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Sint Eustasius

2020 Stamp Programme

  1.   27 April 2020:  King’s Day 2020
  2.   01 July 2020:  Sea Life
  3.   01 July 2020:  Plants
  4.   01 July 2020:  Butterflies
  5.   01 July 2020:  Birds
  6.   10 October 2020:  From Guilders to Dollars

Sint Eustatius, also known locally as Statia, is an island in the Caribbean. It is 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). Travellers to the island by air arrive through F. D. Roosevelt Airport. Formerly part of the Netherlands Antilles, Sint Eustatius became a special municipality of the Netherlands on 10 October 2010. Together with Bonaire and Saba it forms the BES islands.

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.

It is unclear if the island was inhabited by native peoples prior to European colonisation. It is thought that the island was likely seen by Christopher Columbus in 1493. From the first European settlement, in the 17th century until the early 19th century, St. Eustatius changed hands twenty-one times between the Netherlands, Britain and France.

In 1636, the chamber of Zeeland of the Dutch West India Company took possession of the island, reported to be uninhabited at the time. In 1678 the islands of St. Eustatius, Sint Maarten and Saba were under the 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 the cultivation of tobacco and sugar.

In the 18th century, St. Eustatius’s 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. St. Eustatius’s economy flourished under the Dutch by ignoring the monopolistic trade restrictions of the British, French and Spanish islands; it became known as The Golden Rock. Edmund Burke said of the island in 1781:

It has no produce, no fortifications for its defence, nor martial spirit nor military regulations … Its utility was its defence. The universality of its use, the neutrality of its nature was its security and its safeguard. Its proprietors had, in the spirit of commerce, made it an emporium for all the world. … Its wealth was prodigious, arising from its industry and the nature of its commerce.

The island sold arms and ammunition to anyone willing to pay, and it was therefore 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, the 14-gun American brig Andrew Doria commanded by Captain Isaiah Robinson sailed, flying the Continental Colors of the fledgling United States, 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 two guns fewer to acknowledge a sovereign flag). It was the first international acknowledgment of American independence. The Andrew Doria had arrived to purchase munitions for the American Revolutionary forces. She was carrying a copy of the Declaration of Independence which was presented to Governor De Graaff. An earlier copy had been captured by the British on its way to Holland. It was wrapped in documents that the British believed to be a strange cipher, but were actually written in Yiddish, addressed to Jewish merchants in Holland.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited St. Eustatius for two hours on February 27, 1939 on USS Houston to recognise the importance of the 1776 “First Salute”. He presented a large brass plaque to St. Eustatius, displayed today under a flagpole atop the walls of Fort Oranje, reading:

“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 recognition provided the title for Barbara W. Tuchman’s 1988 book The First Salute: A View of the American Revolution.

The British took the Andrew Doria incident seriously, and 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 of 1780–1784. Notably, the British Admiral George Brydges Rodney, having occupied the island for Great Britain in 1781, urged the commander of the landing troops, Major-General Sir John Vaughan, to seize “Mr. Smith at the house of Jones — they (the Jews of St. Eustatius, Caribbean Antilles) cannot be too soon taken care of — they are notorious in the cause of America and France.” The war was disastrous for the Dutch economy.

Britain declared war on the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands on 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 centre 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 cannon to De Graaff’s one dozen cannon and a garrison of sixty men. De Graaff surrendered the island, but first fired two rounds as a show of resistance in honour 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 Republic in the war. The Dutch regained control over the looted and plundered 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 bay rum. The economy declined in the early 19th century. From about 1795 the population declined, dropping to 921 in 1948.

Sint Eustatius became a member of the Netherlands Antilles when that grouping was created in 1954. Between 2000 and 2005 the member islands of the Netherlands Antilles voted on their future status. In a referendum on 8 April 2005, 77% of Sint Eustatius voters voted to remain within the Netherlands Antilles, compared to 21% who voted for closer ties with the Netherlands. None of the other islands voted to remain.

After the other islands decided to leave, ending the Netherlands Antilles, the island council opted to become a special municipality of the Netherlands, like Saba and Bonaire. This process was completed in 2010. In 2011 the island officially adopted the US dollar as its currency.