The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Archive for the tag “St. Eustatius”

Historical Sketch of the Island of St. Eustatius (Part II)

Johannes de Graeff

Johannes de Graff

In the first part of this sketch written by native historian Arthur Valk we reached as far as the recognition by Governor de Graaf of the flag of the Continental Congress of the rebel United States colonies with a 13 gun salute. It turns out that Mr. Arthur Valk was the first person to attempt at writing a concise history of his native island. It is also written in such a way that it can be easily read. God willing I want to do a history of St. Eustatius based on the lives of some leading people of the past hundred years who in one way or the other made a contribution to the island. When I started typing this article on January 1st, I did not realize until I had finished typing that Mr. Valk had written his history on January 21st, 1889. January must have been calling on me to pay a tribute to Mr. Valk this month so that contemporary Statians will know more about him. We continue now with the rest of Mr. Valk’s history written in 1889.

“ This recognition of the flag on the part of the governor, although done on his own responsibility, and against the orders of the States General, afforded additional cause of complaint, and the States, willing to do all that could consistently be done to maintain friendly relations, summoned the offending Governor to Holland, there to give an account of his conduct, and he was not allowed to return till he had succeeded in clearing himself before a Court of Justice, of all the charges which had been brought against him.

While the two nations were thus in professed amity, in February 1781 Admiral Rodney suddenly appeared before the island with such an armament of sea and land forces as in its defenseless situation was not only useless but ridiculous. The governor could scarcely credit the officer who summoned him to surrender, but being convinced how matters stood, surrendered the island with everything in it at discretion.

Naval vessels in the harbor

Naval vessels in the harbor

And now began the systematic series of acts which culminated in the ruin of this unfortunate island. 1500 men were landed the same day, some of whom were placed as guards from one extremity of the lower town to the other, evidently with the view of preventing the merchants from having access to or removing anything from their stores, subsequently the keys of their warehouses were demanded, their correspondence, books, letters, etc. taken away and everyone was compelled to give an account of all the ready money, jewels, slaves, cattle, etc. which he possessed, nor was rank age or sex spared in the general order.

The next measure was the general proscription of all the inhabitants, by which they were ordered to quit the island. Americans, Dutch, French, all without exception, “leaving behind them all their wealth, merchandise, etc., and taking with them such effects only as they had received a special license for.”

As Mr. Burke said in Parliament “the island surrendered at discretion, but the conquerors interpreted discretion into destruction for they did not leave the conquered a shilling.” The poor Jews were treated in a worse manner, if possible than all the other inhabitants, 250 of them were sent to Antigua, and numbers to St. Kitts, being first stripped of all their money and valuables. A Mr. Hoeb in particular a venerable old gentleman, nearly seventy years of age, had even his clothes searched and some money which he had concealed about him for the purpose of buying food was taken from him. Three millions of pound sterling in money alone was taken possession of, besides more than a million in property. Along with the island there fell into the hands of the captors, 250 sail of merchantmen and a frigate of 38 guns, besides a Dutch flag ship of 60 guns, the Mars which was taken off Saba, having under convoy between 20 and 30 ships bound for Europe.

Naval activity around St. Eustatius

Naval activity around St. Eustatius

The British Lion had indeed glutted its heart with vengeance and the desolation of St. Eustatius was almost complete. In the month of May the garrison was attacked by a malignant fever, which in a sort time swept away more than two hundred of their number, including the Commandant of the island, Brigadier General Sir David Ogilvy. On the 20th of November of the same year the Marquis de Bouille arrived off one of the landing place of the island, deemed so inaccessible that it had been left without a guard. With much difficulty he landed 400 or 500 men during the night. The appearance of day put an end to his landing any more, and he now found himself obliged either to relinquish the enterprise or to attack. The garrison which was almost double the number of those he had on the island. He chose the latter and was favored by the negligence of his antagonists. A difficult pass had been left unguarded which the Marquis secured, and then pushed forward with the utmost expedition. The British, mistaking a body of Irish troops for their comrades, suffered them to proceed without thinking of opposing them. They were then exercising on the parade but were soon made sensible of their mistake by a close discharge from the supposed friends, by which many were killed and wounded.

Fort Orange

Fort Orange

The surprise occasioned by this sudden attack was so great that no resistance could be made especially as the Commanding Officer Colonel Cockburn, who happened at that instant to come upon the parade was made prisoner. A number of them, however, hastened to the Fort, with the intention of making head against the enemy, but the French had already taken possession of the Fort and the rest of the garrison, dispersed in various places had no choice but to submit without opposition. The actions of the French Commander were in glittering contrast to that of the English one. Among the spoils that fell into his hands was a large sum of money claimed by the British Commanding Officer as private property. This was generously restored to him. The property of the Dutch inhabitants was also reserved to them and nothing was allowed to be seized, but the produce arising from the sale of prizes that had been taken by the English when they captured this island. For nearly three years the French flag waved over this island when in 1784 it was formally restored to Holland.

Old photo of Oranjestad 1940's

Old photo of Oranjestad 1940’s

Business once again resumed its course, if not with so full a current as before. In the year 1789 we find the number of vessels cleared at the fort not less than 3050. All surrounding islands were supplied from its capacious stores, and considerable quantity of sugar and tobacco, cocoa and cotton, hides and rum were exported to Holland. The West India Company however had fallen deeply into debt and to satisfy these claims, it was obliged in 1792 to sell all its possessions. These were purchased by the government and a Council of the Colonies appointed to administer their affairs. In 1795 soon after the French occupation of Holland and to the great alarm of the quiet citizens, a body of French troops arrived in this island and the Batavian Republic was proclaimed and a Burger Daniel Roda was placed at the head of the Government.

Many families now left the island to reside elsewhere and the commerce of the island greatly declined. Under these dreary conditions, the closing year of one century and the opening of another was spent. With the decay of trade and the removal of many persons from the island, the whole lower Town had now almost fallen into ruin and many buildings on the Hill-town were in a similar condition. By an ordinance issued at this time all these were required to be taken down at once, thereby adding to the distressed aspect of the island. Still the afflicted community looked forward to the restoration of their lawful Soverign, when they hoped “under a free an unencumbered commerce” trade would revive and “houses rise like mushrooms.” In 1804 the English took possession but only held it for a short time, as by the peace of Amiens, the next year, it was restored to the Dutch. During the following years immense sums of money were spent in constructing forts and batteries and transporting there heavy pieces of ordnance but all this did not prevent the island again falling into the hands of the British, who now retained it for several years. The extinction of trade had now nearly become complete and even in 1816 when the island once more came under Dutch rule, although it seemed to revive for a short time, it never attained any considerable proportions and soon ceased altogether. In the year 1822 in an official report, the condition of the island is said to be “most unfavorable, while no prospect of improvement exists, as trade and navigation gradually decline and the British colonies cherish great hopes that direct communications with foreign ports will soon be granted them, in which case this island and St. Thomas and St. Barths will become of little value.” All these forebodings were fully realized.

Remains of Lower Town, once home to over 200 commercial establishments
with a view of Saba in the horizon

We have but little more to record of the history of St. Eustatius. In 1828 the island till then having had the islands of St. Martin and Saba under it, was placed with them under the government of Surinam. In 1843 the population of the island had sunk to 1463 of whom 1113 were slaves. A fearful earthquake occurred this year. In 1845 the island became a dependency of Curacao. In  1846 the troops which composed the garrison were removed to Curacao, an unfortunate measure and to which may in part attributed the breaking out of an insurrection among the slave population in 1848, which was promptly quelled but not without bloodshed.

Statia - Image (1566)

On the 1st of July 1863 the emancipation of the slaves took place, the day being observed as a general holiday and Divine services performed in the Churches. About the humanity of this measure there can be no doubt, but it is equally certain that it hastened the ruin of the already impoverished island. Since then the cultivation of sugar has been abandoned. The only agricultural operations carried on at the present being the cultivation of some yams (dioscarea sativa) and some potatoes (battas edulis). The population of the island is not more than 1363 persons. Of the numerous building in the Lower Town, numbering about 200 at the commencement of the century, only 12 or 13 remain. In the Upper Town not more than a hundred and fifty, most of which are in dilapidated condition. The Dutch Reformed Church, since the withdrawal of a pastor, has been suffered to fall into decay, until at the present time the greater part of the building has fallen in. In short everything bears the stamp of decadence and decay.

Group of Johnson's & other important people of Statia in the early nineteen hundreds

Group of Johnson’s & other important people of Statia in the early nineteen hundreds

And here we bring this historical sketch of St. Eustatius to a close with the hope that the clouds which have so long rested over this little island may be removed and that the future may have in store for it even a tithe of the prosperity and wealth which once earned for it the name of the “Golden Rock.”

A. Valk

St. Eustatius

21st January 1889

Gallery overtrading the road was the home of Mr. Arthur Valk.

Gallery overtrading the road was the home of Mr. Arthur Valk.

Arthur Valk in back with Irvin Mussenden in the library

Arthur Valk in back with Irvin Mussenden in the library

St. Eustatius Historical Sketch (Part I)

Introduced by Will Johnson

As far as I can ascertain this is the first history of St. Eustatius written by a native of that island. It might even be the first attempt of putting the history of that island in writing. Prof. Dr.L. Knappert’s history of the 18th century was only published in 1932, and that of J.H.J. Hamelberg in 1901. Other historians mentioned either a short visit to Statia or mentioned it in passing. Mr. Arthur Valk, of whom I have written before, wrote this historical sketch in the year 1889 and with limited research tools available to him, he was able to give a fairly good picture as to how his island had developed since the Europeans settled the Caribbean and displaced the original Arawak and Kalinago peoples by disease and warfare. He was a teacher by profession and considered the intellectual of Statia in his day. He had a sizeable library for those times, and visiting dignitaries to the island would always pay a courtesy visit to his home in order to get acquainted with Statia’s glorious history. He was a natural child of the owner of Schotzenhoek plantation, Mr. Daniel James Hassell Every of Saba/Statia Descent. His mother was a Hodge and he chose to use the name Valk one of the surnames from the ancestry of his mother. He also did translations of the Dutch anthem and other patriotic songs. His former home belongs to Senator Kenneth van Putten and is located on the Kerkstraat.

Arthur Valk and his mother Margaret Ann Hodge

Arthur Valk and his mother Margaret Ann Hodge

The original was typed from a Xerox copy of a handwritten Manuscript supplied by the Royal Institute for Language – Country- and Ethnology, Leiden, The Netherlands.

Mr. Valk had to do research based on oral history and books available to him at the time. Nowadays researchers have so many more tools to do historical research, including the Internet, so even though everything may not be to the satisfaction of modern day historians Mr. Valk, deserves much credit for his research at the time.

…..” The Island of St. Eustatius was discovered by Christopher Columbus during his second voyage in 1493 and it is probable it was named by this celebrated navigator in honor of the day on which it was first visited.

It is not known whether any Indians were met with in this Island, no doubt on account of its small extent and the absence of springs or rivers, it was not permanently inhabited by them, although frequently resorted to as a place of temporary residence by those of the neighboring island of St. Kitts. It is said that on one of these excursions, about the middle of the sixteenth century a number of them were encountered by the Spaniards, then in possession of the Island and though defending themselves with great bravery were overpowered and destroyed. Under its Spanish masters, the island remained unknown and unnoticed for more than a hundred years, harboring at times a few adventurers, who however, discouraged by the droughts to which the island is subject, and eager to share in the prosperity of the newly acquired colonies in South America, soon abandoned it to its fate. The Dutch, who established their West India Company in 1621 and were the first to trade in the Caribbean Sea, next obtained possession, how or when their first settlement was made, we are not definitely informed. It is certain, however, that it was before 1645, as in that year, according to Du Tertre a dispute occurred between the English and Dutch inhabitants of the island of St. Croix, the Dutch returned to St. Eustatius, then already colonized by the nation.

Old chart of St. Eustatius

Old chart of St. Eustatius

The first Dutch settlement is said to have consisted of 1600 persons. It would seem that the early colonists must at once have appropriated certain portions of the island and commenced their agricultural labors and principally the cultivation of tobacco, which for some time remained the staple product. That the colony throve and prospered appears from the fact that it was one of those selected for attack by the English forces under Admiral Sir Robert Holmes in 1664 as being calculated to inflict a severe blow on Dutch commerce. In further proof of its flourishing condition at this time, we find that at the capture of St. Thomas then a possession of the Dutch, by the same forces, the colonists were compelled their effects and even their dwellings to St. Eustatius as being a more fertile island. The English remained in sole possession of the island for some time, during which the prosperity of the island continued steadily to advance. The invaders were however in their turn to be displaced. In March 1667, the Dutch and French then being confederates, united their forces in six ships under command of an Abraham Harijnszoon and appearing unexpectedly before the place, obtained possession of it without a struggle. On this occasion the French having stipulated that for the honor of their flag, they should be allowed to enter the fortress first, afterward insisted on retaining the command and it was only at the peace of Breda. In August of the same year that it was finally restored to the Dutch. In the meanwhile, the cultivation of sugar had progressed in the island with the introduction of slaves from the African coast. In the year 1672 the Dutch Reformed Congregation, which had until now regularly assembled for worship in the fort, built its first church, a wooden structure, said to have been destroyed by a hurricane in 1742. The island had indeed become a valuable acquisition to the nation not only on account of its cultivation of sugar and tobacco, which latter product was raised on its sloping sides and to the very summit, but also because it was most favorably situated for the carrying on of an advantageous trade with the Spanish Colonies in the West Indies, shut out by the exclusion of Spain from a direct trade with Europe. The trade with these Colonies consisted not only in European commodities, but in slaves as we have already said were now imported yearly from the coast of Africa and sold or bartered for the products of these colonies.

In 1686 the first Governor of whom we have any authentic record Lucas Jacobsen, died and was succeeded in the command by Johannes Salomons, an official of the West India Company, and allied with one of the most ancient and respectable Dutch families, the van Groeneveldt. Not long after this the island again passed into other hands, being taken by the French immediately after the English had declared war against France in 1689.

Fort Orange looking towards Saba

Fort Orange looking towards Saba

In the year 1690 the French troops were driven out by Sir Timothy Thornhill, with the loss of only eight men killed and wounded, although the fort they took mounted 16 guns and was in every respect very strong. Sir Timothy found it necessary for the protection of the Dutch to leave a small English garrison in the fort, but he granted the French no terms of capitulation, except for their lives and baggage. By the peace of Rijswijk in 1697, the island was once more restored to Dutch rule and a short period of tranquility followed. At this time the population is said to have numbered 11,200, “among who are people of all nations and 1600 negroes.”

In the early part of 1712, a fleet of 6 ships of the line and 2 frigates under the command of Messieurs Jacques de Caspard (Cassard) appeared in the harbor of St. Eustatius. The expedition had been fitting out at Toulon for the express purpose of plundering the colonies of the Netherlands and their allies, and their first work had been to pillage and burn the city of St. Jago in one of the Cape de Verde Islands, belonging to the Portuguese. They now demanded from the Government of St. Eustatius, a large sum with threats of immediate destruction in case of refusal. The situation was embarrassing, as the Government Treasury did not contain the required sum. But the Governor Jan Simonz Doncker volunteered to advance the deficiency himself for account of the Company and the money was paid over, the fleet sailing away the same day to the great relief of the inhabitants.

It is also said that the shrewd old Commander never recovered his money from the Company, but was directed to take over land sufficiently to discharge the debt. Governor Donker died in the year 1715 (1717). Jan Heyliger, Jacobus Steevens, Evered Raads, Isaac Faisch and Commander Coesveldt succeeded each other in the Government of this island from the year 1715 to 1740. The only event of importance which occurred during this time was the declaring of St. Eustatius a free port, which it had been in effect long before. In 1738 a dreadful hurricane visited the island and a severe drought prevailed in the years 1739 and 1740, which occasioned the removal of many people from the island. The period of depression did not, however last long. The tide of commercial prosperity again set in, and about the middle of the century, the island was as flourishing as ever. In 1752 Governor Johannes Heyliger died and the reins of administration were assumed by Jan de Windt formerly Secretary of the Company. In the same year the Dutch Episcopal Church was built, and in 1760 the foundations laid of a spacious Dutch reformed Church in place of the one which had been destroyed by the hurricane. Several grants of land are recorded at this time and the island was supposed in 1763 to contain over 10,000 inhabitants. The Bay, or Lower town, which before this time can scarcely be said to have had an existence was now built up rapidly from one end to the other, and it became necessary for the Government to limit the occupation of land in that locality. But a series of calamities was in store for the unfortunate island. On the 31st of August, 1772 a terrific hurricane occurred, known throughout the West Indies as the “Great Hurricane”. The destruction at St. Eustatius was immense, many of the buildings in the town and all the houses on the plantations with the exception of four were destroyed and the shipping in the harbor wrecked or sunk. The Record Office was swept away with all its valuable store of documents and writing. The Dutch Reformed church, which had just been completed at great expense, so totally wrecked that two years elapsed before it could again be opened for public worship and in short, the destruction was wide spread.

Activity in the Bay at St. Eustatius

Activity in the Bay at St. Eustatius

But Phoenix-like the island again emerged from its ashes, and perhaps it had never so abounded with wealth as in the years which followed. During the hostilities between England and France and England and the North American Colonies this island being a free port, was open to all the subjects of the belligerent powers, and thus a communication was established by its means. The British West Indies and Great Britain herself cut off from those supplies, which they formerly secured from North America were served from this island, then became a vast storehouse of all sorts of goods. Here the British planters in the captive island of Grenada, the Grenadines, St. Vincent and Dominica sent the greater part of their produce to be exchanged for plantation stores and other necessaries. Here the French brought yearly at least 3,000,000 pounds of coffee, from St. Domingo alone. In the years 1777 and 1778 Antigua and St. Kitts would have suffered all the miseries of famine, had it not been for this island. In one word, the trade with all the European nations added to that of America was such that very often two hundred ships might be seen lying in the harbor, and the warehouses on the Bay not being sufficient to contain the goods imported for sale, the beach and the streets were covered with hogsheads of tobacco and sugar.

But England did not long view with unconcern the unrestrained intercourse which existed between the disaffected North American States and this island. Grievous complaints were made to States General and in consequence the exporting of all warlike stores was expressly forbidden and steps taken to assure the carrying out of this prohibition such as greatly narrowed the trade of the Dutch with the colonies in the West Indies. But in spite of this friendly action the dispute had no sooner broken out than the English ports were filled with Dutch ships taken and detained, and their cargoes applied to the use of the Royal Navy, although they had been pursuing their voyages under the faith of treaties, and were laden with no other merchandise than what by treaty was declared free and lawful. Nor was this all; the very flag of the States was openly insulted by hostile attack made upon the convoy under the command of the Rear Admiral Count Bijlandt. Under these circumstances it happened that in 1776 the brigantine “Andrew Doria” bearing at her masthead the flag of the Continental Congress arrived at St. Eustatius, and on coming to in the harbor fired a salute which by orders of Governor de Graaf, was answered by the fort, with an honor salute of 13 guns.

The Andrew Doria

The Andrew Doria

End of first part of this article. Second and final part to follow.

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