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Sint Eustatius, also known affectionately to the locals as Statia/ or Statius, is part of the Caribbean Netherlands: i.e. it is a Caribbean island and a special municipality (officially “public body”) of the Netherlands.
The island lies in the northern Leeward Islands portion of the West Indies, southeast of the Virgin Islands. Sint Eustatius is immediately to the northwest of Saint Kitts, and to the southeast of Saba. The regional capital is Oranjestad.
The island has an area of 21 square kilometres (8.1 sq mi). In the 2001 census, the population was recorded as 3,543 inhabitants, with a population density of 169 inhabitants per square kilometre. The official language is Dutch, but English is the "language of everyday life" on the island and education is solely in English. A local English-based creole is also spoken informally. Travellers to the island by air arrive through F.D. Roosevelt Airport.
The name of the island, “Sint Eustatius”, is the Dutch name for Saint Eustace (also spelled Eustachius or Eustathius), a legendary Christian martyr, known in Spanish as San Eustaquio and in Portuguese as Santo Eustáquio or Santo Eustácio.
The island was seen by Christopher Columbus in 1493 and claimed by many different nations. From the first settlement, in the 17th century until the early 19th century, St. Eustatius changed hands twenty two times.
In 1636, the chamber of Zeeland of the Dutch West India Company took possession of the island that was then reported to be uninhabited. As of 1678, the islands of St. Eustatius, Sint Maarten and Saba fell under direct command of the Dutch West India Company, with a commander stationed on St. Eustatius to govern all three. At the time, the island was of some importance for cultivation of tobacco and sugar.
In the 18th century, St. Eustatius' geographical placement in the middle of Danish (Virgin Islands), British (Jamaica, St. Kitts, Barbados, Antigua), French (St. Domingue, Ste. Lucie, Martinique, Guadeloupe) and Spanish (Cuba, Santo Domingo, Puerto Rico) territories—its large harborage, neutrality and status from 1756 as a free port with no customs duties were all factors in it becoming a major point of transhipment of goods, and a locus for trade in contraband. Its economy developed by ignoring the monopolistic trade restrictions of the British, French and Spanish islands. St.Eustatius's economy, under the Dutch, flourished. The island was known as The Golden Rock.
Edmund Burke said of the island in 1781:
The island sold arms and ammunition to anyone willing to pay. It was one of the few places from which the young United States could obtain military stores. The good relationship between St. Eustatius and the United States resulted in the noted "First Salute".
On November 16, 1776, Captain Isaiah Robinson of the 14-gun American brig Andrew Doria, sailed into the anchorage below St. Eustatius' Fort Oranje. Robinson announced his arrival by firing a thirteen gun salute, one gun for each of the thirteen American colonies in rebellion against Britain. Governor Johannes de Graaff replied with an eleven gun salute from the cannons of Fort Oranje. International protocol required a two gun less acknowledgement of a sovereign flag. The Andrew Doria flew the Continental Colors of the fledgling United States. It was the first international acknowledgment of American independence.[Note 1] The Andrew Doria had arrived to purchase munitions for the American Revolutionary forces. She was also carrying a copy of the Declaration of Independence which was presented to Governor De Graaff. An earlier copy had been captured on the way to Holland by the British. It was wrapped in documents that the British believed to be a strange cipher. In reality the documents were written in Yiddish, to Jewish merchants in Holland.
U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to St. Eustatius in 1939 to recognize the importance of the 1776 "First Salute". He presented a large brass plaque to St. Eustatius which is displayed today under a flagpole atop the walls of Fort Oranje. The plaque reads:
"In commemoration to the salute to the flag of the United States, Fired in this fort November 16. 1776, By order of Johannes de Graaff, Governor of Saint Eustatius, In reply to a National Gun-Salute, Fired by the United States Brig of War Andrew Doria, Under Captain Isaiah Robinson of the Continental Navy, Here the sovereignty of the United States of America was first formally acknowledged to a national vessel by a foreign official. Presented by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President of the United States of America"
The British took the incident seriously. Britain protested bitterly against the continuous trade between the United Colonies and St. Eustatius. In 1778, Lord Stormont claimed in Parliament that, "if Sint Eustatius had sunk into the sea three years before, the United Kingdom would already have dealt with George Washington". Nearly half of all American Revolutionary military supplies were obtained through St. Eustatius. Nearly all American communications to Europe first passed through the island. The trade between St. Eustatius and the United States was the main reason for the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War,1780-1784. The war was disastrous for the Dutch economy.
Britain declared war on Holland, December 20, 1780. Even before officially declaring war, Britain had outfitted a massive battle fleet to take and destroy the weapons depot and vital commercial center that St. Eustatius had become. British Admiral George Brydges Rodney was appointed the commander of the battle fleet. February 3, 1781, the massive fleet of 15 ships of the line and numerous smaller ships transporting over 3,000 soldiers appeared before St. Eustatius prepared to invade. Governor De Graaff did not know about the declaration of war. Rodney offered De Graaff a bloodless surrender to his superior force. Rodney had over 1,000 cannons to De Graaff's dozen cannons and a garrison of sixty men. De Graaff surrendered the island, but first he fired two rounds as a show of resistance for the honor of Dutch Admiral Lodewijk van Bylandt, who commanded a ship of the Dutch Navy which was in the harbor. Ten months later, the island was conquered by the French, allies of the Dutch in the war. The Dutch regained control over the devastated island in 1784.
At its peak, St. Eustatius may have had a largely transient population of about 10,000 people. Most were engaged in commercial and maritime interests. A census list of 1790 gives a total population (free and enslaved people combined) of 8,124. Commerce revived after the British left. Many of the merchants (including the Jews) returned to the island. However, French and British occupations from 1795 disrupted trade and also the North-Americans, now globally recognised as an independent nation, had meanwhile developed their own trading network and did not need St. Eustatius anymore. The island was eclipsed by other Dutch ports, such as those on the islands of Curaçao and Sint Maarten. During the last years of the 18th century Statia developed trade in aging rum. The economy declined in the early 19th century.
St. Eustatius never recovered the durable robustness of the mid 18th century. The large merchant class, that was the life blood of St. Eustatius, did not fully return. The population declined and in 1950 the population stood at a mere 970.
The first record of Jews on St. Eustatius dates to 1660. The Jews were mainly merchants with significant international trading and maritime commercial ties. Jews were captains, owners or co-owners with Christian partners, of significant numbers of ships originating out of St. Eustatius. A few were island plantation-owners. Jews were estimated[by whom?] to have comprised at least 10% of the permanent population of St. Eustatius.
Two days after the island surrendered to the British in early February 1781, Rodney ordered that the entire Jewish male adult population assemble for him. He immediately arrested and imprisoned 101 Jews in the warehouses of the lower city. Rodney said, after he first learned of the St. Eustatius Jews: "They (the Jews of St. Eustatius) cannot too soon be taken care of - they are notorious in the cause of America and France."
Rodney singled out the Jews: the harshness was reserved for them alone. He did not do the same to French, Dutch, Spanish or even the American merchants on the island. He permitted the French to leave with all their possessions. Rodney was concerned that his unprecedented behavior would be repeated upon British islands by French forces when events were different.
The Jews were kept imprisoned for days without food or water. Thirty one heads of families were summarily deported without word or mercy to their dependents. Governor De Graaff was also deported. Rodney confiscated Jewish warehouses, looted Jewish personal possessions, even stripping Jews to find money hidden in their clothing. When Rodney realized that the Jews might be hiding additional treasure, he dug up the Jewish cemetery.
Later, in February 1782, Edmund Burke, the leading opposition member of the Whig Party, upon learning of Rodney's actions in St. Eustatius, rose to condemn Rodney's anti-Semitic, avaricious vindictiveness in Parliament:
The synagogue and the cemetery
After 1781, without a Jewish community using and maintaining the synagogue on St. Eustatius, it gradually fell into ruin.
The synagogue building, known as Honen Dalim, (She who is charitable to the Poor) was constructed in 1737. Permission for building the synagogue came from the Dutch West India Company, with additional funding support from the Jewish community on Curaçao. Permission was conditional on the fact that the Jewish house of worship would be sited where "the exercise of their (Jewish) religious duties would not molest those of the Gentiles". The building is located off a small lane called Synagogue Path, away from the main street. The synagogue attested to the wealth of the Jews of St. Eustatius and their influence on the island.
In 2001 its walls were restored as part of the Historic Core Restoration Project. The Historic Core Restoration Project has sought funds from private donors to construct a modern roof on the ancient ruins. Unfortunately no known images exist showing what the synagogue looked like when it was still in use, and therefore archeological research is attempting to restore the structure to the best estimate of its former condition. The grounds include a Jewish ritual bath (a mikveh) and an oven used on Passover.
A restored and respectfully maintained Jewish cemetery is located adjacent to the communal cemetery, at the top of Oranjestad, Sint Eustatius.
Rodney's delayed departure
The wealth Rodney and General Vaughan discovered on St. Eustatius exceeded their expectations. There were 130 merchantmen in the bay as well as the Dutch frigate and five smaller American armed merchantmen. In total the value of goods seized, including a very rich Dutch convoy captured off Sombrero, was estimated to be well in excess of £3 million. February 5, 1781 Rodney and Vaughan signed an agreement stating that all goods taken belonged to the Crown. Rodney and Vaughan, by British custom, expected to personally receive a significant share of the captured wealth from the King once it reached England. Instead of delegating the task of sorting through and estimating the value of the confiscated property Rodney and Vaughan oversaw this themselves. They delayed their departure.
Rodney, privately, wrote to his family with promises of a new London home. To his daughter he promised, “the best harpsichord money can purchase”. He confidently wrote of a marriage settlement for one of his sons and soon to be purchased commission in the foot guards for another son. He wrote of a dowry for his daughter to marry the Earl of Oxford. He noted he would have enough to pay off the young prospective bridegroom’s debts.
The excessive amount of time Rodney spent on St. Eustatius led to allegations that he and Vaughan had neglected their military duties. In particular, Viscount Samuel Hood suggested that Rodney should have sailed to intercept a French fleet under François Joseph Paul de Grasse, traveling to Martinique. The French fleet instead turned north and headed for Chesapeake Bay.
Rodney's delay at St. Eustatius was not the first time he had taken the opportunity to capture prizes over the immediate and expeditious fulfillment of his military duties. During the Seven Years' War, Rodney delayed transporting Major General Jeffrey Amherst to pursue prizes. Later, Rodney had been ordered to Barbados to link up with Admiral Sir George Peacock and the Earl of Albemarle for an attack on Cuba. Instead, Rodney sent valuable ships off in search of prizes. In 1762, Rodney, after the fall of Martinique, quarreled with the army over prize money. During Rodney's command in Jamaica, 1771-1774, the Earl of Sandwich feared that Rodney might provoke a war with Spain to obtain prize money.
Rodney further weakened his fleet earlier by sending a strong defending force to England to accompany his treasure ships. After months on St. Eustatius, capturing additional merchants and treasure, Rodney was prevailed upon to send part of his fleet north to aid General Cornwallis and British armed forces fighting the Americans. He did not dispatch the bulk of his fleet from St. Eustatius until July/August of 1781. He was too late to affect the events that were taking place in North America.
Outside of the Chesapeake Bay, the weakened British fleet was defeated by a much stronger combined French fleet under Rear Admiral Francois Joseph Paul, the Comte de Grasse. The battle between de Grasse and Rear Admiral Sir Thomas Graves was known as the Battle of the Chesapeake. Also known as the Battle of the Capes it was one of the most pivotal battles in history.
British General Cornwallis was trapped at Yorktown, Va. He was awaiting desperately needed supplies and men that Rodney would have brought. American General George Washington, with French siege artillery and supporting forces, closed the vise from the land side. Cornwallis could not be aided from the sea because of the British Naval defeat. The French controlled the Bay. Cornwallis' predicament is linked directly to Rodney's failure to depart St. Eustatius promptly following its capture and the destruction of the military stores there. Cornwallis had no choice. He surrendered. The American Revolutionary war was over. The Americans had won, to no small cause by Rodney's anti-Semitic and avaricious delays.
A series of disastrous French and British occupations from 1795 to 1815 diverted trade to the occupiers' islands. St. Eustatius' economy collapsed. The Jews left along with the other merchants. St. Eustatius reverted permanently to Dutch control afterwards.
Dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles
Unlike the other member islands of the Netherlands Antilles, the people of St Eustatius did not vote to leave. In a referendum on 8 April 2005, 77% of voters voted to remain within the Netherlands Antilles, compared to 21% who voted for closer ties with the Netherlands.
However, once the other islands decided to leave, meaning that the Netherlands Antilles would become defunct, the island council opted to become a special municipality of the Netherlands, like Saba and Bonaire.
Topographically, the island is saddle-shaped, with the 602 meter-high dormant volcano Quill, (from Dutch kuil, meaning 'pit'—originally referring to its crater) to the southeast and the smaller pair Signal Hill/Little Mountain (or Bergje) and Boven Mountain to the northwest. The Quill crater is a popular tourist attraction on the island. The bulk of the island's population lives in the saddle between the two elevated areas, which forms the center of the island.
In the 18th century, "Statia" was the most important Dutch island in the Caribbean and was a center of great wealth from trading. At this time it was known as the "Golden Rock" because of its immense wealth. A very large number of warehouses lined the road that runs along Oranje Bay; most (but not all) of these warehouses are now ruined and many of the ruins are partially underwater.
A French occupation in 1795 was the beginning of the end of great prosperity for Sint Eustatius.
According to the Sint Eustatius government website, "Statia's economy is stable and well placed to grow in the near future. With practically no unemployment and a skilled workforce, we have a infrastructure in place to ensure sustained growth." In reference to this statement, one should understand that the government itself is the largest employer on the island, and the oil terminal owned by "NuStar" is the largest private employer on the island.
The most popular sports on Sint Eustatius are softball, football, basketball and volleyball. Due to the small population, there are few sport associations. One of them, the Sint Eustatius Volleyball Association, is a member of NORCECA. Currently St. Eustatius is a non-active member of the Caribbean zone of Pony Baseball and Softball leagues.