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All about St. Eustatius


In its 18th century heyday, Statians, as they call themselves, put most of the bang in the USA's first Fourth of July, as a major supplier of weapons. British Admiral Sir George Brydges Rodney once grumbled:

"This Rock, only six miles in length and three in width, has done England more harm than all the arms of her most potent enemies, and alone supported this infamous rebellion."

As many as 200 ships used to gather at island capital Oranjestad to deal in smuggled fine silver, pewter, silks, cloth, crystal, cotton, tobacco, sugar, and rum - plus slaves, munitions, blue beads, supplies for revolutionaries - whatever made money. The Sint Eustatius Historical Foundation Museum displays the historic blue beads once used to buy rum, tobacco, land, and slaves. Dutchman Peter Minuit may have used Statian blue beads when he bought Manhattan from Amerindians in 1625.

Sint Eustatius was a key Caribbean free port for Dutch traders in the 17th and 18th centuries. The island was so important that it changed hands 22 times as European powers fought to control Caribbean trade routes. Today, things have calmed down, and the people, mostly black, work hard at farming. Tourism centers on budget accommodations, hiking, exploring old Dutch forts, and fabulous scuba diving in and around some 100 offshore wrecks. As for beaches, Statians favour Oranje Beach. It stretches just south of Oranjestad, named for Holland's Royal House of Oranje. The picturesque capital is built on two levels, hence Upper Town and Lower Town. Fort Oranje overlooks the town's homes, shops and hotels. A major tourist draw is the Honen Dalim Synagogue, built in 1738. It is the second-oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. At one time Statia provided a refuge for Jews fleeing persecution in Europe and South America. The synagogue, along with the Dutch Reformed Church, dating to 1775, was abandoned after Admiral Rodney thoroughly looted the country in 1781.

This island, so off the beaten track, nevertheless offers world-class diving, hiking and deep-sea fishing, as well as tennis and basketball at Oranjestad Community Centre. Nightlife is limited but can be amusing, thanks to dancing and music that is sometimes live. Restaurants can be interesting, with such Indonesian specialities as chicken sate, as well as steaks, seafood, Thai dishes, and famous smoked salmon cakes. There is even a French eatery featuring such Gallic wonders as breast of duck in orange sauce, and crepes drenched in Grand Marnier. Cantonese restaurants are here and there. Many of the smaller businesses take cash only. You can rent cars and bicycles. Taxis are an option. Be prepared for a small departure tax if you are continuing to a place not in the Netherlands Antilles.

The official state holiday is November 16, Sint Eustatius Day, also known as Statia-America Day. It celebrates the time a Dutch commander saluted an American brig, thus making Statia the first government to recognize American Independence. This ticked off the British no end. They sent Admiral Rodney to Oranjestad, where he took the island without a shot fired from Fort Oranje. He reportedly robbed the town of five million pounds sterling.

US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, however, was pleased about the grand post-revolution first salute. He sent a plaque thanking Statians for being "America's childhood friend." Islanders named their airstrip: The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Airport.


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