simmons who did extensive research on the old families which he was related to. Also, Pierre Tingbrand wrote a history of St. Barth’s in 1995, a copy of which I have in my book collection but cannot find it at the moment.

A French reporter Georges Bourdin who lived on St. Barth’s and died in 1977 a year before his book was published in French and English and very convenient to read did a lot of research on the history of the island. Several pages are dedicated to the ceremonies of the handing over of the island by Sweden after more than 75 years of ownership. A blow by blow description of the speeches and the raising of the French flag.



Tranquil scene of Gustavia with Capt. T.C. Barnes’ boatyard on the left.

Jean Deveau (1972) did extensive research on the origin of the people of the island and concluded that they were from other parts of France and not only from Normandy. Some of the original names like Bernier, Greaux, Aubin are still present and prominent on the island today. For this article I will just give information on Commander Greaux ancestor of many prominent St. Bart’s people among them my friend of more than fifty years the well-known founder of Windward Islands Airways, George Greaux.

“Jacques Greaux appears in St. Christopher’s in 1671 and 1672 with his wife Marguerite Bardin, owning a piece of land 200 feet wide and 500 feet long. It was probably his son Jacques who was part of the contingent of thirty men sent by de Poincy to take possession of St. Barth’s in 1659. Ancestor of all the St. Barth’s Greaux, this Jacques appears on the 1681 Rolle des Habitants with his wife, four sons and a daughter, a cow, a calf but no slaves. With the multiplicity of spellings (Gruau, Gruault, Greau, Rualt, Reau, Gerault etc.) and no further archival references, tracing Jacques’ origins is difficult. However, Deveau finds the name to be rare in Normandy but very frequent still on the coast of the Vendee in western France between La Rochelle and Nantes; therefore, he locates the Greaux origins there. In 1724, Jacques Greaux is listed as the island’s Commander and by 1730 there are four married Greaux sons and four married Greaux daughters with a total of nineteen children. Thus, both the Berniers and the Greaux settled, thrived and became prominent citizens in St. Barth from 1681 onward.”


The new Gustavia where the billionaires gather to bring in the New Year.

St. Barth’s also had slaves. Not on any large scale as the land was unsuitable for large plantations. In 1688 there were 348 whites and 68 enslaved Africans. In 1775 there were 419 whites and 335 slaves. The latter group for the most part lived in Gustavia. During the Swedish period many former merchants from St. Eustatius and also from Saba settled in Gustavia. The large trade brought with it the use of more slaves who worked unloading and loading cargo and stocking up warehouses. After slavery was abolished in 1848 by the French St. Barth’s was once again on the poor list.  Many of the enslaved Africans had been sold off to slave dealers from the United States. Also, since the slaves had no land or former big estates where they could settle, they moved on to larger French islands as well as to the United States. By the time I went to St. Barth’s on a sloop in 1960 there were only a handful of the descendants of slaves. Among whom was a Mr. Romney who had been fathered by a great uncle of mine who was a Captain. I never met him and only heard about this story when he had already passed on.

Bruyn - Image (1946)During the first half of the last century Dutch Dominican priests took care of the Roman Catholic community on St. Barth’s.  The most famous of them was Father de Bruyn who had been appointed priest of Gustavia in October 1918. He was 29 years old. He had a solid education, was active and talented, and he had what we would call today “class’. He had good connections which seemed to point to a higher position but he didn’t complain – there were foot soldiers in the church as well as in the army.

Father de Bruyn was born September 12th, 1889 in Nijmegen, into a family that was rather highly placed on the social ladder, by birth. He was ordained on April 14, 1916. Dutch by birth, he adopted St. Barth’s as his second homeland and was very devoted to it.  He built churches, schools and even a hospital and introduced and expanded the hat

Bruyn - Image (1941)

The hospital which Father de Bruyn played a big role in getting it approved and built.

weaving industry. He deserves a separate history of his own.

By the nineteen nineties St. Barth’s had acquired such a name for itself with the international jet set including Kings and Queens, that a small cottage in the country will set you back between six and eight million dollars. A friend from the island once told me that it seemed like every billionaire on earth wanted to tell his friends “I have a property on St. Barth’s you know.”

In it all the St. Barth’s people have remained in charge and are still working hard. They have resisted the temptation to allow the billionaire class to erect large buildings or resorts. You can only build as high as a coconut tree.


A hard working people.

And now on February 15, 2019 an article was published in de Volkskrant, by a certain Kees Broere who visited the island without knowing or caring how the people there survived. His only conclusions and for sensationalism were that the blacks had been deported to France and practically accused the French of having set up an apartheid system there and referred to St. Barth’s as a white blight in the Caribbean. He ignored the fact that Cuba, Puerto Rico and even Santo Domingo have millions of white people. We too on Saba have had bitter experiences with this sort of ‘journalism’ accusing us of inbreeding, whereas our survival has been by the old Captains and seamen bringing in their wives from Barbados and so on in former times and in recent years from all over the world.  Carry on St. Barth’s and don’t get hot headed by these sorts of people who envy the rest of the world. God bless you.





As is most  places the women were the hardest workers.Photo by Bruno Boradori late 1940’s.



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Philipsburg from the 1940’s.

Excursions IN ST. MAARTEN

The Journal by engineer M.D. Teenstra who visited St. Martin, St. Eustatius and Saba in 1829 is much appreciated by those who do research into, and appreciate the rich history of our islands. Teenstra came to survey primarily the salt ponds and do a report on them. Much of the Dutch history of these islands was done by historians living in the 20th century and some of them left much to be desired. They took over reports without question and speculated on aspects of history on their own. My biggest objection to some of their speculations is that they ignored oral history handed down to us by our ancestors who had lived here for centuries. Being illiterate in most cases they were dependent on the tales from their grandmother’s. Many of these tales I was able to verify in documentation which I found reference to in later years. Some of these like the first settlements on Saba I have been having trouble with as I know and can defend. In the case of Middle Island and Palmetto Point I know that they were settled first and by mostly Irishmen who were allowed by the Spanish Admiral Don Toledo to leave St. Kitts and move on in 1629. One of my ancestors James Horton Sr. Came from St. Eustatius shortly after 1780 and settled in Palmetto Point. When doing research on those two villages I was told by my people that the village was an important village at that time and was an old village.


The channel created by the 1819 hurricane which separated Simpson’s  Bay from The Corner and the village could only be reached by boat from 1819 to 1934.

When M.D. Teenstra visited Saba he met my great- great – grandfather Richard Johnson who was Commander at the time. Teenstra was one of the few historians who actually visited the islands and wrote about what he saw and the people he met. Other historians would pass by Saba especially, because of the then treacherous landings, and would speculate and quote from other’s who had done likewise. And so, I like Teenstra and feel like I am travelling along with him through the islands. He was describing damage done by the great hurricane of 1819. In this article he describes one of his excursions. He returned in 1834 to do more research.

“In order to acquaint the reader more in detail with things worth knowing, as revealed by the island to be described, the following is my brief summary, by way of excerpt from my travel-journal, of some excursions made during 1829.

On Thursday 29th of January of said year I rode up the western mountain range in the company of Lieutenant Du Cloux, garrison commander, in order to inspect fortress ‘Willem’ and with the simultaneous view of surveying some heights and distances from that point, complying also with the wish of the Commander.

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The Great Bay Beach as it looked before “progress”.

The very fortress is looking singularly decrepit; in between the battery-walls, tumbled down, merely a wooden shack is rising which would replace the blockhouse built in stone, blown down in 1819.

“ The building with an adjacent stone cistern, catching the water from a large paved stretch of the mountain-slope, would serve the purpose of barracks, , messroom for non-commissioned-officers, and arsenal, whilst further to the northern section you could find a gun-powder vault entrenched in the terrain, though a dank one out of the common. The batteries having been ravaged terribly during the 1819 hurricane as well, iron guns corroded heavily, its touch holes one little finger wide, and seven only of the fourteen guns available here have been mounted, since the former guns upon its moldered carriages have collapsed beneath its load. The rest would be adequate, nonetheless, for a crew consisting of 1 sergeant, 1 corporal and 8 soldiers.


A view of Philipsburg in the distance in the 1920’s. 

“Dilapidated though the fortress may be, it would command a striking fine view of the surrounding mountains and valleys. Eastward you may look into a badly built Philipsburg, and to the left thereof large and small saltpans. To the right Great Bay and its roadstead where some schooners, sloops and boats of neighboring islands would be anchored at the time. Northward you will see the charming location of sugar cane fields and estates of romantic ‘Cul de Sac valley, furthermore the churchyard and some plantations of Little Bay at the foot of the mountain. To the West you would overlook a so-called ‘Flat Point’ , a low point sticking out with a large salt pan, whilst to the south you would detect the aperture of Great Bay battery Fort Amsterdam , Pointe Blanche etc. With an enchanting vista in the distance of the surrounding cliffs and islands.

“We are descending the steep mountain-road again, riding to the battery ‘New Amsterdam’ (Belair which is not in existence anymore) with eight guns, only one of which had been mounted: there are no houses or dwellings, the area is uninhabited. We found a few foundations of barracks and other buildings fallen down, a casemate filled up with debris and dirty water tanks, all of it grown over with bramble bush and cactus spines and thus causing little merriment or interest, when thus we hastened on.”


One of the former sugar cane plantations in the Valley of Cul-de-Sac

My six-year-old grandson[Jeremy] when asked where he lived, he said at Belair Fort. A little classmate thought he must have done something wrong to be living in a Fort and asked him why he was living there. Since there is the place where Governor Peter Stuyvesant lost his leg, I am still in the process of doing research on the event and that area of the island and my readers will be hearing from me on that one in a future article. For now, though we are travelling in the footsteps of Teenstra on his visit in 1829.

“I pass discreetly a visit to the kind gentleman Abraham Cannegieter, to the Mary’s Fancy estate in Cul de Sac and the estate “The Retreat” situated higher up, belonging to ex-Governor Mr. W.H. Rink, since such visits would not be of any interest to the reader. (* A pity he did not as I for one would be interested to read about such a visit).

“Still my only comment will be that “The Retreat” combined with “The Farm” estate are the most important plantations of the Dutch part at present, a tract of 333 acres with 152 slaves, to which must be added the cultivation of the opposite estate “The Retty’s” the buildings of which have been devastated during the 1819 hurricane.

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Salt harvesting in full swing.

In order not to miss anything of importance in St. Maarten I have originated a scheme of the sights I wanted going over. By travelling a considerable part of the world from East to West I decided now to follow the same direction, thus starting with the Eastern part of the island.”

And very interesting trips he made and described in his Journal. But for now, I want to share his take on the “Language, Manners and Customs”.

“In this Dutch colony there are only just four Dutchmen by birth, actually aged persons. The usage is English to such an extent that women, children, let alone domestic servants do not understand neither speak the Dutch language.

Consequently, all Creoles, in St. Eustatius and here, are anti-Dutch and English minded absolutely, following manners and customs of the latter nation.

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Undeveloped Pointe Blanche as it looked in the 1940’s.

Life is “English fashion” indeed, the patriotic manners, and customs of the fatherland being in ill repute with St. Maarten’s residents, just like Dutch products (though paying a tribute to butter, cheese and ham). It is not for me to decide whether such a feeling is founded or not though I wish to advance the English practice of sending their very best provisions and dry goods to the colonies. I fancy for good reason this is not always a custom in Holland, since occasionally goods, unsaleable in the fatherland, are considered fit enough for shipping to the colonies.

People used to eat twice a day, breakfast in the morning between 9 and 10 hours, feasting as a rule on shrimps, turtle and fried fish, and lunching between 4 and 5 o’clock when there is no mistaking the food to be served. It is fish, invariably and always, fish cooked, stewed, braised, fried etc., in a word prepared either way though all boiling down to one and the same, namely fish. Fish is the main course of every meal and any change of dish is just a variation of the theme. Toward dinner-time I often used to start humming a tune of my own after a popular Dutch song at the time.

Image (767)Grogg (rum with water) is a favorite evening drink and the natives often indulge in drinking to excess, when the Creole, getting tipsy, is a dangerous and quarrelsome person.

As for being civilized I had better quote a passage from the report made by Mr. Cantzlaar in 1825, still holding good up till now, and stating: “If I understand the word civilization correctly, as for me an ever growing education, I must find fault with the present generation of St. Maarten conceiving too great a fallacy of themselves for us to try and use means of correction successfully even though it were different.”

“For all his self-conceit and lack of common sense the Creole, though penniless, has been gifted on the whole with a fair amount of self-love. Woe be to the man omitting to write the word ‘Esquire’ after the name on the address of a private letter, he might be blamed for an unforgiveable offense! Still I admit readily that some persons make an exception of the rule, what with being generous and hospitable to accommodate the stranger in the island as comfortable as possible. A sound practice it is to go to rest early and rise early again in the morning.

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Before “PROGRESS” this is what Philipsburg and the Great Salt Pond looked like.

Manners, like in most colonies elsewhere, are not very commendable indeed though, so much for education, they would not utter an impudent word hurting feelings of the fair sex in their presence. Yet it would be desirable for the men to nurse and even temper if only for the sake of better manners.

Most of the women, like I said, are beauties whilst music and dancing are a passion with them. Not seldom indeed you would meet a slender waist, blue eyes and pretty brown hair, the women have a ready flow of words for all that, however marring their sharp accent at times. Our women are no doubt the prettiest of all our West Indian possessions, of all our colonies so to speak.


Beautiful view of Philipsburg on arrival by schooner in the harbour in 1955.

Abbot Raynal says that pregnant women would retire to nearby Anguilla to give birth their children in an English territory. Some women born in the island confided to me, however, she would rather marry a poor fisherman, a true Dutchman, than a Prince from England, feeling confident Dutch men would be holding women in far higher esteem than English men.

On his visit to St. Eustatius Teeenstra had this to say: ‘Although St. Eustatius,belongs to The Netherlands, the spirit there is completely ant-Dutch. Very truthfully Mr. C. de Jong tells us* The lifestyle of the inhabitants, in morals, manners, clothing, and household furnishings, is so completely English, that on the Dutch island St. Eustatius, only the flag is absent, to make it completely English.

The old fatherlands morals here are held in contempt. Honesty is a highly exceptional commodity, and even the best among the inhabitants, lose her, by a too far reaching lust for gain. It is so bad that in 1829 no Court Session could be held against public piracy, because the Judges themselves were guilty of taking part in this practice.”

Wel. Well. Not such a nice picture. One must remember that in 1829 the majority of the population were enslaved Africans with no voice in these matters. So, what he writes about are the “big shots “giving their opinion on relations with the so-called fatherland. And so, I will end here with stating that almost two hundred years later one can safely state “the more things change the more they remain the same.”



Lt. Governor J.J. Beaujon and Rosa Conner admiring a scene which M.D. Teenstra equally admired in 1829.



Pulling in the net on the beach.


I have had the privilege to have met a number of famous writers of the history of the West Indies. I remember sitting in the lobby of the Pegasus Hotel in 1976 in Kingston, Jamaica with the famous Trinidadian writer C.L.R. James. He was being honoured at the Carifesta event for his work as a writer. I took the opportunity to ask him a word of advice on a book I was planning to write. He was delighted to do so. I was honoured to be in his company and followed through on his advice.

Years later I was sitting in my living room doing some writing and I heard someone at the back door asking:” Is this the home of Will Johnson?” It turned out to be the historian Dr. Lennox Honeychurch of Dominica. He was on a cruise ship lecturing on the history of the West Indies. In later years I visited with him on Dominica and we stayed in touch.


Buying fish from the Simpsons Bay fishermen

Brian Dyde has been at my home a couple of times and we discussed his extensive studies of the history of the Leeward Islands. He has written a number of nice books on this part of the world. Brian Dyde has personal experience of the majority of the islands. He lived in Antigua, his wife’s homeland, from 1979 to 1987 and then in Montserrat until forced to leave because of volcanic activity in 1995. When not visiting the Caribbean, he and his wife took up residence in Wales.

The reason for this article is because of one of his books “Where the Sea had an ending.” The book is an original and very entertaining view of the Caribbean, written by a man who has known and loved the West Indies for nearly fifty years. In it, Brian Dyde draws on the words of numerous previous visitors to the region to prompt and illustrate his own reflections on many aspects of Caribbean life and history. The beguiling nature of the West Indies is seen though his eyes as well as those of dozens of other writers – including travelers, historians, soldiers, explorers and naturalists – who lived or visited here in the past.


Fish sold by the ‘strap’ on the beach in Philipsburg

Based on this book I thought to write some articles by famous people who had visited these islands in the past and what they thought about us.

“ The Island of St. Martin….was originally settled by Englishmen, and tho’ belonging, at the commencement of the French Revolution, to the French and Dutch jointly the inhabitants were, and still continue to be nearly all English …The Dutch and French are extremely few, and of these that have attained to any consideration, it has been by intermarriage and the facilities of the Revolution.

An Island thus inhabited by Englishmen could never have been expected to escape the horrors of the Revolution and it is scarcely necessary to add that it was almost ruined. The Dutch Government yielding the Island entirely to the Fraternity of French Republicans in 1795, more than one third of the sugar estates were immediately sequestered as belonging to Englishmen, everything British, or that wore the semblance of being such, was in direct contravention of the most sacred engagements swept away at this melancholy period…


Life in the ‘country’ in the nineteen fifties.

A portion of the Report on the Population, Culture, Revenue, etc., of the late French part of the island, 1815.

“What an afternoon it was when we sighted the most northern group of the lovely Caribees! I shall never forget it. Reader, I shall not try (it would be utterly useless, so far beyond the power of words) to describe the glory of it. Even now, long afterward, to think of it awakens memories of sensuous delight; it seems as if, eons ago, I had lived with the lotus-eaters – had visited the land where it is always afternoon.

To the south, in striking contrast to the low, uninteresting, level plain of Anguilla, St. Martin towers above the sea in picturesque grandeur. We passed within five miles of the leeward coast, upon which the sunlight of afternoon shone, glorifying the western shore. The mountains and savannas presented an exquisite landscape of rare colour, flecked by shadows of drifting clouds, the sombre tints of forests and darkened valley all showing like an embroidered pattern of oriental carpeting.


Cattle being readied for export to Guadeloupe in Marigot.

Fertile meadows and plantations spread over the hill-sides between the sea-shore and the dense forests on the mountain-steeps; here and there villages, isolated dwellings, and hamlets of white-walled farm buildings, roofed with red tiles, appeared among groves of palms and fruit-bearing trees. On the sea, between the steamer’s wake and rugged cliffs overhanging a long margin of breakers, the sails of fishing-boats glistened in the sunlight as the steady northeast trade-wind wafted them far out from shore. We were loath to hasten past so lovely a picture, but comforted ourselves with the thought that on our return homeward, we might perhaps feast our eyes with one more view of St. Martin, our first love.”

From the book ‘Down the Islands’ by William Agnew Paton. 1890.



Donkey race with a Buick belonging to Joseph Alphonse O’Connor parked in front of his residence on the Front Street in Philipsburg

The following comments are from Sir Reginald St –Johnston, 1936.Private tutor to the last Emperor of China.

“….. the captain thought the weather so bad that it might be advisable to put into the Dutch island of St. Martin’s for the night….

The Dutch Lieutenant-Governor [Johan Diederick Meiners] very kindly invited us ashore to dine… and we were most hospitably entertained at one of the longest dinners I have ever faced. Course after course came on, and out of politeness I did not like to refuse, but I felt almost too heavy to rise from the table at the end of it.



Donkey races on the Front Street seemed to be the entertainment of the day.

But all the same we spent a very pleasant evening afterwards with his family circle and some other friends whom he had asked in, singing choruses of all the latest English songs. The Dutch in these islands are nearly all old settled families, and from close association and intermarriage with neighboring English islands their customary language has now become English…

I should have mentioned that earlier in the afternoon when we first went ashore the Governor had as a preliminary produced glass of a rather sweet champagne which he insisted on our drinking with him, after which he had taken us around in his car to see the sights of Philippsville [sic], the capital. This did not take long, and then he said: ‘Shall we now call upon the Governor of French St. Martin’s? ‘….

I was delighted at the opportunity, and after he had spoken on the telephone to his fellow potentate, we started across the island for the short run of four or five miles to Marigot, the French capital. About halfway, on a lonely part of the road, was a Dutch sentry, complete with a coloured striped sentry box, and a little further on a French one, similarly housed. It looked rather like a scene in a toy theater, especially as there was a comical looking palm tree between them, with a donkey and a pig, each tethered to a rope, contentedly lying under it. The contrast in the two halves of this small island was at the time very marked, as the Dutch capital and roads were very clean and well kept, whereas the corresponding French part was not; but in fairness I must say that I have heard there had been a vast improvement in French St. Martin’s in the last year or two.



A view of Colombier valley and Rambaud from Wallawa Hill.

Arrived at Marigot we duly paid our call on Msr Fleming, who despite his English name was a Frenchman and [who] produced glasses of a rather sweet champagne! This was somewhat embarrassing, as it was only half an hour since the previous round, but we nobly did our duty.

On being taken round Marigot the impression we gained was of a small sleepy French town, with grass growing among the stone pavements and very few people moving about. In one shady street we saw a whole row of game-cocks, fighting birds, each tied well away from each other by one leg. I was subsequently told that that the inhabitants made their living principally by breeding these for export to the Spanish Islands; and also, by a ‘rake-off” on liquor brought to this duty-free port and then re-exported to an ‘unknown destination.’ At that time prohibition reigned in the USA and also in the American colonies of St. Thomas and Porto Rico. “


A view of Marigot from the late 1950’s.

…Another visitor had this to say. She had been on St. Martin in 1942 during the war and fell in love with the island. I will only go to her visit which took place around 1975.

“Money, not war, destroyed the old life of the islands. War only fed in the first big dose of money. I am thankful that I knew the sleepy lovely little islands all through the Caribbean before the dollars poured over them. At first the wintering wealthy arrived, then the reduced-rate summer tourists. Now they’re coining money everywhere the year round. It’s a success story; it’s Progress,

St. Martin, which I loved first and most is a thriving blighted area. A great runway on the Dutch side receives jets. Philipsburg and Marigot are boom towns. Handsome houses of foreigners dot the hills. There are grand hotels and crummy motels, casinos and boutiques, supermarkets and launderettes, snack bars and robber restaurants, throngs of visitors and plentiful muck on the beaches. And the island, once a green bouquet of trees, looks bald. Progress uses space and is more valuable than trees.



Vegetable sellers on their way from Colombier to Marigot and beyond to sell their produce.

It is ridiculous to repine for a past simplicity and quiet and loveliness when I can live where I choose while the islanders are anchored where they are, and probably mad about Progress. Seeing them, I don’t believe that they profit from its advertised benefits. They used to be short of cash but never hungry, never crowded or hurried. They worked when they had to and not a minute more. Free of nuisance government, they lived in a close community, as content as mortals can possibly be. If they wanted adventure or consumer goods, they went off as sailors or emigrated for dollars but all of them returned to visit or drowse through old age, and knew they could return to what they had left: home didn’t change, home was safe. Now they work for the foreigners on their islands and though they have more money than ever before they feel poor by contrast and they are no longer the sure, idle, chatty, easy people I remember. In another ten years they may be as bitter as the blacks in Harlem.

Between planes, this winter, I hired a glittering Mercedes taxi at Phillipsburg airport because the owner-driver had grey hair and would have known St. Martin before it turned into a gold mine. He had driven visitors from the North so long that he sounded American. ‘Well, Madam, everybody’s got good work and lotsa’ money, see all these new little houses the people built for themselves? Got everything they want inside, fine things. Got money in the bank. Everybody’s doing very well on St. Martin. But the old harmony is gone, it’s gone for good.’

The Caribbean has become a resort and is a world lost. This cuts me deeply in my feelings, as Mr Ma would say, because I loved that world, its looks, its climate, its aimless harmless life, and it was the best anywhere for a solitary swimmer. I don’t like resorts and I can’t afford them.”

From the book “Travels with myself and Another” by Martha Gellhorn. The “Another” was her husband Ernest Hemingway.

The below stanzas are from a poem by a Saba born poetess .

“Ah me! Ah me! That I could go

Where palm fronds clash and trade winds blow,

For these are the things I used to know

So far away and so long ago.


The red-roofed house, by the tall palm tree,

In the long ago, was sweet home to me.

I think of it now as a haven of rest

Where I wish I could go as a bird to its nest.

But the years that are flown have made the wish vain,

I could only return to sorrow and pain.

Beatrice Pfaffhauser


And will end this with two stanzas from one of the poems by Charles Borromeo Hodge, a proud native son of the soil.

“And while machines your innards grind

I’ll glare with unconcealed disgust,

At those who dared be so unkind

To smite your crown into the dust.


“Perhaps we dreamers, all too true,

Are doting fools of sentiment,

But all my joys, however few


Cole Bay late 1950’s.

Were from your sunny bosom lent.










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.




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