AMERICA’S FIRST SALUTE
Do you know which country offered the United States its first salute after Independence? It wasn’t a big country; the country wasn’t even in Europe. It was the tiny island (and I mean tiny, the island is a mere 8 square miles. It was the island of Saint Eustatius (called Statia by all who know it).
Statia is one of the Netherlands Antilles (for the moment). These islands are Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao off the South American coast, and Sint Maarten, Sint Eustatius and Saba at the top of the Eastern Caribbean arc.
They are both visible from Sint Maarten when the weather is clear, and they both are volcanic. Statia has one of the most perfectly shaped volcanoes in the world, called the Quill, and visible from all over the island. You couldn’t get away from it if you tried. Today its population is about 2000, but back in 1776 there were at least 25.000 people on this miniscule island. And that was without counting the slaves who worked on its sugar plantations.
Statia was a transshipment point back in the eighteenth century, when America was fighting for its independence, and received much of the necessary goods that were not allowed to come directly from Europe via this point.
Anyway, when the first ship flying the rebel American flag stove into the port of Oranjestad on November 16, 1776 the Governor decided to give it its twenty one gun salute, as a mark of an independent country. Something for which they paid dearly, as in 1781, the great Admiral Rodney sacked the island.
Today, the island is the one of the Dutch Windward Islands that has the most visible monuments of those days. It is hard to imagine what it was back in those days. You can still see parts of the old Lower Town, most of which has gone into the sea because of subsidence of the island’s coast. Up to now blue beads known as slave beads may be found, and one never knows what may show up if any excavation is carried out.
However, it could be impressive to be there on the Fourth of July, which they celebrate, and remember their salute. Information on getting there and where to stay and what to do can be picked up at the airport on Sint Maarten, which is the way one gets there. The airport is named after President F.D. Roosevelt.