Published On: Wed, Jul 5th, 2017

Family discord (1)

Jacob Gelt DekkerOn November 20, 1493, Columbus had named a little Caribbean Island, Santa Maria del la Niebe, St. Mary of the Snow. Whether it was out of gratitude to the Saint for a safe crossing or a fata morgana of snowy Spanish Sierras appearing to a weary sailor, we do not know. Columbus’ name did not stick and was overwritten by a new mystery, one of family discord.

What was the dramatic family dispute on the island that its people called for the intervention of Saint Eustace? Eustace is one of the Fourteen Auxiliary Saints, a healer of family troubles. The Islanders even named the island after the Saint; it became known as Saint Eustatia or Statia.

In 1636, eighty Dutch families migrated from the Republic of the Low Lands and settled on the Island. Why they renamed the island after the Roman Catholic Saint Eustatius, remains hidden in obscurity. Dangers seem to loom from every direction.

The fledgling Reformation in Europe, which started with Martin Luther’s statements at the Wittenberg chapel in 1517, had matured by 1618. The Synod of Dordt, where most European Protestant churches congregated, designed robust institutions for administration and religious dogma. Predestination versus free-will prevailed in a one-year long discussion.

The beheading of the 72-year old Secretary of State, Johan Van Oldenbarnevelt for his support of Arminians, the free-will advocates, sent shock waves through all of Europe and the Caribbean. Was it the ambitious Stadtholder Prince Maurits who eliminated his political opponent so that he could be crowned King? Or was the “Protestant Inquisition,” as ruthless as the Catholic?

Were the settlers of 1636, maybe all Catholics who feared dissent and family discord and eventually cruel, summary justice by the Protestants? It was rumored that also Peter Stuyvesant (1610-1672), nicknamed ‘Peg Leg Pete’, was out for personal revenge. He had lost his leg in the 1644-campaign on nearby St. Martin.

Discord out of envy was a rapidly acting poison when wealth accumulated in extraordinary proportions with a small group of Jewish traders and pirates. Jews, fleeing Iberia after the expulsion of 1492 and 1498, often became privateers and pirates out of revenge, attacking the Catholic Spanish Empire's shipping economy. It did not take long before Jewish pirates controlled most of the commerce from New Amsterdam to Netherlands-Brazil, with Statia, as a comfortable halfway harbor. Anti-semitism by French, British, and even Dutch grew is equal proportion with Jewish wealth and influence.

Supposedly, the Statia Jews had to appeal to their brethren in Holland, leaders of the Dutch Jewish community and significant shareholders in the Dutch West Indies Company. And it was the Dutch WIC that ultimately controlled the Caribbean Islands, including Statia.

Honen Dalim, Statia’s synagogue, was built within sight of the large Dutch Reformed Church and the walls of Ft. Orange and under the express condition that “the exercise of their (Jewish) religious duties would not molest those of the Gentiles.”

Statia was the Golden Rock and for many Jews became a Golden Door to the New World. Thousands of ships called at Statia’s Harbor annually. Hundreds and hundreds of warehouses, crammed with trading goods and slaves, lined the shore below the walls of Ft. Oranje.

In April 1665, Gerrit Gerritzoon, alias Roche Braziliano of Groningen and Port Royal, was ordered by Governor Sir Thomas Modyford of Jamaica to raid Statia with a fleet of privateers.

'to fall upon the Dutch fleet trading at St. Christopher's, capture Eustatia, Saba, and Curacao, and on their homeward voyage, visit the French and English buccaneers at Hispaniola and Tortuga.’

A charge by 350 Buccaneers easily overwhelmed the island's outnumbered and surprised Dutch garrison. Gerritszoon and the other privateers remained in control of Sint Eustatius looting and pillaging what they could. 'They seized 910 slaves, and considerable booty renamed the island "New Dunkirk," and deported, 250 residents to Barbados.’

By Jacob Gelt Dekker
Columnist for Curaçao Chronicle

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