Welcome to Statia
If one were to ask many Bermudians which Caribbean island they can trace their roots, most would justifiably answer St Kitts. There would be some, though, who would say that they can trace their roots back to the Dutch colony of St Eustatius.
“St Where?” you say.
St Eustatius, more commonly known as Statia, is a small island located between St Kitts and Saba. With a population of less than 4,000 and measuring a mere eight square miles, Statia makes Bermuda seem like a giant island.
Historically, this island was named “The Golden Rock”, as it was a major trading post during the 1700s.
Here is a passage from a column by Bermudian historian Ed Harris, published in The Royal Gazette on April 13, 2013:
“Similar to the block-running activities out of Bermuda and the Bahamas into the southern confederacy during the American Civil War, St Eustatius became the place where the rebels of the second half of the 1770s could obtain goods, especially war material, that were denied them in British colonies and in Britain itself.
“The Dutch at Statia, with their many Bermudian business compatriots, were only too happy to oblige and many a fortune was made at the expense of the British and soon-to-be Americans. During some of those years, over 2,000 vessels visited Statia each year, many being Bermudian.
“Unfortunately for the merchants of war, Admiral Rodney destroyed the trading centre at St Eustatius in 1781, as he advanced through the West Indies putting paid to the French, the Dutch and any allies of the American rebels, including Bermudian merchants.”
Fast-forward 200-plus years, Statia’s economy is kept alive by a major oil installation run by Nustar and a new hotel named The Golden Rock Resort.
While Dutch is the official language on the island, the vast majority of Statians speak Eastern Caribbean English. The former official currency was the Netherlands Antilles guilder. However, in 2010, the US dollar was made the official currency.
By now, you are asking yourselves, “What does all of this have to do with Bermuda?”
Well, as you have just read, some 200-plus years ago, Bermudian merchants were conducting a roaring amount of business with Statia.
A former wealthy and influential merchant of Statia went by the name of Gosling.
According to the museum curator in Statia, Walter Hellebrand, this person may have had some relationship with the Gosling family in Bermuda.
In many of the old walls lining the streets of Oranjestad, you can find Bermuda limestone that was shipped directly from Bermuda. The former Dutch Reformed Church was built in 1755 with the use of limestone from Bermuda.
More direct and to the point, there are many Bermudian families who can trace their roots back to Statia.
Here are a few of the family names that may ring a bell:
The Degraff family, famous for their beef pies, can trace their lineage back to St Eustatius.
Kim Tucker and his sister, the educator Gina Tucker, are the great-grandchildren of a person from Statia by the name of Houghton, pronounced “Hor-ton”.
You will find the tomb for Richard Horton (died 1769) in the cemetery of the former English church, where many Bermudians were buried with surnames such as Jennings and Packwood.
As a child, I spent a large portion of my time growing up in Statia, attempting to learn Dutch and fixing Volkswagen Beetles during the day while tending to my grandfather’s herd of cattle in the evenings.
This summer, my family were blessed to have a mini-reunion, with many of us returning from all corners of the globe. Needless to say, almost everyone here knows each other by first name.
Statia has certainly progressed with a new airport, new hotel and some new roads. Yet it retains its charm with cattle, goats and sheep roaming freely.
Welcome to Statia.
• Christopher Famous is the government MP for Devonshire East (Constituency 11). You can reach him on WhatsApp at 599-0901 or e-mail at email@example.com